QBP & Salsa Cycles had me out to their annual Saddledrive product release & dealer camp at Snow Basin, near Ogden UT these last few days. I came back energized and excited to be a part of the growing “Adventure by Bike” category.
My two days were spent meeting with folks- brand reps, technicians, and other dealers- and discussing the ways the new bikes might be able to benefit our riding communities. We exchanged ideas, learned a bunch, and rode some great bikes. I’ll get into the particulars of the bikes in a moment. First, a couple ideas that I took home, and would really like to share with you:
1. Fat Bikes are Mountain Bikes. 2015 may be the year we start changing our collective thinking on this one. While they’re great for sand & snow; that’s not the end of it. They’re pretty much great everywhere.
2: Adventure by Bike isn’t just about “endurance” riding. This one really resonated with me. For years, Mary and I have associated “bikepacking” with very light 29″ setups, putting in big miles day after day. Sure, having a good pair of legs and the ability to ride long days opens up new opportunities for riding… but on the other hand, the gear we have coming readily available to us these days opens up new opportunities just the same.
The “Exploration” category brings us riders a whole new kind of adventure, and opens up a whole new landscape.
Salsa Cycles has more or less divided their lineup between what they’re calling “Endurance” bikes and “Exploration” bikes this year. I must admit, I was strongly attracted to the endurance bikes as first priority. Yes… the carbon Spearfish called my name from way out. But some of the Exploration bikes- namely the Bucksaw & Blackborow- have me sticking my nose back in the topo maps, longing for some new tracks. (we’ll get back to that in a future post 😉 )
The test ride setup- putting some objective metrics into the ride.
I came up with some identical loops I could ride the bikes on fairly quickly; though some longer than others. I rode everything on a short, flowy loop that ended with a bit of uphill pavement. Variations after the singletrack loops would depend on the type of bike I was riding; I’d go longer on the lightweight “endurance” bikes, and for the “exploration” bikes I’d take a trip under a rocky bridge where you might expect trolls to live, and then climb straight up a flight of concrete stairs.
The two variations for the bike types allowed me to put a bit of an objective spin on the test ride: Strava time for the “fast” bikes, and for the “burly” bikes; I was able to count how many dabs I’d have over the slimy, wet rocks under the bridge, or gage my own effort getting up the flight of concrete stairs.
Test riding the new goods.
2015 Salsa Beargrease (picture at the top of the page)
This bike is the ultimate example of Salsa’s “fat bikes are mountain bikes” claim. It is a singletrack racing machine. Plain and simple. This carbon fiber race bike climbs with total responsiveness, and thanks to the narrower rims this year and rounder tire profile; it carves on dirt even harder than ever before. I put in 1700 ft of gain with this bike in under 6 miles- that’s STEEP terrain- and it was absolutely the right tool for the job. Not only did I put in more miles on this bike than any other in my tests, but I had a very big grin doing it. This is a racing bike with fat tires.
Salsa Spearfish Carbon
As an endurance racer, this bike really blows up my skirt. The new carbon Spearfish uses the proven Split Pivot suspension system, which effectively isolates brake forces from trail input and rider pedaling inefficiencies. I can confirm this to be true based on my riding the 2014 aluminum model and now the 2015 carbon model. The carbon Spearfish takes another step forward, shedding weight (about a half pound from 2014) and, get this: It rides even smoother. The carbon Spearfish does a very good job at deadening trail chatter. It just does not transmit to the pedals, grips, or saddle as much as the previous models. The carbon model tracked a tighter line for me to boot. Other improvements include updated and more user friendly shock pivot hardware. Great bike- so much so that it is my current top pick for riding the 2015 Stagecoach 400.
This bike gave me my PR Strava time, and did not particularly enjoy going up the flight of stairs. I turned around halfway up.
Establishing a new category all in its own… full suspension with 4″ tires. Traction, traction, traction.
Salsa’s engineers developed the suspension system literally from the ground up; taking into consideration the rebound spring characteristics of the 4″ fat tires below. The ride feels balanced, stable, and utterly confidence inspiring.
This was the only bike in my run of tests that I could use to climb the “test flight” of stair sitting down on. Get that? Those stairs up above in the pic, I was able to somewhat nonchalantly just, well.. ride up those stairs. No biggie. This bike will allow almost anybody to ride trail they were not able to ride before. It cleaned the stairs most easily but didn’t bring home a blazing Strava time.
“Sleeper of the show”
I rode the Instigator almost accidentally, while waiting for a 5″ Ice Cream Truck. And boy, am I ever glad I did. Here’s the scoop: The Instigator rides like an aggressive 27.5″ hardtail, rewarding the skill of an experienced rider. The rear end feels tight, the front feels slack and the bottom bracket feels low enough to tuck hard down & back into the tightest corners. But here’s the rub: the tires are BIG. The Instigator sports 26″+ tires, measuring out to almost a 3″ width. The diameter of the inflated tire is comparable to that of a 27.5″ tire… Surly reps even endorsed a potential swapover with me, stating it won’t affect geometry much.
I believe this was the most overlooked bike of the show. It is a ripper.
This bike gave a respectable Strava time and got up my test flight of stairs with a bit of body english.
This bike ain’t for everybody… but dang, it’s really something. The Blackborow is named after Perce Blackborow… and that oughta give you an idea of what the bike is intended for. It’s a real deal “way out there” sort of bike. And it has me looking at maps.
The Blackborow sports 5″ tires on a lightweight aluminum frame (suspension ready I’ll add) with adjusted geometry. What’s that mean? It handles good, even with the big ‘ol 5″ tires spinning around. The bike rides in such a way as to not feel heavy. It uses through-axles front and rear rather than quick release; a good call considering the added leverage forces in play with such a wide footprint.
I rode the “Dinglespeed” model. read: “dual singlespeed” and got to employ the brilliance of the setup. The simplicity of a singlespeed drivetrain, times two. You get a high gear, and a low gear. Want to change it up? ok, take moment and drop the rear wheel out, move the chain over, and ride away. That’s it.
This bike pedaled right up my “test flight” of stairs, albeit I had to stand up. Strava time? I wasn’t paying attention.
Surly Ice Cream Truck.
I tested this bike back to back against the Blackborow. It felt a little tighter in some ways, requiring a bit more rider input. It was more prone to oversteer… but cleaned absolutely everything I could find to stop it, with a good bit of rider input. I cleaned the bridge section (the only bike I could do it on) and pedaled up the stairs. The bike packs a lot of value in the price tag with new Avid Guide brakes, trigger shifters, and quality 5″ tires on 100mm rims. Great bike for the budget minded, experienced rider.
All City Macho Man
A departure from the real-deal mountain bikes I was testing.. I checked out the All City Macho Man for gravel-grinder potential. Good trim, handsome package (to be expected I suppose, given the name). The Macho Man is quicker, racier than say a Surly Cross Check or Straggler. A bit lighter too, with more user-friendly dropouts. The Macho Man has decent tire clearance and runs good components. Fun bike.
Salsa Horsethief Carbon
The Horsethief carbon has the same great suspension of the 2014 model, but improved by dropping almost 3/4# of frame weight and adding some extra durability to the frame hardware set. This bike has a nice, deep suspension travel and confident wheel tracking to help bring out the tiger in almost any trail. I recorded a good Strava time on this bike (while taking gnarlier alternates) and cleaned the stairs the end of the ride with a modest amount of rider input.