You'd be hard pressed to find a more versatile and functional bike for off-road riding than a hardtail 29er. Make it from steel, and you have a bike that will last very near forever, tackle almost any terrain you can find, and won't dynamite your wallet on the way. The Salsa El Mariachi 3 is just such a bike. Salsa's Kung Fu Cro-Moly tubing is triple-butted to reduce weight without sacrificing strength at the joints, so you never have to worry about cracking the frame at a weak point. Salsa's innovative Alternator dropouts also allow quick-and-easy singlespeed conversionsAAAwhether they're planned, or just a way to get you home after a massive mid-ride mechanical. The Alternators utilize a swing-style design, and are kept in place with the aid of tension bolts, so you don't have to worry about getting both sides right with just bolt torque. This swinging style also means that you can tune the ride characteristics of your El Mariachi easilyAAAkeep it in tight for short effective chainstays and quick handling, or move it out to lengthen the chainstays and add stability. El Mariachi, like all Salsa bikes, lends itself to the lengthy and epic, and is an ideal candidate for multi-day backcountry bikepacking. This is not to say, of course, that you can't race itAAAEl Mariachi eats up short-track XC races just as well as it handles hundred-mile days through the woods.
So I COVETED an El Mariachi, in a nearly carnal way, but I don't swing towards metal so I keep it legit on the trail. The bike is sexy. I got the #3 in green. Swapped to the matching steel fork which lightened it up a bit. The stock wheels were pretty bad. Didn't roll, heavy. I felt the need to get better wheels and a set of White Industries mated to Stans rims did the trick. Tubeless. Respect. I put on carbon bars which made things silky smooth up front. The frame has 2-3lbs on a carbon frame, but I'm not superficial, I can handle a little heft if it delivers where it counts. Does it deliver? Well, I have to admit I'm superficial. I test rode a Trek X-cal which had an arguably slightly better spec and the geometry was better dialed than the El Mar. But it was friggin Trek. Why would I want to ride a Trek. Fall in love with a Trek? That's like saying I love my Honda. Nobody loves a Honda. And if they claim they do then they need to look up love in the dictionary. I bought the 2012 El Mar 3 without a test ride because it looked nice and had a good rep. The thing just rolls. Like a steamroller. Very neutral handling. I like the shorter fork better than suspension, but with the right sag it's all good. But the GEARING, the gd 2x10 gearing. I was asking, what the heck is wrong with my legs? I'm in my easiest gear, what is wrong with my legs??? I went over to Sheldon Brown's gain ration calculator. The 2x10 was 4 gears short on the easy pedalling end compared to my old 3x9. I had no granny! Simple, though, right? I just need a smaller small ring in the front. BOOM --- REALITY. The FSA Comet 386 is a crappy 3 bolt, something crank with a 27t as the smallest available chainring option. New crankset needed. FRAK. I bought this bike and to make it serviceable I had to spring for wheels and now cranks? My legs are ultimately tender and not often enough trailside so I need my granny and I went for an x9 crank with a 22t and the park tool to put in the GXP bottom bracket. It's okay now. I've also heard many complaints about the Avid Elixir 1 brakes. Sure, they squeak and are hard to adjust and have to be bled and are a pain in the ass, but at least they stop me better than my old V-brakes, so I'm grateful. Honestly, I should be grateful I have such a pretty, fancy, sweet ride and shouldn't complain. It's loads better than my old 94 Nishiki. It tends to float along the trail and the tubeless sucks up the bumps. Much like a retired Florida widower, I wanted a classy ride to grow old with. The El Mar delivers, though she could stand to walk around the track at the community center a few times, and she keeps hitting me up for cash. I guess that's what happens when you marry for looks.
Weaknesses: Conti Trail King are Heavy Tires! Avid Elixir 1 Brakes Inconsistent
My El Mariachi complete Build came with Full SLX Drivetrain, with Deore M552 Cranks, Avid Elixir 1 Brakes and Conti Trail King 2.2 Tires, and Manitou Tower Expert Fork. The Frame is great for long rides. I think it shouldnt really be positioned as an XC racing bike, like it says on the Salsa website. You could race it, but, not on Short XC courses, maybe on long Endurance Races it comes more into its Element. I am 6ft 165lbs and the Large Frame fits me right, but at first I felt the bike handles slow and heavy, so I changed the stock 110mm Stem to 90mm, and changed the tires to Specialized Fast Track Controls, this dropped the weight by 1.3lbs!!! The tire change made its so much more agile, felt so much lighter to pedal. The tight switchbacks I couldnt clear on the stock conti's are now much easier to manage. The long top tube with Shorter Stems also gives me better handling on Rocky Descents. The Flex on the steel frame is perfect for me. The thing I like most is the fact that it just looks so good, especially when parked beside other alu and carbon racer bikes, my bright red frame with white manitou fork stands out of the crowd! The geometry just looks so cool and different, even compared to other steel bikes. I wont say much about bike weight as there are a lot of ways to reduce the weight and a lot of reasons to keep it the way it is. The avid elixir 1 brakes have been inconsistent. Had to bleed the rear brake once, it makes some noise, but I have been able to live with it, brake feel can be better, but it does well in stopping the bike and power is adequate. If there is something Salsa could do to improve the complete build, is to spec a different brakeset and lighter stock tires, as 29ers and heavy tires are not good. Overall I am happy with what I got for the price paid and aside from the tires, I have not upgraded anything else, the stem replacement is more of a fitting issue anyways. I crashed the bike once and bent my saddle and my frame has a 1 inch scar on the top tube, crashed it quite hard on a turn i miscalculated, so I can safely say that the overall build is good as the only thing I replaced was the wtb pure v saddle, which I change with the exact same saddle as its quite good for me. In closing, the El Mariachi really best portrays Salsa Brand Slogan of "Adventure by Bike", good comfort, sturdy, easy to handle, and makes you excited for the next adventure!
Bike Setup: Shimano SLX drivetrain, Avid Elixir 1 Brakes, Manitour Tower Expert Fork, Specialized Fast Trak Control, WTB pure V saddle, Deore M552 triple crank, 11-36 deore cassette
Date Reviewed: June 2, 2013
Strengths: Great frame, alternator dropouts, good spec
Weaknesses: Wheels, tires, 2x10 for some, weight
This is an udpate to a review I wrote shortly after buying the bike. I've had my El Mariachi for a bit over a year now and have logged a lot of miles, mostly on loose over hardpack singletrack in interior BC. I love the bike, it's really a fantastic, versatile ride. Where I ride, it's mostly smooth rolling trails, but it's also dry and dusty with poor traction in late summer. A steel 29er is the perfect companion in these conditions and I'm thrilled with the El Mar. That said, there are some issues that hold it back from being a 5 star bike (if I had the option, I'd put it as 4.5 stars). First, the wheels and tires. The wheels are heavy, which leads to an overall pretty heavy ride on the bike. This was somewhat expected, but some lighter, stiffer wheels would really improve the ride. My bike came with Conti Mountain Kings. They're light and have low rolling resistance, so feel pretty fast, but are super sketchy in loose over hardpack. I've since switched to Nevegals front and back and it's made a world of difference. Bit slower climbing, but the difference in control on flats and downhills is huge and has made a big difference with the overall handling of the bike. For 2013, I think they've switched to 3x10, so this isn't an issue anymore, but on my 2012, the 2x10 is just too stiff for this bike due to the weight. Maybe I'm just a weenie, but I often find myself wishing for slightly easier gearing on extended steep uphills, of which I have a lot. I haven't switched to singlespeed yet, but appreciate having the option and will probably do so someday. The Avid 1s are a bit underwhelming but get the job done. Thinking of switching to a larger rotor. I don't mean this review to be overly negative - like I said, I love the bike and I'd certainly buy it again in a heartbeat, it's a great riding, super versatile bike and with the 3x10 on the new versions, I think for lots of people this could be their one bike (as it is for me).
Strengths: Ride Quality, Quick Handling, Stable downhill handling, Single Speed or Geared Option, Paint, Price. Less expensive than similar Niner products (ie Sir9 or MCR). No EBB
Weaknesses: tad heavy but don't buy a steel bike if you're worried about that
I've been riding my 2011 Sasla El Mariachi (slate blue) for almost a year now. I've ridden it in three 50+ mile endurance races. Love, Love, Love the ride quality and handling. I'm running a 32x19 single speed setup in the midwest. We have a good combinations of climbs, rocky, & smooth single track. The swinging rear drop outs work fantastic, never slip or creak. This will be a bike I keep for a LONG time because it's just FUN, performs great, looks good, strong, etc...
Favorite Trail: Syllamo Blue or Bookcliffs in Fruita
Duration Product Used: Almost a year
Purchased At: Ebay(bought used)
Similar Products Used: Haro Mary SS
Bike Setup: I built my bike up with stans arch ex wheels, shimano slx brakes, truvativ stylo ss gxp crankset & bottom bracket, surly 19t rear, salsa seatpost, salsa bars, specialized stem, ergon grips, specialized seat.
I have many bikes including an uber carbon full susp 29er. This is a 2010 El Mariachi bike that is about 2 lbs heavier than than my race bike, but I find myself riding this bike a whole lot more. It is just plain fun. The steel frame is sweet. I got stans arch wheels which are just fine (set up tubeless), and the x9 group is very functional. I do most of my trail training on this bike and find myself really loving it. It was a tremendous value for me at $1600 OTD. It has this whole underdog thing going for it and just gets the job done. I can't imagine a better value exists for the same money. I imagine throwing a bunch of carbon parts at it to drop a pound or two, but then it just wouldn't be the same bike. I'll just keep it as is and ride the heck out of it.
Strengths: Light and stiff frame for a tri butted steel frame
Weaknesses: Just finding one, Salsa make more and make it easier to buy from your LBS
MTBR doesnt have the SS 2013 edition, so this will have to do. AMAZING!!!!! What comes stocked on this bike is enough to make you want to stay as a SS and drop the gears. My former bike was a Sawyer, and changing to this is soooo much lighter. I bought it to get ready for the race season, and now I just want to ride it regardless. The Stans wheels are nice, love the cont tires, and the avid elixir 5 brakes worked perfect.I love this bike and will never look back. Just finding one is a bi*ch
a Weekend Warrior
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2012
Strengths: Comfortable, feels lighter than the bike is in real, great steering with rigid fork, great climber!
Weaknesses: None so far.
This is the second bike i build all by myself, the first one was a Kona Kula Supreme a real XC racer, but now it must be a steel twenty-niner. And i love the Salsa for many years and not without a reason.
It's a very fine bike, it handles like a pencil, fine steering, comfortable en plush, what a bike!
Favorite Trail: The one around my hometown Bergen op Zoom in Holland
Purchased At: www.featherbikes.nl
Similar Products Used: This is my first 29" mtb
Bike Setup: I build the bike all by myself, from wheels till the complete bike, mostly with original Salsa parts like rims, stem, handlebar etc. and the complete new Shimano SLX-group 2013 2x10, the bike isn't the lightest one butt it's tough.
Date Reviewed: April 30, 2012
Strengths: Great looks, plush ride, gear ratio, steel frame.
Weaknesses: Weak factory rims
After visiting literally every bike shop in Austin for about 6 months, I narrowed it down to two bikes with steel frames, and this is the bike I went with because of the overall aesthetics, and it's a brand name that you don't see around every bend of the trail. After riding both aluminum and steel, I decided on steel because the ride was very plush, and it just felt great riding it around. The primary flaw that I have experienced so for as the cheap wheel set that came with it. The front wheel split at the seam on a hard turn 6 days after buying the bike, and both the bike shop and Salsa did not want to warranty the wheel claiming it was crash damage, which it clearly was not, so I was very disappointed with that experience. Otherwise, once I had a come to Jesus with the shop and they got me a new wheel, the ride has been great. This is the first bike that I have owned with suspension, so that's a whole new world for me, but I feel this bike handles well. I have been riding 2 to 3 times a week for about six months now, and this bike joined the fleet at the end of march, and it has been a joy ever since, other than the few weeks of down time waiting for my new wheel to come in. I do recommend this bike, although for a few hundred dollars less, you can get the Jamis Dragon 29er that has a better overall drive train.
a Weekend Warrior
from Eugene, OR
Date Reviewed: March 19, 2012
Strengths: Strong, Looks good, rides great
Weaknesses: Brake maintenance
This is my first 29er and first new bike in 10 years. I'm loving the build quality. All the parts work together. For less than 2K a sub 30lb hardtail of this quality is a treat. I'm just under 6' with a 32" inseam, and got the Large. It fits like a glove. The only downside that I've had are the brakes. But It's a technology that's new to me, so with a bit of practice maintaining then I hope will be second nature.
a Weekend Warrior
from Kamloops, BC
Date Reviewed: February 13, 2012
Strengths: Good value for the El Mar 3 build, comfortable fit, steel, 2X10 build, alternator dropouts, nice powder coat, great company
Weaknesses: heavy, cheaper wheelset
*only have 3 rides in so far, but will update once I have some more under my belt
I spent the better part of a year looking for a 29er to replace my old (>10 year) hardtail, but couldn't go over $1500. Once I saw the pricing on the El Mar 3, I was pretty certain it would be the bike - trick was that there were no dealers anywhere in my vicinity to go for test rides. Luckily, Salsa has a loyal (cultish?) following and I received plenty of help with sizing on the mtbr forums. At 5'8", 195lbs, I was between S and M, but decided to go with the S based on a short inseam. Very good decision, the small fits me like a glove.
My first impressions was the weight. It's not a light bike at ~29lbs, but then again, I was riding a fully rigid Ti single speed before, so it's not going to be remotely close. Once on the trail this became a (mostly) non-issue. The steel is forgiving, but responsive. No, it's not like riding FS, but along with the big wheels, it does take the edge off a bit over an aluminum frame. My first long ride was muddy, snowy, and icy, but had some open packed single track as well. Climbing, especially in these loose conditions, was way better than I had expected. The back tire hooks up well, even when standing and the front stays nice and low without wobbling too much. The gearing is a bit stiff and I do miss my granny from my old 3X9 setups, but I'll get used to it.
When the trail opens up, this bike really shines. On downhills and flats, the bike is super stable and confidence-inspring. It corners great and I found myself almost immediately trying to open it up and push the limits. I pushed a bit too far and ended up off trail and was very surprised to find the big wheels rolling me right through and over the rough (I thought for sure I was crashing - which I would have been on my old bike). In tight switchbacks, I didn't notice any issues with turning radius - still felt responsive and easy to whip around, but having the slightly smaller frame is probably an advantage here.
Long story short, I love this bike. Salsa fans are a loyal and vocal bunch and now I understand why. Count me in.
Similar Products Used: Litespeed ti SS; Demoed several 29ers: rocky mountain, norco, specialized
Bike Setup: Still mostly stock, crank brothers pedals, ergon grips, easton monkey lite bar, salsa skewers
a Cross Country Rider
from Wilkes Barre, PA
Date Reviewed: February 7, 2012
Strengths: Steel frame, looks, dropouts, pretty good build, climbs and turns incredible, bike fits me perfect.
Weaknesses: FSA crankset, 3 bolt pattern, no bashguards available anywhere!
I spent a lot of time looking for a good steel frame built up that wasn't priced through the roof, I kept coming back to the El Mariachi, it has a great ride, climbs better than both my other bikes, and turns better also. The fork still has to break in to get a little plusher, I have it set up 1x10 with the 27 tooth chainring, ended up being the perfect gear for me where I ride, a lot of nasty short burst technical hills.
Might send out the fork at some point to get it revalved if I can't dial it in any better after it breaks in.
A nice bike that I see being in my stable for a long time to come, I only have 2 rides on it so far, were going to spend a lot of time together this Summer!
Bike Setup: Pretty much stock at this point, set up 1x10, Easton flat peddles, ODI grips, might change out the bars, haven't decided if I can live with them yet. Large frame 6'1" 215 pounds.
a Cross Country Rider
from Sydney, NSW, Australia
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2012
Strengths: Smooth ride and good spec choice. The bike is relatively good as an all rounder with solid wheels for example. Climbs very well.
Weaknesses: Build quality on my bike was substandard, six warranty repairs so far. The bike is a real handful on loose-over-hard conditions and on really tight turns the front wheel tries to fall underneath me a little. I can wrestle it back up without too much trouble though. Downtube cable routing is a real problem and the chainrings are too big for a bike this heavy.
Weight distribution is relatively far forward, which takes some getting used to, but once you do it is quite comfortable. What is much harder to get used to is the inability to steer from your hips which, on the loose-over-hard trails I commonly ride, makes an otherwise fun fire-trail decent into a scary one. It feels like you are going to wash out on every sharp bend. I lose a lot of time downhill, but I make it up on the ascents since I can just sit in the most comfortable spot on the saddle and grind it out. No weight shifting, no rear wheel slip, not until the hill gets really steep anyway.
On singletrack it is quite a nice ride, with only the most twisty trails causing the front end to "duck under" a little.
I have ridden many steel bikes over the years, and the El Mariachi has a great feel. Easily matching my last one, but not quite as good as the best I ever rode (but that was a road bike, so not a fair comparison). However, it is certainly a heavy bike. You get the benefits of the steel, but despite the kung fu tubing, you have to pay the normal toll.
This could be a great bike, but mine has had so many warranty issues I can't possibly recommend it. Six trips back to the shop so far.
Mine came with an ineffective shim for the front mech and was missing a part on the forks, so go over it with a fine tooth comb before you ride it.
The downtube cable routing has caused me no end of troubles. I have not done 1000 kms yet but I am already on my second set of cables, third cable housing and my second bottom bracket cable guide. Any sand/water/mud on the ride will muck up my rear mech in no time flat.
In Australia this is not a cheap bike either, hence the poor value rating.
Similar Products Used: A number of hardtail MTBs over the last 20 years.
Bike Setup: 2011 El Mariachi Complete build upgraded with x9 24/38 chainset and layback seatpost
a Cross Country Rider
from tulsa ok usa
Date Reviewed: December 25, 2011
Strengths: This bike has a balanced feel.
Weaknesses: none noted so far
Balance! i thought and though about what make the el mariachi feel so right i belive its a blend, the bottom bracket isn't to high to need you find as rock to get in the saddle: ala big mama or so low that peddle hits are a problem E.M.D and fisher Hifi. Its not too stiff small rock and roots are no problem way different than aluminum E.M.D but not like a suspension bike, Hi fi, Big Mama just kind of takes the edge off stuff.Steering is not to slow or not to fast pick you way up technical stuff yet feel great on the way down. It just feels right and the Alternator drop outs are best ss or geared system ive seen yet. Very well done Salsa guys!
Similar Products Used: Niner E.M.D, gary fisher hifi 29,Salsa Big Mama
Bike Setup: xt derralieurs,salsa bars,wtb all mountain tcs wheel set,i try to build my bike to durable as apposed to light
a Cross Country Rider
from Schoenaich, Germany
Date Reviewed: December 19, 2011
Strengths: quality steel frame and fork, simple but effective parts build
Weaknesses: EBB, although I haven't converted to SS yet. Would not be my first choice for SS.
Bike was bought on close out for a decent price. I made minimal changes to the stock set up. The geometry with the rigid fork suits my riding style and trails. The big 2.5 WTB front is a good choice as it gets some of the edge off the rigid fork on rough trails. The big hoops along with the steel frame and fork surpisingly tame the trails quite well. I may eventually throw on a Fox or RS fork but I have my eye on putting the bike into bikepacking duty. It seems quite up to the task.
Bike Setup: '09 ruby rojo, 1x9 with exception of carbon Salsa bar, lock on grips, X.0 grip shifter and 2.1 rear WTB tire.
a Cross Country Rider
from Tampa, florida
Date Reviewed: November 27, 2011
Strengths: Steel, versatile, superior weld quality, geometry
Weaknesses: I dont like how the shifter cable is 75% exposed on the down tube and chainstay
This is for the 2012 Frame only. I purchased this frame to replace a broken Scott Scale 29er that I bought used and had 6 months before the frame cracked right at the top tube. I love the feel of the steel compared to the light weight aluminum of the Scott, it just feels like it tracks better and is less sketchy on the trail. I love the Alternator dropouts that make it easy to convert to SS from geared OR you can adjust the chainstay lengths. I have over 100 miles on this bike so far with no complaints at all. I feel very comfortable on this bike and it is at home on longer rides as well as shorter more technical rides... Love the fact you can use a standard OR Tapered fork with just changing the headset, space for 2 bottle cages, and the toptube angle is perfect for me.
Okay, so I'm switching things up. Either going to buy a built El Mariachi 2 or build up a SOMA Juice. I've read great things about the Juice, but I've never ridden one.
Any experience with the new frame? Better riding frame than the El Mariachi?Read More »
How do you guys keep your dropouts in place? After setting the bolts to 8 Nm, the drive side always pulls on those stand and mash climbs, and the tire ends up rubbing on the non-drive side. As the instructions have it, I have done the extra adjustment turn after setting the bolts tight.
After g ... Read More »
My buddy is hard on bikes, breaking stuff, etc. Any Clyde riders out there on an el mar? He's about 240lb, looking to ride fully loaded with bike packing gear. We're looking to build one up with a thru axle too keep things rock solid but those stays look a bit thin.Read More »