Written by Wally Wallace Wednesday, 21 March 2012 13:44
After spending last season racing a hard tail 29er I came to the realization that I needed to get back onto a full suspension bike. I love the way a hard tail rides but about an hour into every race I would start to get beat up, the more fatigued I got the more I ran into things. The cumulative effect of racing on the hard tail was also an issue. After some races it would take till mid-week for my back to stop bothering me, if I raced back to back weekends I was hurting from the get go.
Being tall I was only looking at 29ers. There are a lot of choices for full suspension XC bikes these days. After reading all the marketing hype I actually did some test rides. I rode bikes from Niner, Trek (Gary Fisher) Kona, Specialized, and Salsa. All the bikes rode well and there were subtle differences in handling however there wasn’t a bike that was head and shoulders better than the rest. The bike that intrigued me the most was the Salsa Spearfish. Being a thrifty Yankee (cheap) I was pleased that the Salsa could be had for reasonable money and the simple suspension design meant less parts to service as well as fewer failure points.
Salsa decided to market the bike as an “Adventure bike” targeting the endurance racer and all day epic ride crowd. I found this to be an interesting strategy because with 80mm of rear wheel travel and XC geometry this bike looks like it would be perfect for a 2 hour race or a 24 hour race. I decided to compare the geometry of the Salsa to many popular XC bikes and found the HT & ST angles of 71 and 73 degree matched up as well as did the chainstay length of 17.9”, the wheelbase of the spearfish was actually shorter than many of the “XC” bikes as well. The frame weight on my size XL with seat collar was an impressive 5.77 lbs. The weight is kept low utilizing a simple design that eliminates a pivot at the rear dropout, Salsa proved out this design on a previous model (the Big Mama). As the shock compresses the seatstay flexes just enough to accommodate the stroke of the shock.
I opted to buy the frame and swap over all of my existing parts. The frame uses a tapered head tube, press fit BB-30 bottom bracket and 135mm rear wheel spacing. Please note that Salsa is offering two versions of the Spearfish; I purchased the Spearfish 2, the primary difference is the Spearfish 1 utilizes a rear wheel spacing of 142mm for use with a maxle and a rear shock upgrade to a Fox Float. Salsa has a great Blog entry titled Building up a Spearfish Frame this will give you most of the details you need if you opt to go the frame only route. Like many FS bikes on the market you will need to run full length derailleur housing, make sure you leave a small loop of slack under the bottom bracket so the housing does not pull tight as you compress the suspension. The hydraulic line for the rear brake also routes under the bottom bracket then along the chainstay, if you are buying new brakes the line will surely be long enough however I had shortened my line for a previous bike so a new one was in order. When I got all the parts swapped over I had an XL full suspension bike with pedals that weighed in at 25 pounds even.
Now for the ride, with only 80mm of travel and a somewhat less sophisticated suspension design than some of its competitors the Spearfish isn’t as good at soaking up small bumps however it is still a full suspension bike and yields a comfortable ride. Overall the frame feels efficient and you never feel like you are wallowing around in the travel. My intended use is XC racing in New England. The bike exhibits no bob even when standing in a tall gear. I have been putting the bike through some “testing” bashing it through rock gardens and taking less than optimal lines as often happens in races and the bike handles like a champ. In slow chunky trails the rear end just follows along with no surprises and takes up the bumps. Overall the handling is very much neutral and excels going up and down. The bottom bracket is a bit on the low side but I happen to prefer bikes with lower bottom bracket heights trading stability at speed (due to the lower center of gravity) over the occasional pedal strike. This bike may be marketed as an Endurance racer but I think it will work out just fine for shorter races.
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