Salsa redesigns their long-travel 29er with Split Pivot rear suspension and enhanced geometry for tighter handling.

Horsethief 1 on the Piedmont Trails above Duluth.

I'm beginning to think Salsa recruits its male employees from the NFL; either that or the logging industry. Several guys in the Salsa crew I hung out with in Duluth, Minnesota this past week are taller than six feet, weigh more than 200 pounds, sport healthy beards and have leathery handshakes that will crush anyone with a feeble grip.

So it goes without saying that guys with these types of dimensions need as much beef in their bike as they do on their dinner plate. Enter the redesigned 2014 Salsa Horsethief - a burly-yet-agile 120mm full-suspension 29er featuring Split Pivot technology that feels as natural on the Enduro racing circuit as it does on tight, technical singletrack.

Dave Weagle's Split Pivot rear end is the nucleus of the new Horsethief.

Split Pivot is an innovative rear suspension design pioneered and patented by David Weagle, also known for his World Cup Downhill-winning DW-Link design. When Salsa engineers sat down at the design table to enhance the Horsethief, instead of making up something new, they decided to stick with what they know works. So a phone call to Martha's Vineyard was made, and DW was proud to partner up with Salsa in redesigning the Horsethief.

Weagle's Split Pivot is a simple and innovative single pivot design that features a precise wheel link, brake link and control link that separates acceleration forces from braking forces. Pedaling is also independent of bump absorption, enabling the rear Fox shock to work only as a bump absorber for exceptional small bump feel. For those like me who don't understand all the nuances behind advanced suspension design, here's three points to remember about Split Pivot:

1) The rear shock is solely tasked with bump absorption, eliminating the need for excess low-speed compression damping found with other designs.

2) Pedaling performance is independent of bump absorption, which means that whether you're coasting over rocky, rooty sections of trail or pedaling through it, the rear shock performs exactly the same.

3) Braking performance is also independent of bump absorption, eliminating annoying brake chatter and vastly improving traction under braking.

Split Pivot also has outstanding anti-squat properties, meaning that the Horsethief rides higher under pedaling accelerations. In redesigning the Horsethief, Salsa engineers wanted to retain its rugged terrain capabilities while improving suspension efficiency and agility in corners.

Dave Weagle spent all week on a Horsethief and seemed to love every minute of it.

Besides incorporating Split Pivot, Salsa engineers increased rear triangle stiffness by using FEA-optimized AL-6066 tubing and a 12x142mm rear thru-axle for an impressive 18 percent improvement in lateral stiffness. The redesigned rear triangle can also accommodate tires as large as 2.4 inches. To dial in the cornering agility of the Horsethief, exceptionally short 437mm chainstays are features on all frame sizes (S, M, L, XL) - among the shortest chainstays of any full-suspension 29er.

A very relaxed 68.1 degree head tube angle paired with a 51mm offset Fox fork help the Horsethief track straight and confident at speed yet still enable it to carve tight turns with the agility of a full-suspension bike with 26" wheels.

Every Horsethief BB92 bottom bracket and tapered head tube are factory-faced and reamed after being painted, an extra step to ensure quality and precision that most other manufacturers neglect. Other little details like added cable holders for dropper posts and moto-style brake orientation help make setup cleaner and easier.

Due to its shorter chainstays, the Horsethief is set up for 1x and 2x drivetrains only.

Continue reading for Horsethief riding impressions, more information and full photo gallery.

Model Spec and Pricepoints

The 2014 Horsethief will be available in three well-equipped models, all featuring 130mm front and 120mm rear Fox F29 suspension in either Evolution, CTD Performance FIT or Factory FIT with Kashima coating. It should be noted that all three Horsethief models feature the same frame with Split Pivot design, enabling those with the entry level Horsethief 2 to get essentially the same suspension performance as the Horsethief XX1. As their budget allows, buyers can upgrade components over time.

Horsethief 2 retails for $3,299.

The entry-level Horsethief 2 come in the classic Kawasaki Green livery featuring a mix of SRAM X7 and X9 shifting with Avid Elixir 7 braking, NoTubes ZTR Rapid hoops, WTB Volt saddle and Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, making it a standout value at only $3,299. A Fox Float CTD comes standard, as does a Fox F29 Evolution front fork. Getting someone on a bike with this much suspension and technology for such a low pricepoint is a notable achievement for Salsa's brand manager, Tim Krueger.

Horsethief 1 retails for $4,599.

At $4,599, Horsethief 1 models up the ante with a gray and lime paint scheme, SRAM X0 Trail braking system and the new XO1 1x11 drivetrain. A Thomson Elite seatpost, DT Swiss 350 hubs with NoTubes Arch EX wheels, Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35" tires and a SRAM X1 single front chainring with MRP 1x guide complete this well-equipped mid-range spec sheet.

Horsethief XX1 retails for $5,699.

Created to dominate the Enduro racing scene, the full g-ride Horsethief XX1 features a paint job so bad ass that extra letters are required to spell out Badd Asss Orangee. Loaded with the hot new SRAM XX1 shifting system, XO Trail brakes, a RockShox Reverb dropper post, Thomson stem, DT Swiss 350 hubs, NoTubes Arch EX hoops, Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35" tires and a Salsa carbon riser bar, the Spearfish XX1 rings the register at $5,699. You can also get the Horsethief as a frameset only in Badd Ass Orangee for $1,699.

Riding Impressions

The Horsethief strikes an ideal balance between all-mountain and XC riding.

I spent two solid days piloting the Horsethief, and although it's a bit too much bike for my preferences, I was really impressed with how nimble and responsive it was for such a big bike. Whether behind the saddle dropping the big rock faces at Piedmont Trails known as "Medropolis", carving up tight, technical singletrack above the town of Duluth or doing numerous runs down the irresistible Candyland flow trail at Spirit Mountain ski resort, the Horsethief showed off its versatility.

DW himself spent the majority of the week on the Horsethief as opposed to the Spearfish, as he prefers the added 30mm of front and 40 mm of rear travel. Hitting the Candyland flow trail really showed off the seemingly bottomless suspension of the Horsethief. Even when my complete lack of jumping skill found me casing the hell out of large tabletops or doubles, the Horsethief sucked up my follies, keeping me from going ass over teakettle.

Small bump compliance on the Horsethief is equally as impressive thanks to Split Pivot and the perfectly tuned Fox suspension. One of the design philosophies of DW and Salsa was to design the frame around an off-the-shelf, factory-tuned Fox suspension system. Most other manufacturers design the frame first, then try to find a suspension system that is compatible. Salsa's reverse approach pays off with the Horsethief, as the only thing you need to do is set the sag to make the bike perform perfectly.

Uphill the Horsethief is surprisingly fast. It's by no means anywhere near as zippy as the Spearfish, but for a bike with 120mm of rear travel, it climbs well. In order to keep the weight down, Salsa outfitted every Horsethief model with a 32mm stanchion Fox fork, as opposed to the heavier 34mm found on the previous generation Horsethief. Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35" tires are spec on every Horsethief, providing plenty of tread and grip for both dry and muddy conditions - which we experienced both of while riding in Duluth.

The only niggle I found with the Horsethief was the drivetrain setup. I was on a Horsethief 1 with the 2x SRAM XO Trail system, and found the 22 tooth and 36 tooth front chainrings to be either too small or too large. Although a 2x system helps minimize cross-chaining, I still found myself either in the small ring far down the stack or in the big ring far up the stack. Either a 1x system with a 34 front would have been better for me or perhaps a 26 tooth granny ring and a 39 tooth big ring. Good news is that the Horsethief I rode was a pre-production model, and factory-spec drivetrain for the Horsethief 1 production model will actually be the new SRAM X01 1x11 system with a 10-42 cassette and 32 tooth front chainring.

Horsethief 1 taking a ride up the ski lift at Spirit Mountain in Duluth.

If lift service bike parks, Enduro races and shuttle runs are your style of riding, then the 2014 Salsa Horsethief should be on your short list of bikes to ride, especially if you have a full beard, a leathery handshake and a build like Paul Bunyan. In addition to sporting the proven Split Pivot rear suspension design, every model in the Horsethief lineup features an outstanding spec sheet of high-quality components packed with value and technology. The 2014 Horsethief should be arriving at your local Salsa dealer starting this August, so mark your calendar.