2013 Salsa Warbird Review and Details

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.

Cowbell handlebars

Fork tire clearance with 700x35c tires


Tire clearance at chain stay.

Oversized Headtube, Tapered Steerer.

Flare of the Cowbell’s drops

Chainstay Clearance.

Seatstay Clearance.

Chainstay Clearance, part deux.

Beefy Brake Mount.



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.

View of the seatpost, from the rear.

View looking down the seatpost from the saddle.

View of rear triangle.

Top Pull Front Derailleur

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.

Full length housing terminates at Rear Derailleur.

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).

Top of rear chainstays; note the shaping.

Side of rear chain stays; note the shaping.

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.



20 thoughts on “2013 Salsa Warbird Review and Details

  1. Damn I wished I could have made the salsa event. That Warbird keeps calling me. Did you happen to get the bikes weighted? Curious to see what they come in at.

    Nice write up.

    • No–sadly I didn’t get a chance to weigh them. On the other hand, a few had components that were not final production spec. (Like the hydro brakes on the Colossal…just wait!)

  2. Pingback: The Most Important Fatbike of 2013. | ridingagainstthegrain

  3. I’ve been lusting over a Vaya Ti and all the places I could go. Now this. The Warbird seems less adventure bike (for lack of a better term) but appeals to the part of me that knows the weekend touring is a pipe dream and the Warbird would be a good gravel road explorer, bad weather, and when I’m in the ADK (crappy roads and some light trail action) do-almost-all-bike alternative to my Madone.

  4. Pingback: Defining the Genre: Gravel Racing | ridingagainstthegrain

  5. Hi, Thanks for you blog. I have a question you cold answer. I am 6″0″ with a 33″ inseam, just like you. I would love to buy a Vaya Ti. I found a Vaya Ti 58cm. Salsa’s web site puts me smack in the middle of the range for a 57cm Vaya. I see you ride a 55cm. Any thoughts/advice. Thanks.

    • If you’re 6′ and 33″ inseam, I’m guessing you’re relatively normal proportions. I vacillate between thinking the 55 is perfect, and thinking I should be up a size. The 55 is perfect for loooooong rides; a larger size would give a more aggressive position. A larger size would also give you more room in the frame triangle for more baggage.

      I run an Eriksen Sweetpost, which is slightly setback. If you had a 58 and ran a straight seatpost + shorter stem, you may be ok. The Vaya has a very low stand over height, so that shouldn’t be an issue for you at all. (If you were looking at a Warbird, I’d say the 58 is a no-go). But on a Vaya, I think you’d probably be ok. Can you test ride it before buying?

      FWIW, Salsa’s chart puts me at the same spot that it puts you. Also FWIW, I’ve ridden a 58cm Vaya (not titanium), but it had a setback seatpost and a long-ish stem…it felt too stretched. But I didn’t have any standover issues…I really think a straight seatpost + slightly shorter stem would do the trick.

      Also, FWIW, there’s a 55 on Evil-bay right now.


      • Thanks for you thoughtful reply and sorry for my typos at 1AM (I woke up after dreaming about riding on gravel roads). Unfortunately, the 58cm Vaya Ti is about 2000 miles away from me. My LBS will be building up a new 56cm Vaya this week, and I will be able to ride it–that should be helpful. I have been almost exclusively riding a fixed gear bike on the road for 30 years (I am 57) and have done many centuries on one. These days I am riding 20-25 miles/day. My main bike is built around a 1973 Paramount that measures 57 cm C-C. I have my saddle set at 787mm from the spindle with a normal height stem, which puts me in what most people think is an aggressive position. I intend to use the Vaya to check out all of those dirt roads I’ve been passing by for years and for an around town bike that has a freewheel and platform pedals and takes some of the sting out of our poor roads.
        1. Any further thoughts on sizing?
        2. Is there a big difference in the way the titanium and steel Vayas ride? I have a Merlin Extralight that rides like a Rolls Royce, but on good roads, the athletic feeling of a good steel bike is so much better. If I intend to use the Vaya primarily for gravel and urban roads, would I be that much happier with the titanium? Do the larger tires render the shock absorbing properties of titanium irrelevant?
        3. For my purposes (I am not a tourer), would I be happiest with a Warbird Ti?
        Thanks so much for your time and advice.

      • There is a huge difference in ride quality between the Ti and not Ti. Huge. The regular Vaya is a special bike. The Ti Vaya is spectacular. Huge difference.

        For what you’re talking about, I’m worried the 58 will be too long and too aggressive. Riding the 56 should give you a good idea, though. The 58 is only 1.5cm longer than a 57 in effective top tube length.

        As far as the Warbird goes, if you don’t need fender or rack mounts, that’s a total no brainier. I’d get a Warbird properly sized to me before I’d get a Vaya that was iffy, if I knew I didn’t need fender/rack mounts. If you don’t need mounts, you’ll love the Warbird.

        Two other thoughts: 1)has your dealer checked with Salsa to see if the can find another Ti Vaya for you in the right size? 2) have you given any thought to a Travel Vaya? Same corrosion resistance, similar magical ride quality, minor weight penalty compared to the Ti Vaya.

        I’d ride the 56 and see what you think.

      • Thank you again. Ok, you have sold me on the Ti and maybe on the Warbird. I emailed Salsa about who may have a 57cm. They told me to contact dealers on their web site, which I had already started to do–but maybe it will be a nonissue, because maybe I will get the Warbird. Thanks for your advice. By the way. I don’t think you should be limited by stand over heights. Nobody keeps their bikes perfectly vertical when they are standing over them or even when they are falling forward over them.

      • One more thing. Why do you think the ride quality of the Vaya Travel will be equal to that of the Vaya Ti?

      • Because I’ve ridden it 😉

        Not perfect, but surprisingly good. I’d take a Travel Vaya over a regular Vaya without question–and I have no need for the S&S couplers. I was surprised by how nice the TV rode when I sampled it.

  6. Hi, I am still looking for the right Vaya Ti. I’ve located a 56cm. Based on the fact that you vacillate between feeling a 55cm or a 56cm would be optimal for you, I assume you would tell me that I could be very happy with a 56cm. Looking at the photos of your bike, I have a few questions (BTW, I think you are a great photographer). 1. It looks like your saddle top is about even with the highest point on your handlebars. Is that correct? 2. What is the distance from your spindle to the top of your saddle along the seat tube? 3. Even though you have a set back seat post, you are not using the set back because it looks like the clamp is in about the middle of the rails. Is that correct? 4. What size stem do you have? Since we are the same size, 6’0″ with a 33 inseam, the answers to these questions will help me tremendously in deciding if the 56cm is the right bike for me (it is too far away to test ride). I really appreciate your advice. Thanks!

    • I think you’d be very happy with a 56cm, yes.

      1. It varies. With my latest setup, my saddle is a bit higher (about 1/4″) than shown in most photos, and my bars are dropped about 1/2″, so at present, the top of the saddle is just a bit higher than the top of the bars. I keep getting the position to be more and more aggressive.
      2. Dunno. I can measure and see. I can tell you that this distance is different on just about every bike I ride.
      3. That’s correct. The Sweetpost does have a mild setback, but I don’t really use it. If I wanted, I could easily get 1/2″ or more just from saddle adjustment aft.
      4. I’m presently running a 100mm stem.

      Thanks for the compliments on the photos. There’s a pretty clear distinction between my ‘artsy’ photos and my documentary photos. But I try.

      • I’m sure we’ve only seen less than 1/1000th of Ansel Adams’ photos. Keep up the good work and thanks for your advice.

        If you get a chance to measure the seat height on your Vaya. That info and the pictures of your bike would help me figure out if I could get myself in a good position on the 56cm bike. I use what most casual riders would think is a very aggressive position. It is what I prefer for going out for a good ride, but it is very uncomfortable for just cruising around town, which what I would like to set my next bike up for.

        BTW, you mentioned that you have seven bikes between you and your wife. My wife of 7 months rode occasionally for transportation on a beat up old bike before she met me. I bought her a good road bike about two years ago and I just bought her a good city bike. Last weekend she broke her record of riding 35 miles in one ride and rode 61. We had planned on a 37 mile ride, but we got lost in the Illinois cornfields. We both had a great time.

        Thanks again for your help.

  7. Im surprised nobody has mentioned the Tiagra shifters on a $2500 bike! Its not like the Warbird is spec’d with sweet parts all throughout, which just begs the question, how much is Salsa upcharging for this unique new style of bike they are offering? One Edge fork does not get us to a nicely spec’d $2500 bike. I dont mind a bit of profiteering, but you could at least be inline with say…. a complete 105 carbon Pinarello at $2550. Im not asking it to be as low in price as a Raleigh, a Trek, etc, but thinking it should still be within reason. Just wondering if this was all lost on everyone else.

    • I think it’s pretty clear that Salsa went for the greatest mix of price and capability. While I’d prefer a consistent group from an aesthetic perspective, I’m guessing that they determined that: a) going to all 105 would increase the price; and, b) there was not a corresponding increase in capability or effectiveness.

      • Thanks for your perspective. However, I can knowingly say one of the biggest jumps in quality in road shifters is the one between 105 and Tiagra. I know ‘why’ Salsa spec’d the Tiagra shifters – cost of course. However, what Im specifically asking is does anyone else see this bike as being over-priced for what youre getting. There are going to be full 105-equipped bikes in the market this year all day long that have fancier frame materials and that come in a good amount less than $2500. Youll be able to get a full carbon Pinarello (of all brands-not the cheapest by any stretch) with full 105 and retailing for sub $2500.
        So, while I think Salsa did a nice job with most of the details on this bike, It seems like its priced a fair amount higher than it should be comparative to other products on the market. Its made in Taiwan, it has very inexpensive house-brand bars, seatpost and stem on it, Formula hubs and mediocre rims and remaining components. It seems they put one super fancy part on it – the Enve fork and we’re supposed to overlook the shifters which arguably would make at least as much of a difference in ride quality. Im not asking for the world, Im just saying for $2500 they easily couldve afforded their prospective customer a pair of 105 shifters and at the same time gave their product a higher perceived image.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s