Long Term Review: 2016 Salsa Warbird
We’ve been riding the Salsa Warbird for a couple of months and have easily logged over 1000 miles in all sorts of riding conditions. Designed as a gravel race bike and purpose built for events like Dirty Kanza, Trans Iowa and Land Run 100, it seems at first a bit of a strange choice for us since we’re not gravel racers. Over the years, we’ve learned to carry less stuff when we travel by bike and to be perfectly honest, the novelty of carrying heavy loads by bike from place to place has lost some of its appeal. We still love to travel by bike, but are also beginning to be more appreciative of ride quality and handling and the Salsa Warbird has that in spades.
Climbing up to Vista House on a lightly loaded tour through the Gorge.
Despite being marketed as a gravel racer, the Warbird is a great all around road bike. Swap out the stock Sammy Slicks with some smoother faster rolling rubber like a pair of Clemente LGGs or something big and luscious like Rivendell Ruffy Tuffys, Vittoria Hypers or Compass Barlow Pass and the Warbird is transformed into a capable endurance disc brake road bike with mixed terrain capabilities. It’s sort of like a modern version of the Rivendell “Country Bike”, good mannered handling but with a go-fast attitude.
We’ve taken the Warbirds on long rambling gravel rides as well as long paved rides. We’ve ridden them unloaded and have even packed them down for overnight tours. We still haven’t quite figured out how to carry a full camping kit with the Warbirds, but we did take them recently on a multi-day tour from cabin to cabin over some pretty challenging terrain.
Unloaded, the bikes are a blast to ride. These are our first aluminum frame bikes and I was initially worried about the harshness of the ride. The big bowed seat stays give noticeable compliance in the rear and the carbon fork does a great job at dampening the front. The bike accelerates noticeably quicker than our Vayas and my All City Space Horse, though not as quick as an all out carbon road bike. The handling is responsive but not road bike twitchy and through whatever front-end geometry voodoo, it steers pretty well going down rough terrain as well.
Lightly loaded, the Warbird still rides really well. The stock 48-34 cross double paired with the 11-30t rear cassette is great for most terrain, though on a loaded trip where we were climbing 5400ft in 45 miles, I was wishing for another gear to relieve the legs. If we do more loaded touring with them in mountainous terrain, I would probably switch out the drive train to SRAM Apex brifters and run a mountain derailleur with an 11-34 cassette. The stock Tiagra components are functional but not my favorite with the awkward shift cables coming out of the brifters. I would have preferred Apex from the beginning for the neater cable routing and ability to play with long cage derailleurs.
If there are any downsides to the Warbird it is the lack of eyelets for fenders. This is a deal breaker for many in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve sort of accepted that limitation and either suck it up and get wet or run some detachable plastic fenders on the rear. Also, the 42mm tire clearance might not be big enough for some. For most of the riding we have done with them, they were more than adequate.
During the last few months, I did manage to mangle my Warbird. On a trip to Eastern Oregon we rode through some ridiculous peanut butter mud complete with rock chunks. My derailleur committed hair-kari as I was slowly trying to pedal up a hill. Before I knew it, I came to a grinding unceremonious halt. That ride claimed another derailleur that day as well. As good as the mud clearance is, there will be some conditions when you will have to walk.
Perhaps more disconcerting was the carbon fork. I noticed after the ride that the mud and rock chunks had started to abrade the insides of the fork. I sent the fork to Salsa and they determined the abrasion wasn’t structural and gave me the all clear. This isn’t specific to the Warbird, but to any of the new generation of gravel/adventure/all-road bikes with carbon components. If conditions get muddy and rocky, be sure to check for possible abrasion points. After seeing this first hand, it would be awesome if they created a “gravel guard”, some alloy plate embedded in the carbon fork and rear stays designed to specifically take the abuse.
If you’re not a gravel racer and have no plans to ever toe the line at the Dirty Kanza or Trans-Iowa should you even consider the Warbird? We think so. Its a road bike that doesn’t get skittish when the tarmac turns to gravel. In our fleet, it is our go to bike when we only have an hour or two to spare and want to bang out some quick miles with some climbing. It won’t replace the Vaya as our touring bike, but for quick and lightly loaded tours where we aren’t carrying all our camping gear, the Warbird lets us thoroughly enjoy both the journey and the destination.