Salsa Cycles Blackthorn
All-Mountain Trail Bike
Last December we spent lots of time on Salsa’s latest enduro-ready model called the Cassidy. We thought the Cassidy was well-planted for technical descents; however, our test riders wanted something more efficient for the pedal up. With the ability to take on different styles of riding in mind, Salsa made the mainframe adaptable. If a rider so desires, he can swap the link sets/suspension and turn the travel of the frame from the 165mm Cassidy into the 140mm Blackthorn.
This also applies if you were to purchase the Blackthorn and wanted to swap for the long-travel Cassidy. We consider both models a big step forward as we continue to see the Salsa mountain bike line evolving. To help us better understand the differences between these two models, Salsa sent over the top-of-the-line Blackthorn for our wrecking crew to compare with the Cassidy.
The Blackthorn Carbon X01 Eagle is constructed with a high-modulus carbon main triangle and seatstays, while the chainstays are made from 6066-T6 aluminum. The alloy Blackthorn is completely 6061-T6. Both frames are built around Salsa’s new Split Pivot+ suspension. This adaptable travel-suspension layout was designed in partnership with Dave Weagle. More on adapting the frame coming up! Just like the Cassidy, the Blackthorn features short, 432mm chainstays. In the low setting, the Blackthorn has a 64.6-degree head tube angle, making it 0.8 degrees steeper than the Cassidy. Each model has a long top tube that enables riders to run shorter stems while maintaining a comfortable reach.
The frames have Super Boost rear-hub spacing that clears a max size of 2.6 inches with a 29-inch wheel. You can also swap the wheelset for this bike up to a 27.5+ platform that clears a 3.0-inch tire. The frame can accept up to a 34-tooth chainring and has a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG-05 mounts, internal routing, and frame protection where it’s needed. A noteworthy addition is the clever frame storage that features an integrated strap location just in front of the main-frame shock mounts. Taping tools and repair kits onto the frame is a thing of the past! There are also three pack mounts on the downtube, room for a bottle in the main triangle, and top tube mounts for Salsa’s EXP direct-mount bag or a K-Edge top tube mount.
Unlike the Cassidy, which comes in three options, the Blackthorn comes in five different builds. If you’re the type who wants to pick your components, Salsa offers both the alloy and carbon in a frame-only option. Our top-tier Salsa, called the Blackthorn Carbon X01 Eagle, came equipped with a great component list that focused on weight and elite performance. Salsa equipped this version with Fox’s newest 36 Factory fork, along with a DPX2 Factory air shock. At the pedals, there is a complete SRAM X01 12-speed drivetrain. For stopping power, Salsa went with SRAM Code RSC four-piston brakes. Some of these components work in harmony together. At the end of the day, top-of-the-line parts give this build a price of $7899. If you are more of an aluminum-frame fan, then the Shimano Deore build starts at $3299 and goes up to $4099 for the SLX version. If a rider wants to spend less on a carbon build, there are two other carbon versions lower in price than our test subject.
For $6299, Salsa offers a GX Eagle groupset with Fox Performance Elite suspension. If you love RockShox suspension components, then the Blackthorn Carbon SLX is your pick, which is priced at $4999.
At the front of the Blackthorn, we took advantage of the extraordinary performance and high tunability of the 160mm-travel Fox 36 Factory fork. For setup, we utilized Fox’s handy chart that is right on the lower of the fork. We ran the recommended air pressure, and as usual ended up going two clicks faster on the rebound.
As we briefly touched on, Salsa has this latest model designed around its new Split Pivot+ suspension. Not only was it intended to be adaptable to another platform, but Salsa’s design is also meant to be efficient while pedaling and remain fully active while braking. We asked the team at Salsa if we could run this frame with a coil shock. The reply was, “You don’t need it.” The linkage rate is optimized for an air shock and not intended to run a coil. Through testing, Salsa’s engineers found that a coil shock does not produce enough end-stroke support at the rear wheel. This leads to harsh bottom-outs, making it more likely to cause frame damage. Not only should you not do it, but Salsa will void any warranty if a coil shock is fitted to the bike.
DOWN AND DIRTY
Unlike the Cassidy enduro sled, the Blackthorn is designed to be an all-mountain trail bike that has no fear of approaching dangerous sections on the mountain while still being remarkably pedal-worthy for an all-day ride. Salsa’s goal was to develop a stable platform that could soak up everything technical on the trail while providing a balanced overall experience. We’ve had our hands on the Blackthorn for longer than we usually get to keep test bikes. With that, we were able to spend more time riding all over the trails, pushing the Salsa to its limits.
With steeper geometry than the Cassidy, the Blackthorn is a completely different bike that is not shy about climbing. We found the low setting of the Flip Chip 2.0 on the Blackthorn Carbon to be best for all climbing conditions. In the high setting, the head tube and seat tube steepen by 0.3 degrees. This made the bike noticeably better for smooth climbs, but the lower position of the chip rewarded us with more traction in loose or more technical situations. Once comfortable with how the bike responded, we noticed how stable the bike was when climbing up steep terrain. The Blackthorn won’t defeat a cross-country bike on the climbs, but given its longer-travel range, we were impressed with its solid performance. Of course, with each pedal stroke, we looked forward to having some fun going downhill.
The Salsa Blackthorn wants to stay playful on the downhills while not hesitating in the face of big jumps or rough rock gardens. While it was not as planted as the Cassidy in high-speed sections of the bike park, the Blackthorn made up for lost speed with its controllable wheelbase in and out of corners. The Blackthorn is also much easier to maneuver than its burly sibling. We spent a lot of time getting to know this bike in the air. The bike’s suspension platform responds predictably when approaching a jump. This is important, as some designs can pop a rider into an awkward takeoff. At the same time, the lightweight bike was stable mid-air, giving us the confidence to position correctly and soak up the landing. The overall balance for descending/climbing gave us the confidence to take on another lap.
First off, we love this color! Salsa went all out to make sure the Blackthorn Carbon X01 Eagle build was finished with style. If you are the type of rider who enjoys the experience described above, you will not need to change a thing. Now, if you are the type of rider who only needs a park bike for a few weekends out of the year, the Blackthorn can be adapted to the longer-travel option. The linkage, priced at $150, allows you to swap and run 165mm of rear travel. Of course, you will still need to purchase a shock and fork for this change-up, but it is doable. While this is subjective, we thought the SRAM drivetrain performed well, but we were not the biggest fans of how the SRAM four-piston brakes felt. The Blackthorn build we tested is lightweight with its already-equipped carbon bars and wheelset.
The Blackthorn Carbon X01 Eagle has top-level components and features that create a balanced bike for all-day trail riding on any terrain. At just under $8000, this bike is by no means a budget bike, but with every extra dollar, you get what you pay for. The Cassidy is a decent enduro machine that is terrific for certain conditions; however, the Blackthorn is a much better choice for the average rider looking to experience a little bit of everything. This Salsa can be taken to the lifts for all-day jump-line laps or used to explore the fire roads and singletrack behind your home. Overall, we enjoyed this bike’s top-of-the-line components, but at the end of the day, we would be just as happy riding the entry-level carbon build, which would save us around $4000.