I’m usually a huge fan of technical innovation, and rave like a little fan-boy every time I see a piece of new cycling kit that looks pretty or shiny, that is constructed of a substance I find attractive such as Ti or carbon, or that otherwise promises to be lighter/stronger/cure pattern baldness.
I’m also usually standing there cheering with a giant foam chili-pepper hand when Salsa comes out with a new product.
This post may be uncharacteristically curmudgeonly of me.
I’ve written lately about the new bikes coming out from Salsa, including the Colossal and the Warbird. The Warbird, in particular, is intended to be a gravel racer. Guitar Ted had some interesting thoughts on tire clearances for the Warbird, although as a ~150 pound rider, I’m not fully in agreement with him…I find 35s to be perfect for my gravel use, and 40s to be unduly heavy. But there is one part of the march forward that I don’t fully understand: tapered steerers.
The Vaytanium has a straight 1-1/8″, headtube. I run a carbon fork with an aluminum steerer. Of all of the biking problems in the world, I cannot say as I’ve ever had a situation where I wished for more rigidity in the fork or steerer, or in the front end generally. In fact, for a bike oriented towards gravel racing, one would think you’d want more compliance, rather than more rigidity. If given a choice between two front ends for gravel grinding, both of which being equally strong for the job, I’d pick the one that would do a better job quelling vibration and harshness…and I have a hard time believing that a larger diameter part is the right part to do that job, in this application.
Don’t get me wrong–the tapered steerer makes perfect sense for a road bike that will be pushed hard into corners on sticky asphalt, and makes perfect sense on a mountain bike or fatbike…the extra force imparted on the headtube is better distributed by the wider bottom end of the tapered steerer. It’s just that I don’t understand the advantage of it on a gravel racer.
I haven’t seen anyone break a steerer or headtube in gravel racing. Heck, I haven’t seen that on many bikes at all, outside of manufacturing defects or using bikes well outside of the intended purposes. And there certainly aren’t any weight savings to be had with a tapered steerer…so I have to assume that it’s being done for increased rigidity…which I don’t fully comprehend. So here are my guesses:
1. For heavier riders, the tapered steerer and its greater rigidity becomes a significant advantage. I suppose this is possible, but I still think it’s unlikely to be a really significant issue for this application.
2. Keeping up with industry trends requires adoption of new technology to remain relevant, even if the ‘improvements’ are marginal. Also possible.
3. Fork production dictated use of a common design spec. Salsa worked with ENVE on the forks for both the Warbird and Colossal. Perhaps the best manufacturing efficiencies dictated use of common dimensions on the steerer…or perhaps manufacturing efficiencies for the frames themselves dictated use of common dimensions on the headtube.
4. There is some other, palpable advantage in riding the tapered steerer that I’m missing. Completely possible.
I’ll be waiting to ride the Warbird and Colossal, with baited breath. I don’t think it’s too terribly likely that I’ll be running out to replace the Vaytanium with one, but I’m really, really, really curious about how they ride. I’m also curious to ask the Salsa guys about the motivation for the change from straight to tapered.
MID MORNING UPDATE:
I see that there are several posters over on MTBR who are lamenting that Salsa used ENVE forks instead of Whisky forks on the new lineup. That’s a decision I completely understand, given ENVE’s history of excellence and Whisky’s unproven status…and given some of the difficulties Whisky had last year bringing new product to market (i.e. the cancellation, redesign and re-issue of their full carbon 29er mountain bike…which occurred after many shops and customers had placed orders). It may be apparent from the Superfish and the Ridley, but I’m definitely an ENVE fanboy.
The update point I wanted to make, though, focused on this quote:
Plus, the Foundry disc fork is better than the Enve road disc fork because the Foundry uses a thru axle and the Enve doesn’t.
That’s the kind of logic I just don’t understand. For a gravel racer, we assume that a fork is better because it uses a thru-axle? Really? Are there a ton of gravel racers out there breaking skewers? Having issues with skewers not being strong/stable enough? For the Vaya, I can see 0 advantages to having a thru-axle. Don’t get me wrong…when I went to the Rumblefish, and now with the Superfish, I completely understand the benefits on mountain bikes…and particularly on 29ers. I could maybe…maybe see the benefits for a really aggressive road racer who liked to sprint or corner insanely hard. Maybe. But for a gravel racer?
When will the strength/torsional resistance/etc., of a thru axle benefit a gravel racer? I’d be curious to see what studying Whisky did to determine that a thru axle made sense. I’m sure they can say “it’s XX% stronger” and “it’s XX% more resistant to twisting”, but in real riding applications, will that extra strength ever really come into play? Really?