Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Salsa Cycles Blackborow DS: One Year In

A ride early on with the Blackborow DS
The Blackborow DS from Salsa Cycles was a one hit wonder, from the standpoint of it having a simple, parallel single speed drive train, or "dingle speed" set up, as it is commonly referred to. Of course, the Blackborow was offered as a geared bike, and continues on into 2016 as a geared bike. However; Salsa did not continue on with the DS version, so it is kind of a rare offering in the fat biking world, having been the only out of the box, dinglespeed, fat bike I am aware of.

That said, most of the handling characteristics I speak of will transfer right over to a geared version of the Blackborow for anyone curious about one of these bikes. So, with that in mind, here are my impressions of the Blackborow DS.

Set Up: For the most part, I haven't modified this bike with the exception of adding a Rock Shox Bluto fork for the majority of the Summer. Other minor details that were not satisfactory were addressed here such as the grips, which I exchanged for Ergon grips, and I did modify the front brake cable clip on the inner fork leg so it wouldn't collect mud and snow so easily. I accessorized the bike with various bags, water bottle cages, and most recently, with a Dave's Mud Shovel rear fender. Otherwise everything has been box stock for the entire first year. The fit for me, at 6'1", was spot on for this size large specimen, and I did not change the saddle, nor stem or bars to accommodate me, since it all worked just right from the get-go.

I set my "PR" for my coldest commute ever at -17°F with this bike.

 Winter Biking: I got the Blackborow DS just before Winter set in here and as a Winter bike, it was a revelation. My previous fat bike experiences were on a 2011 Mukluk and a 2012 Titanium Mukluk. Those bikes were stable, with really good slow speed handling, but compared to the Blackborow, they were like driving a truck versus the Blackborow's "sporty sedan-like" handling. The geometry of the Blackborow DS has an easier to loft front end, a snappier acceleration feel, a more solid braking performance, and with the through axles front and rear, a much more precise feel on the trail than previous quick release style fat bikes. With all of that, the most impressive feature, in my opinion, was the ability to traverse more difficult terrain with the 4.8" Lou tires on Clown Shoe rims. The wider foot print does the obvious- gives you more float, but the tires give you incredible amounts of grip forward, and a really good lateral stability. This allows for more forward bite and also helps keep your bike from pitching sideways so much. I traversed deeper snow with this bike than I have ever done for longer stretches than I have ever been able to. As a Winter bike, it put my other fat bikes in the shed for the season.

The addition of a Rock Shox Bluto was a boon for Summer riding.
Summer Riding: The Blackborow's nimble feel and improved handling did not come at the expense of a loss of slow speed stability. That was important for snow, but in the Spring and Summer, it also was good in the underbrush, sand, and mud. One thing fat bikes do really well, and that is that they go places you just don't go on a mountain bike, because you (a) can't easily, (b) it is too risky for flats or derailleur carnage, (c), or you don't want to get stuck in the muck!

One thing that was a big surprise for me was how much better Summer riding was with a Rock Shox Bluto swapped in for the stock rigid fork. I figured it would amount to additional dead weight. Boy! Was that ever a wrong assumption! The suspension fork made the riding more enjoyable than I thought, with the capability to go faster, and the bike was amazingly calmer to ride. I will not be using the Bluto in Winter here because of corrosion concerns and when I have to push, or heft my bike over deeper snow, I want it to be as light as I can have it be. However, come next year, that suspension fork is going back on.

Overall then, I was having a blast poking around through sand, mud, and underbrush. Going places I wouldn't go on other mountain bikes was fun, and a diversion from gravel road riding. Plus, I could find all the out of the way places I could want right in my local area.

The Blackborow DS as it sits after one year of ownership
About That Dingle Speed Thing: I get asked from time to time if I would, or have in the past, gear up this Blackborow. A year ago, had you asked me that, I would have said, "Maybe.....probably will." However; I was able to negotiate everything I wanted to in "high range", and as a single speed rider at heart, I was fine with that. Especially around here. "Low range" is really low. Best saved for grinding out longer climbs and for traversing the deepest, most difficult terrain. By the way, "high range" is 30T/18T and "low range" is 26T/22T. You will notice that if you add 30 and 18 it equals 48. So does 26 plus 22. This is how a parallel single speed drive train can use the same length chain. Simply drop the rear wheel, to gain some slack in the chain, swap the chain to the desired set of cogs, and reinstall the rear wheel. Bingo! A crawling gear or a cruising gear with no chain tensioning fuss. Gear swaps are about a two minute drill. I could modify that range, but I found it works well here for my needs, so I have not changed a thing. That said, if I wanted to gear this thing up, all the cable stops are there, but I would have to buy a drive side Alternator drop out with the derailleur hangar.

So, After One Year.... I haven't changed my mind much since I wrote this back in February. Of course, since that post, I have used a suspension fork, and it did do what I expected then, but it worked in places I wasn't expecting as well. I still think a carbon version would be cool here, but my mind has been swayed somewhat to how this bike would work as a titanium bike. In the way that I think most folks would use it, which is for rough and tumble, "out of bounds' type riding, I think titanium makes far more sense.

The Blackborow DS has really raised the bar, as far as I am concerned, for fat bikes. I want to still get on this with 29+ tires and wheels at some point. I think at that point it becomes my all year around mountain bike with two wheel sets which would then cover 95% of all of my mountain biking needs. I might want to try a tubeless wheel set for Winter, and that titanium frame idea is getting better all the time. That said, until a titanium or carbon Blackborow frame entices me away from this, I will stick with this bike and it will be around for a while.


davelees1 said...

Great write-up on the Salsa DS Fat Bike. I also have one, and really enjoy it here in Cleveland, Ohio.

By the way, I have the Woven carbon wheels on my DS setup tubeless, and it drop the weight by 3.9 lbs! :-)

Unknown said...

How's the frame holding up in the salt and slush? I haven't had good luck with aluminum parts in MN. My clownshoes only lasted me 3 years before the corrosion drove me crazy.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rannier Wolfcastle - So far- so good. My 2011 Rolling Darryls are still looking fine as well, by the wy. Every area uses different things on the roadways, so it may be that it is a more corrosive environment up there.

Unknown said...

What do you think of the new CF Mukluk? Same geo and clearance as the Blackborow.

Guitar Ted said...

@Eric Fussenegger- The Carbon Muk is.......okay. I rode one at a demo, but it really doesn't ride any differently than my Blacborow DS. I think one misconception a lot of folks have is that the Carbon Muk has the same tire clearances as a Blackborow- it does not. A Blackborow will fit the Snowshoe 2XL- a 5.05 wide tire, on 100mm rims where a Carbon Muk does not have that capacity. Also worth noting is that the Carbon Muk has less standover than a Blackborow as well. That is important to me for how I use mine.

A Ti Blackborow? I'd be all over that if it was cut from the same pattern as the old Blackborow was and not like the newer Mukluks.