Saturday, January 18, 2020

Gravel Grinder News; 2020 Warbird, Sea Otter, and Influencer Status

New colors, GRX spec dominate the 2020 Warbird range
Salsa Cycles Debuts New 2020 Warbird:

Not much to share here on the new 'Birds but colors and the expected GRX dominated spec. Noticing pink a lot these days on Salsa bikes too..... Hmmm.....

I won't get into all the technical spec on the bikes, you've seen it already if you care. What I wanted to get into a bit is based on two observations.

One- There is no "cheap" Warbird option any longer. Actually, that happened last year, but it is still worth noting that aluminum Warbirds, a staple of the range since they were introduced for the 2012 model year, are gone. I kind of expected that the Journeyman would fill that gap, but the Class V VRS frame design was cool for the aluminum bikes and now you have to spend well over 2G to get into it. That's excluding a big chunk of the market from that technology, or something like it, and it is that market/rider type that would most benefit from that sort of thing. Oh well.....

Secondly - The original Warbird was titanium. Anyone remember that? I still think it was a big mistake for Salsa to let that go in their gravel line up. But that's just me maybe. The titanium Warbird, had it been done "right" from the get-go, would be a classic rig. But limited tire clearances, a weird sizing geometry, and a too stiff for titanium frame kind of made the Warbird in its original form a bit of a let down. That and it didn't have much for versatility. (Rack braze-ons, etc) Current Warbirds have fixed all those previous issues, which is great, but I miss that titanium option. Maybe I'm the only one that does.......

Laguna Seca Raceway is where the Sea Otter Classic Gravel Race will start
Sea Otter Classic Adds Gravel Race:

Sea Otter Classic. The definitive "first" Pro MTB race of the year, (well.....okay, There was the Cactus Cup there for a while), and a true "classic" mountain biking race if there ever was one in the sense of overall perception in the marketplace. They have had "gravel rides" and what not for a couple of years there, but now it is "official". They are having a Pro-Am gravel race now.

This is big. The impact of Sea Otter is unquestionably rather important, and adding in the exposure Sea Otter brings to the public, since it is not just an industry affair, means that Sea Otter is feeling the "gravel buzz" too. If you were wondering if we've reached 'peak gravel" yet, I'd say 2020 is pretty darn close to it in terms of how much traditional racing promoters and the industry overall are getting behind the scene.

It's kind of a turn of events too. Now we've seen the ballyhoo behind electric motor equipped bicycles (HPC/Hybrid Powered Cycles) over the past few years, and the genre was supposedly taking over the marketplace by now, if you'd have believed the punters five years ago. But the whole HPC thing has kind of lost some steam here in the States as mountain bike policy makers grapple with legalities and some urban areas struggle with control over such vehicles. Even stalwart industry rags like "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" have backed off the HPC bandwagon a tiny bit over the past year. So with Sea Otter giving credence to the gravel scene by offering a Pro-Am level event, well, that's a top level deal right there, and it points to the rising tide of the so-called "gravel bike" sector in the market here.

A scene from Trans Iowa v8- Mike Johnson (L) and Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey shown.
Gone But Not Forgotten:

Trans Iowa may be gone, last run in 2018, but apparently its influence lives on. A recent article posted by "Outside" mentioned how the early prototype for the gravel scene helped make riding bicycles a different deal today (Article here)

I really appreciate that the author, Joe Lindsey, thought to include Trans Iowa as one of the events that helped drive gravel specific designs that eventually changed the way many people approach riding bicycles. However; I think there is a bit more to that story than Mr. Lindsey was able to bring out in his article. Perhaps he just doesn't know. I have no idea. But here's what I know about this.....

The early gravel riders were a resourceful bunch, no doubt. There were big tires back then, despite what Mr. Lindsey would lead you to believe. Many folks were running 38mm-40mm tires back in those days. In fact, when Trans Iowa was sponsored by Ritchey Design for T.I.v4 in 2008, I ran a survey of what width tires people were planning on running. The vast majority answered 35mm-40mm. That's because the most popular "gravel" tire then was the Schwalbe Marathon series of tires. They were offered in 38mm and 40mm widths back then, as I recall.

Salsa Cycles is often credited with the first "gravel specific bike", the Warbird, but they were also putting out other bikes, while not marketed as "gravel", they were just that- gravel bikes. Check out the image here, (taken by Wally Kilburg, by the way), of Mike Johnson's bike, an orange Vaya. Officially Salsa denied this was a "gravel bike", but we all knew that is exactly what it was. It was, and still is, a really great gravel bike. Of course, the Vaya came out a couple years ahead of the Warbird. Then there was the titanium La Cruz, which Salsa Cycles' Joe Meiser rode a prototype of to victory in Trans Iowa v5, held in 2009.

There were also the calls on this very blog for the industry to quit being so "race-centric" with road bike designs going back a decade here. The Raleigh Tamland development story, WTB tires researching design via Trans Iowa, and all the researching done via the Dirty Kanza 200. I could go on.

In the end, it has revolutionized the industry, but the industry keeps trying to turn it back onto itself with more racing. Fancy-pants, high dollar events, Pro attended races, and meddling by the governing bodies will bring the gravel scene right back where we were with racing on paved roads. Is that where we want to go? Or should the industry look at providing adventure, fun, and accessibility for all versus catering to a sub-division of fit, fast racers?

Anyway, I am glad to have been a part of Trans Iowa, an event which apparently had some influences. Hopefully we all don't forget why the event existed in the first place. That would be the ultimate compliment to Trans Iowa in the end.


Ari said...

I do not think of the warbird as first gravel bike at all.

KC said...

I remember seeing the Warbird pushed as their first gravel bike, then looking at my several year old by then 2011 Vaya in the garage... I still have the frame/fork, and if it was capable of single speed I'd still be on it.

Ari said...

@KC Get a white industries eccentric hub. They really work. Ari