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The Beta Tests

The Beta Tests: Salsa Cassidy Carbon GX

All the enduro, none of the bro

Basics

-165mm rear travel, 180 front
-29-inch wheels
-Compatible with 170mm fork
-Carbon front triangle and seatstays, aluminum chainstays


Pros

-Ultra plush suspension
-Ultra stiff frame
-Ultra short chainstays

Cons

-Slightly expensive
-Slightly slack seat tube angle


Price

$6,400

Brand

Salsa


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Do you take a brand’s identity into account when shopping for a bike? Is there something about, for example, Yeti’s rich history or Scott’s Euro-nerdyness that bolster what you like about their products? They clearly hope so. Yeti’s legacy colorways and Scott’s futuristic race machines play to each brand’s strengths. But far more interesting is when a bike company decides to play against type. Take the Transition Spur, which promises the XC experience without the XC stigma. Or the Salsa Cassidy, which promises enduro capability without the loud music and bro attitude.

Not only does the Cassidy deliver on that promise, it goes beyond what we’ve come to expect from a big-wheeled big bike of any brand. Let’s start with that fork. The Fox 38 is probably overkill for most riders most of the time, but when you stretch it to 180 millimeters, maybe that extra girth is warranted. And that’s especially true on the Cassidy. If there’s any bike out there that could make a Fox 36 or RockShox Lyric feel flexy, it’s this bike. Each of our testers reported how laterally stiff the Cassidy is. It gives new meaning to the phrase “mini downhill bike.” Although that doesn’t describe the Cassidy’s overall ride, it does describe its chassis.

This bike feels wildly overbuilt under foot. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a positive trait on some bikes. For anything meant to be ridden more passively, some lateral deflection can help maintain a line through rough terrain. But the Salsa Cassidy wasn’t optimized for passive riders. That stiffness encouraged more forceful cornering and more confident approaches to the immovable tree-root minefields on our test course. If we tried to light-handedly allow the bike to skip through a section, it was more likely to slide us off course. But on the other hand, when we picked our line and committed to it, we were rewarded with predictability and responsiveness. And thankfully, that’s backed up by how the Cassidy carries its travel.

This bike is plush. We already mentioned the 180mm fork—10mm squishier than most mainstream enduro 29ers. Especially on the steeps, it encouraged us to trust the front end and adopt that forceful style the frame was asking for. And then out back, the rather more standard 165mm gives itself up quite readily. The Cassidy had a talent for floating through anything we pointed it at and, as we mentioned, this bike likes to be pointed at stuff. If there was something big, loose and scary in the spot that our momentum was taking us, or where a given corner’s entrance needed us to be, the suspension would make sure that the tires would stick to the ground. That traction and plushness was the other part of the Salsa Cassidy’s mini-downhill-bike feeling, but that feeling didn’t quite extend to its geometry. 

The front half of this bike is only slightly more conservative than the rowdiest members of the enduro club. 63.8-degree head angle and in the low position, and a 481mm reach for a size large. But the rear-center is 432mm across all sizes. It wouldn’t be strange to see chainstays that are 15 or 20mm longer on a bike like this. Maybe Salsa wanted to do something different, as is their style. And it worked for us. There were plenty of root-covered corners on our test course that lent themselves to creative rear-wheel steering to safely make it through. It’s an aptitude you don’t often see on bikes with this much travel, and we all enjoyed the hell out of it.

The other side of it is that the Salsa Cassidy shares both a front and rear triangle with the 140mm Blackthorn, separated only by a different shock and shock hardware. Again, we weren’t complaining, but the Cassidy is not the sort of enduro bike with an auto-pilot button. Really, the only side effect of the shared frame concept was that the effective seat tube angle was a bit slack for a bike of this travel. 75.7 degrees (low setting) isn’t quite optimal, especially for suspension this plush. We all relied heavily on the Float X2’s firm mode to get up our hill. Thankfully, it’s the sort of firm mode that allows the shock to stay active, raising ride height but maintaining a fair amount of traction. 

That Float X2 happened to be the base level version in Fox’s lineup. The GX drivetrain and Code R brakes were similarly budget-minded, as were the alloy chainstays and Trans-X dropper post. None of these are horrible things to have on your bike, but they’re a little beneath our Cassidy’s $6,400 price tag. What saves it, though, is that it is a very unique bike. Every element of how it rides works together to produce a bike that’s really like no other. And that’s not even mentioning the accessory strap.

Sure you can strap accessories nearly anywhere on nearly any bike, if you don’t care how it looks. But that’s exactly what may be stopping some folks from carrying their necessities on their bike. On a very un-Salsa bike, it’s a very Salsa move to make a clean, integrated way to carry some more stuff. It’s evidence that the Cassidy still has some adventure in its blood, and not a drop of bro attitude.

Photos: Anthony Smith

Entry point:

Surprising for 2021, the Cassidy is available in an aluminum version. There’s even a frame-only option in aluminum. But starters for a complete Cassidy is the $4,100 Cassidy SLX. The first two decisions Salsa made in speccing this version were good ones. The fork and rear shock should draw no complaints at this price. The Zeb fork has a far better damper setup and a lighter chassis than the Domain, which we almost expected to see here. And the Super Deluxe Select+ shock actually gets you the same adjustments as the Fox Float X2 on the flagship model. The SLX/Deore drivetrain and SLX brakes probably offer more bang for the buck than any other component mix in history. Despite the adequate but unexciting RaceFace cranks and WTB rims, this entry-level build is smartly specced, a decent value, and offers most of what we loved about the $6,400 Carbon GX model.