Words by: Liam Woods
There is no doubt that all of us at Worldwide Cyclery get excited when we hear about new, cool, and unique mountain bikes being released. When we first saw the new bikes from Salsa Cycles, we got the same familiar, fuzzy feeling we always get. Salsa is a brand that is not typically known for long travel, enduro style mountain bikes. When we first saw the flashy painted Cassidy and raw aluminum Blackthorn, we instantly knew that we had to ride them. That was back in February. Now, we are finally able to talk about the new Salsa Blackthorn and Cassidy mountain bikes.
First, let’s go big and quickly talk about the Cassidy, a 165mm rear travel, 180mm front travel, aggressive 29er that is made to absolutely push what the Salsa brand is known for. Next is the little sibling, the Blackthorn. With 140mm rear travel and 160mm up front, the Blackthorn is claimed to be a do it all kind of mountain bike. Both bikes feature a Split Pivot + rear suspension design, more on those details later. Another impressive part, and why we are so stoked to start offering Salsa bikes, is that the Blackthorn and Cassidy have a really wide range of models available. The Blackthorn starts at $3,199 for an alloy Shimano Deore 12-speed build and goes all the way up to a carbon SRAM X01 Eagle build for $7,499, with three other builds to choose from as well. The Cassidy has fewer builds and starts at $3,899 for an alloy Shimano SLX 12-speed bike and tops out at $6,099 for a carbon SRAM GX Eagle build.
Not only are we excited about the look of these bikes, but after spending a few weeks on them we are even more excited about how they ride. Before we get into a full ride review on each model, let’s talk about some features as well as Salsa Cycles as a brand.
As mentioned previously, Salsa might not be a huge name in the mountain bike world. Most people know of Salsa Cycles as an adventure brand offering gravel or bike packing style bikes. While they do offer some really good hardtail and full suspension options, it has not been their focused style as of late. The Salsa Warbird is a very popular gravel bike and one of the more popular gravel bikes on the market. Salsa has been around for quite some time, founded in 1982 with an original focus on crafting frames and stems. It was then purchased in 1997 by Quality Bicycle Products and has been run by them ever since.
Salsa has a huge range of bikes to offer, from your entry level hardtail mountain bikes, to full suspension cross country and trail bikes, with a focus on adventure bikes. By adventure, we mean gravel bikes like the Salsa Warbird, Stormchaser, and backpacking bikes like the Salsa Cutthroat and Journeyman and even some carbon fatbikes like the Beargrease. With that range of bikes, we were a bit surprised to see the new all mountain, enduro, super-enduro or whatever category you like to put them in bikes, but we're glad the new aggressive mountain bikes from Salsa are here. Either way, it's a departure from Salsa’s history of bikes in their line up, yet coming with a very modern approach and to boast, the Split Pivot suspension design.
Both the Cassidy and Blackthorn offer a huge amount of frame features as well as an amazing build spec. Much like the other Salsa bikes, there are lots of thoughts on what can be included in the frame design, from fitting water bottles and storage (I’m sure something they learned a lot about in the bike packing space) to frame protection, frame layout (like using the same front and rear triangles for both bikes and just swapping out the shock clevis and shock itself to go between the Blackthorns 140mm rear travel to the Cassidy’s 165mm rear travel), and of course the geometry. From a brand getting into the enduro bike space, the features stand up and pass some of the best bikes in this category.
Pack-Free Riding Frame Storage - Both bikes feature an integrated frame strap located above the rear shock on the downtube, with a hole molded into the carbon models with rubber protection on the carbon for your tube, CO2, tire lever or anything you want to carry. There is also a hole on the shock mounts on the alloy frame, which means you can strap your flat repair stuff to your bike without any crazy strap systems or leaving marks on your paint. There is also room for a full water bottle on every sized bike for both models, as well as more water bottle mounts on the downtube if you plan to go the distance on these bikes. Lastly, there is a mount on the top tube for either a small frame bag you can put some snacks in, or spares, that also works to mount a top tube mount for Garmin or Wahoo cycling computers like this K-Edge top tube mount. Salsa pretty much have you covered so you can just hop on your bike and go without the need to pack a backpack, your bibs, or a fanny pack.
As mentioned, these bikes have been well thought out. There is rubber frame protection where you need it. For years now I have been adding rubber mastic tape to my bikes to not only keep them quiet while riding, but to also save the paint from getting scratched by rocks and crap getting stuck to the rear tire. These bikes offer some very nice chainstay protection that also wraps up to the bottom of the seat tube and chainstays, in one of the more crucial areas where rocks and mud get dragged into. There is also a piece of rubber that keeps the gap between the chainstays and seat tube clean and will help prolong bearing life in this area. Other frame protection is found on the seat stays and the downtube.
The suspension design has been very thought out as well. As you read above, it features the Split Pivot rear end that helps isolate braking and pedaling forces from affecting the suspension in a negative way. This also allowed the designers at Salsa to be able to use the same front and rear triangles and just change the rear shock and rear shock clevis to swap between frame models. This means you can have both bikes just by buying the correct shock for the bike and clevis.That clevis retails for $150 and then just factor in whatever rear shock you want to get the other model. Both rear ends are also SuperBoost+ or 12x157mm, which allows for a shorter rear end, more tire clearance and a stiffer frame design.
The last feature that I only found out by seeing on the bike, is the headset top cap is also used as a tool. If you take it off, which you can do without messing up your headset adjustment, it can be used as a tool to tighten up the Split Pivot hardware. You remove the 5mm allen on top of the top cap and inside you’ll find everything you need to tighten up the Split Pivot hardware on the rear if you need to. Talk about thought out features all over these bikes!
The Blackthorn has a very aggressive geometry for a bike that has 140mm rear travel, with a head tube angle of 64.6 degrees, a seat tube angle of 76.5 degrees, and a reach of 469 for the medium and large at 490. It’s definitely on the progressive side of bike geometry. Other numbers like the 432mm chainstay length and 26mm bottom bracket drop make the Blackthorn a pretty fun bike to ride.
Build kits are also very well spec’d and start at a more swallowable price point of $3199 for the alloy Blackthorn with Shimano Deore 12 speed. This bike features RockShox suspension and Maxxis tires, which is damn impressive. In fact, all Blackthorns get Maxxis tires, and a great Maxxis tire combo at that. With the Maxxis Assegai up front and the Maxxis Dissector out back both in the EXO+ tire casing, Salsa did their homework on what the best tire combo for this style of bike might be. There is also an alloy Shimano SLX bike for $3899, a carbon with Shimano SLX for $4899, a carbon SRAM GX Eagle bike for $5999 and the top tier Blackthorn with SRAM X01 Eagle for $7499 that also has carbon wheels and Fox factory suspension. Pretty damn impressive indeed. All bikes get full groupsets for their models, nice brakes with amazing tire choice. Any of these bikes can be ridden out of the box for any level of rider, which is very nice to see from a brand that has never dabbled in this space of mountain bikes before.
Much like the Blackthorn, the Cassidy is also progressive when it comes to frame geometry, but to the next level. The Cassidy has a 63.8 degree headtube angle, a 75.7 degree seat tube angle, a reach of 460mm for the medium and 480mm for the large, the same 432mm chainstays and a bit less BB drop at 19mm. There are some impressive wheelbase numbers also found on the Cassidy with the medium having a 1236mm and the large at 1262mm. These are some long bikes that can hold some serious speed.
The build kits and pricing follow pretty closely to the Blackthorn but with just a few changes, namely in that it ditches the lower and highest end models. All Cassidys get a beefier fork, with the Fox 38 or RockShox ZEB being found on the two higher end carbon models, as well as a Float X2 or Rockshox SuperDeluxe rear shock. These are some great combinations to make sure you are getting the most out of a bike this aggressive. The Cassidy starts at $3899 for the alloy Shimano SLX build, and then bumps to carbon frame with the Carbon Cassidy SLX coming in at $4899, and the highest end Cassidy at $6099, which gets you SRAM GX Eagle. A really cool spec I thought the Cassidy has is the use of Maxxis DD casing tires, which are not typically found spec’d stock on a bike. The same Assegai front and Dissector rear is found, but you get the proper tire casing for a true super enduro bike like the Cassidy.
There is no denying that once you throw a leg over either of these bikes, the Cassidy or Blackthorn, you can tell they mean business. The reach is noticeable and you can feel how slack these bikes are. I first rode the Cassidy, as I really wanted to see how much these bikes can really handle. As it sits, I think this is the biggest, longest travel, single crown bike I have ever ridden, and you can tell. Not in a bad way, but you know it's long upon first pedal strokes. Setup was pretty easy, I followed the settings for the Fox 38 up front on the bike, and set up about 30% sag for the rear shock, with rebound pretty neutral.
Climbing the Cassidy was better than I expected; the Split Pivot rear suspension does an amazing job of keeping the bike supported with very little to zero pedal bob. I found that I really didn’t need to use the rear shock lockout on the Cassidy and climbing was great, that was, until I got to a technical single track climb. When on a fire road you can pedal right along without any issues and for the most part, it feels very efficient for such a big bike. But once I got to the singletrack with some sections I have trouble clearing on a short or mid travel bike, the Cassidy struggled a bit there. The front end wanted to wander a little, and keeping it on line and getting up and over rocks required some effort and focus. While we all know this is not what this bike is intended for, it’s worth noting if you have a particular single track climb in your normal riding zone, or like to travel around and might run into this type of climb.
Once you do make it to the top, the Cassidy breathes a sigh of relief and is ready to literally smash everything on the way down. Taking it out to my normal quick test loop to give the new bike a quick shakedown, you can really tell the Cassidy loves the steep rough terrain. It’s not only the geometry but also the rear suspension design that really lend themselves to stability and grab every bit of traction possible. To be honest, the first shakedown trail I take most test bikes to was not nearly enough and the bike just made the trail seem so tame. So I headed to our roughest trail in the area: Suicide trail. Here you can try a bit of everything, some steep loose rock chutes up top, with some high speed chundery sections in the middle, a couple bigger g-outs, and a few tech sections as well. As expected, the Cassidy handled everything with ease, and it boosted my confidence as I got down the trail. I think the biggest highlight of the Cassidy’s downhill performance comes with the rear end; it’s just able to hold traction everywhere. While braking on steep sections, you never feel like you are being bounced around or getting suspension packing. Then in corners and changing direction on trail, the rear end again holds itself to the ground. The wheelbase and headtube angle also help a ton when the trail speed gets up there, as I never really felt out of control on the Cassidy, although my riding footage and Strava times showed I was pushing my normal pace.
Then I hopped on the smaller, yet extremely capable, Blackthorn. With less everything (travel, geo numbers and components), I expected the Blackthorn to be a bit more of an all-rounder. That isn't far off, but I was also surprised by how hard you can still push the Blackthorn. Trying out the same exact loops as I did on the Cassidy, I was able to get a solid comparison between the two. The Blackthorn has a very similar climbing feel, that is, until you get to that technical single track, and the Blackthorn handles it much better. The steeper front end and reduced wheelbase helps you stay on your line better when navigating tight sections of trail. The rear end still is very supportive and holds traction extremely well over all climbing sections.
Getting the Blackthorn downhill was also a huge surprise. Again, the rear end really helps the performance of these bikes. The way it stays active while braking allows you to really maintain control in steep loose sections of trail. Some other bikes want to buck you off or feel extremely rough, but not the Cassidy or Blackthorn. The rear end stays planted and very much in control. While it’s not as much of a beast as the Cassidy, the Blackthorn really felt smooth and controlled on Suicide just like its longer travel sibling. I found that the Blackthorn really only got held back when both at high speed and hitting some bigger hits. The Blackthorn found its end limit faster and really I couldn’t find the limit of the Cassidy. But the Blackthorn was also a bit better in the tighter sections of trail. Much like climbing the Blackthorn, you are able to navigate sections with less body english and effort. This makes the Blackthorn a bit more of an all-rounder that you can really smash when you want to.
Both bikes are extremely capable downhill machines, with emphasis on staying smooth and controlled. While neither of these bikes excelled in climbing, I would say the rear end helped get these bikes up the hill. If you are a rider who rarely climbs tech single track, often shuttle, or ride bike parks, the Cassidy would be an amazing bike for that. The Blackthorn allows for more riders to enjoy a bike like this, as I found it much more enjoyable for a solid ride than the Cassidy.
The Cassidy sits in the ever growing super enduro category, with bikes like the Santa Cruz Megatower and even the Yeti SB150 as two popular bikes in this category. The Cassidy is actually more aggressive than either of these bikes when it comes to geometry, and very close to the Megatower on suspension numbers. If I had to compare these three bikes, I would put the Salsa Cassidy ahead in a few sections over both bikes, one being the amount of rear end traction while braking. The Split Pivot is really hard to beat in this area, and it shows when you really are testing braking in steep chutes. I would say over high speed, chunk and support, it's about equal to the Megatower as both bikes handle high speed chunky trails very well. One thing the SB150 does better than both of these bikes is maintaining momentum and having a more efficient pedal stroke, meaning you can hold speed better over rough terrain, pump better and get more out of a quick pedal cranking out of a corner. The Yeti SB150 also climbs better than both of these in both how much rear end squish you have as well as getting up technical single track. So, the Salsa Cassidy can really hold its own when put next to some of the best bikes in the category.
The two bikes I would choose to put the Salsa Blackthorn against are the Yeti SB130 and the Devinci Troy. Again, with similar travel numbers and aimed towards the same style of riders, the Blackthorn can really hold its own. The Yeti is better at tech climbing and holding speed, which is something Yeti is known for and it’s really hard to beat. But what the Salsa does better than both is remain controlled and predictable. Something to note is both the Devinci Troy and the Salsa Blackthorn both use Split Pivot out back, and both have amazing braking characteristics, but the Blackthorn comes on top from a pure geometry standpoint. Slacker and longer, you have more control and confidence when the trail gets steep or fast. The Devinci Troy is a bit better in the slower more technical sections, but the geometry would also lend itself to that style of riding.
Who are these bikes for? Well, both bikes are very aggressive, long, slack and well spec’d. I think the Cassidy is an amazing bike, but might not be the first bike I grab if I know I am climbing 3k feet or more that day. However, if we have a shuttle planned or I am headed to the bike park, I think the Cassidy would make an amazing long travel bike to have in the arsenal. If you are a rider who either doesn't care about climbing or really wants the most aggressive bike you can get for the downhills, the Cassidy has your name on it. The Blackthorn strikes a better balance between a trail bike and super enduro bike, while still being extremely aggressive. The Blackthorn is more capable of busting out a 3-5k day of climbing while taking on anything you can for the downhills, but you can still very easily shuttle the Blackthorn all day, hit the bike park and really all out send it. If you are a rider who likes to clear tech climbs, really likes going up as much as you do going down, both of these bikes might be a bit too extreme for that style of riding.
As Salsa enters the world of enduro bikes with the Cassidy and Blackthorn, we have been very impressed with the well rounded and thorough features of these bikes. From built in frame storage and rubber frame protection to the swapped out rear shock and clevis to get either model as an option for you, to the very well spec’d build kits, Salsa did their homework and came to class ready to nail that test. Things we really like about these bikes are the lower price points, which allows riders to get onto a capable bike that can really do anything, for a much lower price than many of our other brands. It's also nice to know that when looking for new bikes at that price point you are getting the most modern and up to date geometry on the market, which also includes one of the best suspension designs, Split Pivot. We are super stoked to see these new bikes from Salsa and be able to offer these to our customers.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.