I ride a lot of gravel, I build a lot of gravel bikes, and i spend a lot of time thinking about what exactly i would do to make my perfect gravel bike, down to the smallest of details. When we first learned of the new Salsa Warbird back in Feb of 2012, i knew i had found what i was looking for.
This bike was designed by the guys at Salsa for long distance gravel domination. Among the Salsa engineers are guys like Sean Mailen, who is a multiple time Trans-Iowa finisher and Almanzo Royal winner. To say the least, Sean knows a thing or two about riding gravel and has spent an enormous amount of time thinking about how to engineer a bike to be the very best at it’s chosen task at hand. Gravel.
One example of experience meets engineering is this excerpt from the Salsa blog where Sean introduces the Warbird.
“At the Trans Iowa two years ago I remember standing at the end of yet another muddy B-road. I was in the lead group of five and we were all stopped, kicking, scraping, and poking mud out of our frames with any stick we could find. I realized at that moment that if I could have a frame that shot mud out as fast as it came in that I could have an advantage over my competitors. While everyone else was stopped poking the crud out of their frames I would be able to just keep riding. We’ve tried to eliminate as many mud catching points as possible., including removing the chainstay brace, using a top pull-only Shimano CX front derailleur, and disc brakes. Warbird is an absolute mud-shedding freak.”
I have had a few experiences with muddy roads, and the difference between the amount of accumulated mud on my bike compared to the other guys i was riding with was noticeable. This isn’t something that will get noticed on every ride, but it might make a difference when it counts. It might also save you some watts from spinning tire against collected mud.
Another design feature of this frame of special appreciation for me is the water bottle placement. With the growing use of frame bags to carry items on long endurance rides real estate inside the front triangle becomes more strategic. Salsa placed the seat tube bottle cage mounts very low, creating a big open space to easily fit a size large Revelate Tangle bag on my 56c frame. I can fit bottles with out any contact or cramming under the bag, and getting them in and out with side access cages while riding is much easier. My old frame had the mounts positioned closer to the mid part of the seat tube, and getting that bottle in and out was a huge hassle, and as such i only used my down tube bottle and would have to stop to swap bottles because of the cramming it took. Now all of that hassle is gone, and i am a happy man. Well done Salsa.
CHECK OUT ALL THAT SPACE. YOU CAN FIT SIX EMPIRE STATE BUILDINGS AND TWO SANDWICHES. (or a large Revelate Tangle)
Lets talk about tire clearance. For the gravel world, you are going to get all kinds of opinions on what is a good size tire to run, and it usually comes down to where that person lives. It’s interesting how much gravel varies county to county, and it’s because there are multiple tiers to gravel quality. Which tier of gravel quality a county purchases, and how often they grade the roads determines how smooth or loose the roads will be.
Sometimes you can get away with a road bike tire, and sometimes you wish you were riding a mountain bike.
At Trans-Iowa this year the roads were much like the picture on the right. The route was fresh gravel about golf ball size, for probably 140+ miles of the 240 miles i completed. Riding on fresh golf balls gets old quick, you want at least 40c tires. For those sections the guys on mountain bikes were doing well, especially on the fast downhills at night they showed a lot of confidence.
Salsa says the largest tire the Warbird will clear is a 38c, but i and many others have been running 40c Clement MSOs with ample room. As with any tire and rim combo there are a lot of variables, but i can vouch for MSOs on Iron Cross rims fitting quite nicely. I am curious to see how the new 41c Knard fits, more out of curiosity then anything, i am extremely happy with my current tires performance.
The frame i was riding gravel on in the past was a Raleigh CX bike, and it was designed for riding CX, not gravel. When i got the Warbird built and started hitting fast downhills with loose gravel, i was in a situation where i was bunny hopping washouts at 30mph. I immediately felt a huge difference in the handling of this frameset compared to my old Raleigh.
My Raleigh was always twitchy, and not a bike i wanted to lose focus on, i always had to stay sharp. Riding the Warbird in comparison is very forgiving, and fixes more mistakes i might make. The wheelbase is a bit longer, and the bottom bracket is lower, keeping everything planted between the wheels. In more controlled riding this also makes eating while on the bike much easier, as well as searching around in frame bags and sitting upright to eat some calories, or take some pictures.
Since this bike was designed for the long haul of abusive events that can span 12-34 hours, frame comfort is key.
Salsa used what they learned from experience with some of their aluminum frames with flattened chain and seat stays and applied it to both the Aluminum and Titanium Warbird. My prior Raleigh, as a 45min CX racer, had round tubes on the back that while stiff and transmitted power, was quite abusive. That was great for 45 min CX sprints where you are out of the saddle half the time anyway, but i hated it for my all day gravel fests. Prior to getting the Warbird i had spent some time on Salsa’s Chili Con Crosso, which is an aluminum frame with flattened stays. The difference was huge. I never knew an aluminum frame could be manipulated to ride in such a way, it was amazing what tube shaping could accomplish. When i saw a Ti gravel frame with the same principles applied to it i was overjoyed.
The production switch from Lynskey to a new manufacturer overseas caused some upset, but it’s easy to see the new supplier makes a better product then Lynskey did. Something about forging titanium dropouts was one of the capabilities, and the fact that this frame uses double butted seamless tubing that isn’t rolled and welded like cheaper Ti might be another.
If there is one thing that made this bike what it is that would be the people behind the scenes. This bike comes from a company that knows gravel, has personally felt the pain of 340 mile races, and applied that knowledge into creating their own dream bike. We are just lucky enough to be able to ride it also.
Specialized recently came out with a Fat bike. I remarked that the designers probably haven’t ever rode in snow, and it was wittingly joked that Specialized built a “snow tunnel” for testing. Pretty hilarious, but the same thing applies to every facet of the industry. I want to buy a snow bike from people that ride their bikes in snow, a lot. I also want to buy a gravel bike designed by people that ride bikes on gravel, a lot. This is also why Cali people love Spec’s low BB mountain bikes, and east coasters love Cannondale’s high BB mountain bikes. They were designed by people who live in those areas, so the bikes ride well in those places, but i digress……..
After getting well more then a thousand miles on this bike this summer i am smitten. I left my road bike in pieces, and will be selling the frameset. I ride this bike too much. I am forming a bond that can not be broken i feel, i think it’s the one. I have found my perfect bicycle. It’s everything i hoped for, and more. Here is to the start of a long relationship, let the pain and adventures begin.
There are other aspects of this build such as drivetrain and gearing that i want to address in future posts, see you then.