Salsa Cycles Fargo: Conclusions

Note: This is a "final review" I posted on my site, Twenty Nine Inches which I am the Editor for as well. This review/test started in November of 2008. I am still riding the Fargo on a regular basis and it is one of my favorite bicycles. I posted this page on my personal blog to start to gather all the Fargo posts I have written, as it is one of the biggest draws to Twenty Nine Inches and this blog. So, here is the Salsa Cycles Fargo Page and my Final Review from Twenty Nine Inches much as it appeared in 2009.

Salsa Cycles Fargo: Conclusions

June 10th, 2009 by Guitar Ted

Normally after this long a period with one bicycle I would be giving a “Final Review”. The thing is- I’m not done with this bike yet. The Fargo is just too versatile a rig to put a final word out on it already. That said, I am going to give you readers my thoughts on the Fargo and tell you where I’m going with the bicycle after this point.

The “Big Question”: First of all, the Fargo elicits a strong reaction from folks. Often I get a “Just what is that bike for? Is it a______” (Insert any one of several specific bicycle types here.) The “Big Question” really should be the “Big Clue”. It means that the Fargo is, if nothing else, a very versatile bicycle that could do many tasks well. I can not possibly call out every one of the Fargo’s possible uses, but I can tell you what it isreally good at. The other question about the Fargo has to do with its “drop bar centric” design. I’ve covered the drop bar thing in great detail, but if you have not seen any of those posts, you can check them out here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

The Off Road Fargo: The Fargo off road is a wonderful rig. It really is a fun single track shredder. One thing to remember though: The Fargo is a rigid bike with a non-suspension corrected fork that has a specific offset designed to work with the geometry of the frame. Okay, what does that mean exactly? Well, it means that you shouldn’t put a suspension fork on this bike. You really should stick with the stock fork as it comes with the Fargo. The good news is that this is a fantastic steel fork. The bad news is that this is a fantastic steel fork! The “rigidness” of the Fargo imparts a certain riding style and technique, a certain use that will not be suited to, oh let’s say….. all mountain riding. (Although, once upon a time mountain bikers rode all over the place on rigid steel rigs, ya know.) I think that the Fargo is best suited to buff single track to maybe some light technical trails. I rode it on several occasions where there were rooty, rocky descents, drop ins, and tight, twisty ascents. The Fargo can do this, and it shreds in fast, flowy trail settings. However; the Fargo has a lower bottom bracket height that may, or may not, be a problem for you. I liked it, and yes- I got ejected out of my pedals and struck things with the pedals from time to time.

The Back Roads Fargo: This is where the Fargo starts to come into its own. The Fargo absolutely shines on fire roads, dirt paths, gravel roads, and the like. Anywhere a road bike starts to become a liability, the Fargo starts to really make a lot of sense. Of course, if you are putting the Fargo to touring duty, and you have to traverse this sort of terrain, there are not many other choices in 700c wheels that can do what the Fargo can. One thing I found is that the heavier the load, the comfier the Fargo gets, just like a nice steel touring bike for the road. Gravel road riding and dirt road riding, for fun, adventure, or racing is tailor made for Fargo owners. Call it “multi-terrain”, or whatever, the Fargo is the right tool for the job here.

The Pavement Fargo: Here is where maybe some folks will have a harder time justifying the Fargo as a viable choice, but they really shouldn’t. Put on some nice, voluminous street rubber and the Fargo becomes an urban pot hole eating machine. That burly steel frame, the rider position bred from off roading, and the way the Fargo’s steel frame gives in that classic way that only steel can makes it a great choice for the urban-bound rider. Add in the fact that it can be decked out easily with fenders, racks front and rear, and any assortment of bags one could desire, and you have a sleeper of a commuter rig. Not only that, but you could spend about a half an hour and swap out rubber, remove some of the urban trappings, and be mountain biking on your favorite secret inner city trail. Going real skinny with the rubber will cause you to have a bottom bracket height that may be an issue though, so if high speed city travel or spirited club riding is in your cards, their are far better rigs for those purposes. (Perhaps Salsa’s own Casseroll model?) However; don’t discount the Fargo as pavement bike. It is a suitable heavy city cruiser capable of carrying a big load and laughing at rough city streets.

The Fargo From Here To…: The Fargo here at Twenty Nine Inches is now going to be set up as a light tourer in more of a “bike packing” vein. Think minimalistic gear, lighter weight than full bagged touring, and capable of going off road. The adventures will wait until I can assemble the proper satellite gear, but when I do, I’ll be back with some reports.

The Bottom Line: The Fargo is not only a very unique 29″er, it is a very unique bike- period. It is capable of pulling off mountain biking, and doing a decent job of it. It can shine as your “multi-terrain” steed, or it can pull duty on city streets with the best commuter rigs. Is it the one bike for everything? Well, the answer to that question is “no” of course. Here’s where I stand on the Fargo: If I had to get rid of all my bikes but one, the Fargo would be at the top of my list of choices to keep.

Thanks to Salsa Cycles for providing the Fargo for review. Stay tuned for some adventures.

Following is the comparo I did between the Salsa Cycles Fargo and  the Singular Cycles Gryphon. Both quite similar bikes. This post first appeared on Twenty Nine Inches.

Salsa Cycles Fargo vs Singular Cycles Gryphon

August 2nd, 2010 by Guitar Ted
With the Singular Cycles Gryphon review now complete, I thought it might be helpful to put the Gryphon and the Fargo up against each other in a head to head comparison. These two 29 inch wheeled rigs are very similar bicycles, but they do differ in important ways. Obviously, the fact that these are both drop bar specific designs figures heavily into their similarities. But beyond the obvious, there is much more that may surprise you in the comparison of these two models.
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The Contenders: Although the Salsa Cycles Fargo pre-dates the Gryphon in the consciousness of riders, the fact of the matter is that the Gryphon and the Fargo were in development at the same time, making their similarities all the more amazing. Both conceived of as drop bar specific designs, the Fargo and the Gryphon are also not designed with suspension forks in mind. This sets both bikes apart from the rest of the 29″er herd already. While the reasoning for such bicycles may escape some readers, I am not going to delve into that here. This report will focus on which of these two bicycles might work for you. You’ll have to figure out if any of these bikes makes sense beforehand.
The Similarities: While it is obvious in some respects, these two bikes are more closely related than you may think in detailed ways as well. Take a look at some of the numbers. (Comparing size Large from each company. Specs from the companies respective websites)
Effective Top Tube Fargo-585mm Gryphon-591.9mm
Head Angle Fargo-70* Gryphon-70.5*
Seat Tube Angle Fargo-72* Gryphon-72.5*
Head Tube Length Fargo-190mm Gryphon-154.7mm
Chain Stay Length Fargo-465mm Gryphon-445mm
Fork Offset Fargo-55mm Gryphon-55mm
Fork Axle To Crown Fargo-440mm Gryphon-445mm
I find the numbers for these two bikes rather telling. Considering that neither was aware of the others decisions during the development process, and it is even more interesting. The Singular is designed as a “Bike for just riding”, an “all-rounder off road rig”, if you will, while the Fargo had a more specific touring bent in its design- An off-roader capable of carrying a load. So even with these different distinctions going in, the numbers come out very similarly, and not surprisingly, so does the ride performance.
The Differences: That said, there are obvious places where the two bikes are really different. Upon glancing at the numbers, the chain stay length, the head tube length, and effective top tube lengths may jump out at you. To my mind, the biggest difference maker in all of these numbers is the chain stay length, and this in particular affects how the Fargo rides off road in comparison to the Gryphon most dramatically. The Fargo feels longer back there, and in comparison to a Gryphon, it doesn’t feel as easily led around a corner, or that it pins the rear wheel as well on a climb. Certainly, the Gryphon’s slightly steeper geometry also lends a feeling of quickness, but it is how the back ends of these bikes feel different that is most noticeable to my mind.
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The head tube length isn’t all that big a deal, other than it does allow for a higher front handle bar position on a Fargo without resorting to a ton of spacers. The Gryphon supports a racier position with its shorter head tube. Effective top tube length on the Gryphon does a similar thing, although, a slightly longer stem with less, (or no), spacers under the stem would approximate a similar position on a Fargo should that be desirable.
Finally, there are the obvious details which separate the bikes, and their intended purposes, like the water bottle mount positions, the rack and fender braze ons, or lack of them, and how each company views geared and single speed set ups. The Fargo is the “Swiss Army Knife” in terms of versatility, with the glaring exception of not easily being made into a single speed, or internally geared bike. (Note: It can be done, but not without slight compromises.) The Gryphon is more……ahem!singular in its purpose, (Sorry! Couldn’t resist!), and strangely enough offers multiple options for drive train set ups with ease. One would think the “perfect” Fargo would have the drive train options of the Gryphon, while the Gryphon, being a bike for “just riding”, might offer rack and fender braze ons. Hmm…………
The Ride: And then it all comes down to the way they ride. I have already hinted at the issue in regards to chain stay length, but there are other differences as well. My feeling is that these bikes have very different ride qualities based upon frame tubing choices. The Singular’s frame tubing is of smaller diameter, and it is more flexible in the way you like to see a steel bike flex. That springiness that gives something back to the rider as you pedal along. This same feeling doesn’t really happen on an unloaded Fargo. However; used in its intended purpose as a load bearing, off road beast, and you will feel similar feelings as you would on a unladen Gryphon. The Fargo is definitely a stiffer bike than a Gryphon bare naked, without any touring load. That might just appeal to some folks who like a more rigid chassis, and to be perfectly honest, the Fargo still feels like a steel bike. It’s just not as compliant as a Gryphon.
In some cases, the longer Fargo is more comfortable, actually. Especially in choppy terrain, where the slightly longer wheel base keeps things more in check than they are on a Gryphon. Sometimes the less stretched out, and more easily attainable upright position of the Fargo is also greatly appreciated. Slight differences to be sure, but these may tip the scale for some riders one way or the other when comparing these two off road drop bar 29″ers.
As far as steering, these two bikes are so similar it is hard to say which I am riding in that regard. Not surprising when the numbers are almost identical for the front ends of these bikes. Again, the Gryphon, designed for unloaded riding, has a more supple fork, but that is to be expected here. Other than that, the Fargo and Gryphon can both be at once quick steering, yet stable as well. Oddly enough, the combination of big wheels and short fork trail figures seem well suited to each other.
Conclusions: It is a niche of a niche of a niche, but even so, drop bar 29″ers have already made a big splash, and are gaining some more members to the “club”. (Rawland Draakar, Van Dessel WTF) Some of this may have to do with adventuring by bicycle, or perhaps the 29″er fans desire to “be different”, or because of an outgrowth of the “monster cross” craze. Who knows why, but the Fargo and the Gryphon have to be seen as the leaders in this area. They also have strong ties to earlier mountain bike and road bike ideals stemming back to the 19th century. Certainly, it is a style of bicycle that either sets the imagination to running, or causes confusion as to “why”.
If you happen to be one of those drawn to this style of bicycle, either one of these well designed, nice riding bicycles would come with a high recommendation from me. I would advise that intentions for your riding and goals for your riding determine which model to pick. Are you riding just for fun? Maybe you want to race this style of bicycle? Perhaps light weight is a goal of yours? Then those ideals may steer you towards a Gryphon. If you want to go into the back country, camp, be self supported, or do an adventure race, like the Tour Divide, then maybe a Fargo will be your bicycle of choice. Either way, these two pioneers of drop bar specific 29″ers are great bikes to own and ride.
For more information see: Salsa Cycles Fargo page. Singular Cycles Gryphon page.