Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Salsa Cycles Warbird: Gravel Road Bike

Salsa Cycles Warbird Ti: Image by Ben Witt
Recently I wrote on Gravel Grinder News about the concept of a "gravel road" specific bike. (see here) Many people will scoff at this idea, but Salsa Cycles has been working with some of the gravel scene's well known racers and from that feedback mixed with their engineer's ideas, they now present their version of what a gravel road adventure bike is. They call it the "Warbird".

While all the nitty-gritty details are not widely known at this point, here is what I do know: This will be offered in two levels. A titanium bike with mostly an Ultegra build, and an aluminum version with a mostly 105 spec. At the least, a titanium frame only option is to be made available as well. The fork is a special design in conjunction with the folks at Enve Composites standard disc fork. (Updated thanks to Tim K at Salsa!) Disc only, and has full run cable housings for running in the muck and mire that is part of many gravel road racing classics.

Okay, here is my take on this: Leaving aside whether disc brakes are good or no, I have had a close look at a prototype Warbird in titanium. It is an impressive rig. I actually got a very short spin on it, and I can say that the magical titanium feel was there. I bet it would make for a nice platform for long gravel assaults.

That said, this is a racer's rig. There are certain things I can see this bike will do well at, but there are certain things it makes compromises on due to its racing bent. It has the roadie position spot on, and makes no concessions for bigger rubber. (Claimed clearance is for up to 38mm tires) To my mind it cuts a line and leaves the explorer/tourer/, and yes- the adventure rider, on the other side of that line. Of course, there is the Vaya for those folks.

But there is no more Vaya titanium for 2013. That said, the Fargo is still offered as a titanium frame, and that bike makes a great, versatile platform that can not only race, but be an adventure rig, fat tired friend, and stay reasonably lightweight.

It's not that I am knocking the Warbird, but like it's namesake, these bikes will be for dog-fighting other gravel road racers on courses that most gravel races are held on. Most non-militaristic pilots will be better served with a more versatile rig. I'd like one, but then again, it doesn't really do anything my BMC already does so well, and doesn't do other things that BMC can do. Well......other than the Warbird's titanium material, which I have to say, almost makes it worth it right there.

I'll reserve final judgement until I see some more specs, but if you are looking to go fast on gravel and need a great weapon for that two wheeled pursuit, this looks mighty tasty.

Updated 7/27/12: I would like to underscore that the above verbiage is only my opinion. To address the concerns put forth on Facebook and on this blog that I received about tire clearances, I  would like to point you to my "News and Views" post from 7/27/12. Click this link to see this.


Tim said...

Mark, this fork is the standard ENVE CX Disc carbon fork. The one we worked with them on was the ENVE RD Disc fork, which is on the Colossal, not the Warbird.

ron k. said...

Do you know what the rear hub spacing is on the WarBird?

Guitar Ted said...

@ron K: No, I do not, but it would surprise me if it wasn't 135mmOLD.

Wally said...

I'd like to see Salsa get back to doing what they used to do well - produce landmark bikes like the Mukluk and Fargo. Those bikes were radical and filled a space. The Warbird I'm sure will appeal to some, especially the wannabes who will never use it for it's purpose. I see this as Salsa's Project 1 Madone series. Very special machine useful for about 1% of larger percent that buy it. I wish 'em luck but hope someone there is working on another landmark bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Wally- I agree with you to a point. See my post tomorrow for what I think is Salsa's most interesting model of 2013. ;>)

It may not be the "landmark" bike you speak of, but for my money it ticks way more boxes than the Warbird.

Unknown said...

I'm going to through a dissenting opinion in here, I loved the Warbird.

The Warbird is billed as a gravel road bike, which is exactly what it is. Light weight, super efficient, skinny tire shod, and definitely leaning towards aggressive positioning. It's not a leisurely cruiser, or a fire road bike packing bike. It's not supposed to be.

I think this bike is best looked at from the eyes of road bikers, rather than from mtb/touring guys. Most road bikers around here, (who constitute the bulk of local gravel riders,) still look at 25c tires on roads as huge. For them, rocking a file tread 35c or 38c is just fine on gravel. It is these folks who will likely gravitate towards this model. I can think of tons of local racers who will pine over this bike when we get it in.

I for one was skeptical as well about this bike, until I rode it. It made a phenomenal difference for Curtis and I to actually get out and ride these bikes.

I'll gladly be adding this bike to my stable. It will sit very well between my incoming Project 1 Madone, (which will kick ass Wally!) and my light weight Fargo build.

For how I intend to ride it this bike will work for me better than Salsa's Vaya would. It's far lighter, rides quite smoothly, and looks amazing. I'm quite excited to own and ride it.

I'll end by saying that your points on tire clearance are totally valid. This bike will not be a perfect fit for everyone, and I think that's okay.

Guitar Ted said...

@Ben Witt: I respect your viewpoint Ben, but in light of what I have personally experienced watching fast guys at these events, (DK 200, Trans Iowa, Gravel Worlds), only a very small percentage of guys run anything smaller than 38's. My feedback shows similar results that I receive from folks directly and indirectly.

I've watched guys on skinny tires ride chunky gravel and bounce around, pinging all over the place. that's wasted energy.

Finally, what would be so negative to fast guys, roadies, and fans of skinny rubber if the clearances were there for 42's and Salsa spec'ed the 35mm tire they did? Who would be upset about that? Is more clearance a bad thing in wet, mucky conditions, which do happen at gravel events and cross races, likely where the Warbird will be ridden?

You can't add on tire width when the clearances have been limited, but you can always run a skinny tire in a bike that can clear a bigger tire, so why not? Can't weigh that much more, and it won't affect performance one iota.

That's where I think an otherwise awesome design is marginalized in this case. I've no doubt it rides really well, and it obviously looks great, and as you say, positioning is spot on, but that isn't my point at all.

But that said, I hope this is a successful rig, and Salsa Cycles can blow me the raspberries when I'm proven wrong. I'll admit it, but as it stands now, that's my take on this rig.

Unknown said...

I think it still remains to be seen what actual size of tire can be put in this bike. It's speced with 35's, but posters here have said prototypes have been ridden with 40's. Until I get one here in the shop, and can test fit tires I know and love, I'll reserve judgement on tire clearance until then.

The clearance for the bike is likely matched to the Enve carbon fork.

Again, horses for courses. If big tires are desired, buy a different bike. The new Fargo Ti with a 44mm head tube paired to a Whiskey carbon fork comes to mind. This has similar geometry optimized for fully fat tires, and would weigh almost the same with similar drive train components. Only the tire choice would change weight significantly.

GNAT said...

I just want to comment on a few details and at the same time allow folks to have their own opinions.

The reality is that tire clearance and how tire clearance is reported is not standardized and is different depending on rim width. Some folks are comfortable running larger tires with little or no clearance. The Warbird has ample clearance at 38. Some may be comfortable running wider on the Warbird, you already saw Josh Patterson from Dirt Rag post/comment about that.

For the record, I know former Salsa designer Joe Meiser won Trans Iowa on less than 42 and Sean Mailen won the Royale 160 this year on less than 42. Both were racing Salsa La Cruz Ti bikes and the Warbird improves the tire clearance on that bike. Our racers and testers have also multiple top 10 and top 20 results at Dirty Kanza.

Yes, it does matter how much clearance you put on a bike. It impacts geometry and things like chainstay length.

At the same time I understand that some folks want more and have different opinions. That is OK as we have other bikes that fit the bill. The Warbird is a specific tool for a specific job, going as fast as possible under competitive cycles over gravel for extended periods of time. It does that very well.

Guitar Ted said...

@GNAT: You say..."
At the same time I understand that some folks want more and have different opinions. That is OK as we have other bikes that fit the bill. The Warbird is a specific tool for a specific job, going as fast as possible under competitive cycles over gravel for extended periods of time. It does that very well. "

I said the very same thing, if you read the post above. ;>)

Yes- there are people that run skinnier tires than 40mm. I also agreed with you on that.

For the record, my BMC has 8mm longer chain stays than a Warbird as it sits but otherwise is very similar to a Warbird's geo. I'm not suggesting that a Warbird needs "ample tire clearance" for 1.8"ers, but being limited as you are to advertising 38mm's as max is marginalizing the perceived versatility to a wider range of riders. Does it take bigger tires? I've heard that it does. That's a good thing. Too bad you can't come out and say that.

Much ado about not much, at any rate. I mean, riders will decide what they want to, and vote with their dollars despite anything I have to say. This whole deal about tire clearance is merely my opinion. Not anyone's but mine. As you say correctly- "....allow folks to have their own opinions".

I agree.

Guitar Ted said...

@Ben Witt: I didn't get a chance to address your two comments until now.

Your local scene does lend itself to "getting away with" smaller volume tires. I get that, and locally- for you- the warbird as is won't likely make anyone bat an eyelash.

But here it isn't that way, and maybe in other places it would work. That said, I rode the tires this bike is spec'ed with on our local gravel and it was not a fun experience. To my point then, I would want to be able to use a bigger tire. Maybe you can, (from what I have been told, it is maybe possible), but if clearances are minimal with 40's, that poses more issues.

We'll see. I hopefully can convince the boss at the shop where I work to keep the Warbird's on our pre-season, because I like the bike, but it's just the lack of versatility that concerns me connected with the tire clearances.

Road biker back ground or not, this bike (hopefully) would get ridden in more situations than just racing. Not every gravel road is created equal. (Lord knows I've seen my thousands of miles of them)So, I can see where making a bike with a versatile tire clearance that is still lightweight and fast is entirely possible.

As it is, saying this is a "fat road" bike instead makes more sense to me. And really- that's how we'll portray it at the shop I work at, most likely, if the bike makes the boss' cut.

I am lobbying for it to be included on our sales floor. If that means anything to anyone reading this.

Glenn said...

"Fat Road" entirely... I would love to have one as a sort of grand fondo road bike. This is almost competing against the Trek Damone and Spec. Roubaix models, for those spring classic type rides. With all of the rough pavement in my neck of the woods (western WI) this would be a great road bike.

Unknown said...

Salsa makes a great array of bikes to have fun on. So what if one of them dares to be specific (Warbird). They make plenty of do-it-all bikes. Go out and ride...