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A Towpath Century

It’s been a lower-than average mileage year for me; by mid-August of 2013 I had three century rides under my belt for the year, but I had not done one at all this year until today. A day off with fine fall weather (summer sun with mild early fall temperatures) beckoning took me to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail with my Salsa Fargo.

Other than a short ride to work one day, this was the first test of some new upgrades on the Fargo. I had purchased a pair of Velocity Blunt rims that I found a good deal on a couple of years ago. They are 36-hole rims, so I figured they’d make a good pair of heavy-duty touring wheels someday, and was I saving them until I settled on what hubs to use. A couple of friends of mine started using generator front hubs, so I jumped on the bandwagon to try out being self-sufficient with power while on the road. I went with the Cadillac model of hub, the Schmidt SON28, and likewise for a dynamo-powered headlight, the Busch & Mueller Luxos U. For the rear hub, I went with a Shimano Deore XT.

The Luxos U headlight has a handlebar-mounted switch with a built-in USB port. During the daytime (when you’re not using the headlight), you can plug in your smartphone or any USB-powered device to keep it running and charged. With my phone in my top tube bag and the USB cable running between the phone and the light switch, I was good to go.

Occasionally taking the phone out to snap some pictures of the scenery along the way didn’t post any additional challenges.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

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A dike separating the Tuscarawas River from State Route 21 near downtown Massillon

I noticed there were a few more sections of pavement on the Towpath compared to the last time I had ridden down this far south. One part included a section just south of the Summit/Stark county line. I suspect this may have been done after the repair of some flood damage from storms that we received in Northeast Ohio in the spring of this year.

Downtown Massillon is currently the only unfinished section of the Towpath Trail in Stark County. The trail ends when you reach the Lincoln Way bridge. I usually just detour through downtown–it’s quicker and less complicated–to make my way over to the Walnut Road bridge, where the trail continues south. Instead, today I decided to follow the posted detour just out of curiosity. It takes you over the river on the Lincoln Way bridge, then along a convoluted series of back streets, glass-strewn alleys, and paved local park paths until you reach Walnut Road. However, I noticed this not-yet-open extension of the Towpath Trail extending under the Lincoln Way bridge:

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When I got to Walnut Road, looking north, I could not see where this new stretch connected to continue south. So, I’m not sure when this new trail will open, and if and when it will complete the continuous trail through Massillon.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2014 – Apparently, there was a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for this new section of trail on November 12.

Since my goal was to do 100 miles today, I continued south of Massillon until my cyclocomputer hit the 50-mile mark, which happened to be this spot about a quarter-mile south of Wooster Street in Navarre, on another stretch of new pavement:

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I had a Clif Bar snack before turning around and heading back north. I stopped at the Cherry Street Creamery in Canal Fulton for some lunch (chili cheese dog and a soft pretzel).

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Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Usually, when you do an out-and-back ride to reach a specific distance, the margin of error makes you end up a little over or a little under your target mileage. Surprisingly, in this case, the moment I arrived right at my car back at my starting point in Peninsula, my cyclocomputer turned over just 1/100th of a mile over 100 miles.

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The generator hub coupled with the USB port on the headlight worked perfectly. After running the Endomondo app on my phone during the entire 8-hour ride, I ended up with a fully-charged phone.

A Tale of Two Fargos

It’s been almost a year since my last post. I spent 2013 just trying to get in as much riding as possible between juggling work and home schedules, and did not devote time to this blog. If you follow Car Less Ohio on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve tried to keep up with news about living with less car in Ohio.

Last March, I put together a new Surly Cross-Check, and kept putting lots of miles on it. I rode two centuries in one week–the Sweet Corn Challenge in Richfield on July 28, and then the Bike MS Pedal to the Point from Brunswick to Sandusky on August 3.

The other bike project last year was converting the Salsa Fargo from its drop-bar rigid off-road touring bike configuration to a traditional hardtail mountain bike. Here’s what it looked like pre-transformation, from a ride last April:

The Chagrin River in Geauga County, Ohio

I wanted to convert it to a hardtail for no particular reason, other than just out of curiosity to see how it would work, I needed another bike project to keep me busy (and from buying another bike), and because I always wanted a nice 29er Ti hardtail.

I kept the Truvativ Stylo crankset and SRAM X-Gen front derailer. I had a pair of SRAM X.7 trigger shifters and an X.9 rear derailer in the parts bin.

The only major acquisition necessary was a fork. I opted for the X-Fusion Slide RL 29, mainly because it was cheap enough for what I knew would be a temporary project. I’m not picky when it comes to suspension setup, and the less dials and knobs to fiddle with, the better. It’s got a lockout knob and rebound adjustment, which is enough for me. The travel can be set to 80, 100, or 120mm; I set it to 80 to match what the Fargo frame is designed for.

Oh, and although it wasn’t necessary, I picked up a pair of Shimano Deore XT hydraulic brakes on impulse when I saw them on sale. I did the derailer cable housing in blue to further the blue bling look with most of the other components.

I kept my Thomson seatpost on it at first. but later swapped to the Salsa Shaft post. When I bought this frame three years ago, I was on the fence between a Medium and Large. After test-riding both, I settled on the Medium, because the Large, although it would have worked, gave me that feeling like I was riding on a scaffolding. I’ve been happy with my choice of the Medium, and I think that works best in drop-bar mode, but I found that in hardtail/flat-bar mode, the Large would probably be better. So, the Salsa Shaft seatpost compensated for this, as its greater setback stretched out the cockpit the way I needed it.

I switched my saddle to a WTB Silverado, which I had picked up on the cheap at FrostBike. I’ve got a plethora of WTB saddles; they’ve been my favorite for years. The models range from the Laser V, Speed V, ProGel, Rocket V, whatever. I couldnt’ tell you the difference between them all; they are pretty much the same to me.

Here it is heading off to one of our first rides, at Mohican State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Mohican State Park

That’s a Thomson stem and a Soma Odin handlebar. The bike rode pretty well, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the feel of the cockpit, so I swapped to the more upright Salsa stem that I originally had on the bike, which necessitated a 31.8 handlebar, which I happened to have around in a Salsa flat bar. That provided the sweet spot, which was confirmed during a ride at the local Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at the Royalview Trail

And later at Quail Hollow State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Quail Hollow State Park

I took it for a spin around West Branch State Park at some point, too, but didn’t get a photo.

The tires initially were Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, which I had also used for off-road riding when the bike still had drop bars, including at the 2012 Iceman Cometh Challenge. I never really got completely taken by these tires. I like the tread pattern, but they always felt too hard. It became apparent right away that the minimum recommended pressure of 35psi was WAY too high, so I dropped them to about 27. That felt pretty good, but it seemed dangerously close to pinch-flat territory. I know, the solution to that is to go tubeless, but I have not made that technological leap yet. I switched to a pair of WTB Nano tires that I had also picked up at FrostBike, and these are the cat’s meow.

So, you’re wondering, how did this beast ride? To make a long story short, it’s a short-travel hardtail, so it rides like, well, a short-travel hardtail. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; I cut my mountain biking teeth on a short-travel hardtail. The suspension fork is just enough to take the edge off, but you’ve still got to ride with finesse and pick your lines carefully.

The WTB Silverado saddle worked pretty well for me. I thought it would take more getting used to, because it’s harder than my other WTB saddles, but it turns out that wasn’t a bad thing.

I felt like I was coming close to pedal strikes when going through rock gardens more often than I should have. My initial theory was that this was because of the Fargo’s lower bottom bracket compared to a regular mountain bike. I compared it to a no-name 29er that I’m using as my commuter bike, and the Fargo’s bottom bracket was actually about a centimeter higher, so there goes that theory. However, the other bike was measured with a rigid fork, so the measurement may be meaningless. Or, the pedal strikes could be because the Fargo’s longer wheelbase makes it more likely to “hit bottom” when rolling over obstacles. Or maybe it was all in my head.

Anyway, the bike was more than capable of handling whatever Royalview, Quail, and Mohican had to throw at it. The smoother sections of West Branch were manageable, but the rock gardens got a little dicey. I was going to ride it at the ’13 Iceman race, but at the last minute decided to go back to my trusty Mongoose Teocali Super dually.

Late in 2013, I began the process of migrating the Fargo back to its old drop-bar self. The bar, of course, is the Salsa Woodchipper. Back on went the Shimano Deore XT rear derailer, bar-end shifters, WTB Laser/Rocket/Speed V saddle, and rigid steel fork.

New for this iteration were Cane Creek brake levers. I’ve used these levers for years on my Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. I like the shape; they are more like modern STI levers and provide a more flat transition from the top of the bar to the hoods. However, these are road levers, which meant I had to switch to road disc brakes. This involved a four-way swap between the Fargo, another of my bikes, and two of my girlfriend’s bikes (the details of which I won’t bore you with), but I now sport Avid BB7 road brakes on the Fargo, as opposed to its original Avid BB7 mountain brakes. The Serfas Drifter 9er tires went back on, along with a Thomson stem and seatpost. My original Thomson stem was a zero-offset model, but a few months back I traded it to a co-worker for the setback model that came on his new Salsa El Mariachi. He felt he needed to be a little less stretched out, and we’ll see how being a little more stretched out works for me.

The other change was that I gave up my Lizard Skins DSP bar tape (which has become my favorite bar tape the past few years) to try out the new ESI RCT silicone bar tape. ESI’s silicone grips have been a favorite among some mountain bikers I know (I have not tried them), and I was checking out their new bar tape at Interbike in September 2013, so I thought I’d give it a go. I kept with the blue theme on the bar tape, as well as the brake and derailer housing.

The new brake levers allowed me to experiment with the angle of my Woodchipper bars a little more. I was able to have them not turned quite so far upward as I did before, which makes reaching down for the bar-end shifters a lot easier. Before, the ends of the drops were parallel to my down tube; now, they are parallel to my top tube.

Here it is on the first ride of the 2014 season, out on a shortened version of the Sunny Lake Loop:

Salsa Fargo at Sunny Lake Park in Aurora, Ohio

(Yes, that’s a Salsa Minimalist rack on the front.)

It was good to be back on the Fargo in its any-road/any-trail setup. The BB7 road brakes stopped just as strong and sure as the BB7 mountain brakes. The brake levers, it turned out, were a little too high, as might be apparent in the photo. They were a bit hard to reach when I was riding in the drops. When I got home, I turned the bars down a bit. I think this might do the trick without having to re-wrap the bars to re-position the levers, but only another ride will tell for sure.

Iceman!

The fall cycling season is typically capped off with my traditional trip up to Northern Michigan for the Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race. Brent and I headed out early Friday morning for what was to be a re-run of the first day of our Michigan trip back in August–drive to Fort Custer Recreation Area outside of Battle Creek to ride the buff singletrack there, head over the Kalamazoo for lunch at Bell’s Brewery, head up to Grand Rapids for a quick refreshment at Founder’s Brewing, then continue north to join the main festivities.

I decided to ride on my Salsa Fargo this year. I’ve given it a good workout on lots of singletrack the past two seasons, but this was its first race experience.

We woke up to some rain and wet snow in Traverse City on Saturday morning, but when we drove to the start in Kalkaska, it remained somewhat cold but sunny and dry. Brent took off in Wave 12 at 9:33am, and I followed soon after at 9:36am.

After a tough race here in 2010, I felt I had to redeem myself and turn in a good performance in 2011. This year, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I just wanted to have a good ride and a good time and race my own race. I felt I prepared well for the day’s conditions, with my SmartWool Cuff Beanie under my helmet, DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves under regular short-finder cycling gloves, SmartWool liner shirt, long-sleeve Century Cycles wool jersey, Ibex wool bib knickers, my new Surly Chainsaw tall wool socks, and Lake MX-100 cycling boots. I had on my Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket for the start, but I ended up pulling over about 5 miles into the race and stuffing it into my jersey pocket. I was completely comfortable for the rest of the race.

The Fargo performed well on the course. The rigid fork didn’t feel like it beat me up as much as my rigid setup did back in 2010, and being able to ride in the drops to power through the dirt and gravel road sections was a huge benefit. As I’ve mentioned before, the bike climbs like a billy goat; among the many  short, steep climbs on the course, I only had to dismount on one of them, and that was due to a flubbed shift.

About halfway through the race as we approached Traverse City, we got into the snow zone, which made some of the course a little more soft and squishy than usual, but the firm Michigan mud was nothing compared to the sloppy Ohio mud.

I did the usual leap-frogging against the same handful of recognizable riders throughout the race.

The course ended up as the longest ever, about 30.5 miles, so times were a little longer than usual. I ended up at 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 7 seconds, about a third of the way down from the leader within my age group, so I was satisfied with that.

On our way home on Sunday, we stopped to ride the Potowatomi Trail at Pinckney State Recreation Area, followed by post-ride dinner at the new Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in nearby Ann Arbor; about as perfect a combination of biking and beer that you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Bike-packing gear list, version 1.0

I recently obtained my new hydration pack, which made me ready to start testing my plan for packing up the Salsa Fargo for light-n-fast “rack-less” touring.

Here’s a shot of the naked bike with all of the gear before packing:

The weight of the bike as shown is about 27.5 pounds. Included on the bike are:

  • Cat Eye Strada Wireless cyclocomputer
  • 2 Salsa Anything Cages (mounted on the fork legs)
  • Planet Bike Blaze 2-watt headlight
  • Planet Bike Superflash Turbo taillight

The weight of the empty bags is about 6 pounds.

Here’s a shot of everything packed and ready to ride:

Here are the details of the bags and contents:

Left unpacked are what I’d be wearing while riding:

  • Endura Hummvee Lite 3/4 shorts
  • Surly Wool short-sleeve jersey
  • Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves
  • wool cycling socks
  • cycling gloves
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoes
  • Buff bandanna
  • Bell Sequence helmet
  • Road ID

Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag:

  • Pacific Crest synthetic-fill 40-degree sleeping bag
  • Big Agnes Diversions Insulated Air Core sleeping pad
  • tent poles
  • O2 Fluid3 hooded rain jacket (in a stuff sack)
  • Showers Pass Storm rain pants (in a stuff sack)
  • generic down jacket packed in (in a stuff sack)

Revelate Designs Gas Tank top tube bag:

  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • insect repellent
  • hand sanitizer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on left fork leg:

  • Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent body, fly, stakes, and ground cloth
  • tent stake hammer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on right fork leg:

  • REI titanium cooking pot
  • Evernew titanium mug
  • Snow Peak titanium bowl
  • Light My Fire titanium spork
  • Markill stove
  • fuel canister
  • REI plastic mixing spoon
  • salt and pepper shaker
  • small pack towel
  • scrubbing pad
  • waterproof matches
  • fire starters
  • MSR Miniworks EX water filter pump
  • first aid kit

Salsa/Revelate Designs frame bag:

  • 2 spare tubes
  • tire levers
  • patch kit
  • tire boots
  • hex wrench set
  • multi-tip screwdriver
  • Pedro’s chain tool with spoke wrenches
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • cable cutter
  • brake cable
  • derailer cable
  • spare derailer hanger
  • spare small parts: bolts, nuts, washers, chain links, zip ties, cleat bolts, cable tips and ferrules
  • small tube of Tri-Flow grease
  • small bottle of Tri-Flow chain/component lube
  • duct tape
  • Tenacious tape
  • 12mm coiled cable lock
  • 2 Gojo wipes
  • 2 shop rags

Osprey Manta 25 hydration pack:

  • Large pack towel
  • 2 spare pair of socks
  • Ibex wool boxer shorts
  • lightweight casual shorts
  • lightweight long-sleeve shirt (can double as a spare bike jersey)
  • SmartWool liner shirt
  • SmartWool liner pants
  • SmartWool Cuff Beanie
  • DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves
  • Neoprene socks
  • Pearl Izumi Zephrr shell gloves
  • Columbia Sportswear booney hat
  • multi-purpose camp soap
  • toothbrush/paste/floss
  • camp mirror
  • tweezers
  • nail clippers with nail file
  • scissors
  • travel size deodorant
  • 2 rolls backpacker’s toilet paper
  • trowel
  • smartphone and charger
  • GPS and charger
  • vitamins
  • body wipes
  • spare eyeglasses
  • wallet (with cash, credit/ATM cards, driver’s license, passport card)
  • Princeton Tec Byte headlamp

A couple things that I’ve since thought of that are not included above, but I’ll have to find room for eventually:

  • spare batteries: 2032 for cyclocomputer, AA for headlight, AAA for taillight
  • small notebook and pen
  • route maps

In looking at this list, as well as the photo of the unpacked gear above, it’s hard to believe that it all fit on the bike. I weighed the packed bike, and subtracting the original weight of the bike and the empty bags, it’s about 25 pounds worth of gear, not counting the clothing and other gear that I’d be wearing on my body while on the bike. That’s not too bad, considering that for normal touring with racks and roomy panniers, I’d typically have about 40 pounds of gear.

The problem, however, is the bulk of the gear. With everything packed in as I described above, it leaves hardly any room for a food supply. The Gas Tank bag has room for a few energy bars and gels; a few small items might still be stuffed into the frame bag, and the OR dry sacks might fit a few more things.

Either way, though, I’ll have to put my gear list on a diet and make some adjustments to where stuff is packed.

I also need to think about how to plan for extended periods without a water source. Possibilities include an MSR Dromedary bag lashed to the seat bag, water bottles in the side pockets of the hydration pack, and a bottle cage mounted on the bottom of the bike’s down tube.

This past Sunday, I put this packing scheme to the test by riding it to work, and then taking it on a Sub-24-Hour Overnight trip with my friend Brent to our usual destination of West Branch State Park.

The full gear list above takes into account the full range of weather that might be encountered on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, including cold and wet. Being that it’s now July in Northeast Ohio, and there was only a small chance of rain this particular evening, I was able to ditch quite a bit of gear to free up space. I removed the down jacket, wool liner shirt and pants, wool liner gloves, wool hat, neoprene socks, shell gloves, and booney hat. I also would not be needing the water filter, since fresh water at the West Branch campground is readily available. I left out the trowel and toilet paper, since there are also restrooms. I kept the Ibex boxers, used the outer layer of the Endura shorts as my in-camp casual shorts, and packed a t-shirt to wear around the camp. I wore the same pair of socks through the whole trip. I meant to leave the rain jacket and pants behind, but only realized later at the camp site that I still had them in the seat bag.

I packed a few food items in the hydration pack. For dinner, I took a box of macaroni & cheese, packet of tuna, and a pack of instant mashed potatoes. For breakfast, I took two packets of instant oatmeal. I also took a few cookies to snack on.

On the way to work, the dry sacks on the fork came loose a bit. I stopped to tighten up the Velcro straps I was using to hold them in place, and that seemed to do the trick for the time being. Once I got to work, I found a couple of extra bungee cords and used them for extra support around the Salsa Anything Cages, just to be safe. I’ve concluded, however, that the Anything Cage works best with soft goods, like my tent on the left side. It doesn’t work so well with hard goods like my cooking gear on the right side, because this kind of stuff tends to shift around too easily, and thus the straps holding it in place come loose more easily. So this is one area where I can adjust the location of where I pack stuff.

I started thinking that I should just ditch the whole concept of bike-packing, and go back to traditional racks and panniers. Back at home a few days earlier, I weighed my panniers, front rack, and rear rack. If I used these instead of all of the frame bags, the gain in weight is about 4 pounds.

However, after getting everything situated, making the ride to West Branch, setting up camp, and then breaking down camp the next morning, I got used to the bike-packing scheme. The way I had all of the items organized lent itself quite well to easily unpacking and re-packing, and finding stuff when I needed it. I guess like any new idea, it has to grow on you a bit. I’ve already got a few ideas for changes to pare down the bulk of the gear, so stay tuned for version 2.0 of the bike-packing gear list.

Brent and I did a little route exploring on the way to West Branch. We usually hop on the Portage Bike and Hike Trail near Towners Woods park. The last time we made this trip, the trail ended near downtown Ravenna. It’s been extended since then, so it now ends on Peck Road east of town. We made a right onto Peck, then a right onto Newton Falls Road, very near where it meets the intersection of State Routes 14 and 59. Normally, one would take Rt 59 east to where it meets State Route 5, then turn right onto Rock Spring Road into West Branch State Park. The campground entrance is just past the railroad overpass bridge.

This bridge is being rebuilt, so the detour involves taking Rt 14 south for a few miles to Booth Road, which meets Rock Spring Road from the other end. Cable Line Road would provide a similar, but shorter, detour, but it, too, is closed. We decided to head up Cable Line Road anyway to see if the closed section were passable by bike or on foot.

Not quite a mile from Rt 14, we got to the closed section:

There was no gap in the guard rail to cut around, so we had to hop over and lift our bikes over. We finally saw the reason for the road closing:

As you can see, a wide section of road has washed out, leaving a chasm about 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Carrying our bikes and shuffling a little at a time to avoid losing our footing, we made our way down, through, and up out of the chasm. So, Cable Line Road is passable via an extreme hike-a-bike. But, for the extra time and effort it takes, taking the Booth Road detour is a better option, which we did for the ride home on Monday morning.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 4 – Road Rules

This is the fourth part of my ongoing review of my Salsa Fargo bicycle. To recap, in Part 1, I talked about my initial impressions based on a couple of short-to-medium road rides and commuting. In Part 2, I compared the Fargo to a traditional full-suspension mountain bike on singletrack rides. In Part 3, I put the Fargo to the test for loaded touring on a Sub 24-Hour Overnight (S24O).

I’ve done a pretty fair amount of road and mixed-surface riding on the Fargo since then. In fact, I find that the Fargo has become my go-to bike for most long and short road rides, just because it’s so much fun to ride.

The longest ride was a century I did with the Akron Bike Club on Sept. 11 of last year, the Circle Cleveland Ride, or their version of the Emerald Necklace Tour that the circles through and around Cleveland using mostly the parkways of the Cleveland Metroparks system. Most of the other folks were on regular road bikes. The ride started out with a several-mile climb out of the Cuyahoga Valley from the Brecksville Reservation. I still had the Fargo set up in fully-loaded touring mode, with front and rear racks, and full-coverage fenders, so I was at a significant disadvantage whenever the road turned uphill due to so much extra weight. It wasn’t so hard, though, holding my own in a paceline on flat land.

All of this has had me thinking, with the question of whether the Fargo is “one bike to rule them all,” how would it hold up in a head-to-head showdown against a pure shave-my-legs-and-go-fast road bike? So, I planned a test ride similar to the way I did the Singletrack Showdown for Part 2, with alternating laps on a short, repeatable loop course.

My road bike is pretty typical of the style–traditional flat-top-tube frame geometry, carbon fork, mixed Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace drive train. Gearing is a standard road double (53/39 chainrings) up front, with an 11-27 cassette on the back. The tires are Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 700×23.

I normally use Speedplay road pedals on this bike, and Crank Brothers Egg Beaters or Candy pedals on all of my other bikes. For today, I swapped a pair of Egg Beaters onto my road bike so that I would not have to change shoes as I changed bikes for each lap.

The task the night before was to configure the Fargo in basic “just go for a ride” mode–removing all of the touring/bikepacking gear I’ve been trying out recently. Off came the frame pack and oversize seat bag, off came the fork-mounted bottle cages. On went the bottle cages in the usual positions in the main frame triangle.

I chose to use a pair of Serfas Drifter 700×32 tires on the Fargo, mainly because that’s what I happened to have around that would work. I wanted to use something comparable to a road bike tire, but a 32mm wide tire was about as narrow as I felt comfortable using safely on the wide-profile Salsa Semi 29er Disc rims. I probably could have gotten away with something like a 700×28 tire; I did have a spare Continental Ultra Gatorskin in that size, but only one. I’ve used the Serfas Drifters for long road rides on my cyclocross bike in the past, and they roll surprisingly well. Plus, I figured it was a good compromise between using something “roadie” and keeping the Fargo true to its fat-tire character.

Weight for the Fargo with this setup was 27 pounds, 8 ounces. The weight for the road bike was 20 pounds, 5 ounces. Note that these are not stripped-down “cheater” weights; these are the full real-world ready-to-ride weights, which includes pedals, bottle cages, mini-pump, and small seat bag with spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, and multi-tool. I did not include water bottles in the weight; for the test, I used the same brand and model of bottle on each bike (one each of a Camelback Podium and Podium Chill on each bike).

Choosing a test course was a no-brainer; those of us who live in or near the Cuyahoga Valley have been riding what we call the “Valley Loop” for years as a quick test-ride or pre-work/post-work spin whenever the time doesn’t allow for something longer. It’s an 18-mile loop with a few rolling hills, and one somewhat significant climb near the end:

  1. Start in Peninsula at the corner of Main St/State Route 303 and S Locust St.
  2. Turn RIGHT onto S Locust St.
  3. Road becomes Akron-Peninsula Rd.
  4. Road becomes North Portage Path.
  5. Turn RIGHT onto Merriman Rd.
  6. Road becomes Riverview Rd.
  7. Turn RIGHT onto Main St/State Route 303.
  8. End in Peninsula at the corner of Main St/State Route 303 and S Locust St.

If you’re interested in seeing a map and elevation profile, leave a comment and I’ll email you a .GPX file.

I did four laps, starting on the road bike for the first lap and switching to the Fargo on the second and fourth laps. I tracked myself using both my on-bike computer and my smartphone using the Strava Cycling app. The distance for each lap came up at 17.7 miles on both devices. Here are the results:

Lap Bike Time
(Bike/Strava)
Average Speed
(Bike/Strava)
Maximum Speed
(Bike/Strava)
1 Road 53:36 / 53:26 19.9 / 19.9 33.6 / 32.7
2 Fargo 58:02 / 58:15 18.2 / 18.3 30.4 / 31
3 Road 56:02 / 56:15 18.9 / 18.9 30.5 / 30.1
4 Fargo 59:44 / 1:00:19 17.7 / 17.6 30.4 / 30.8

Times listed are for time in motion, not total elapsed time.

As you can see, I was slightly slower on the Fargo compared to the road bike. It would be hard to say for certain, but I think that most of the difference came from the overall weight difference, with the wider tires playing a much smaller factor. Of course, if I were to switch to a narrower road bike tire, that would reduce some of the weight difference as well. I could feel the weight effect at the beginning of any uphill stretch on the Fargo, when the additional weight made it a little more noticeable when gravity started to suck my momentum out a little bit sooner compared to on the road bike.

Theoretically, the more upright geometry of the Fargo made me less aerodynamic, but whenever I felt this came into play on descents or into the wind, I could hunker down in the drops and bend down lower over the stem to make up the difference.

Ideally, if I really had to use the Fargo as my full-time road bike, I could have chosen rims with a narrower profile that would be more amenable to swapping on a skinny road tire. I could always get a second set of disc-compatible 29er wheels and just swap wheel sets on and off the bike as needed.

My conclusion is that you wouldn’t want to use the Fargo for road racing, but the difference in on-road performance is negligible enough that you wouldn’t notice it on your average B-level club ride. The difference would be even less if you were to compare it to entry-level road bikes, where the weight difference would be even less.

This test confirms the characterization of the Fargo that I’ve been finding all along: that it’s as close as you’ll ever find to a true jack-of-all-trades bicycle. It would be perfect to take on a cycling vacation–use a pair of fat, comfy slick tires to ride fully-loaded to your destination. If you want to check out some local singletrack, swap on a pair of knobbies. Want to join the local hammerheads on a road circuit? Switch on a pair of narrow slick tires and never look back.

New gear (and gears) for the Salsa Fargo

Back in the first and third parts of the review of my Salsa Fargo, I talked about how the traditional mountain crankset (44-32-22 chainrings) was ideal for singletrack riding, and the touring crankset (48-36-26) was better for road/mixed surface riding. I had still been thinking since then if I could come up with the “Goldilocks” (just right) gear combination that would work well in all conditions. I recently swapped the small and middle chainrings out for Salsa 24-tooth and Race Face 34-tooth chainrings. With my 11-34 cassette, this setup gives me pretty much the same low gears in my granny gear and middle ring as I would have with the traditional mountain chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. I haven’t had the chance to try it out on singletrack yet, but I’ve done a few 50-60 mile road rides, and it has worked out well. The middle ring gives me plenty of range to handle any on-road climbs, and the 48-tooth big ring is still there for maximum cruising on flat roads and descents.

Back on March 11, my girlfriend wanted me to meet her after her class for dinner at her mom’s house. I, of course, thought it was a perfect day for a bike ride. The perfect compromise: riding my bike out to her mom’s! It was a 37-mile ride out to one of Cleveland’s western suburbs, most of which was on the Valley Parkway through the Cleveland Metroparks.

It was a perfect opportunity to test another another new piece of gear, the Revelate Designs Viscacha Seat Bag. The Viscacha is like a regular seat bag on steroids. It attaches to your seatpost and seat rails pretty much like a regular seat bag, except with two very heavy-duty velcro straps for the seatpost. It can hold up to a whopping 14 liters of stuff. For this ride, I first stuffed in a down jacket–not because I anticipated needing to wear it that day (it was over 60 degrees), but because some of the seams had started to come apart inside one of the sleeves and one of the pockets, and I asked my girlfriend’s mom to fix it for me (she enjoys science projects like that). Then, I put in the stuff I’d need once I got there: clean shirt, shorts, socks, pair of shoes, and a small kit with my toothbrush and the like. It all fit with room to spare in the Viscacha.

The only suggestion I’d have for improving the Viscacha bag would be to add a small section of shockcord, to provide a place to quickly stow a jacket or such mid-ride. The Viscacha does have four small loops on the top side, designed as a place to attach the optional Spocket bag from Revelate. I put my brain in DIY mode and obtained a two-foot section of shockcord, threaded it through the loops, and voilà–my wish is granted!

Finally, while Salsa’s distributor briefly had a couple in stock, I managed to snag one of the frame bags for the Fargo, made for Salsa by Revelate Designs. This, combined with the Viscacha Seat Bag, a couple of dry bags strapped to the Salsa Anything Cages on the fork, and I’m ready to start truly testing out packing schemes for my eventual trip on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I’m also anticipating needing a high-capacity hydration pack; right now I’m leaning toward the Osprey Manta 20. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Springtime in January

My scheduled day off from work today aligned with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had in the past week, so I decided it was a perfect time to head out on the Salsa Fargo for my first “big” ride of the new year. The forecast called for it to break 50 degrees; I don’t think it got that warm, only around the mid- to upper-40s, but it was sunny, and with the right combination of clothing, I had a pleasant and comfortable ride.

I headed out towards Aurora to pick up one of my favorite routes, Pioneer Trail to Garrettsville. There was still a thin glaze of ice on the surface of Aurora Lake.

I had recently stripped the Fargo out of full touring mode, removing the fenders and racks to start experimenting with “light ‘n fast” touring setups. I wanted to keep the road spray off, though, so I threw on some clip-on fenders–the Headland BackSlide on the seatpost, and the Topeak Defender FX up front. The roads were all but bone dry, though, so I would have been fine without the fenders today.

This was my first time trying out my new Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag. My size medium Fargo frame required the Small size Tangle bag, but the bag still doesn’t leave room for bottle cages on the down tube or seat tube. Fortunately, the bottle cage mounts on the Fargo fork took up the slack.

The Tangle bag worked great doing double-duty, taking the place of both my seat bag and my handlebar bag. I was able to fit all of the usual items–spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, multi-tool (all from the seat bag), plus wallet and mobile phone. I also squeezed in a pair of wool liner gloves, in case it warmed up enough that the heavier fleece gloves that I started out with became too much.

I stopped into Miller’s Family Restaurant in Garrettsville and dispatched their stuffed pancake special, along with a fine cup of diner-caliber coffee. I headed straight back west on State Route 82 to Hiram, and continued out of Hiram.

I originally planned to stay on Route 82 all the way back to Twinsburg, but as I got to the edge of Hiram, I passed up Alpha Road on my right. I had recalled passing by this road many times, both by bike and by car, but had never been on it, so I decided to check it out. The pavement was a slightly rough chip and seal surface, but the fat tires on the Fargo made that no problem. There was a slight climb at the start, and then I was rewarded with a long, straight descent before the road ended in the village of Hiram Rapids. A left turn onto Winchell Road put me on course back towards Aurora. I’ll have to keep this little connector road in mind when putting together future routes.

I tried another recently-acquired product today. I had been searching for a good pair of winter commuting pants. I usually wear a pair of wool tights (SmartWool) under a pair of Endura Gridlock waterproof pants. This works great when it’s raining or otherwise really nasty, but any waterproof overpants tend to make me overheat and feel a little too clammy on those dry and cold-but-not-too-cold days. Plus I wanted some kind of one-piece system for my legs, something lower maintenance and easier to get on and off than a two-layer system.

I figured a pant made out of a softshell material would fit the bill. The softshell would give warmth and enough water resistance during snow and light rains. I know it won’t keep me dry in a full-on downpour, but what does?

I was intrigued by the Showers Pass Hybrid Zip-Off Pants, but decided against them, although I foresee them being added to my cycling wardrobe some time in the future. I finally settled on the Pearl Izumi Infinity Softshell Pants. These are actually a running tight, with a more loose fit compared to a cycling tight, which is what I wanted, to give me a more casual look for errands and coffee stops during commutes, plus provide the quicker and easier on-off that I was looking for. These running tights provide another feature not typically found on cycling tights, namely pockets, which I wanted for quick access to items such as keys and lip balm. The Infinity pants have two full-size hand pockets on the sides, with zippers for security, and a small zippered key pocket on the middle of the back. The leg openings have a full cut, but there are snaps on the sides to cinch them down to minimize flapping while running, or in my case, to keep them out of my chainrings.

I bought the pants in a Large size, which probably have more room than I need; I probably could have gotten away with a Medium, but I wanted to make sure the pants had enough length to still give me full ankle coverage while in the saddle. They aren’t too large; the drawstring waist keeps them hiked up securely. When they arrived in the mail at work, I tried them on immediately, and one of my co-workers remarked that they look like they’d make great comfortable lounge pants, which I think they would.

The Infinity pants worked great over the course of the 49.5-mile ride today. That says a lot, given that many non-cycling clothing items feel fine during short commutes and errand rides, but don’t hold up their comfort level over the course of a long “serious” ride. Even though the pants have a seam through the middle of the crotch, with my regular cycling shorts underneath, the seam didn’t have any negative impact on that sensitive area.

My only complaint about the Pearl Izumi Infinity Softshell pants are that they were a little too warm for today’s conditions, but that’s a good thing. I won’t dare to complain about today’s spring-like weather, and I bought the pants with the intention of wearing them in colder weather, say, 40 degrees and lower.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 3 – Touring

This is the third part in my ongoing review of the Salsa Fargo bicycle. In Part 1, I gave my initial impressions based on some short road rides, including commuting. Part 2 was my head-to-head comparison of riding the Fargo on singletrack versus a full-suspension mountain bike. As promised, this post describes my experience with using the Fargo in a touring environment.

First, I’ve made a couple of changes to my Fargo setup since the last part of the review. After the singletrack test was done, I swapped out my Kenda Small Block Eight tires for the new Continental Comfort Contact 700×54. This is a smooth but fat tire, basically equivalent to a 29×2.1-inch tire in size, which runs at a maximum of 60psi. As you might have expected, these tires made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy, rolling more efficiently, not to mention more quietly.

I initially debated about which crankset would be better, a traditional 22/32/44 mountain triple, or a 26/36/48 touring triple. I used the mountain triple for the rides covered in Part 1 and Part 2, and found it to be ideal for riding singletrack, but it felt a bit anemic on pavement. I swapped on the touring triple, and found this, like the tires, made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy. It may seem like a no-brainer: the off-road crankset works better for off-road riding, and the on-road crankset works better for on-road riding, but I can’t really explain why this is the case. The differences in the upper and lower limits of the gear ranges aren’t that significant, and I didn’t really spend much time riding at the upper and lower limits on either crankset. Maybe it’s a mental thing, or maybe it has to do with how often I needed (or didn’t need) to shift between the middle and large chainrings. Anyway, perhaps my experience with choosing the ideal gearing for a Fargo is common, based on the recently released specs of Salsa’s 2012 models. For 2011, they offered the Fargo with one version of the complete bike, which came with a mountain double crankset. For 2012, they are offering it in three complete versions, one with a mountain double, and two with a touring triple.

To transition into touring mode, I installed a pair of Planet Bike’s Cascadia 29er full-coverage fenders. With the Fargo’s full complement of eyelets, plus the chainstay-mounted rear disc brake, the fenders went on without any hassles. The only thing that caught my eye was that the two pair of eyelets on the rear are spaced kind of close together, making the mounting points of the fenders and my Topeak Explorer rack bump against each other. It worked with no problem, but the slightest variation in the length of the rack’s lower struts, or in the angle required for the fender struts, might cause some issues with other fender and rack combinations.

The Topeak rack works great for both commuting and touring, but I decided to dress up the Fargo with matching Salsa front and rear racks. The Salsa Wanderlust rear rack has more streamlined lower eyelets compared to the Topeak, so the rack/fender eyelet crowding is much less of an issue. The upper struts on the Wanderlust rack need to be trimmed to length for installation. Theoretically, you line up the upper struts with the upper eyelets on your bike, then mark the other end of the struts to know where to hacksaw them off. However, it’s not possible to line up the struts with the eyelets at first, because you can’t rotate the struts down enough to clear the strut mounting plate on the rack. This photo makes it more clear what I’m talking about:

Ironically, the installation instructions that come with the rack describe the process of lining up the struts with the eyelets, but they include a photo that looks pretty much like my photo above! So, they’ve designed a rack with a Catch-22 installation procedure: you have to align the struts to know how long to cut them, but it’s impossible to align the struts until after they’re cut. (This would be less of an issue on larger Fargo frames, or other frame models.) What you end up having to do is just completely remove the struts from their mounts on the rack, line up the eyelets, and hold the other end close enough to make an educated guess as to where to mark them to be cut. This is what I did, and my struts ended up being just long enough, so I would suggest over-estimating the length you need on the first cut, test-fit, then cut to trim again as needed.

The front rack from Salsa is called the Downunder. It’s a two-piece rack that uses the lower- and mid-fork eyelets. The problem with many two-piece front racks is that once you load them up with cargo, the torsional forces that the load places on the rack can cause the mounting bolts to loosen, or worse yet, strip out (I have had this happen). The usual solution to this issue is to use a one-piece front rack that has an upper platform or an arch that connects the two sides of the rack, which makes the whole rack rigid enough to relieve the torsional forces on the mounting bolts. The Downunder rack takes a different approach; it keeps the two-piece design to save weight, but the mid-fork mounts have a double prong design. Thus, in addition to the bolt on the lower-fork eyelet, each half of the rack is held in place by a bolt on the outside of the fork leg and a bolt on the inside of the fork leg. This design provides plenty of rigidity, and installation was a breeze.

Not that I anticipated needing them for my first brief touring tests, but just to show how cool they are, I threw on two extra bottle cages using the mounts on the Fargo fork. So finally, here’s a shot of the Fargo in its full touring-mode glory:

One final addition I made that is not apparent in the above photo was to add a taillight bracket to the rear rack. This ended up being a bit more of a science project than I anticipated. Most rear racks made for sale in the US have a light/reflector mount that consists of either two holes oriented vertically, or two holes spaced horizontally at 50mm apart (some, like the Topeak Explorer, have both sets of holes). Many racks made for sale in Europe have a light mount that is two holes oriented horizontally at 80mm apart. The Wanderlust rack has two eyelets spaced 80mm apart, but these eyelets are oriented so that the openings are vertical, i.e. pointed towards the ground and the sky. I emailed Salsa and asked what their thinking was behind this eyelet design, and how they suggested mounting a taillight. In their response, they said that the eyelets are intended for mounting your own home-made enhancements to the rack, and they suggested using a taillight with a rubber or circular (seatstay-type) mounting bracket.

My favorite taillight is the Planet Bike Superflash, which has an optional rack mounting adapter that uses either of the two US-style mounting holes, and I wanted to find a way to make this work. I dug through my stash of spare rack parts, and it turns out I had an adapter made by Topeak that converts an 80mm Euro-style light mount to a vertical US-style mount. I bolted this to the bottom of the Wanderlust’s 80mm eyelets, then bolted an L-bracket (the kind that comes with some cheaper racks in the US market to provide a reflector mounting point) onto the Topeak adapter. The L-bracket then provided two mounting holes in the proper vertical orientation to attach the Planet Bike mounting adapter. So, here’s the finished setup, without the actual taillight, so you can see all of the bracket detail:

I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this. On the one hand, it works really well, and I’m proud of myself for coming up with it. On the other hand, it kind of offends my aesthetic sensibility, because it seems a little too Rube Goldbergian.

I did a few commutes and other short road rides with the Fargo’s touring mode setup, and everything felt great. The first major ride I did was not a “touring” ride in the true sense, but what many recreational cyclists consider to be touring; it was the BikeMS Pedal to the Point on August 13. This is one of the many MS150 rides held throughout the country to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My girlfriend and I do the one-day ride instead of the two-day, so that we don’t have to worry about finding somebody to watch our beagles. We wanted to figure out a way to do this without having to deal with taking a shuttle back (from Sandusky, Ohio) to the starting point (in Middleburg Heights, Ohio). So, we do the first-day route to the lunch stop, including the optional century loop that adds an extra 25-30 miles before lunch. Then, we do the regular route in reverse from the lunch stop back to the starting point. This makes a nice 93-mile loop. The weather forecast that day called for possible thunderstorms, so I put a single waterproof pannier on my rear rack to give us a place to stash our rain jackets and helmet covers, plus to keep our wallets, keys, and cell phones dry. Since we’d be riding the last part of the route “self-supported,” we also threw in a few extra snacks, and took an extra pair of water bottles (in my fork-mounted bottle cages). The predicted rain never came, and the day ended up being not too hot and quite pleasant. The Fargo continued to feel great throughout the whole 93 miles. I never felt like it was a struggle to keep up with the true roadies along the way when I felt so inclined.

My first true self-supported tour on the Fargo came when my friend Brent and I took an S24O trip on August 28. “S24O” stands for “Sub 24-Hour Overnight,” which means a bike-camping trip with a single night stay. The term was coined and made popular by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works; the Adventure Cycling Association has created a spin-off web site dedicated to the activity at www.bikeovernights.org. This was another “Tour de Salsa,” as Brent was once again riding his new Salsa Vaya.

I left work in Peninsula around 5:30pm, after realizing I forgot to pack a bike jersey for the tour. I decided to just ride in my t-shirt, and that worked fine, since it was a cool, pleasant evening. I had a full complement of front and rear panniers. In one rear pannier, I carried all of my camping gear: tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, and headlamp. In the other rear pannier, I carried my cooking gear and food: backpacking stove, fuel canister, cook pot, coffee press, plate, bowl, mug, utensils, two packs of instant mashed potatoes, one pack of ramen, and some pre-ground coffee. In one front pannier, I carried spare clothes: shorts to change into at camp; hat, arm warmers, and long-sleeve jersey in case it turned unexpectedly cold; spare socks; and rain jacket. I left the other front pannier empty to serve as a six-pack cooler. I also used a small handlebar bag for my phone, wallet, and keys. If this were a more full-length tour, my gear arrangement would have been a little different in order to better balance the load, plus I’d have more food, clothing, and spare parts and tools. But for this short trip, this packing scheme worked fine and would be easy to keep organized. When I first got going, the bike and panniers felt a little more shaky and unsteady than I had expected, but I think this was just because it had been so long since I had ridden a fully loaded bike. Within a half mile or so, I got used to the feeling again, and the load on the Salsa racks felt rock-solid.

I met Brent at the Acme supermarket in Hudson.

We stocked up on a little more food, and the aforementioned six-pack:

You can see from the shots of us and our bikes that we are sort of using the opposite packing schemes compared to what our bikes are optimized for. I’m using the full front and rear panniers that are more traditional for a road touring bike, where Brent is using a more “fast and light” setup becoming popular with the off-road touring crowd, with his camping gear up front, top tube bag for extras, and other gear in a large seat bag.

We made quick work of the remaining leg of the 26 mile trip to the campground at West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna, Ohio. We took the Portage County Bike & Hike Trail for part of the route, which is an unpaved rail-trail, so the trip did provide just a small taste of multi-surface touring. We checked in at the campground a bought a bundle of firewood, which let me test the cargo-hauling ability of the Fargo a little more:

We had enough daylight left to get our tents set up, then enjoyed cooking and eating our dinners under the light of the moon and our headlamps.

We got up with the sun, packed up all our gear, fueled up with some camp coffee, and hit the road.

Our return trip was uneventful; our bikes and gear performed well. We stopped at the Starbucks in Hudson for a quick breakfast, then headed back to work.

I noticed one new thing about the Fargo after several rides with the current setup. I mentioned in my two previous reviews that whether riding on-road or off, I spent much more time in the drops of the handlebars on the Fargo, compared to a typical drop-bar road bike. However, I think mostly due to the smooth tires, and partially due to the touring crankset, I’m not having to exert as much effort to keep my momentum up, and so I’m spending a lot more time riding on the hoods now.

In conclusion, the Fargo without a doubt makes a great touring bike. I had some minor setup issues that were more related to the racks and accessories themselves, and not the actual bike. Packing, organizing, and hauling touring gear is a snap, and the Fargo handles it with finesse.

Of course, a longer, more rugged tour would be a true test of the Fargo’s design and abilities. As I mentioned earlier, the Fargo was meant for off-road touring. I’ll be experimenting with some alternative touring setups, including some fast-and-light off-road options, in preparation for a tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I’m planning for 2014. Until then, I’ll report back on any more shake-down tours I undertake. Either way, the Fargo will be the first bike I reach for whenever I’m planning a self-supported bike tour, whether on-road or off.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 2 – Singletrack Showdown

I gave an introduction and first impressions of my new Salsa Fargo bicycle a week ago in Part 1 of this product review. Those impressions were the result of short commuting rides, and a medium-length road ride. Here in Part 2 are my thoughts after giving the bike a thorough workout on singletrack mountain bike trails.

I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison of the Fargo versus a “traditional” mountain bike. I suppose to make it as much of an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, it would have been ideal to match the Fargo up against a rigid, geared, 29er bike with a regular flat or riser handlebar; this would have highlighted any perceived differences of the Fargo’s drop-bar geometry compared to regular mountain bike geometry, while keeping everything else roughly the same.

However, I did the comparison with my Mongoose Teocali Super. You might say this bike is the “anti-Fargo.” It’s a 26-inch-wheeled trail bike with RapidFire shifters, hydraulic brakes, a riser handlebar, and five inches of suspension travel both front and rear. Long-travel trail bikes are pretty standard equipment among mountain biking enthusiasts these days, so the Mongoose is fulfilling the original mission of this review series, that is, to see how well the Fargo might replace what the masses are typically riding in various situations.

The location for the test was Quail Hollow State Park, located just outside of Hartville, Ohio on Friday, July 15. The mountain bike trail in the park is a 3.5-mile loop with mostly beginner-level terrain, and not much elevation change to speak of. It’s often used as a “proving ground” by riders testing out new bikes (in fact, I came across another guy taking the first ride on his new Niner Bikes hardtail). I took both bicycles to the park and did alternating laps, thus eliminating any uncontrollable variables (weather, trail conditions, my fitness level for the day) that would have affected the results had I taken the two bikes on two separate occasions.

Mongoose Teocali Super and Salsa Fargo at Quail Hollow State Park

I typically do 4 or 5 laps whenever I ride at Quail, and the middle laps tend to be the fastest. This is probably because I’m warming up during the first lap, and starting to get worn out during the last lap. So, I decided to start out on the Mongoose for the first lap, figuring it would be best to warm up in a more familiar saddle. Here are the results for the 4-lap workout:

Lap Bike Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
1 Teocali 19:35 11.0 16.8
2 Fargo 19:50 10.9 16.9
3 Teocali 18:11 11.8 18.3
4 Fargo 18:30 11.5 20.0

As you can see, I was able to hit higher maximum speeds on the Fargo, but my lap times and overall averages were better on the Teocali. I suspect that I hit the maximums during a section of the loop known by regulars as “The Meadow.” It’s a long, flat section near the park boundary roughly halfway through the loop, with a wooden boardwalk for about 100 yards of it.

The Fargo felt at home on the singletrack. In smooth, flowing sections of the trail, I could hunker down in the drops and put the pedal to the metal, and the bike hugged the curves and kept its line right where I pointed it. I bashed the big chainring on the first log jump of the trail, indicative of the Fargo’s lower bottom bracket height, but I never had this issue on any of the other log jumps.

As expected, the Fargo did not feel as tame in the rougher sections of trail, i.e. rock gardens and roots. The Teocali is a “point-and-shoot” bike; I’d just keep up my speed and the suspension helped me float over the rough stuff. The Fargo required more skill in line selection and finesse in maneuvering. The rough terrain takes more of a toll on your body when using a rigid bike; after each of the Fargo laps, I felt noticeably more “beat up.” My hands got numb or tingly a couple of times, but this subsided after I reminded myself to relax and release my death grip (even those of us with some experience need to re-learn the basics once in a while).

Since the Quail Hollow trail is pretty flat overall, I found myself just picking a comfortable gear and settling into a singlespeed kind of rhythm, more so on the Fargo than on the Teocali. I suspect this is because the bar-end shifters make me put a little more thought and effort into the shifting process. The mantra of avid singlespeed riders goes something like “If you can’t shift, then you learn not to miss shifting.” In the case of the Fargo, that motto might be adapted to “If it’s not convenient to shift, then you learn to get by with less shifting.” Of course, the choice of bar-end shifters was mine; the Fargo can be set up with drop-bar integrated brake/shift levers (the Fargo complete bike offered by Salsa comes with SRAM Apex brake/shift levers).

In contrast to the occasional times I spent riding on the hoods on the Fargo when riding on the road, I found that I spent 100% of the time in the drops when riding singletrack. The drops gave me the leverage and control that I felt I wanted (not to mention easier access to the shifters) for reacting to the constantly-changing terrain encountered on the trail.

With the initial singletrack shake-down ride done, today I headed down to my favorite mountain bike trail, the 24-mile loop at Mohican State Park outside Loudonville, Ohio. This trail is mostly intermediate-level terrain that contains all of the features you’d expect to find: flowing smooth sections, rock gardens, roots, log jumps, and climbs and descents of all stripes, including a handful of steep, tight switchbacks.

On a trail of this length, it’s not possible to do as much of a “scientific” test as I did at Quail Hollow. However, for comparison purposes, I have my previous ride at Mohican, which I did on the Mongoose Teocali Super on June 16. I felt really good that day, and turned in what was probably one of my best times ever on this trail, about 2 hours and 42 minutes. I rode it that day without stopping, so my ride time is the same as my actual elapsed time. It was a bluebird-perfect day for mountain biking, with temps in the mid-70’s, and relatively low humidity.

Salsa Fargo at Mohican State Park

I tried to prepare myself ahead of time so that I’d be feeling as good today as I did that last time. I ate a hearty dinner, got a full night’s sleep, and had a stack of pancakes for breakfast, with a couple of hours of digestion time before I had to hit the trail. Today, however, was a different story from a weather standpoint–about 20 degrees hotter, with the humidity making the temperature feel like it was in triple digits.

All of the things that I noticed at Quail Hollow about the different ride feel of the Fargo compared to the Teocali I felt again at Mohican, only multiplied due to the more challenging terrain. I did shift a lot more often on this ride, which was necessary for the numerous climbs, plus I felt like I was starting to get the hang of using the bar-end shifters more in a technical environment. The Fargo felt balanced and stable, whether cornering, climbing, or descending. I still stayed in the drops almost exclusively, although there were a couple times I sat up with my hands in the hoods, mainly during the gravel road climb near the 13-mile mark. I was getting some stiffness in my lower back, and this allowed some relief. I should note, however, that I do get this stiffness occasionally during long off-road rides, no matter what bike I’m on. I didn’t have any issues with numbness in my hands this time around.

During some long, smooth sections of the trail, it would have behooved me to put some power to the pedals and make up time lost in the rougher stuff. Usually, though, I took advantage of the break to just coast and give myself a little rest.

One aspect of the Fargo’s long and low geometry that did give it an advantage that I was able to capitalize on was its climbing ability. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to clear all of the steep switchback climbs, most notably those located between the 12- and 13-mile marks (just after the covered bridge). I also cleared the infamous climb just after the 21-mile mark. I would drop it down into the granny gear at just the right moment, slide my butt up onto the nose of the saddle, and get down with my nose floating just forward of the stem faceplate, and the Fargo stayed on track, feeling neither like the rear wheel wanted to spin out, nor like the front wheel wanted to float up off the ground.

I ended up completing the entire loop with a time in motion of about 2 hours and 48 minutes, just a handful of minutes longer than on the Teocali. However, my actual elapsed time was considerably longer at almost four hours, due to several factors. One, the feeling of getting beat up made me want to stop and catch my breath a couple of times, although I’m sure the heat and humidity also played a part in this. Two, I got a flat tire, and three, I stopped to look (unsuccessfully) for my cyclocomputer that had popped off (which is a story for another day).

In summary, and to be honest, I would say that this head-to-head test between the Salsa Fargo and the Mongoose Teocali Super did not tell me anything that any experienced rider would not have been able to surmise just by looking at the bikes. However, it was fun collecting the concrete data and experience to confirm these things.

The Fargo design gives it advantages in some off-road situations, at the expense of the disadvantages that you’d expect from a rigid mountain bike. Maybe someday I’ll swap on a suspension fork and get the best of both worlds. In an XC race situation, I’d probably stick with the Teocali or some other bike with suspension, but I’ll never have any qualms about reaching for the Fargo whenever I just want to enjoy the day exploring new trails or hanging out on my old familiar trails.

Coming next: Touring on the Fargo

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 1 – One bike to rule them all?

I’ve just completed putting together the latest addition to my bicycle fleet, a Salsa Fargo. What sort of bike is this? Well, as Salsa puts it, it’s “a disc brake only, drop bar mountain bike designed for off-road touring.”

What does that really mean, and why would somebody want such a beast? The design of the Fargo offers solutions to many of the challenges presented by the requirements off off-road touring. If you’re touring, that means long distances covered over several consecutive days. Drop bars provide the benefit of having multiple hand positions to help keep you from getting fatigued during all those miles. If you tried to put a drop bar on a standard mountain bike, it would be way too low. The Fargo geometry puts you in about the same position while riding in the drops as you would be on a regular mountain bike with a flat handlebar.

As a mountain bike, the Fargo uses 29er wheels and tires (the same 700C rim size as most road bikes). It comes with a rigid steel fork, but you can swap it out for a standard 29er-compatible suspension fork with 80mm of travel.

Satisfying the touring bike requirements, the Fargo has all of the eyelets you need and more for mounting front and rear cargo racks and fenders. The rear disc brake mounts are located on the chainstay, rather than the seatstay, so you can use just about any standard rear rack without the need for contortions and special hardware. And the frame has not two, not three, but count ‘em, five water bottle mounts: one on the seat tube, one on the top of the downtube, one on the bottom of the down tube, and one on each fork leg. The ones on the fork legs and on the top of the downtube accept either a standard bottle cage, or Salsa’s Anything Cage, which has a strap to let you carry a standard water bottle, large Nalgene-type water bottles, fuel bottle, lightweight sleeping bag or pad, or, as the name implies, just about anything.

So, about this time you’re probably saying, “Enough talk; let’s see the dang bike!” Here ya go:

Salsa Fargo

I built the bike up with some parts I had around as well as robbed off of a couple of my other bikes. I chose to use bar-end shifters, because I like the idea of their reliability and serviceability in touring situations.

The handlebar is the Salsa Woodchipper, which was more or less designed specifically for use on the Fargo. The drops are shallow and have a very wide flare-out.

The only minor issue I came across during the build process was hooking up the brake cable to the rear disc brake caliper. With the chainstay-mounted brake, the seatstay ends up running just a centimeter or so over the caliper, making it nearly impossible to get an allen wrench on the anchor bolt for the brake cable. I managed to get it tight enough using a ball-end wrench. The ideal solution would be to swap out the allen-head anchor bolt with a standard hex-head bolt, so you could get to it more easily with a crescent wrench.

My toughest decision was what crankset to use. I decided to go with a standard mountain triple with 22/32/44-tooth chainrings. From past experience with other mountain bikes, the 32T middle ring, coupled with an 11-34 cassette, is sufficient to clear 95% of the singletrack that I ride on, with only occasionally having to drop down into the 22T granny gear, and I didn’t want to give up that same benefit on this bike. My fear, however, is that this setup will feel anemic on the road. I have a spare 26/36/48 touring crankset that I’ll probably swap on at some point in the future, but I’ll stick with what’s on there for now until I have a chance to test it out. Looking ahead, I suspect that my ideal gearing setup for this bike will be the touring crankset and one of those new 11-36 mountain cassettes.

There may be another thought be occurring to you about now; the Fargo, with its off-road burliness, its road-like drop handlebar and 700C wheels, and cargo-friendliness–could it be the only bike a person might ever need to buy? Shouldn’t it work just as well in any conditions by simply choosing an appropriate tire type? Could it be your road bike, mountain bike, on-road touring bike, off-road touring bike, cyclocross bike, gravel-grinder racer, rail-trail cruiser, grocery-getter, and more? Is it, dare I say, a true “hybrid” in every sense of the word? That is the question that I hope to answer as this series of reviews continues. I’ll be putting the Salsa Fargo through its paces in all of these conditions, comparing head-to-head against other bikes when practical, and reporting my thoughts here.

A big shout-out goes to Brent and my other friends at Solon Bicycle for procuring the Salsa Fargo frameset for me. Thanks! I chose to go with a Medium/18-inch frame. According to Salsa’s sizing guidelines, my height overlapped the recommended ranges for the Medium and Large frames. Sight unseen, I probably would have chosen the large, but fortunately, Solon Bicycle had a couple of complete Fargos in stock that I was able to test-ride before ordering, and I found that I liked the feel of the Medium better, and it gave me more standover clearance that I will want when riding off-road. As pictured above (except without the seat bag), the bike weighs in at 27.4 pounds. That will vary, of course, with your component selection.

First Impressions

My first “real” ride on the Fargo was my commute to work yesterday. Before heading out, I installed my favorite rear cargo rack, the Topeak MTX Explorer. As expected, it went on without a hitch, and I was able to use a matching Topeak MTX trunk bag to haul my lunch and change of clothes.

My usual route to work is all pavement, but I took a slight detour on what is known as the Old Hickory Trail, which runs through the neighborhood just next to mine. This multi-use path is, I think, a little rough for the average bike path rider; I’ve seen hikers, joggers, and dog-walkers using it, but I don’t recall ever seeing another cyclist there. It’s got some climbs that are a little steep, some patches of rough gravel, and a few rutted sections from the wash-outs caused by the rainy spring we’ve had in these parts. I figured it would be the perfect introduction for testing the Fargo’s versatility.

Currently, I’m using Kenda Small Block Eight tires, just because it was a choice of either these or the other 29er tires I happen to have at the moment, the CST Caballero. The Small Block 8s are a good choice for smooth, dry singletrack, so I figured they’d give me enough hookup on the Old Hickory Trail, without slowing me down too much on the pavement. I usually run them around 37psi for off-road use, but I went up to about 43psi, just so, again, I wouldn’t feel totally bogged down on the road.

The Fargo felt as good as I’d hoped on the trail. The maneuvering felt confident; I was able to lean into the curves at speed, and the fat tires grabbed the gravel and held their place in the dirt. I could bunny-hop the ruts. Basically, the bike felt snappy when it needed it to, but long, low, and stable when I wanted it to.

Out on the road, the gearing took some getting used to, as I expected, but once I settled in realizing that I should just keep it in my big chainring the whole time, it wasn’t too bad. The tires weren’t ideal, again as expected, but neither of these two issues is the fault of the bike itself. I was just as happy with the overall fit and feel of the ride on the road as I was on the trail.

When riding in the drops, the Fargo’s upright geometry gives me the feeling that I’m “hovering” over the front of the bike, with my face just above the stem and handlebar, more so than on a traditional drop-bar road bike. This is not necessarily a bad thing; just a different feeling to get used to. It’s as if the cockpit of the bike rises up to meet you.

The moving time for my commute was just under an hour, which is typical for any of the other bikes that I’ve used to commute. So, check #1; the Fargo makes a darn fine commuter bike.

Today, Brent and I took a ride from my place up to Mentor Headlands Beach State Park. For this all-road excursion, I took the rear rack back off, pumped the tires up to 60psi, and just strapped on a basic handlebar bag to hold my wallet, keys, and phone. Brent was riding his new Salsa Vaya, so it was a “Tour de Salsa.”

The route took us through a construction zone, which involved about 100 yards of riding on dirt. Another side road later on turned into a gravel and pothole minefield, so I got more unexpected testing of the Fargo’s all-terrain versatility, and was glad again that the fat tires handled it with ease. I did feel like I was struggling at times to keep up with Brent and the more pure road-worthiness of his Vaya. I’ll be anxious to swap on some slick tires later to better test the Fargo’s pavement skills. Still, I was comfortable for the whole 41 miles of the ride.

I have one final observation after two days of mostly on-road riding of the Fargo. I’ve found that with the Fargo geometry and the Woodchipper handlebar, I spend much more time in the drops compared to a regular road bike. With traditional drop handlebars, most people, including myself, probably spend  about 70% of the time on the hoods and 30% in the drops. On the Fargo, I spent about 80% in the drops and 20% on the hoods. This felt natural, though, and I think that’s how it’s meant to be. The difference was even more noticeable while climbing. On low to moderate grades, I found it more natural to stay in the drops; only on the steepest grades did I switch up to climbing on the hoods.

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