Car Less Ohio

Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State

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
Average Speed
Maximum Speed
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.


13 responses to “Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 4 – Road Rules

  1. vonlein April 28, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Thanks for your detailed series of review articles on the Fargo! I’m currently looking for an all-around bike to replace my 18.5 lb CAAD 8 and basic hard tail mountain bike. We’re moving to Germany this summer and my riding scenario will gain more rain, commuting, bike paths (paved and unpaved) between every village and across the whole Black Forest, and very little local technical off-road riding.

    I’ve been looking at a range between the Fargo, Vaya, Soma Double Cross, and CAADX. I’d like something that is gravel/dirt path capable, plus lightweight touring, but doesn’t lose too much on the road compared to my current bike. I’ve been leaning toward the cyclocross end of things, but this review has me reconsidering a Vaya or even the Fargo. I wonder if it would be practical to build up either frame without disc brakes for both overall lower weight and ability to mount my current upgraded road wheels running 23 rubber.

    Thanks again for all the info!

    • Kevin April 28, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Both the Fargo and the Vaya are disc-brake only; the frames do not have mounting studs for cantilever or linear-pull brakes.

      • vonlein April 28, 2012 at 8:48 am

        Well, that answers that – thanks! I’m not opposed to discs, just not sure they’re needed. I guess the flexibility of the Double Cross made me assume the Salsa bikes would also go either way. I test-rode a Vaya 1 this week, looking forward to trying a larger frame Vaya 2 and a Fargo. Unfortunately I can’t test the other two.

      • Kevin April 29, 2012 at 12:05 am

        If you’re looking for an all-purpose bike, with the flexibility to go fat or skinny tires, disc or rim brakes, add racks and fenders or go minimal, then check out the Surly Ogre.

    • Maximilian Sichart November 7, 2013 at 8:41 am

      for Germany – especially this part imho the Fargo is a perfect bike. And forget your old cantis – when you do commuting you will never return from using disc brakes.

  2. joshspice October 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Nice. I love my Fargo for all riding – paved, gravel, trails, & snow.
    It looks like you have your stem & bars much higher/upright than my stock Fargo. I was thinking of dropping mine one spacer…

    • Kevin October 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Yeah, I have a high-angle Salsa stem on there, but I just ordered a Thomson that’s not quite as high…I think I’ll get used to it. I rode it a little lower a couple of months ago when I had a carbon fork on it, because that fork didn’t have as long a steerer tube as the stock Fargo fork, and I didn’t notice a huge difference.

      • joshspice October 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm

        Got ya. How was the carbon fork on it? I’ve thought about it, but love the bottle cage attachments on the steel. Yeah, I could use hose clamps on carbon, but that seems sacrilegious 🙂 Also, your bars are tilted up more… my bar ends are at a flatter angle. Is this just how you have it set up or is there an advantage? I’m new to drops. Thanks Kevin. Nice bike!

  3. Kevin October 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I go for a nice flat transition from the tops of the bars to the brake hoods. A lot of the newer road handlebars and brake/shifter levers are designed this way, but it’s a little more of a challenge with the Woodchipper bar and the old-school brake levers. I was able to get the shape I want, but as you noticed, it does end up with the bottoms of the drops a little steeper than usual. The position while riding in the drops feels fine; the only downside is with the bar-end shifters, I really have to reach far down on the left-hand side to get into and out of the granny gear.

    • Kevin October 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      Oh, and my carbon fork is the Origin-8 Black Ops fork. It’s a pretty stiff fork; I’m told there are better carbon forks out there that feel more forgiving. I put it on there for a few weeks during the summer to save some weight for some long road rides I was doing. I didn’t notice a huge difference as far as the feel of the carbon fork vs. the stock steel fork.

      • joshspice October 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm

        I had that fork on my Specialized Rockhopper. Liked it, but yes, it’s STIFF. Now that I ride steel forks (and you mentioned this), I agree that mine, too, felt like a steel fork. Something more supple would be nice… have you thought about a ti fork?

    • joshspice October 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      ah, good point. i find myself riding almost exclusively in the drops, using the hoods for short breaks for my back.

      • Kevin October 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

        When I’m riding singletrack, I’m almost exclusively in the drops as well, because I feel it gives me the leverage and control I need for that situation. On the road, however, I find that I switch between the hoods and the drops just about as often as I, and most people, do on a regular road bike.

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