Hyperbole alert. You’ve been warned.
This is the promised review of the Vaytanium…my Salsa Titanium Vaya. Here she was last spring, brand spanking new.
Photo credit for those beauties goes to the talented eyes at Transit Interface.
The Vaya came out of a conversation that started with Tobie, the GM/MC at North Central Cyclery. I said I wanted a jack of all trades. I wanted a frame that had a great ride, but wasn’t steel or carbon fiber–I didn’t want to have to worry about rain, salt, snow, freezing, chipping, etc. Something super durable.
A bike that would be comfortable on the road, on the limestone trails, on light single track, on gravel road expeditions…everywhere. Something I could ride in the NCC Gravel Metric, could commute to work on, could cross race on, and could ride to my in-laws. I wanted that impossible mix of light, fast, durable, reliable. I wanted disc brakes–so I wouldn’t have to worry about snow/ice/rain riding (as this was to be a foul weather ride for when the Ridley didn’t want to go out). I wanted a bit of bling. But I wanted everything to be functional–and comfortable. I wanted a riding position that was good for long distance hauls. I wanted mounts for fenders and racks. I wanted a lot.
This was at a time that was relatively early in my bike interest period. I was riding a lot, but wasn’t reading a lot. I didn’t know much about spec’ing a bike. And that was where I leaned on North Central Cyclery. Here’s the bike spec that Tobie put together:
Salsa Titanium Vaya.
NCC built, hand laced Velocity A23 rims, stainless steel spokes, Chris King hubs.
Winwood Muddy Cross carbon fiber fork (this was at a time when the fork options for carbon, 700c, proper geometry, and disc compatible were almost none).
Avid BB7 road brakes.
Chris King headset.
Eriksen Ti Sweetpost seatpost.
Continental Cyclocross Speed 700x35c tires.
Sram Rival drivetrain.
Deda aluminum bars and stem…gel wrap under bar tape for larger profile and greater comfort on gravel.
Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals.
King titanium cages.
Matching blue blingy bits (Salsa skewers and Liplock).
In my mind, after living with the bike for over a year, the build is about perfect–and shows the value of working with a great local bike shop. For example, when we talked about building it, and Tobie suggested Rival, I wondered why not Force or Red. Tobie explained that, for this build, Rival offered 95% of the performance (and equal or better durability) at 50% of the cost. But on the hubs, Tobie suggested the top-end Chris King parts…and after riding through hub deep water and hammering through muddy slugfests, that was the right call. I asked about using lighter spokes, and Tobie explained the tradeoffs in durability and strength. After several thousand miles on the Vaya, other than a quick check at 200 miles, the wheels have a never needed truing. That’s saying a lot after what the Vaya has lived through.
In other words, Tobie shared years of experience in bike riding and building with me. He didn’t go for the hard sell on upgrades that weren’t necessary. He did recommend sensible upgrades where they would have a meaningful difference in performance and durability. The Vaytanium says a lot about his vision, and the vision of North Central Cyclery. It’s an amazing bike, from an amazing shop.
I’ve made a few additions over time. I have a Relevate Tangle (medium) frame bag that sees use with some frequency. I added a Tubus ti Carry rack. On occasion, I run a set of fenders. As seen in the black and white pics above (and the pics below), is how it spends 80% of its time: with a rack and no fenders. That way, I can throw on a pannier and commute to work, or throw on 2 panniers and take shower supplies and a change of clothes if riding to a party or family gathering, etc.
I’ve run the Cyclocross Speeds, Schwalbe Marathon Mondials (review of both here), Michelin Mud 2s (for cross races), and once, briefly, road tires. Here are a few current pics, after today’s ride:
Velocity A23s, King hubs, BB7 brakes:
King ti Cages:
Pretty titanium welds at the bottom bracket:
Cockpit (comfy SRAM hoods).
Tubus ti Carry:
The Tubus Carry is insanely light, very pretty, and surprisingly sturdy (I’ve had up to 60 pounds on 2 panniers, with no ill effects–it felt very stable.) Do note that it is pretty narrow, though.
What kind of bike again?
The aftermath of a muddy B-road ride last year:
(See the inner tube there? When a friend’s rear derailleur asploded, the Vaytanium was pressed into service to tow him home. Innertube around my seatpost and his handlebars.)
Earlier in that same ride (the triple bottle mounts do occasionally get used)
Washed up, for cyclocross duty:
The weight (sans rack) is right at 20 pounds. Dropping a bit of weight wouldn’t be hard (lighter build wheels, lighter saddle, etc.)
The pictures from today are emblematic of the bike. (At the start of today’s ride, it was cleaned and lubed, hanging in the garage). It was cold and damp, and I really didn’t want to ride. Days like that are the best time to ride the Vaya. We rode pavement, gravel, soft limestone paths, leftover hardpack snow and ice, and a bit of single track. The bike performed admirably on each surface (although the Cyclocross Speeds were overcome by a bit of mud at one point). In the course of the ride, the bike got filthy–blasting through puddles and soft limestone/gravel will do that. But even dirty, it’s a beautiful bike. And I love to get it dirty. It’s lived through hail storms, flash floods, deep mud, and sunny days…and it keeps coming back for more.
The ride characteristics are…well…dreamy. The riding position is not terribly aggressive, and the fit is perfect for me. On loose gravel, the titanium frame/seatpost and carbon fork dampen chatter and rumble. On hardpack or asphalt, the bike is surprisingly rigid and responsive. Over big bumps, the bike is amazingly compliant. The feel of titanium is difficult to describe…I’ve taken to describing it by comparing it to a dampened guitar string. The frame takes the edge off of jolts, like a cable under tension. It doesn’t reverberate or vibrate at all–that’s the dampened part. You can push it into corners as hard as you want. On asphalt, it is consistent and firm. On gravel, you can back the rear end into corners with a bit of a slide, and the handling remains predictable. On single track, it will cut and slice, and prefers to carry a bit of speed around the corners. The compact cranks offer good bb clearance over obstacles, and I run out of confidence before I run out of bike.
The Vaytanium does everything you could want of a drop bar bike. Road/gravel/cross/touring/randoneuring/racing/you name it. Would a dedicated cross bike be faster and more aggressive? Sure. Can the Ridley drop the Vaya on the road? (As configured?) Yup. But if I could only have one bike, it would be the Vaya. It can do the vast majority of riding that the vast majority of riders would do. It’s a convergence of all good things in the bike world–a mix of tech, materials, components, beauty and elegance. That may be the best word for it–elegant.
I could keep writing about the Vaya all day. It was the first ‘halo’ bike I owned–and was and remains my favorite bike. A bike for all seasons.
Salsa’s motto is Adventure by Bike. That motto–that’s the Vaytanium.