Going into Interbike, I had made an exhaustive list of probably 20 bikes that I had hoped to swing a leg over during the Outdoor Demo. As it always turns out, the heat takes its toll, you end up shooting the breeze a little longer and more often than not, the bike you’re looking for is out on the trails somewhere.

To get what you want, it oftentimes takes a bit of camping out to get onboard a popular new design. Having featured the new Salsa full suspension platform on the El Kaboing earlier this summer, I wanted to get my hands on the 29er version of it, the new 2009 Salsa Big Mama. After a long wait in the shade of the Salsa Cycles tent, the Medium Big Mama finally arrived.

About the Salsa Big Mama 29er

A new bike in the Salsa lineup for 2009, the Big Mama continues in a long line of 29er heritage from Salsa Cycles. With a slew of big-wheeled options, the Big Mama is just that… the Big Mama of the Salsa 29er lineup. Sporting a custom-drawn Scandium frameset and 100mm of travel, the Big Mama sits right at the sweet spot for XC 29ers.

One of the cool features of the design is the unified single-pivot rear triangle that takes advantage of the flexible characteristics of Scandium. So, instead of placing a pivot on the seatstay, the Scandium flex stays allow for about 8mm of flex to help take the edge off small stuff and provide for a more progressive suspension feel and pedaling platform.

The entire rear triangle was built with lateral stiffness in mind and to top it off, the post-style rear brake mount just adds to the package by eliminating the need for adapters. And, so you can take advantage of the best in 29er tires, there’s ample mud clearance for up to 2.4-inch tires.

More details of the Salsa Big Mama 29er

  • Fox RP2 rear shock delivers 100mm travel
  • Designed for 100mm fork (501mm axle-to-crown)
  • 7 lb. frame weight (18″ with RP2)
  • Available in Orange Funk color
  • MSRP: $1500

Salsa Big Mama 29er Quick Review

After a long wait to get on the Big Mama, I finally got a hold of the Medium I’d been waiting for. The rider returning it to the tent mentioned that the stem felt a little long. Immediately, a red flag popped up and I nearly bailed on the ride for fear I’d not be able to dial in the cockpit just right.  As it turned out, I remained calm and sped off and up the trail with a determination to tweak things to make it feel right.

It didn’t take more than a few hundred yards to realize that indeed the stem was a little long for a Medium frame. Perhaps that was an intentional spec to keep the front-end down or maybe it was just spec’d wrong. I’d likely suggest a shorter stem (80mm-ish) and a small riser bar to provide enough comfort without turning it into a wheelie machine. In the end, this is always one of the challenges of riding a bike at Interbike… many times the cockpit needs a little more tweaking than can be done, so you just live with it.

OK, onto the trail manners of the Big Mama. The first thing I noticed about the Big Mama was the outstanding climbing traction. The combination of the single-pivot design with Scandium flex stays, the Fox RP2 shock and the venerable Kenda Nevegal 2.2 tires was money. I was climbing up the narrow, rocky and loose trails with ease. I felt confident and stable on the climbs–in spite of feeling a bit stretched out.

This all changed a bit when pointed downhill when the ill-effects of the long-ish stem was most apparent. Some technical sections ended up being walked because I just didn’t have the confidence to push it hard without feeling like I was going over the bars. Potentially a 120mm fork (Fox F29 100mm as spec’d) and a shorter stem could alleviate much of this–not sure what Salsa would say about a 120mm fork though as it may void warranty. Another negative on the downhills was the stiff suspension feel in its initial travel. It does well at absorbing bigger hits, but it didn’t feel very supple over small to medium-sized stuff, thus making for a little rougher downhill than on other bikes. I did appreciate the Fox F29 fork, which was super smooth and tracked straight and true.

This bike feels very XC-ish and would suit a more traditional 29er rider who’s looking for a little bit of squish to take the edge off on long rides, but may be a little tanky compared to others in this category.

Good Big Mama

  • Excellent climbing traction
  • Outstanding price point ($1500 frame-only)
  • Scandium flex stays simplify things
  • Lateral stiffness of the rear triangle is solid

Bad Big Mama

  • Suspension feels a little too stiff (very XC)
  • I couldn’t push it as hard as I’d like due to the uncomfortable cockpit

The Bottom Line on the Salsa Big Mama

This was one of the bikes I really wanted to ride at the demo and I’m glad I did. It’s obvious that Salsa has spent a lot of time developing this new suspension platform. Unfortunately, the cockpit wasn’t conducive to pushing the limits, so I can’t say definitively how well it will perform overall. I can say this… it climbs like a banshee and feels very efficient overall. It’s not going to descend with the prowess of a Niner RIP 9, or be as smooth as the Kona Hei Hei 2-9, but I’m thinking it will suit most XC 29er riders just fine. However, I didn’t get to ride this under the most ideal circumstances, so the jury is still out. Hopefully I can get one for long-term testing in the Spring.

Speedgoat has a complete X.9 Big Mama for $2750–a steal!

More Info: Visit SalsaCycles.com

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Funny, I rode the 18″ model (guess that is the medium) and had different thoughts. I thought it was too short in the cockpit. The bike has a very short top tube length and I needed to move the seat back and would’ve preferred a longer stem. This is the ONLY XC full suspension bike I have ever ridden that did not bob when going hard on the pedals. It is the most comfortable XC FS bike I’ve ridden. I’m 6’1″ and weigh 200lbs. The bike shope I went to has a fully built one for $1300, guess I should buy it.

  2. Yeah, it goes to show you how particular cockpit items can be. You’re 3 inches taller than I am, so that will make a big difference. However, the horizontal top-tube of the Medium is 23.4 inches, which is right on par with typical top-tube lengths for frames my size. Just further evidence that the stem length was too long for my liking on the test bike I rode.

    Fully-built for $1300… I’m guessing that’s the frame-only price because if it’s complete, they are losing a lot of money in the deal. That is unless they have it decked out with Wal-mart components. 🙂

  3. Yes, that could be the frame only. That certain bike shop is known for building up frames with different groups on them. I thought it was a lot of bike for such a low price. I really love the bike and am going to borrow it for a weekend to really test it. If it performs well on steep climbs then I’ll put my money down.

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