Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Salsa Cycles Warbird Tiagra: Quick Impressions

I test rode this 56cm Salsa Cycles Warbird
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned..... 

Today I'm going to offer some of my opinions on the Salsa Cycles Warbird Tiagra model. Long time readers will remember my take on the original Warbirds, seen HERE, and I will refer back to those thoughts for these impressions on the new Warbird.

Secondly, I am going to copy and paste a paragraph here which I wrote in those initial impressions back in 2012, which is as relevant today as it was back then:

"This is not a review: I don't believe that ride tests, demos, or whatever you want to call them are in any way, shape, or form a "review" of a bicycle or component. This is merely more of an impression of mine regarding this Warbird rig. Want a review? See the guy that has ridden the bike in the heat of a race, or done significant time with a component for a long time, (my thinking is more than a couple months), and get his take. Obviously, there are very few that can say this about a Warbird now, and they are all Salsa Cycles sponsored riders and employees. (Not that they wouldn't know, but.....) I don't typically ever do a review here. I will give my opinion though. You may find something different, but be that as it may...."

Okay? So on with the impressions....

The rig I rode yesterday is a stock, 56cm Warbird Tiagra model with test ride pedals installed. It is for sale on the floor of the shop I work at, Europa Cycle & Ski. I did this test ride for a potential customer, who wanted my opinion on it. I figured I may as well share my opinion on it here as well. This is purely my opinion and that's all. Read into this what you will........

Salsa Cycles did a complete, ground up redesign of the Warbird and the crowning jewel of that design, if you will, is their "Class 5 VRS" feature. This "Class 5" part refers to the typical gravel size on Mid-West gravel roads and the "VRS" part stands for "Vibration Reduction System". Salsa's engineers used accelorometers to discern how much vibration was being damped along the way during the design phase and what they came up with was actually more compliant than the titanium frame they used to have. The new, aluminum frame tested out 6% better in terms of damped vibrations than the old titanium frame, and while no figures were given for how much better it is than the old aluminum Warbird, I can tell you it is much, much more smooth. That old aluminum frame was not a nice riding frame. Very stiff!

So, I took the new Warbird out for an hour on various surfaces ranging from smooth tarmac to heaved pavement, busted up pavement, sandy tracks, gravel, and dirt. I only missed getting into more "typical" gravel which abounds around here only because this is a new bike, and I didn't want to risk chipping the frame up. I climbed steep hills, bombed down a couple, and ground out some fast paced miles as well, just to get an overall feel for the rig.

The tires were aired to 40psi rear and 38psi front. The stock tires are 35mm Schwalbe Sammy Slicks and this was my first introduction to them. They were tubed, of course. Off I went, and my immediate thought was that the Class 5 VRS system has something to it for sure. This bike is so much smoother than the original aluminum Warbird frame it isn't even comparable. Okay, great so far. Now off to zip around on some gravel and busted up pavement. Hmm.... A concern came up when diving around some quick corners. I felt something give in the rear. Was it the tires on the narrow-ish WTB SX-17 rims? Maybe it was the 28 hole spoke lacing? Perhaps it was due to the Class 5 VRS stays? Hard to say in a quick, hour long ride, but I felt this a couple of other times, so something needed looking into there. 

 Okay, who makes swervy moves in gravel races or rides, right? I went onward, and as things got bumpier, it was apparent that the Class 5 VRS deal is the real deal. My only observation was that if you hit a sharp edged bump, it would rebound you out of the saddle. Pretty dramatically at times. I also felt that while the back end was working, the rest of the bike was more, well.......not as smooth. I don't want to say it was harsh, but the front end wasn't in concert with the rear end. That said, this is the best riding aluminum bike I've tried. 

It climbs well, and the Tiagra shifters and derailleurs were snapping off shifts just fine. Gearing was great. But I couldn't get away from the feeling that something was off......draggy, if you will. I'm blaming these unfamiliar Schwalbe tires for that. I rechecked the bike afterward and all was well mechanically, so I feel it was those Sammy Slicks. Perhaps a bit different pressure would have made them come alive, but alas! I had no time to mess with that. 

The fit was "okay" for what I would have considered a too small of a size up front. I would use a set back post here and maybe a hair higher handle bar position, but it wasn't bad, really, for a guy that normally rides 58's. Of course, those Cowbell handle bars were perfect, and the WTB Silverado saddle wasn't too bad. I could tweak this out, if it were mine, and make it mine, but given the choice, I'd likely opt for the 58cm for my 6'1" frame. I always seem to be a "tweener" in Salsa's sizing! 

I compared and contrasted with my steel Raleigh Tamland.

After my quick hour long ride, I went back over the same ground with my Raleigh Tamland Two. I wanted to see how the smoother Warbird was in contrast to a fine steel tube set, like the Reynolds 631 that the Tamland is built with. 

What I found out was that the feel of both bikes is very similar, but certain nuances stood out quite plainly. The aluminum had a "higher frequency buzz" that I could feel easily through the handle bars and the saddle. The steel, while also vibrating, was a "rounder, lower frequency" feel. It was "quieter" versus the Warbirds "nervous" jittering which maybe makes the Warbird "feel faster", but that's all that is. Feelings that I have that others may not. Read into that what you will. 

The biggest difference was how the Tamland handled bigger depressions and sharper hits. It was definitely rounding those off, and not "bucking back" at me like the Warbird did. Yes- the Tamland is set up with bigger tires, but I tried to compensate somewhat by using 50psi front and rear. I think in terms of "smoothness", the Tamland was edging out the Warbird aluminum frame, but the differences are much, much closer than they were with the older Warbird design. 

Final Thoughts: Again, the Warbird Tiagra ride was a short one, but a telling one. I would have enjoyed being able to tweak this bike out, put wider rims on it, bigger tires, and have a correct fit, not one that is "close". I think the Schwalbe Sammy Slicks needed attention, and maybe the wheels are a bit flexy on this spec level, but otherwise this bike is a solid choice for gravel racing. Versatility isn't in its wheelhouse. Meaning that if you want racks, fenders, the ability to commute with bags, or do light touring, this isn't the bicycle for that. However; that isn't the main focus of the Warbird's misson, and Salsa Cycles has set this bike up with a singular focus: Go fast on any surface for a long way, if you want. In that light, they have succeeded. 


grannygear said...

Agreed...front is a bit burly compared to the rear...my only complaint from the beginning and still after many hours of mixed riding. It really is the only reason I would consider replacing it, but the rest has been quite good.


Peter Rhodes said...

My Niner RLT came stock with Sammy Slicks and I was not at all impressed with them. This is comparing them to WTB Nano 700x40, Michelin Mud2, Vittoria XG and several other cross related tires.

glenn said...

I think one of the carbon warbirds could pull double duty as both a gravel racer and a group road steed, with the right "engine" providing the power.

Guitar Ted said...

@glenn: I'd agree with that.

grannygear said...

I would also agree with Glen based on the alu version and road use. With a tire/wheel swap it would be a quite good road bike, although a bit on the stable side, not that that is a bad thing. Gearing would keep me from doing that, but it had crossed my mind.