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Budget

Field Test: Salsa Timberjack XT 29

An all-around play and adventure hardtail

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Basics

  • Travel: 130mm fork
  • 29″ wheels
  • 66.4° headtube angle
  • 75.1 seat tube angle
  • Reach: 453.6mm (size medium)
  • Sizes: S-XL

Pros

  • Very versatile
  • Shimano drivetrain is excellent
  • Adjustable chainstay length & singlespeed option

Cons

  • Not the fastest climber
  • Fork is the weakest part of the build

Weight

30.6 lb / 13.9 kg

Price

$2,099

Brand

Salsa Cycles


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While the five full-suspension bikes at this year’s Value Field Test all played the game of trying to budget decent rear suspension and everything that comes along with that into a sub-$3,000 package, the hardtails took a different tactic: keeping things simple and doing fewer things, but aiming to do those things really, really well.

The Timberjack XT 29 is Salsa’s workhorse trail hardtail, which Salsa claims “just might be the best hardtail 29er for the playful types out there.” The modern geometry aims to balance playfulness and handling on the descents with a centered climbing position, by way of a 66.4-degree head angle and adjustable chainstays to try to check all the fun, versatile, and efficient boxes.

At $2,900, the Salsa Timberjack XT 29 is the most expensive of the four hardtails in the test. For that price, the Timberjack gets a Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain combo, with mostly XT parts but an SLX cassette and chain, a RockShox 35 Gold 130mm fork, Shimano MT-501 brakes, Maxxis Minion DHF and Rekon 29″ x 2.6″ tires, and a TranzX adjustable-travel dropper post.

The Timberjack is also available in SLX, GX Eagle, and singlespeed configurations with either 29″ or 27.5″+ wheels, at prices ranging from $1,700 to $2,500 for complete bikes, and a frame-only option for $700. There’s also a Ti frame for $3,200, but I’m moving on from that because Ti anything is far outside the scope of this value-oriented test.

Before we dive into the geometry and ride characteristics, the frame itself has some notable features. There’s no need to worry about going thirsty,  hungry or cold on the Timberjack, as there are two different bottle mounts in the main triangle on sizes S – XL (there’s just one on the XS size), plus an accessory mount on the underside of the downtube, a bag mount on the toptube, and rear rack mounts for carrying anything else that doesn’t fit in those.

The bike also uses Salsa’s clever Alternator 2.0 swinging dropout design, which allows for 17mm of chainstay length adjustment to dial in the ride feel.

The cables are tucked away neatly inside the aluminum frame, which oddly enough, was lighter than expected, with our complete bike weighing 30.6 pounds—more than a pound lighter than the published 31.9 pounds for size medium. That number puts it pretty squarely in the middle of the weight range compared with the other hardtails we tested.

As for the geometry, the headtube is 66.4 degrees, which would have been on the aggressive side in years past but now sits nicely in the “modern but not overkill” zone. The chainstays, at 420mm to 437mm, range from lively to middle-of-the-road. Sizing is a tad on the longer side, so rather than our standard large frame, we tested a medium that had a 453.6 mm reach.

Climbing

The Timberjack doesn’t set out with climbing efficiency as its primary goal. Instead, it’s designed as an all-around play and adventure bike, with climbing as just one part of the full experience.

The Timberjack doesn’t have quite the same snappy energy when pedaled as a more XC-oriented bike like the Marin Team Marin 1 we tested, but it nonetheless felt jaunty enough when pedaling, both seated and out of the saddle. The 75.1-degree seat tube angle made for a balanced climbing position over the bike and even with the chainstays in their shortest (420mm) setting, the rear end always felt plenty substantial, and I never noticed the front end lifting or feeling hard to rein in.

With reasonable expectations set that the Timberjack should be a bikepacking, high-alpine adventure, or playful trail bike, it’s a solid performer that lives up to what it sets out to do. It’s not featherlight and doesn’t have that aggressive feel that makes you want to sprint up the hill, but it gets the job done and makes it easy to enjoy the ride. And enjoy the ride I did, since out of all the bikes, hardtail and full suspension, the Timberjack is the bike I most often wanted to grab as I headed out the door.

Descending

My initial impression when I hopped on the Timberjack, right after arriving in the Tucson desert, was along the lines of “right, this is what mountain biking is supposed to be.” Riding a hardtail—one that isn’t designed for XC racing—feels goofy, low-stakes, and fun. It’s a tool for just playing around, and I loved it.

While most definitely a hardtail, the Timberjack feels aggressive enough to take on some technical downhill riding and doesn’t feel held back by its lack of squish on small jumps and drops or chattery, open sections of trail. The short chainstays made it feel agile, lively, and just plain fun, but since that short rear end didn’t make the bike ultra-stable, it was also nice to have the chainstay adjustability to change the bike’s personality if I so chose.

The Timberjack isn’t as purpose-built as a bike like the Commencal Meta HT we tested, which seems more skewed toward descending but feels less at-home when it isn’t pointed down something gnarly. While the Timberjack is a pleasant descender (and even the fastest in the timed testing), it feels equally ready to pedal just about anywhere you’d want to take a hardtail.

Photos by Tom Richards