If you’ve ever even mentioned the word Fargo to us on the phone or in-store you’ll understand that at Commuter we love this bike. LOVE IT! We’ve had this article in the works for some time and finally found the time to give you the full run down on the Salsa Fargo, why we think it is so great and why we think you will too. Let’s start right back where it all began, with the first generation Salsa Fargo.
If you had to credit one bike for the rise of the Adventure category in the bicycle industry, it’s pretty hard to argue against the Fargo being the bike that started it all. In 2009, if you wanted a drop bar bike that wasn’t a roadie, you kinda had to buy a cyclocross bike. Still pretty aggressive geometry, tyre clearance for 38mm tyres if you were real lucky, and maybe some rack mounts. It doesn’t seem that crazy now, but I remember when I received my first gen Fargo in late 2009. Super upright, mountain bike style geometry was the first big change. This thing rode like a proper off-road bicycle. They came standard with 2.1 inch WTB tyres but I threw a set of 2.4s straight on there and WOW, the amount of traction and comfort that was available was absolutely amazing. This was the first time I’d purchased a bike that totally changed my concept of what was going to be enjoyable to ride, and that’s something that remains true of the Fargo to this day. Let’s jump all the way forward to the current Fargo and get into the details.
Let’s start by looking at geometry. One of the big things that sets the Fargo (and it’s carbon cousin, the Cutthroat) aside from the bulk of other dirt capable drop bar bikes is the geometry. If you look at our range, we have a LOT of bikes in this style. For the most part, we’d describe them as being relaxed road geometry bikes, with clearance for big rubber. Kona’s Rove and Surly’s Straggler are good examples of this. The Fargo on the other hand is definitely a mountain bike, with drop bars. The slacker, 68 degree head angle and more upright front end (which is also capable of taking a 100mm travel suspension fork) make the Fargo MUCH more capable on rougher and steeper terrain, especially under load. This, combined with the ability to run some HUGE rubber (we’ll get to that) allow you to keep rolling where a lot of other bikes would likely have you walking.
Another very noticeable difference with the Fargo is the amount of standover height on offer. With it’s taller front end, Salsa use a heavily sloped top-tube to maximise stand over on all sizes. There’s often an assumption that standover height is only about that – your ability to standover a bike. On a Fargo though, where the design emphasis is off-road performance, a lower standover height certainly gives you more room to move around out of saddle, especially on steep climbs. It also makes the bike a lot easier to get on and off when you’re carrying load. On small sizes it does mean that your framebag size gets a bit limited, but we’re good at coming up with solutions for this.
Another beautiful thing about the Fargo is the flexibility of wheel and tyre size that’s available to you. Especially on the smaller sizes this can sometimes be the hardest part when speccing your own Fargo, so here are some of the facts we’ve learned from building them over the years.
All sizes of the Fargo give you the ability to fit 29er wheels with tyres from about 40mm up to a whopping three inches! With good rim choice, something with around 30mm internal width like the WTB rims pictured above, you can really run whatever size 700c/29er tyre you like, and this is generally our recommendation. This range will make the Fargo equally capable as a tarmac tourer, and all-day off-road explorer or even an long term expedition bikepacker. Our go-to tyre for the Fargo would be the Vittoria Mezcal, somewhere between 2.2 and 2.6.
If you’re on a small or an extra-small though there are a couple of other factors worth keeping in mind. Unlike a lot of other bikes, you can still run 29er wheels on a little Fargo without having to worry about your toes touching the front tyre when turing. It’s been our experience that a small can take 29×2.35 and an Extra Small 2.2 before it gets tight. It’s rare that smaller riders get access to the smooth rolling and traction of 29er wheels and we’re stoked that Salsa worked to make this possible. Big wheels though do pose their own challenges to smaller riders, from a handling and gear carrying point of view. If you’re planning to set your Fargo up as a light-load bikepacking machine (which is it’s true strength) the 29er wheels may limit your ability as a smaller rider to run a decent volume saddle bag. Also, if you’re planning to ride some properly rugged terrain, the larger rotational mass of 29er wheels can get a bit harder to manage. For these reasons, Salsa also blessed the Fargo with the ability to run 27.5×3.0, and you can go down to 2.8 without affecting pedal to ground clearance too much. Loads of traction and comfort, more saddle to tyre clearance and a bit more manageable when the going get’s rough. The majority of our small and extra small custom build Fargos are based around 27.5 wheels for these reasons.
While the Fargo is designed around dropbars it’s mountainbike inspired geometry makes it equally suitable for setup with flatbars, and we’ve done a lot of custom builds based around the ever popular Jones bar. Not to bang on about the smaller sizes, but Jones are a great option here especially when it comes to planning how to pack – you can run a pretty wide, high volume bar roll off a Jones without messing with the bikes handling. Given that the geometry is designed around the longer reach of drops, if you are planning a flatbar build it is often worth considering going up a size to make sure you’re comfortable without having to run a VERY long stem to make up the reach. Using myself as an example, at 180cm I ride a medium Fargo set up with a 110mm stem and 50cm wide dropbar. If I was going to run a flatbar, I’d certainly put myself on a Large, likely with an 80mm stem and a 780mm Soma Dream bar.
We haven’t done one recently, but it’s also worth noting that, with it’s sliding Alternator dropouts, the Fargo is also capable of being set up singlespeed, with a Rohloff internal geared hub or even belt-drive.
Whether you are planning a new ride for bikepacking, expedition touring, gravel exploring, traditional pavement touring or even commuting, the Salsa Fargo will allow you to set your bike up for the intended use and actually feel like the right bike for the job, rather than just something you adapted to make work.
We currently have Fargo frames in stock in all sizes at $1800 with a last handful of the complete 2020 bikes arriving some time this month. They’re $3750. If there are any details we didn’t cover here, or you have some specific questions, either comment below or get in touch at the shop.