Salsa Timberjack Deore Review
Cons: Poor fork specification, poor tire specification, not as stable at speed
Manufacturer: Salsa Cycles
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
The Salsa Timberjack Deore is the least expensive model in our budget mountain bike review. This is a very affordable entry-level hardtail that is best suited to smooth trails, moderate terrain, and less aggressive riders. For the price, it has a relatively good component specification that includes a dropper seat post, a 1x drivetrain, a suspension fork, and wheels and tires that can be set up tubeless. It has relatively moderate geometry by today's standards, making it quick and agile at lower speeds on both the climbs and descents. It's a perfectly capable bike on the descents as well, though it prefers a controlled and calculated approach, packed dirt, and more flow than chunk. Those looking to tackle aggressive terrain will be better off looking elsewhere, but anyone who wants to cruise on fire roads or mellow singletrack will find a trusty and reasonably priced companion in the Timberjack Deore.
The Timberjack frame is crafted from a blend of 6066-T6 and 6061 aluminum with classic hardtail styling and lines. Salsa has incorporated their Alternator adjustable dropout at the rear axle that allows the user to adjust the chainstay length to their preference, or for use with a variety of drivetrain configurations. The frame also features internal cable routing and has the ability to mount up to three water bottle cages on the frame. We measured our size large test model and found that it had a 646mm effective top tube length and a 446mm reach. The head tube angle measured 67-degrees with an effective seat tube angle of 72.5-degrees. The bottom bracket height was 326mm with a 1175mm wheelbase and 428mm chainstays in the short dropout position. It tipped our scales at 31 lbs and 12 oz with tubes but without pedals.
- Aluminum frame only
- Offered in 27.5"+ (tested) or 29" wheels and tires
- Designed around a 130mm travel fork
- Tire clearance for up to 27.5" x 3.0" tires, or 29" x 2.6"
- Alternator adjustable dropout
- Internal cable routing
The Salsa Timberjack was fun on smooth flowy singletrack with firm compacted dirt, and the adjustable length chainstays allow the rider to fine-tune the ride quality to suit their own needs. The Suntour fork and WTB Ranger tires that come on this $1,099 build limited how well the bike could handle once the trails became too loose, rough, or steep. When the trail conditions were appropriate for the low profile tires, the Timberjack was a quick and agile bike. The 67.4-degree head angle is a good match for what this bike is intended for. The steering was precise, especially in tight corners or slower speeds. It does provide enough confidence to get down anything if you pick a good line. Assuming you stay within the performance limitation of the Timberjack's tires and fork, this affordable model is plenty of fun to ride at moderate speeds on mellower terrain.
Our testers quickly found the limits of the Timberjack. The short wheelbase and lack of grip from the tires reserved this bike to timid riding compared to the Giant Stance 29 2 or Specialized Fuse 27.5.
The geometry of the Salsa Timberjack isn't as "modern" as the other bikes in our test. Over the past five years, bikes, in general, have been designed with longer wheelbases, slacker head tubes, and lower bottom bracket heights. All of those changes make a bike more stable and confident when descending. The Salsa has adjustable chainstays that allow the rider to change the wheelbase of the bike. Even with the wheel placed in the most rearward position possible, the bike has the shortest wheelbase in the test. Every number in a bike's geometry plays a role in how it handles, but the length of the wheelbase is the number one factor in stability when riding at high speeds. The Salsa is noticeably more twitchy at high speeds than the other test bikes, making the high-end limits of this bike more noticeable.
Even reaching the high-end limits of this bike became challenging after skidding through the first couple of corners. Testers immediately noticed the lack of braking traction provided by the WTB Ranger tires. When trying to slow down from any mid to high range speed, the tires easily break loose into a skid. Add in the lackluster Suntour XCR 34 fork, and it was a recipe for very little confidence in corners or when braking.
The only area where the Timberjack felt like it could hold its own against the other test bikes was on the climbs. The fast-rolling 2.8" tires made the bike feel much lighter and more efficient than most plus-sized bikes. While the short wheelbase made weaving through slow speed tight switchbacks a breeze.
The Timberjack has the shortest wheelbase in the test which offered both benefits and challenges on the climbs. The bike easily navigated slow speed tight switchbacks on the climbs. The challenge is to keep the front wheel down on the ground when climbs become steeper. The 72-degree seat tube angle means that in a climbing position taller riders end being positioned back over the rear wheel. This typically isn't a major issue on a hardtail, but once you add in the super short chainstays on this bike it feels as like it wants to wheelie or loop out on climbs. On steeper climbs testers had to inch forward on the saddle or lean forward to keep the front wheel planted. Looking ahead and maintaining momentum through technical sections was more important on the Salsa since any quick changes made the front wheel light and wander-y.
The 2.8" tires offered plenty of traction for climbing even if the trails became loose or rocky while the 1x10 Deore drivetrain offered easy enough gearing for everything except climbing the steepest sustained climbs.
The $1,099 Salsa Timberjack Deore 27.5+ is the most affordable of the five bikes we tested. Providing a dropper post and a competitive build kit for such a reasonable price is something we haven't seen in any past test bikes.
The Suntour XCR 34 air fork was a major low point on this bike. When the fork was pumped up to recommended levels for test rider weights it was way too stiff and hard to utilize even half the 130mm travel length. Even when the testers let more air out of the fork, it continued to feel overly stiff until there was so little air that the bike sagged half-way through the travel. There was never a time where the fork felt like it was both separating the rider from the roughness of the trails and able to keep the wheel in contact with the ground for added traction. On a hardtail with only front suspension having the fork feel like it doesn't work is a significant negative in ride quality.
Wheels and Tires--
The WTB wheels on the Timberjack were an excellent fit for this bike. The 40mm wide rims allow the plus-sized tires to spread out and provide a larger footprint on the ground. Add in the ability to run the tires tubeless, and you have a good combination of cushion, traction, and support. The WTB Ranger 27.5 x 2.8" tires that come equipped front and rear can be great in the right conditions. The tires are fast-rolling, which helps the bike feel quick to accelerate and hold speed even with the wide 2.8" width. Once the dirt gets dry or loose, like it has been here in Lake Tahoe this summer, the tires have a hard time finding any traction. The braking power and cornering grip of the low profile Ranger tires was close to zero. Testers had to really plan ahead for any abrupt corners or obstacles in the trail. If you live somewhere with firm compacted dirt and mellower trails, these tires can be a great way to keep your big wheel bike feeling fast. Anything outside of that you'll be wishing for tires with bigger knobs to provide more bite into the trails.
This Timberjack comes spec'd with a Shimano Deore 10 speed drivetrain which is pretty common for bikes in this price range. This drivetrain offers a wide gear range with 11-42t on the cassette, the same gear ratios provided by most SRAM 11-speed drivetrains. The main difference is that with only ten gears the jump between them is more noticeable and therefore feels less smooth. The drivetrain gave us no issues during the testing period, but the ten-speed feels pretty harsh and cheap when compared to the gear range and shifting performance offered by the SRAM 12-speed SX drivetrain on the Giant Stance.
The cockpit of a bike may be one of the most personal parts of a bike. They are typically the most easily customizable. The Timberjack we tested sports Salsa's 800mm wide Rustler bar. Most riders will likely trim the bars down for a more personalized and comfortable fit. We appreciate seeing bars coming extra-wide instead of too narrow. That said, there was something unique about the feel of the Rustler handlebar, the upsweep or back sweep never felt perfect for any of our testers. The WTB Volt saddle is comfortable. Once again, saddle fit and comfort are specific to each person, but the Volt is a solid middle of the road option. The Timberjack Deore has a Tranz-X dropper post. We've been seeing these posts on lower-end test bikes for years and have yet to experience any problems. This bike was no different. The dropper post lever on this bike felt pretty flimsy and small, making it potentially more easy to break in a crash.
Recommending upgrades for bikes in this price range is challenging. Spending just a few hundred dollars more right off the bat will allow you to step up to a higher build level which will typically give riders more value to the dollar than making individual upgrades on their own.
A couple of simple and relatively affordable upgrades to this Salsa would be tires and brake rotors. If you ride your bike much you'll eventually wear out the tires and need new ones regardless. Tires with larger knobs will provide more grip when cornering and most importantly, when braking. A Maxxis Recon+ is an option that will still roll fast but provide way more cornering grip and control then the WTB Rangers that come stock. Brake rotors may easily get dismissed as simple pieces of metal on the wheels, but upgrading to a nicer rotor will drastically improve the braking performance of any bike.
The worst performing component on this Timberjack Deore is the fork. Unfortunately, upgrading to something with substantially better performance will cost hundreds of dollars. You're better spending a little more initially on a nicer bike than planning to make this upgrade.
Salsa essentially offers three build kits for the Timberjack or a frame only option for custom builds. Customers can choose either 29" or 27.5+" wheels and then decide on which build kit is most appropriate for them and their budget. The options range in price from the $1,999 Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle we previously tested for our Hardtail review, and continue down to the $1,099 Salsa Timberjack Deore 27.5+ we have for this budget review.
Moving up in price to $1,399, the Salsa Timberjack SLX 27.5+ affords riders a RockShox Recon RL fork to replace the Suntour. A Shimano SLX 1x11 drivetrain that provides more range and easier gearing than the Deore 1x10. The SLX build also sports Shimano MT400 brakes.
On paper, the Salsa Timberjack provides good value at $1,099. Two years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find an $1100 bike that included a dropper post and rims and tires that are tubeless compatible, options that offer riders major improvements in ride quality. On the trail, this bike's performance falls short of all the other test bikes in this price range. At $1,250 the 2020 Specialized Fuse 27.5 is a more fun and versatile bike.
On its own, the Salsa Timberjack Deore 27.5 is an affordable hardtail with adjustable geometry that is suitable for light-duty trail riding and bikepacking. Unfortunately, the poor component spec left this bike at the bottom of our tester's lists in almost every criteria compared to the competition. That said, if you're a non-aggressive rider who frequents smooth and mellow trails, the Timberjack Deore is a great entry-level option that will get you out in the woods at a reasonable price.
— Jeremy Benson, Kyle Smaine