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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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
The makers of the Donkey Boxx bicycle pannier sent a free sample to where I work, so I decided to give it a try during my daily commute for a couple of days.
What is the Donkey Boxx? It’s a hard-sided pannier meant to be used with front or rear cargo racks, just like a standard pannier bag. The designers were inspired by the need to carry tomatoes and other produce home from their local farmer’s market without them getting bruised and jostled around as they would in a soft-sided bike bag.
The Donkey Boxx is targeted at the commuter or bike tourist who is looking for a no-frills pannier that is simple to use, and does not attract the attention of theives with a flashy expensive outdoor gear look.
Here it is in action on my Surly Long Haul Trucker:
It works equally well on either the left or right side; if you want to use them on both sides, you’ll have to buy two, as they are sold as a single box.
The Donkey Boxx is made in the USA out of 80% recycled corrugated plastic. This is the same plastic that is used in those crates used by the US Postal Service, and found in corporate mailrooms all over the place. The plastic material itself is waterproof, but the Boxx has holes in the bottom and along the edges for drainage and ventilation. If you want to make the box as close to waterproof as possible, they suggest covering the holes with packing tape.
The Donkey Boxx comes with a set of zip ties for installation, reflective stickers, and a strip of velcro that is used to hold the fold-up lid shut. Installation was about as simple as you can get; just wrap two of the zip ties around the top edge, and one around the back near the bottom edge. Trim the ends off the the zip ties, and you’re good to go.
The instructions provide tips for how to install the Donkey Boxx to avoid having heel strike problems. They even provide a unique measurement gauge to help you with this. One end of the gauge has a hook that attaches to your pedal spindle, and the other end has hash marks representing a range of shoe sizes. With the gauge hooked to your pedal, all you have to do is make sure that the Donkey Boxx is positioned so that the front edge is behind the marking for your shoe size.
With the long chain stays of the Long Haul Trucker, this was not an issue for me; I could be wearing a size 16 and still not be even close to having a problem. Regardless of your bike or shoe size, I’d suggest just positioning the Donkey Boxx as far back as possible on your rack. The only suggestion I would make for improvement would be to print the shoe size marks on both sides of the clearance gauge to make it easier for folks to size up the Donkey Boxx position on either side of their bike.
If you want to use a rack-top bag in conjunction with the Donkey Box, that’s not a problem. Mine worked fine, even with the Topeak MTX rack/bag system:
The Donkey Boxx holds 4.2 US gallons (dry); that’s 1,120 cubic inches or 1.83 liters. I carried my windbreaker, change of clothes, and lunch, and had more than plenty of room to spare:
A reusable grocery bag will fit inside, but the bottom is a bit narrow, so you’ll have to mash the bottom of the bag together a bit, but it works otherwise:
My conclusion regarding the Donkey Boxx is that it works exactly as intended. If you’re looking for a low-cost cargo carrier that you can load up and knock around without worrying about it getting ripped or ripped off, then the Donkey Boxx is for you. If you need something that you can detach and take along with you, then it won’t work well, as the installation is semi-permanent using zip ties. If you do need to remove the Donkey Boxx, you have to cut the zip ties. That’s not a major problem if you’re only doing this occasionally, since extra zip ties are readily available at your local hardware store.
The only problem I had was that I would occasionally knock the box against doorways as I carried my bike in and out. That’s not really a fault with the Donkey Box itself; that’s just a matter of getting used to the fact that you’ve got a nice, big solid box attached to your bike.
The Donkey Box comes only in the white color shown; the designers are considering offering other colors in the future. The plastic surface is smooth and friendly to user-customization with stickers.
Check with your local bicycle shop for availability of the Donkey Boxx. Suggested retail price is $28.00 each. You can also order online (as well as find more information, including installation tips and frequently asked questions) at www.donkeyboxx.com.
Now that my test period of the Donkey Boxx is complete, I am donating it to a worthy successor. If you’d like to inherit my Donkey Boxx to give it a try, I’ll give it to the first person that requests via the Contact page. Provide your name and mailing address, and I’ll get back to you with the shipping fee that you’ll need to reimburse to me before I send you the box. If you are local to Northeast Ohio, we can make arrangements for you to pick it up in person instead.
UPDATE 09/17/2011: The Donkey Boxx has been claimed; congratulations to Rocky Conly of Austin, Texas. Check back later for a report of his experiences using the Donkey Boxx.
I use an Xtracycle cargo for most of my bike commuting and errands. Last year, I experimented with using the Xtracycle attachment on an old hybrid bike frame that uses 700C wheels. The Xtracycle is designed for 26-inch wheels, but it can be made to work with 700C wheels. It won’t work with 29er tires. I ended up using a Schwalbe Marathon 700×32, and it worked well with just enough clearance within the Xtracycle frame. You can read more details about this setup in the post I did for it on my company’s blog.
Something about a cargo bike, though, just demands the confidence-inspiring look and feel of a nice, fat tire. Earlier this year, I decided to put the Xtracycle back on my old Diamondback Zetec Comp mountain bike frame, and I set about looking for a pair of worthy tires. My first thought was the Schwalbe Big Apple 26×2.35, but I came across the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3, and decided to give them a try instead.
The Michelin Pilot Sport is a bit of an anomaly in the bike part world–a 26-inch, extra-wide tire with a smooth tread and a lightweight folding bead. The advertised weight is 725 grams each. The actual weight is always more than what is advertised for bike parts; I did weight one of them to see how the actual weight stacked up, but all I recall at this point is that it was close enough to have nothing to complain about. The tires mounted easily to my rims.
The tread is reinforced with Protek HD for durability and puncture-resistance, but I have to confess that I am “cheating” a bit by using thorn-resistant tubes, which probably negates the light weight benefit of the tires. I don’t tend to have a lot of problems with flats (knock wood), but I’ve had one flat on the rear tire of my Xtracycle in the past, and it’s a real pain to deal with, so I figured it’s worth the extra weight to minimize this possibility in the future.
The Michelin Pilot Sport tires didn’t disappoint me with the stout look and feel that I was hoping for. They’ll take up to 58psi, which doesn’t sound like a lot for a tire meant for pavement, but the smooth tread combined with the high air volume provides just the right balance of zippyness and cushion that you want in a utility bike. The tread is quiet and doesn’t feel like it’s dragging you down. The grip is excellent; even with a load of groceries, I feel like I can lean into corners with confidence. There is a reflective stripe on the sidewalls for a little extra safety.
I’ve been using the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3 tires for about a month now in the wide range of conditions that Northeast Ohio weather has blessed us with–dry, rain, snow; mostly on pavement, but occasionally on gravel and dirt trails. I highly recommend them for anyone looking for a fat, comfortable, yet efficient tire. If you don’t have a cargo bike, they’d be excellent for converting an old mountain bike into a commuter bike, or as replacement tires on an old beach cruiser.
The suggested retail price of the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3 tire is $49.99. It’s not an item you’re likely to find in stock at most bike shops, but ask if they can special-order them for you. If you’re looking for something similar at a more economical price, try the Serfas Drifter 26×2.0 tires for about $32 each–they are what I used on this bike previously, with great success.
I have not been motivated to do much outdoor riding this winter, but I received two Christmas gifts that may help get me motivated. Here I am giving them a quick driveway-length test ride:
A company called Bar Mitts makes a product like the hand warmers shown; they come in versions specific for road drop handlebars with Shimano or Campagnolo brake/shift levers, as well as for flat handlebars. Mine actually came from Cabela’s, and are intended for the Quad ATV set, but when you’re using then on a mountain/hybrid handlebar, they’re essentially the same thing as the Bar Mitts version. The only drawback to either is that they won’t play nice if you have bar-end extensions.
As for the wheel light, it will complement the multiple headlights and taillights that I’m already using, but when commuting in the dark, you can never have too many lights.
On a side note, this is my first post in the Post a Week 2011 campaign being promoted by WordPress.com (which is the service on which this blog is hosted).