Soooo….over the weekend, I got to see Reveal the Path, I got to ride some great local gravel/b-roads/forest preserve with a few of the Salsa gents, and got to put a few miles on some of the new 2013 Salsa line. That included the Beargrease, Colossal, Travel Vaya, the new Mukluks with Alternator dropouts, a Mukluk with a Lefty front suspension (and prototype ti Seatpost and ti Handlebars), and a whole lot of awesomeness.
All of this awesomeness was on display at North Central Cyclery, right here in DeKalb, Illinois.
I can’t get to everything in one day…so I’ll be doing a bike every day or two for the next week-ish. Judging from search data on here, the Warbird is the most sought after bike, and hence, it is first. I was able to ride both the Ti and Aluminum Warbirds (and was able to do so shortly after 33 gravely/grassy/dirty miles on the Vaytanium, which gave good perspective). First, the pictures. (Obviously, the orange is the Aluminum version and the Titanium…well, you can figure that out). There are a ton of pictures…because I was trying to get shots of all of the angles that I’d want to see, were I only seeing a bike in the interwebz.
Tire clearance at chain stay.
The bike is full of thoughtful touches. The full-length housing makes impeccable sense on a bike for this purpose–that’s one thing I wish the Vaya had. Regular RATG readers will remember my thoughts on a new Ridley 2013 cross bike from a few weeks ago…which featured a front derailleur cable that terminated the housing, point upwards, right in front of the rear tire where it would promptly get filled with crap. Here’s the offending Ridley:
Contrast that with the Warbird.
On the Warbird, the full length housing terminates pointing down the seattube, in a position where crap cannot get into it unless you invert or submerge the bike, and the cable goes down to a top pull derailleur. That’s the kind of thoughtful detail that goes into a bike designed by guys that go out and ride gravel roads. The Ridley FD cable gives me shivers to think about. Seeing this carefully thought out FD setup on the Salsa Warbird made me appreciate Salsa’s craftsmanship just a bit more. That’s a feature I haven’t seen discussed on other blogs or initial reviews, and I think it really merits note.
There has been a ton of talk about how much clearance the Warbird has for bigger tires. Let me say this–it has more clearance in the rear than in the front. I think the fork will suit up to the 38mm tires that Salsa claims it will. You might cram a 40 in there, but it would be tight. The rear is a different story.
I didn’t have a ruler or caliper on me, but I did have a Park Y tool.
I hope you’ll pardon the horrendous picture, but what I was trying to show was the 6mm side of the Y tool between frame and tire at the tightest point of the chain stay. (Note: the seatstay has more clearance than the chainstay; it is not a limiting feature). At the tighest point, there is 8+mm of clearance on each side of the tire, running a 35c tire. In other words, you could theoretically cram 16mm more tire in there and then be rubbing tire on the frame.
More realistically, Salsa says you can run up to 38s. I have no fear that you could run 40s and have ample tire clearance, mud clearance, etc. In fact, I bet a lot of guys will want to run Schwalbe Marathon Mondials in 40c on this bike. I think it’s going to be tight in the front, if it will fit. I have no fear that it will fit in the back. Heck, I bet you could run 42s without much problem in the back…remember that a 42 is 7mm wider than a 35…so it should be about 3.5mm wider on each side. That would leave you around 5mm of tire clearance at each seat stay. So while there’s been a great deal of handwringing about tire sizes that will fit, I’m pretty darn sure that 40s won’t be a frame-limited problem…and with a fork change, 42s would likely work. Either 40s or 42s will be tight with the stock fork (if they will fit at all).
The rear chainstays are specially shaped (flattened), ostensibly in an effort to control vibration. I can’t compare them against standard shapes other than to say that vibration was very effectively squelched.
Here are my general thoughts on the Warbird:
1) The Cowbells are a great pick for this bike. The little bit of flare that the drops have was much appreciated. I’m not giving up my carbon Ergonova 3Ts yet, but if I was going to an aluminum bar for a gravel grinder, the Cowbells would be it.
2) The geometry of the Warbird makes sense for its design. Compared to something like the La Cruz, the Warbird has a longer wheelbase, a slightly slacker headtube angle, and a slightly lower BB. These all add up to stability. The bike’s handling was incredibly predictable, and I’m not going out on a limb to guess that it will be among the most confident bikes in this new genre on loose gravel. A cyclocross bike it is not; its handling is more towards the Vaya than the La Cruz or more ‘cross oriented bikes.
3) Compared to the Vaya or La Cruz, the center triangle is huge. There is mondo room for water bottles (3 bosses) and top tube bags. That makes perfect sense for gravel endurance racing–it has tons of room for food, hydration and tools. It does not have rack mounts. The only downside to the large triangle is that you’ll have to be sensitive to bike sizing and standover. I had a chance to ride a 56 and a 58. Even at 6′ with a 33″ pants inseam, the 58 was running close on standover. I would not have wanted to take it singletracking as I would with the Vaya. The 56 was much more comfortable for my nether regions’ perceived security.
4) Whether from the fork, the frame shape, the frame materials, or otherwise, the bike does an outstanding job at handling vibration and road buzz. I bombed down a rough brick paver street in town that generates more vibration than the loosest gravel road…and I have to say that the comfort level on the Ti Warbird was equal to the Vaytanium. That is as high of praise as I can offer to a 700c bike. It was seriously impressive. Unlike a bike like the Domane, the Warbird wasn’t reliant on the seatpost for dampening–the whole bike contributed. I could stand on the pedals and still get vibration dampening. That said, while the bike has a longer wheelbase, it handles confidently. Dropping it into a hard turn inspires confidence. Salsa did an amazing job of building in stability and rigidity into the handling, while not jarring fittings loose on rough surfaces. I would go so far as to say that when pushed hard, the bike was a bit more taut than the Vaytanium. I’m not sure whether it’s the tapered fork, bigger triangle, or something entirely different–but while this bike may be designed to go the distance, it’s got the heart of a racer inside.
5) Al v. Ti. This is the question that many will struggle with. It’s a tough question. Let me preface by saying that the Ti version I rode was a 58cm frame…a bit on the large side for me for this kind of bike. (My Ridley road bike is a 58, but my Vaya is a 55). I would also say that the aluminum frame does an impressive job of dealing with vibration and harsh jolts, through a combination of the fork, frame design, and alloy used. It rode better than I thought it would, in all honesty. I was impressed by it.
That said, there is no question in my mind that the titanium frame rode better. Everything the Al did, Ti did just a little better. Better vibration dampening, better responsiveness. It costs more, but if you can swing it, it’s worth it in my book. Having a chance to ride them back to back was illuminating. The difference between Al and Ti Warbirds is bigger than the difference between Ti and non-Ti Vayas. I have no doubt that you could paint both Warbird frames identically and I would be able to tell you which was Ti after a brief ride. Don’t get me wrong–the aluminum frame is impressive in many ways–it’s a great bike that I wouldn’t mind owning. But there is no question that the Ti frame is better.
If I was in the market for a multi-purpose bike today, would I get a Ti Warbird? Well, with the 2013 discontinuation of the Ti Vaya, I’d be pretty interested in the Warbird. It does a lot of things very well. The lack of rack mounts and the triangle size makes it perhaps a bit less versatile than the Vaya…but the large triangle makes it undoubtedly better for endurance events and bottle/frame bag clearance. The little design details…like the full length housing and the cable routing…I really liked those as well. It’s a great, GREAT bike. It’s easy to say that Salsa is pushing new territory with gravel bikes of this nature…sure. But the little details that show experience and thought–those are the ones that make this bike pop.
EDIT: I wanted to include Guitar Ted’s comments from MTBR on here, because he’s fit 40c tires, and because I value his input. Here are his comments:
Looked at and rode the same titanium Warbird you did yesterday. (It’s E-Fred’s bike from Salsa Cycles)
It hasn’t got the proper wheels or fork. (The fork is actually a Whiskey carbon fork)
We actually did mount Clement X’Plor MSO tires in that bike. These are listed as 40mm tires, but mine, which have been ridden quite a bit, still measure as 38mm tires. There is minimal clearance with MSO’s. You could run them in dry conditions and probably be fine, but mud? Not likely to be a good scenario.
Otherwise I mostly agree with your take. Great geometry, the titanium definitely rides better than the aluminum, but then, it should, shouldn’t it?
One note: The titanium frame is not noodly at all. When mashing up some steep single track yesterday, the bottom bracket area was not flexing much, if at all. It rides stiffer than a lot of titanium mountain bikes I’ve been on, but it still feels like a Ti bike, if that makes sense.
The aluminum one is even stiffer. Zero loss of efficiency there. A true racer’s rig.
Good comments to note. I’d agree–the Ti frame is definitely not noodly. From my perspective, saying that the Aluminum rig is a “true racer’s rig” does a disservice to the Ti frame. I think the Ti frame is a much better ride than the Aluminum frame for true endurance gravel events. Then again, GT runs one of the greatest true endurance gravel events, so who am I to disagree. Well…I’m the author of this blog, so I guess that gives me the bully pulpit. I don’t think the Ti gives up anything in responsiveness to the Aluminum frame. I do believe that the Ti frame brings some extra dampening and vibration absorption that the Aluminum frame, while quite excellent, cannot compete with.
On the tire clearance, I am very surprised about his comment on a tire measuring out at 38mm. As I said, based off of the 35c tire that’s on it, there are 8+mm of clearance at the narrowest point between tire and frame. Perhaps the Clement 35c tires are narrower than a true 35mm? I can’t say I’ve run either size in the Clements. I can say that, based on my experience with Schwalbe 40c tires on Velocity A23 rims, I would be truly surprised if there was not adequate clearance. But I again will take GT’s practical experience to heart, and you should too.