Salsa "Sol Sessions": The Big Mama

Salsa Cycles has been working on this new full suspension platform for quite some time and now……here it is!

The new model!

The Big Mama is a four inch travel suspension platform with several important features which I’ll get into a bit later. First off, I was able to get a chance to ride this bike on Sunday at the local Murphy-Hanrahan trail system. It is a great buff, fast, tight and twisty single track loop. I was able to put in 16 miles on the new rig and I will say, it was a very satisfying ride.

My observations of 29 inch wheeled full suspension bikes is that most of them are compromises of what I like in a 29″er. They seem to be good at some things, but have lost certain handling characteristics, aesthetic characteristics, or structural characteristics in the translation from hard tail to full suspension. There are few that seem to have it dialed and look good doing it. Is the Big Mama in that rarefied air? Let’s take a look.

New graphics

I have ridden a lot of full suspension bikes and the first thing one should determine is “what type” of full suspension are we talking about. Salsa head honch, Jason Boucher, says this is first and foremost an “all day trail bike”. Taking that into consideration as I rode it, I could then discern if it fit into my expectations for such a bike. I would say that such a bike should be maneuverable, respond to pedaling input in a positive way, (read “like a hard tail”), be stiff laterally, and have overall handling that is easy to navigate when the rider is tired. It should also do what the best trail bike full suspension should do, that is, keep the rider fresh and keep the wheels in contact with the ground. Finally, it should be fun and look cool. (Hey! I like my rigs to look good!)

one piece forged linkage

The heart of the Big Mama is it’s detailed suspension and frame fittings. Things like the one piece forged link, (pictured above) help keep things tracking correctly. The hidden part here is the Enduro brand bearings used at all pivot points. The drive side of the swing arm is even fitted with two bearings, while the non-drive side has the traditional single bearing, which helps keep the swing arm pivot stiff and resist twisting forces from the pedaling input of a rider. Did it work? Well, all I can say is that I never once felt anything close to flex in the bottom bracket area. The huge bottom bracket forging, which includes the swing arm pivot, no doubt helps in this area. In fact, that swing arm felt pretty stout too. The reason why was evident……

rear drop out area

……Notice something missing? Yep! No pivot. Salsa Cycles designed the suspension with no rear drop out pivot, not because they think the rear pivot idea wasn’t any good, it just rode better than the designs that had rear pivots in their testing. So, to get around the pivot and have it ride well, Salsa designers went to the toolbox and pulled out their experiences with the Dos Niner. The soft tail classic has chain stays designed to flex up to an inch and survive trail abuse over the long haul. The flattened Scandium enhanced structure makes a return here on the Big Mama in the seat stays and only has to flex a whopping 5mm throughout the stroke of the shock. Salsa claims it helps reduce starting shock pressures needed and with the custom tuned Fox RP2, it helps achieve full travel from the damper. Did it work? Well, with the shock set to the open position on my test ride the Big Mama rode with small bump sensitivity and didn’t feel like it ramped up or stiffened in any way towards the end of it’s travel. It just reacted to bumps with no drama and made me forget all about suspension. That’s what a good suspension design should do, become invisible.

shaped down tube

head tube/down tube junction

Salsa Cycles tried to maximize the weld areas on the bike and to reduce the places that required welding on the Big Mama. To do this they utilized special forged frame fittings, like the drop outs and the bottom bracket area. They also shaped the Scandium tubes, which were all specially designed by Salsa, to help combat flex where riders don’t want it. Check out that down tube/ bottom bracket junction, pictured above, or that down tube/ head tube weld area. There is some serious manipulation of tubes going on with the Big Mama. Did it work? Well, one of my biggest pet peeves about 29″ers is that many of them exhibit a torsional twist in the front triangle which leads to a vague steering feel and in bad cases a total disconnect between tracking of the rear and front wheels. I can say that I felt the Big Mama tracking a good straight line and that it didn’t feel like it had any significant torsional flex in the front end. yeah, I’d say all that tube shaping and weld area work was worth it.

swingarm clearances

Of course, this being an all day trail bike sort of rig, it would only make sense that you would be able to run big meats and still have some clearance around the tire for mud and trail debris. Salsa engineers made sure that you will be able to mount up a 2.5″ wide tire on a 35mm wide rim and have that clearance. I’ll have to take their word on that, as the samples I rode and saw all had Nevegals on them, but to my eye, it looks like a sure fit. That swing arm forging also helps solidify things laterally too. Nicely done!

Post mounts!

Salsa’s design goals for this project were to have reliability, durability, and attention to detail. In that vein, they chose to fit the Big Mama with post mount type fittings for the rear disc brake. This is in keeping with the move by fork makers who have gone to post mounts and should give the Big Mama better braking performance given that the brake caliper is now mounted to a sturdy forged bit directly welded to the frame.

A few notes on my ride that I have not mentioned: The Big Mama was easy to wheelie, and was nimble feeling with a slight nod to the stable side of the handling spectrum. When I rode the production prototype, I had no idea about the “numbers”, since they were kept from me. I found out only later that the head angle is 71 degrees and that the Fox fork has 46mm of off set here. With this combination, I felt the Big Mama felt calm and collected on hairy fast descents through the tight single track. Climbing didn’t require any extra attention to the front end other than that I had to weight the front a bit more or I could wheelie at will. Something that could be cured if I wanted to with positioning tweaks, but frankly, I liked it this way. The bike cornered really well and what impressed me most was its ability to carve around a really tight corner with stability. This rig should help you clean switchbacks that have given you fits on other big wheelers.

The Big Mama will also be available as I got to ride it with Fox suspension, Race Face stem and seat post, and a good helping of Shimano XT parts including the brakes, hubs, and drive train. Salsa bits round out the package which will be topped off with a WTB saddle. Frame sets will include the Fox RP2 and a Salsa Flip-Lock seat collar. Look for the frame sets to become available in September with a suggested MSRP of $1435-$1500. The complete Big Mama bikes will come in January of ’09 and will be MSRP at about $3800-$4000. (One note, the bike pictured here has the black Fox shock, which is the color for the ’09 120mm travel F-29. The complete bike will actually be spec’ed with the 100mm travel fork and was white in our hand outs) Go to Salsa Cycles and check out the specs and information on the Big Mama. I also should mention that the very similar 26″er model, the El Kaboing, will also be available and was presented at the press release as well.

In conclusion, I felt that Salsa Cycles has done their homework and applied solutions with elegance and effectiveness to the problem of making a great 29″er trail bike. Have they come up with something that fits my definition of a 29″er trail bike? If the 16 miles I got to ride it is any indication, I would say that the Big Mama is well on it’s way to filling that rare place in my mind. Will it work for you? I know that there will be those who won’t like it, but my guess is that the Big Mama will be a very popular rig with a lot of 29″er freaks. If the design fulfills the goals that Salsa Cycles set for it, and it gives every indication that it will, I would go as far as to say that this will be its best selling 29″er rig. Time will tell on that, but for now, this bike is high on my list of full suspension 29″ers.

Edit 6-22-08: Salsa Cycles Jason Boucher has informed me that the Fox F-29 will indeed be black as shown on the pics above. He especially spec’ed a black fork. It is still the 100mm travel fork. Sorry for the confusion this may have caused.

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No Responses to “Salsa "Sol Sessions": The Big Mama”

  1. captain bob Says:

    Very Nice! That rear is something man. Can’t wait to see it and ride it sometime.

  2. The Monkey Says:

    Do you happen to have any more pictures of the main pivot from the non-drive side? Also a close up of the drop outs would be good too.
    I’m not super crazy about the color, but the price seems good. I think that if the bike rides as good as you say, it should be a hit.

  3. professed Says:

    Congrats to Salsa for taking a step up in travel and as you say, producing a well thought out rig.

    but as you also say ” I like my rigs to look good” mmmm might take a few beers for me to find this big mama attractive – something like a whole case of beers ! Anyone got a saw, the bike is lying on my arm !!

  4. Guitar Ted Says:

    The Monkey: Sorry! The bike was on a display stand and I had a devil of a time reaching around for the brake mount pic. I know the media is out on tour with this thing up in the Chequamegon National Forest starting today, so look for Dirt Rag or Bike to maybe get that pic in the coming days.

    The color, Orange Funk by the way, is much cooler in person, not as light as you might think from my shots. It has some nice metal flake, ala the new El Mariachi, and is closer to the hue of the La Cruz really. I think you’ll agree once you actually lay eyes on it.

    Professed: The lines, the way the cables are routed, and the subtle look are all pretty nice. That and my comment to the Monkey above should reduce your beer intake…….if ya want to! πŸ˜‰

  5. mike Says:

    How much does the frame weigh?

  6. salsa lady Says:

    Big Mama Total grams
    Small 3076.95
    Medium 3190.35
    Large 3247.05
    X-large 3303.75

    That’s roughly 6lb 8 oz – 7lbs 4oz for Big Mama depending on size. (Including the Fox RP2 rear shock.)

  7. The Monkey Says:

    Nothing will reduce my beer intake……..
    πŸ™‚
    Even if I do have to chew my arm off!

  8. Guitar Ted Says:

    salsa lady: Thank you! πŸ˜‰

    The Monkey: πŸ™‚ (laughing!!)

  9. mg Says:

    Awesome write up Guitar Ted. Thanks for the scoop! I can tell you that, while I have not ridden the latest generation of the new Salsa bikes, I was fortunate enough to ride one of the early prototypes (number two, to be exact). I know they’ve made significant improvements since that iteration of the Big Mama, but even in its formative prototype stages, it was a great performing frame. I am really looking forward to riding the production version to see what it’s evolved into!

    Cheers,

  10. Mike J Says:

    The bike sounds great. Technology is interesting and seems like a lot of fun. But, I hate to be a downer, Big Mama is a curious choice for a name.

  11. Guitar Ted Says:

    mg: You are going to love it even more, I know. And besides…….it’s orange! πŸ˜‰

    MikeJ: I could have this slightly wrong, as I had someone distracting me at the moment that they explained the name, but I believe that they chose it as a foil to the Mamasita.

  12. Jason Says:

    G.T.,

    I know it’s a “trail bike” but what’s your opinion on the Big Mama being a FS for Solos and endurance events with some lighter parts swapped. The frame weight seems portly but it is comparable to most FS 29er rigs that I looked at. I’d like to see on with lighter wheels, flat bars, ergon grips, 2.1 tires, oh wait, that’s just what I would do. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the report.

    I vote that Orange should be the official color of Salsa. Similar to Biachi;s Celeste Green. It could be Salsa Orange or Salsa Anaranjado.

    j

  13. Guitar Ted Says:

    Jason: Butcher kinda already did just what you are talking abouton one odf his protos. He says it’s fast. I think the Big Mama is a perfect sled for endurance. The frame looks to be bomber, so the reliability is there. You know, the complete version of the Big Mama with all that XT stuff would be pretty much spot on for endurance I think. πŸ˜‰

  14. MMcG Says:

    the rear post mount is a cool feature.

  15. Dirt McGirt Says:

    The name is rad.
    The paint is Pimpin.
    The frame is sick.
    I think there should be restrictions for who buys it. You must show your baller status card at time of purchase. Nung.

    If you have beef with any aspect of this frame, you need not ride it, this bike is hot from front to back.

  16. Jason Says:

    Thanks for the info G.T,

    Everything I’m reading is pointing the Big Mama in my direction in later 08/09. Hmmm, but do I sell my Mamasita, My Dos or REALLY cheeze off Wifey and build up a spanky new one??

    j

  17. BOAB Says:

    http://gallery.mtbr.com/showphoto.php/photo/181422/limit/last1

    Here are some pics from MTBR

  18. Dirt McGirt Says:

    I’m gonna start a site called Fmtbr.com.com.

    It’ll be ill, son. ILL!

  19. Dirt McGirt Says:

    Dude, I’m sorry. How in the h e double hockey sticks could you NOT like that paint job??!?!

  20. mg Says:

    That’s what I’m sayin’… It’s gonna’ look friggin’ SWANK in person! You know it will… especially sitting next to my Dos Niner and La Cruz. It’ll look good in the midst of my entire stable of Salsas, actually. When those of you who have saddle time on modern Salsa frames ride it, you’ll understand — it fits right in amongst the family.

  21. Dirt McGirt Says:

    word.

  22. Slim Says:

    GT,

    Do you have any comparisons to the Niner RIP 9 and Specialized Stumpy FSR 29?
    They are the only other 4″ travel 29ers that I have ridden so wondering what you thought of the differences if you’ve tried them.

    Thanks,

    Slim

  23. Guitar Ted Says:

    Slim: First off, I have not had the chance to ride the Specialized FS 29″er. When I was at Interbike I stood in their booth/demo area for 20 minutes and the Specialized folks walked right by me as if I wasn’t even there. It was very strange! Anyway………

    The Niner RIP 9 is a fun bike. In comparison to the Salsa, I felt as though I was more “on top” of the bike and with the Big Mama I felt more at home, more “normal” if you will. Definitely the Big Mama has more of an ability to pop up the front end for wheelies and manuals. It also has a great acceleration factor. Instead of sitting back into its travel before leaping, it can jet right forward, more like a hard tail. The RIP 9 does not do this. The RIP 9 definitely feels much more “FS” , and by that I mean to say that at all times you know you are on a full suspension device with plush travel. The Big Mama tends to become more “invisible” in that regard. It still eats up the chatter and bumps, but I didn’t notice it so much. I felt more “connected” to the trail, not so “isolated” from it as on the RIP 9.

    In conclusion, I think both rigs are extremely well thought out and are great performing 29″ers. If I had to say concisely what is the difference I would say this: The RIP 9 is more for folks coming from AM/FR 26″ers and the Big Mama is more for folks who want 4″ travel but without the overtly “plush”, couch-like feel that a lot of FS 4 plus inch travel bikes have.

    That’s being far too simplistic and unfair to both bikes, but ya gotta start somewhere! πŸ™‚

  24. Tristan Says:

    Hey GuitarTed –
    Thanks for this writeup, and thanks to Salsa for making it even harder to pull the trigger on a frame! You give great responses to those who comment, and it is greatly appreciated. Anyhow, enough brown-nosing. I had been all-but-decided on a Turner Sultan. I was hoping you could give me your thought/feel comparison between the Sultan and the Big Mama.

    My guess is that you would say that the Sultan is a bit more on the “FS” side of things, but I’d like to hear it from you πŸ™‚

    I’ve been taking my time in picking a frame for my next bike. I have decided that it WILL be FS, and it WILL be a 29er. This will be my first FS, after many, many years on a good ol’ Schwinn Homegrown hardtail. Perks there are a) lightweight b) climbs like a scalded monkey c) handles nicely through singletrack. However, I am anxious to move towards endurance racing, which means (to me) the FS is key. That said, can you make a recommendation as to a frame choice?

    Thanks again, keep rockin.

  25. Guitar Ted Says:

    Tristan: Hey, thanks! I appreciate all the comments. Let me say first of all that I have not had the pleasure of riding a Turner Sultan. I have picked the brains of a few Turner owners though, and I will offer you what they have passed on to me. The Turner, as you guessed rightly, is a more “full suspension-like” feeling rig, although I will temper my comment by saying that the guys I discussed this with were tuning these rigs for All Mountain type riding. Not really what you might look at for endurance racing. I suspect that a Sultan could, and probably has been set up in a more “XC-ish” way, but I have not spoken to anyone that has a Sultan set up this way.

    Turner has a different outlook on FS than Salsa does, and I think this is a better way to look at this. Salsa comes from a “singletrack, tight twisty” mindset and Turner is located in the South West , which has a different trail type all together. The bikes are sort of born out of these mindsets in a very general sense.

    Salsa; therefore, has a quicker feel. Right out of the box, I could feel the Salsa was a great single track slicer and dicer. I thought it had a great tendency to “squirt” forward, much like a hardtail, when mashing a pedal down. It was very responsive to tempo changes and this was with the damper set wide open and at a lower pressure in the can than you might think you need. To my mind, it’s aimed dead center at the endurance crowd. Tough forged connections, great suspension action that isn’t stressed to the max to work correctly, and sensible weight. It all adds up to a reliable looking choice for an endurance mount.

    That’s my take.

  26. Tristan Says:

    Hey GT-
    Thanks for your quick response.
    I can definitely understand your point on ‘fs mindsets.’ It fits quite nicely when looking at the typical build of a Sultan. In reality, I think either would fit my needs – the Sultan being a full pound lighter, but leaving my wallet ~$600 lighter as well. While I am getting more into gnarlier terrain (I just moved from Maine to Massachusetts), where drops and ledges are more the norm, I have not had a problem handling things on my hardtail. Therefore, I can imagine a less-AM-oriented suspension providing me with a bit of what I am used to, mixed with a bit of what I’m looking for. Looks like you’ve successfully made me flip-flop. Thanks!

    -Tristan

  27. Yoga Pants Says:

    I dont usually comment, but after reading through so much info I had to say thanks

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