Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ride Impressions: Salsa Cycles Warbird

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Okay, let's start out with some pertinent links for some perspective here: My initial reaction to the Salsa Cycles Warbird is here: My take on a gravel road rig- Musings On A Gravel Road Bike will give you some back ground on my position on what I feel makes a good gravel road bike. Okay, so with that, let's dive in...

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....

E-Fred's personal Ti Warbird (Note: Not to spec)
 Titanium Warbird:

I had the brief privilege of seeing a titanium Warbird prototype up close and in actual use at last spring's Trans Iowa V8. John Gorilla was the rider, and he let me take it for a parking lot spin at the finish line.

I kept that under my hat, as anything other than how it looked would have been speculation at the time being it wasn't known publicly how the bike would be positioned or spec'ed. But now I can say more, having actually ridden one on trails and on some pavement.

The Warbird I rode was a bike belonging to Salsa Cycles' Eric Fredrickson, or "E-Fred". The bike does not have the spec wheel set or fork, just so you know. (The fork is a Whiskey carbon number, as I was told.) E-Fred picked the 58cm size for his bike, which, for a 58, is quite rangy, even without the long tiller E-Fred uses. Note the seat height in the image which shows little post. That's 31" from the BB spindle to the top of the saddle for reference. The Warbird has a taller head tube, so the nearly slammed stem wasn't an issue at all from my view. I could make this size work easily with a zero offset post, centered saddle on the rails, and a shorter stem, but Salsa's next size down is a 56cm, which would look more "normal". Salsa went for a big main triangle to fit frame bags better, and to allow for easier portaging, when necessary. (More on that in a moment.)

Chain stay clearance with a Clement X'Plor MSO tire

A note on tire clearances: I made the comment early on that I felt the clearances for the Warbird marginalized the bike for a certain segment of the gravel riding fans out there. Let me say up front that I haven't been convinced otherwise. Salsa claims clearances for up to a 38mm tire, and I feel that is a very fair assessment of what you can expect to fit any Warbird- aluminum or Ti- that you see.

We had the chance to swap a Vaya Travel's wheels, shod with Clement's X'Plor MSO 40mm tires, (claimed width, actual width is slightly narrower), into the titanium Warbird and the fork, (remember- it was a Whiskey fork, not the Enve as spec'ed), cleared the tire fine, but the chainstays were tighter. Probably an okay set up for dry conditions, but obviously, not optimal for wet/mud. Well, take a look and judge for yourself.

Nuff said about that....

Ride Impression: The Warbird in titanium is a bit more like riding a steel bike than a titanium one. Salsa managed to make the titanium feel racy, not noodly, and for all out gravel assaults, you should find a solid feeling bottom bracket, but no "zing" in the seat stays that speaks of harshness. Despite the rangy frame, the front felt well composed, and even throwing it around the tight single track of Carver Lake didn't show up any flexiness, vagueness, or funny handling quirks. The geometry is really good for gravel, I think, and the Warbird is a stable feeling bike at speed and in the tight twisties, (likely where most folks won't ride it, but it holds its own there.) On the right course, a set of supple 32's at a sub 100psi pressure likely would feel like a magic carpet ride.

The ride positioning is race-like, but again, the tall head tube will preclude any Euro-racer boy extreme saddle to handle bar drop set ups unless you size down in frame size. That's as it should be anyway for gravel racing, and especially for longer events.The big triangle will certainly leave room for a Tangle Bag and bottle cages. Some have made a stink about the under the top tube cable routing making portaging painful. Well, I don't see a ton of that going on anyway, so I think it is a bit of a moot point here.

Warbird in aluminum
A Note On The Aluminum Warbird: Much of what I have written will transfer right over here to the aluminum model, but the ride feel is different. The aluminum Warbird was definitely stiffer feeling. Some may be looking for the efficient feeling, racy, no compromise transfer of power to the rear wheels and the Aluminum Warbird feels like "that bike" in spades. Tire choice and presure may mitigate that to a degree, but for those looking for a less sharp feeling ride, I would suggest the titanium bike over the aluminum one. I rode a smaller sized Warbird to get a feeling for fit here as well, and although I could have made it work, for gravel I would opt for the longer, rangier frame every time.

My Take: The Warbird is exactly as advertised- a mean, nasty gravel race bike, the likes of which hasn't been unleashed upon the public before. My feeling is the geometry is dialed, the execution is excellent, details abound which show Salsa has listened to gravel racers, but only on tire clearances has the Warbird maybe fallen a bit short. If you don't ever see the need for any tire bigger than a 35mm, then take a good hard look at this bike for gravel racing and training.

What would I like to see different? Obviously my take on tire clearances has been beaten to death, but besides that, how about a steel framed version of this?

Note: Thanks to Salsa Cycles and their employees at Carver Lake for the demo and information used in this post.


jonathansmith68 said...

Yes, I'd love to see a steel version as well. It'd take away from the "racey" marketing but maybe the smaller tubing diameters would result in slightly more tire clearances...?

Unknown said...

Hello! What do you think about the size of the warbird. I will order one but i'm unsure about the size. I previously had a CX with 562mm top tube and an 80mm stem which I thought was almost perfekt except that the TT coud have been slightly shorter. A 55 warbird would be obvious but that one has 1cm lower head tube and i want as long HT as possible for comfort. All the guides says i should have at least a 57cm TT and a seat tube of 54cm(dont think hat is important though) and that maked me confused... Im almost 6' with short legs and long torso. What do you think?

Guitar Ted said...

@ Janne Karlsson: Warbirds are a bit long-ish feeling compared to other bikes I've ridden. My best guess is to go with the 56cm one. I always err to the side of having the bike fit when you are riding it, and in my opinion, it would seem the 56cm does that best for you. But again- it is only a guess on my part.

d said...

How does the 56 warbird fit? I can't size it and am torn between a 56 and 58. I'm 6'1" with at 33" inseam. I'm leaning towards the 56 and mostly ride L 19-20" mtb frames.

Guitar Ted said...

@d: Get the 58cm. Especially if it is an aluminum one.