Do you ever foresee exactly how what you're about to do will turn out badly, but then go right ahead and do it anyway, as if you didn't hear yourself say not to do it?
The hissing from my rear tire was only the latest in a lifelong series of such choices, the most recent of which have included trying to trim a steerer tube with the fork still mounted, thinking: "I should be careful about this," then realizing halfway through that I was also halfway through the star-fangled nut. Not my best moment behind a wrench, but unfortunately not my worst.
Just before flatting, I'd glanced at the rock drop that serves as the entrance for one of the rougher trails on our local roster. "I'll flat on this," I told myself, "and if by some miracle I don't, I will farther down the trail." That I was testing Salsa's new Deadwood and wanted to take it on a rougher, steeper trail is but a feeble excuse for thinking I could foil the logic of flat-tire destiny. Alas, how was I supposed to find the bike's limits until they'd torn a hole in my rear tire?
Salsa used its Spearfish as a blueprint for the Deadwood, envisioning it as a short-travel, big-wheeled bike. But this time, it would be building around plus-size 29-inch wheels. The result combines the carbon front end of the Horsethief with a new alloy rear via a Dave Weagle-designed Split Pivot linkage that provides 91 millimeters of travel. A 100-millimeter-travel RockShox Pike comes stock up front.
With numbers like those, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the Deadwood for an XC-race hopeful. Indeed, the suspension supports pedaling inputs in much the same way that a good XC bike does. But it's more like a retired racer who's taken up bar fighting since hanging up the Lycra. The prodigious tires mute the harshness that usually accompanies pedaling support at the top of the stroke—at the expense of rolling efficiency and acceleration.
That expense is paid back in dividends on rough climbs, where I found the combination of the Deadwood's suspension and the 3-inch-wide WTB Ranger tires to be downright tenacious. Give it the right gear and the Deadwood will scale nasty pitches with alarming alacrity.
While ascending, the key is to fire up that positive feedback loop in which the more momentum you carry, the easier it is to roll through the tricky bits, which in turn means you're carrying more momentum. Okay, that's pretty much the goal on any bike. My point is that the additional traction and slower acceleration of the big tires make the Deadwood both particularly conducive to and reliant upon achieving it.
The Deadwood offers an equally unique feel on the downs. Salsa has created a stout and stable descender that, while not the most plush bike around, is much more capable than its minimal travel and prosaic 68-degree head angle would suggest. That capability is thanks to three characteristics.
First, the Deadwood's suspension is very progressive. The rear ramps up steeply and the Pike comes with five volume spacers installed. I never found a harsh bottom-out at either end, despite launching the Deadwood off drops and through rocks that would have had any other 90-millimeter bike crying uncle. You'll find the stock tires' limits long before the chassis', as I hinted at a handful of paragraphs back. Second, the frame is stout from front to back. Third–and most conflictingly–the bike's big wheels and long rear end help make it as stable as a married 44-year-old accountant who's a decade deep in a mortgage, just had their second child and walks around on all fours.
Salsa Deadwood Geometry
It's difficult to imagine the Deadwood's 449-millimeter chainstays as anything but a concession to its wheel size. The good news is that the rear end's length isn't especially noticeable on climbs—the bike still scoots around corners well, and the length of the back seems to help keep the front end planted. But you will notice it when lofting the front or hopping over obstacles. Getting the bike in the air is a challenge absent any kind of lip, requiring a concerted yank on the bars and some patience while the rear wheel lifts off. It's not like you can't bunnyhop or manual the Deadwood—it's just more of a character-building experience.
The Deadwood is no typical trail bike. It's more point-and-shoot than dip-and-dive. Looking for playfulness and agility? Look elsewhere. And while we're at it, it's probably not the right choice if you want a really supple feel from the suspension, though the tires do help soften the blows. So what rider should consider the Deadwood?
Uh, let's change the subject. The build kit: It's solid. For $4,500, you're getting Shimano XT brakes and an XT drivetrain (with those Race Face cranks that are on every bike), a RockShox Pike RC fork, Monarch RT3 shock and Reverb dropper. The wheels are a pragmatic combination of WTB Asym i35 rims and DT 370 hubs. The only things left wanting were another 25 millimeters of travel from the Reverb and a smaller jump at the low end of the XT cassette.
Okay, okay. This is a really fun bike—and not just in the sense that all mountain bikes are fun. With its blend of stability and stoutness on the downs and support and traction on the ups, the Deadwood should delight riders who want to ride hard, but are happy to keep both wheels on the ground and mostly keep to the straightest line. It's also addictingly rewarding on the climbs, and I've been told there are riders out there for whom going uphill is the best part.
I've also been told there's a subset who just want to try something new and different. For those folks, Salsa has once again answered the call.
$4,500 (XT 1×11 build) / salsacycles.com
Salsa's Two Cents: We know from personal experience that there is no one bike that best suits all riders. Deadwood SUS brings a host of unique characteristics to the game and many of Deadwood's attributes can benefit mountain bikers and their diverse experiences. Riders that frequently take on challenging technical terrain, both uphill and downhill (the reality is that most of the world never shuttles), get a boost in traction, rollover, and stability that surpasses anything but that of a full-suspension fatbike.
The increase in stability, and large footprint, increases the line choice of the rider, while also increasing confidence. Increased confidence benefits riders of any experience level and can mean the difference between taking the first step and simply trying to ride a trail…or not. Deadwood provides a boost in cornering confidence as well. Massive traction means you can carry more speed into and through corners, with confidence that those tires won't slip. And lastly, the large wheelsize is a great option for bikepackers looking to cover big miles in wide open terrain. Get the big 29+ wheels up to speed and let momentum take hold, while the suspension adds comfort and control to the ride.
The bottom line is that there is a diversity not just to the places where people ride, but to the way people ride. The Deadwood is the answer to some folk's mountain biking needs and we are pleased to be able to bring them a unique bike that enhances their cycling life. –Mike 'Kid' Riemer, Salsa Marketing Manager