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Salsa Warroad review

6 Mar 2020
Verdict:

A versatile bike that will guarantee grin factor on or off road, but potentially even bigger smiles after a few considered component swaps

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£4,800
For 
Stable and confidence inspiring • Quick accelerations • Fast overall feel
Against 
Somewhat harsher than expected • Potentially slightly held back by the spec choices

For decades, Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles has been producing a wide range of mountain bikes, fat bikes, all-road bikes, adventure bikes, bikepacking bikes – call them what you will – in all manner of frame materials.

Its Warbird can even lay claim to being the first dedicated production gravel race bike, released back in 2011 long before anyone decided to give this segment of the market a name, let alone a hashtag.

The fact that performance road bikes have not historically been in its remit perhaps explains why this is the first time we’ve seen a Salsa grace Cyclist, but the company’s latest creation, the Warroad, does more than just dip its toe into tarmac territory.

Salsa’s lead engineer, Pete Hall, sums up the Warroad as ‘road with a side of gravel’. In other words, don’t think super-slick racer, but more an endurance road bike that’s happy to get its tyres dirty.

Product manager Joe Meiser provides a little more insight into the thinking behind the bike. ‘A group of us do this 120+mile ride that we call the “Cannonball Run”, as the route crosses the Cannon River on an old decommissioned road bridge,’ he says.

‘The ride is mostly pavement [tarmac] but takes in some gravel trails, dirt road and singletrack too, often covered with spring ice-melt when we ride it. Needless to say it’s a tough day in the saddle.

‘The Warroad was born out of the search for a bike perfect for this mix of conditions, where we wanted the agility and responsiveness of a road bike, so it handles and accelerates as you would expect a road bike to, but is much more capable away from smooth asphalt.’

Even just a few years ago that would have stood the Warroad out as a niche product, but now it is entering a market swamped with bikes banging the same ‘explore beyond the road’ drum.

Yet even among growing competition, the bike stood out from the crowd when I first saw it (not just because of its quirky paintjob) and I was eager to test it. So what makes the Warroad different?

Numbers game

From a geometry standpoint, the bike is somewhat unconventional. It has a noticeably slack head tube angle (71°) that increases the bike’s trail (around 67mm with 700c x 35mm tyres), as well as a fairly large fork offset (51mm) that increases the bike’s front-centre (the distance from BB to front wheel hub). Both these things aim to create a more stable feel for the bike, particularly on rough terrain.

Increasing trail, though, results in less reactive handling, so Salsa has looked to remedy this by speccing a shorter stem (90mm on this size 57.5cm frame), because bringing the bars closer to the steering axis quickens the steering response.

To compensate for the shorter stem, the top tube is, comparatively, a little longer. It’s a practice commonly applied in modern mountain bike designs, and considering the company’s off-road heritage it’s not entirely surprising to see Salsa trending in this direction with the Warroad.

At the rear, 415mm chainstays are about as short as they can be on a disc brake road bike with dual wheel size compatibility, which keeps the back wheel tucked in tight and helps maintain a lively feel during acceleration.

To give all these numbers some context, an equivalently sized Specialized Roubaix – a bike I would put in a similar category to the Warroad – has a 73.5° head angle, 44mm fork offset (trail 58mm) and 417mm chainstays.

So, to return to my original question, what is it makes the Warroad different? One answer is that Salsa has come at this from a different angle to many of its competitors.

Whereas brands such as Trek, Cannondale and Specialized create designs shaped by their experience in the WorldTour, Salsa has none of that road racing DNA and is instead producing a road bike from the perspective of adventure riders more used to the trails of the American Midwest. Of course, what really matters is how all these principles play out.

Fun factor

The Warroad indeed delivers a stable ride, exactly as promised. Its composure was unflappable when tucked in a high-speed road descent, and when I did venture onto trails the front wheel tracked uneven surfaces precisely, standing its ground over loose rocks and debris where other bikes would be more inclined to get flicked off line. This allowed my hands and upper body to be more relaxed more of the time.

On tarmac I noticed myself sometimes running a bit wide on fast, tight corners where I would usually be confident to pedal through and stick to the apex at a reasonable pace.

The handling does feel just that fraction lazier than what I’d expect from a ‘conventional’ road bike, but that’s certainly not because the frame or fork lack stiffness. The Warroad is undoubtedly made of strong stuff in that regard, feeling doggedly unbendable despite my best efforts to generate any discernable flex.

Laterally that’s a plus, helping to transfer power with pleasing efficiency. But it’s also very stiff vertically, something my backside was overtly aware of on longer rides. Despite what Salsa calls its Class 5 Vibration Reduction System – essentially a set of skinny, bowed seatstays – the sensation I got was a lot harsher than I was expecting. Those stays don’t seem to flex anywhere near as much as they look like they should.

I would say at least some of the blame for this must go to the alloy seatpost, which despite being a relatively skinny 27.2mm feels unsympathetically rigid in how it transfers road shocks.

A switch to a carbon post proved the ride feel could be softened by a noticeable amount. As did a change of wheels, to 650b and 47mm tyres. Which brings me neatly on to the spec.

While Salsa’s own-brand components are high quality, as are the WTB alloy tubeless wheels, and of course I have zero complaints about Shimano’s Ultegra mechanical grouspet, I can’t help but feel the Warroad (in this test guise) is not being given the best opportunity to truly shine.

The frame definitely feels worthy of a higher spec level. Of course, any bike can be made to perform better by swapping in more expensive components, but the Warroad really is crying out to be lavished with some extra bling.

When I took it for a ride bedecked with Zipp 303 (650b) wheels, a Fizik carbon seatpost and a lighter carbon-railed saddle, I came back with a whole heap more love for the bike.

Give it the spec it deserves and the Warroad is right up there among the most fun – and most versatile – bikes I’ve tested.

Spec

Frame Salsa Warroad Carbon Ultegra 700
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Disc
Brakes Shimano Ultegra Disc
Chainset Shimano Ultegra Disc
Cassette Shimano Ultegra Disc
Bars Salsa Cowbell Deluxe alloy  
Stem Salsa Guide alloy
Seatpost Salsa Guide Deluxe alloy
Saddle WTB Volt 135 Race
Wheels  WTB KOM Light alloy, Teravail Cannonball 35mm tyres 
Weight 8.65kg (size 57.5cm)
Contact lyon.co.uk

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