Sunday, August 02, 2015

Salsa Cycles Fargo: Versatility Defined

Maybe the most obvious use of a Fargo- Bike packing.
With 2016 Salsa Cycles bicycles announced the other day, it became clearer to me that the most versatile bike in the Salsa line is unquestionably the Fargo model. It is also one of the longest running Salsa models, with only the El Mariachi being in the line longer than the Fargo. In fact, one could argue that without the Fargo's influence, the El Mariachi wouldn't exist as a model in Salsa's line up anymore. Why? That would be because the Fargo was the first "Adventure by Bike" model, and the El Mariachi, being closely related to the Fargo, does a lot of the same things a Fargo can....but not all. The Fargo changed the way folks looked at the El Mar, for sure. Kept it relevant. Made it an adventure bike as well. Now it might be a good idea to take a step back here and look at just what a Fargo is.

Like I said, the Fargo is very similar to the El Mariachi, but there is one very important difference- The Fargo is designed for drop bar use, the El Mariachi is not. The differences are in the length of the top tube and the "reach" measurement. The Fargo also sports a longer head tube. That isn't all, but those are the salient differences for this discussion. So, the Fargo is primarily an off-road drop bar mountain bike. But that is selling this versatile platform way too short. In fact, the Fargo has been a revelatory bike for many, and a wake up call to the bicycle industry back in 2008 when it was revealed. It was like the El Mariachi, but it was so different that it was reviled by some, confused others, and raised possibilities for a few. I got the chance to be one of the first partakers of what the Fargo could do, and here is what I wrote about the bike on this blog in November of 2008:

A quick image of the Fargo after my very first demo ride.
"It is a fun machine. It is a ticket to places and experiences that maybe other bikes could manage, but the Fargo is made for. It does loads, it does roads, it does dirt, sand, and gravel. It can change direction in a catlike manner, yet it can ride like a magic carpet with a load on. Maybe it looks awkward, or gangly to some, but get beyond the looks and you can ride an adventure bike that can take you places and do things better than any other 29"er, (for sure) and better than most any other rig I know of that is mass produced.

Dollar for dollar this Fargo will "out-fun" any other bike I have hands down. That's been proven to me, and I'm betting it will be proven out for a lot of folks. Maybe they should have named this bike the "Fun-go".......nah! To close to fungi, I suppose!"

Fun. Adventure. Versatility. Yeah......that was true in 2008, and those words still define this bike for me today. You may say, "But it is a fat-tired mountain bike! It doesn't do what the Vaya does, or a road bike. " I would have agreed with you in 2008, but fortunately there are a lot of people that think outside of that box and proved that the Fargo could indeed do what the Vaya does and that it could be a skinnier tired, road going machine as well. I've seen Fargos with fenders and 30mm tires. I've seen Fargos with touring bags all over the bike. They have done RAGBRAI, world tours, gravel events, Tour Divide, and have been beer runners, townies, and commuter rigs. Heck, I even put 650B+ tires on one! 

Following are a few images of Fargos I have that help illustrate its versatility

From an old Fargo Adventure Ride: Note the "alt" bar/flat bar Fargos- they don't have to be drop bar bikes.
Image by Jason Boucher of me riding through a field on a Fargo Adventure Ride
Martin's smooth tired Fargo made a great paved/gravel roller.
A Fargo makes a great platform for a fat tired commuter
The thing about a Fargo is that nothing has to stop it from going and doing just about any bicycle related activity. Sure- you aren't going to crit race it, and it isn't going to do what a full suspension mountain bike can do, but for the vast majority of cyclists that are wanting to ride beyond the blacktop and bicycle paths, the Fargo is almost a perfect bike for them. It can do the blacktops and bicycle paths, but it goes farther. Far-go Go-Far. Get it? 

In fact, I am going as far to say that the Fargo has spawned other Salsa models. Certainly the Vaya can be seen in that light. However; two new models can draw a direct line back to the Fargo. 

2016 Deadwood
2016 Cutthroat X-9
The new Deadwood, a "dead ringer" for a Fargo- (<==HA!) is really a Fargo optimized for 29+ wheels. The Cutthroat could arguably be called "the ultimate Fargo". Stripped down, sleek, and in carbon fiber, this bike might even point to what the future of the Fargo might look like. 

The cycling masses need Fargo bikes, or bikes like the Fargo. Adventure. Fun. Versatility. That's what grows cycling, not the lightest, $10,000+ carbon fiber racing bike or mountain bike. People need a bike to utilize on roads that are desolate in terms of traffic, on bike paths, and on side roads that maybe are rough. They need to be able to ramble on that dirt and grass short cut, to gather groceries in panniers, and to be comfortable on. The Fargo can do all of that and more. Oh......and can we get safer roads and bicycle specific infrustructure while we're at it. Thank you. We need that too.

Now, there are a lot of other cool bikes in the world as well that can do some of these things, but there aren't many- if any- quite like the Fargo. It's one of my favorite bicycles. 


Unknown said...

I'm in agreement but I think you also need to understand how Salsa did make subtle changes between generations and to my body that changed things as far as its overall ability. My first gen Fargo was much more Vaya like and if I had only it, it would have sufficed. Two bikes in one. Quasi Vaya and Quasi Fargo. The second gen I ride now is more "compact", its less of a road machine and more a dirt machine. Its handling is much better on single track and yes its still a good anywhere tourer OFFROAD can do on road but panniers don't fit as well. Comfort isn't as good for me. I let my 1st gen frame go because I bought a Vaya and bought a 2nd gen Fargo. The Vaya pushes the needle over to the tamer touring side of the scale where the 2nd gen Fargo pushes it's needle closer to the rougher side of the scale.

Guitar Ted said...

@Wally Kilburg: I would have been the first to agree with all you have written, but as I have stated, I have noted a lot of "out of the box" thinking with regard to the Fargo. Uses and set ups I would have never considered, and neither would the Salsa honches have thought of or recommended either. In fact, I've heard them say as much.

So, it seems that this bike, more so than the Vaya, is a palette for one's interpretation, and while the Fargo has most certainly become a more "dirt-centric" design, that hasn't stopped people from interpreting it otherwise. Thus my "most versatile" designation. You wouldn't even be able to set up a Vaya with 2.4" tires, as an example, but the Fargo can easily handle 32mm tires, and people do that to Fargos all the time. As much as that doesn't seem to make sense to me, that isn't what the reality out there is concerning this bike.

Rob said...

@Guitar Ted, I love your Fargo commentary.

i have a 2012 Salsa Fargo 3 with a set of Gevenelle shifters. Regarding versatility, I have wondered if you could share a few pieces of info.

1. I read your 650b+ commentary. You mentioned that you used Velocity Blunt 35s and 2.8" WTB Trailblazers and that you had room left over. I wonder if a wider rim and/or larger tire (example, WTB Scraper + 3" knards) would work as well? Interested in your thoughts regarding how the rim width/tires might work in conjunction with bottom bracket height, traction, and tire clearance.

2. When moving to the road/CX side of things, you mentioned some folks had put 32s on the Fargo to make it a bit more road worthy. Without changing wheelsets, do you think it is possible to use something like a Nanc 40c or do you think the base rims might be too wide for the 40mm Nano's?

Steve Fuller said...

I gravitated to the Fargo the instant it was released. I tried stuffing larger tires in my Long Haul Trucker, but it wasn't really cutting it as a wide-tired adventure bike. I bought a Gen 1 Fargo, sold my LHT and I've been happy ever since. I've had Gen1 and Gen2 steel frames and now own a 2014 Ti Frame that I honestly can't see myself getting rid of. Those bikes have carried me on RAGBRAI (w 2.2 tires), TransIowa (w 40c tires), TransWisconsin (w 2.2 tires), and Tour Divide (w 2.2 tires). Super fun, super versatile bikes. While I've kept drop bars on all of mine, my wife's Fargo is set up with a rear rack, and a set of Surly Open bars so she can have a more upright riding position. I love the ability to "point and go" down just about any road I want with the bike. It's fast enough for most of the things that I do, save for super fast road rides. I would say that the steel models with the steel fork are the most versatile since they allow the mounting of fenders front and rear.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rob: #1- I did say I had "adequate mud clearance" with my current B+ wheels. With a change to anything wider- rims or tires- that would not be the case on my Gen II frame. I highly doubt Scraper rims would even clear the Fargo I have with a Trailblazer tire mounted tubeless, and even if it did, the clearances would not be to my level of acceptance.

#2- What is your wheel set? Stock Fargo Stan's or Sun Ringle'? Then yes- I would suggest that would work. I have put Nano 40's on WTB Frequency i23 rims tubeless with great success, and that rim is as wide or wider than most "stock" Fargo wheel sets, barring the early Gen I's that had Salsa Semi rims.

Rob said...

@Guitar Ted thanks a ton. So the 35c diameter of the Blunts coupled with the 2.8" tires is probably about as big as I should consider purchasing, sight-unseen (i.e. i'm not in the mood to experiment). That's good info.

I have the stock Sun Ringle, although I'm considering getting a faster, lighter-weight wheelset. Great info regarding the Nano 40s, thanks a ton!

ok, last question for now....I cannot figure out how to tell if the 2012 Fargo can handle a Salsa Firestarter fork. Again, I'd like to lighten that load up front and more importantly, get a bit more stiffness so that I don't get rotor rub when I stand and mash. I think a Firestarter fork would do it, but i'm not educated enough to know if a firestarter fork would fit a 2012 Fargo, nor do I know how what info I need to find out in order to figure it out for myself.

thanks a ton, and thanks for a great Fargo resource!

Guitar Ted said...

@Rob: The Firestarter is a "non-starter" for the Gen II Fargo. (Sorry! I couldn't resist that pun!)Two reasons why- Tapered steer tube, which the Gen II didn't have the capability to handle, and the axle to crown length is longer on the carbon Firestarter fork. (100mm suspension correction vs 80mm on Gen II Fargo) So, what that means in layman's terms is that the Firestarter is about 20mm too long and won't fit your head tube anyway.

Rob said...

@Guitar Ted well fiddlesticks! Thanks for that info. So what stats/info do I need to look up what type of fork would fit? Obviously a non-tapered steer tube, but what size info do I need?

Guitar Ted said...

@Rob- The Fargo Gen II would be a 468mm axle to crown and a 51mm offset would be about perfect.

Jono said...

I bought my Fargo based partly on what Guitar Ted wrote in 2008. I bought mine in June 2009, I think it's a first year, it's Fun Guy Green.

The other reason I bought it was I had tried a lot of other bikes and nothing seemed to do the trick. I wasn't even sure what I was looking for but when I took the Fargo for a test ride I found it. It was the most stable platform I think I had ever ridden, I had taken a Long Haul Trucker for a spin but if you took your hands off the bars it started to vibrate. I still remember the first fast corner I took on the test ride with the Fargo, it just tucked in and shot through, I came out of the corner and was like, Damn!

I haven't used it for touring but I've used it for distance rides (up to around 140km), daily rides, commuting, trails, mountain biking (climbs like a beast and eats single track for breakfast).

I haven't tried the later generations but if all they've done is improve the bike you can't go wrong.

Patrick Dowd said...

Ha, I was just talking with someone about how I think the El Mariachi is way more versatile than the Fargo. But to each their own I suppose.

Rob said...

So what about something like this:

it has a 470mm taper, suspension corrected for 100mm, with a 45 fork rake. That's not 'spot on' obviously, but is that close enough for a good commuter (I'll be buying a new Fargo or possibly a Cutthroat or Deadwood, hahaha)

Guitar Ted said...

@Rob- That description for that fork is confusing. It says suspension corrected for a 100mm fork? That would be 490mm axle to crown, NOT 470, which is an 80mm sus correction figure commonly used for 29"ers. Which is it really?

If I am recalling my Ritchey carbon fork info correctly, I believe it is a 490mm axle to crown, and with so little offset as well, it would be completely the wrong fork for the bike to preserve stock handling.

Rob said...

ok then! Looks like I'll pass, thanks for the info GT. It seemed kinda weird to me too, nice to know I wasn't totally off-base there

Brendon Slotterback said...

Do you know the axle to crown length on the Gen 1?

Guitar Ted said...

@Brendon Slotterback- It's something like 445mm and has one of two massive offsets dependent upon size of the frame. There is no aftermarket fork that replicates its geometry.

Brendon Slotterback said...

Thanks! It seems like I can get pretty close with an 27.5 ECR fork (447mm axle to crown and 43mm offset).

Guitar Ted said...

@Brendon Slotterback- "Pretty close" works for hand grenades and horse shoes, but at over 10mm less offset, that fork trail figure you would end up with will give a Gen I Fargo a completely different feel and handling. It will not be a "Gen I Fargo" from that perspective. Not even close.

That said, it won't be unrideable, just do not expect to get the same sort of feel or handling that was intended by the designers or that many folks have come to enjoy with this bike.