Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Frostbike 2015: The New Warbird

A new, aluminum framed Warbird
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

During Saddledrive 2012, Salsa Cycles released news of a gravel road specific design dubbed "Warbird". I remarked with a post that was not much loved by some folks at Salsa Cycles, (seen HERE), and afterward, I heard from many who had similar opinions on this bike.  While the Warbird was a great concept, I felt it was not fully realized as the "gravel bike" it could have been.

Obviously, Salsa Cycles has realized this as well and went back to the drawing board and have produced a second generation Warbird so different from the first, that in many ways, it seems like a brand new model rather than a ground up redesign. Let me say right up front- I am very impressed with this new Warbird. 

First things first- There is tire clearance and to spare on this new version. Any gravel rider will be stoked on the options for rubber with the Warbird, short of doing a "monstercross" bike. You say you don't need big meats? Fine- you'll have copious amounts of mud clearance then. That's great too, right? Especially so in Springtime gravel events featuring potentially wet dirt roads.  The Warbird has better clearance than most cyclo cross bikes do, and I find that fact to be odd, but again, I think it is a fantastic idea. Options for the end user are better than limitations.

The Al frame is both lighter and more compliant than the outgoing Ti model.
The grandiosely named "Class 5 VRS" is really a marketing term that refers to how the new Warbird is designed to absorb high frequency, low amplitude vibrations. In other words, it is a clever new way to say "laterally stiff-vertically compliant", only this time there may actually be something to the claim.  I saw how the stays actually do flex and with the design being totally controlled by Salsa right down to a new carbon lay-up for a fork, I can see how this bike may be the new benchmark in ride quality for gravel road bicycles. (Admittedly- there are few of these, but still.) The thing is, absorbing the constant "paint-shaker" vibrations that we experience on gravel roads should be a big focus for these bikes. Salsa seems to think so, and this was one of the main features about this bike I am attracted to.

The fact that Salsa managed to produce an aluminum frame that is lighter and more compliant than the outgoing titanium model was really most impressive. I would like to try that bike just because I find this claim so intriguing. If that bike does out do the titanium Warbird, it would be one smoove ride fer shure! I know how the titanium bike felt, and it wasn't bad.

Claimed room for up to 44mm tires here.
Yes, this is a better Warbird, but I was disappointed in the fact that Salsa didn't dare to tweak the geometry at all. Look, I know most readers here cannot see what the heck a few millimeters of bottom bracket drop does, and that's fine, but I can guarantee that anyone who might find a bike with a decently low bottom bracket would be able to discern that the bike they were on was more stable feeling on gravel. The Warbird's got an almost cyclo cross-ish 70mm of BB drop, and why is that exactly? Last time I was at a gravel race, it was hours long, had no barriers, and most folks aren't leaning into corners and pedaling at 25 mph. I just don't get the fascination with high bottom brackets for these bicycles because they just don't need them. The other thing is head angles, which vary across the line up of Warbirds, while fork offset remains the same across six sizes. That just seems odd as well, and I still think they are too steep on the bigger sizes of Warbirds, but I could maybe live with that. Maybe.

Then there will be those that don't like any bike without rack and fender mounts. Ya know, I don't necessarily disagree with Salsa's choices here. I've seen and personally experienced what a wet B Road can do to a bicycle, and I don't think fenders are a good choice there. Racks? Look....just frame bag it, or seat bag it. No rack mounts on a bicycle these days is not the deal killer it once was. However, in a compromise, I could see a hidden fender mount sort of deal ala Trek's Domane bike, which has these. I mean, it would be an option to those who use the Warbird as a commuter, road bike, or for select gravel events where sticky, gooey mud isn't an issue. So yeah.....maybe they could have at least given you that option. 

Out of the six color schemes, this was the only one I thought was a bit too garish.
In the end analysis, the new Warbirds are head and shoulders above the first ones, in my opinion. Spec is better. Function is better. Colors are killer, (with the possible exception of the black one), and graphics are really subdued, which I like. Would I ride one? Yeah, and probably the aluminum one, just because I am so intrigued by the claims of a nice ride quality there. Although, you have to love that a carbon road bike frame can handle up to 44mm tires, right? I wouldn't discount that bike. However; it is spendy, and that's a consideration for a bike I know will see some rough treatment.

And what about dropping the titanium model? Well, the new one kills that bike on ride quality and weight, so I see why Salsa is dropping it, but perceptions being what they are, I can also see why many folks will shy away due to preconceived notions. Salsa's GM, Justin Julian was non-committal when I asked what would be the future of titanium at Salsa Cycles. In my opinion, I think they are moving away from the material, and I understand their reasons why, if they do. It's a tough deal to keep moving along with titanium when the material is limiting you in respects to design compared to carbon and aluminum. Steel? Yeah......then there is that nut to crack. I still think a steel Warbird would make sense, but, I guess Salsa doesn't see it that way.


John Majors said...

Can you clarify what you meant when you said titanium was limiting in respects to design.

Guitar Ted said...

@John Majors: Titanium is notoriously expensive to form, and to my knowledge, widespread use of the material in hydroforming is non-existent in terms of bicycle manufacturing. Mechanical forming, (what Salsa has been doing), is limited. Added to this is the fact that raw tubing choices in titanium pale in comparison to what exits in steel and aluminum. Finally, the industry in Asia is set up to work in aluminum, carbon fiber, and to lesser extents, steel and finally titanium.

Resources exist, yes- but when results in aluminum can be had that exceed current state of the art titanium frame technology, it starts to become less appealing of a choice to route your design through a titanium frame process. If I were a designer, I would seek materials best suited to my design goals and that were actually possible to achieve. Obviously, there are limitations not only in manufacturing to consider here, but also in final price to the consumer.

MG said...

Looks like they finally gave the Warbird the clearance I'd require to make one mine... Finally!

blooddoc23 said...

I have always thought titanium rode a little rough anyway. Its just so hard!

Unknown said...

I was a disappointed they lowered the stack height. Who rides 6, 10, 14 hours or more of gravel with the saddle 6 inches higher than the bars? I could run the "Ahead stack of death" and an angled stem, but cosmetically, that just doesn't look that good.

Glenn said...

I like it. This is the first bike that I can see as a quiver killer road bike for the non-crit racer. Fast group rides plus gravel rides.

I will have to give this serious consideration along with the Domane and Roubaix when I buy a new road bike hopefully in a few years.

d.p. said...

Any chance of covering a Seattle Bike Supply show?

John Majors said...

@Guitar Ted: Thanks for the explanation!

Guitar Ted said...

@d.p. Only if they supply enough Rainier Beer to satisfy my appearance fees. ;>)

skylerd said...

I am unclear on the purpose of a cyclocross bike if not for this sort riding? I don't understand the different niches, gravel racing and cx. Cross is more technical than gravel racing but less technical than cross-country?

Guitar Ted said...

@skylerd- Cross racing is a discipline that places a high priority on technical, precise handling,being able to pedal through tight corners and deep ruts, and typically is a race that lasts an hour or so. Rider comfort, high speed stability, (I'm talking descending at 30-40mph for long distances on loose gravel),and features like multiple bottle mounts do not figure into the design of a cross bike.

Essentially, the only reason cross bikes were ever deemed worthy as "gravel bikes" is because that is what was/is convenient for the task. It isn't because cross bikes were designed to ride specifically on gravel, or even to do that sort of thing at all.

It is like saying a Trek Madone is a great choice for a randonnuer bike because there are no randonnuer bikes. (We all know that isn't true, but that is how many see cross bikes for gravel events.)

Fear rothar said...

I humbly submit that your bad experience with mudguards/fenders on B-roads is a regional observation. There are many other parts of the U.S. (for example, on the clay-based roads in the northeast) and the world in which 'guards can be worth their weight in platinum reinforced carbon fibre on a wet day. And if you're going to the trouble, it's nice to have properly engineered mounting points to which they can be securely affixed, all the better for bombing bumpy, wet descents.

All that to say, it would be really nice if bikes of this type (I'm not picking on the Warbird, specifically) came with such mounts. They do not slow you down if you decide not to use them.

Guitar Ted said...

@Fear rothar- Not just "my experience", by the way, but my observations and data gathered through others.

That said, I get your point for bicycles of this ilk in general. As a for instance, I recommended fender mounts when Raleigh consulted me on the Tamland, which they did include in the end.

As for the Warbird in particular, another commenter astutely pointed out that without a chain stay bridge or a seat stay bridge, fenders would be a difficult proposition for this design, and is probably the main reason the Warbird doesn't have those mounts.

Mike Grant Fitness said...

I concur regarding BB height GT. The BB on my Surly Disc LHT is low and coupled with long stays this things is absolutely glued to the gravel roads. Not racey but super comfy and stable. I almost prefer it to my Fargo Ti on such travel. Often thought when going custom having my "all road" bike built with a low BB such as LHT. Keep up the great work!