If you’ve been having a solid browse through our range of bikes you’ll likely notice a bit of a theme. Steel. The bulk of our range is made from the comfy, durable and good value material, and for good reason. For the workhorse commuter or tourer it’s hard to argue that steel isn’t the perfect material. That said, if you’re trying to build a very light, very efficient and fast as hell bike for exploring long routes over varied terrain there are some other options that are very much worth investigating, especially from Salsa Cycles.
‘Adventure By Bike’ has been Salsa’s motto for many years now and just about every bike in their range is designed with exploring, and carrying the right gear to be self sufficient, in mind. In Australia though, Salsa is not super easy to stock and as a dealer we need to pick and choose a little bit what we keep around, as we only get one chance a year to order everything we want. As a result, along with the ever popular Fargo, we aim to keep the models in stock that we feel are Salsa’s real strengths, complement the steel bikes in our range and that suit Victorian conditions really well. Let’s have a look.
For a lot of people the idea of riding a singlespeed gravel bike any kind of distance is about as appealing as going for a long swim in the Yarra, but the Stormchaser is certainly a lot more versatile than that. Designed for super long US gravel events that generally take place in horrid conditions, the Stormchaser features an alloy frame and carbon fork with super stable and relaxed geometry and loads of tyre clearance.
Salsa say the Stormchaser can take up to 700×50 rubber, but if you’re not concerned about retaining massive clearance for mud you can certainly go WAY bigger than that. Our resident stock-boss and home-chef, Ican, has his personal Stormy’ set up with Rene Herse 55mm rubber and it clears no worries. Looks awesome too, see below.
So, no, we weren’t planning on selling a whole bunch of single speed gravel bikes. The thing in our minds that makes the Stormchaser truly awesome is the availability of parts to set it up geared. Yes it would be super nice if it came standard with them, though to be fair the look is super clean with the single speed specific dropouts, but for not a lot of dollars you can quite easily turn your Stormchaser into a mile-crushing alloy exploring machine. With the complete bike being $2750, and the original crankset being just great for 1x drivetrain setups, adding a set of shifters, derailleur and cassette ends up being a pretty great value end build.
But doesn’t alloy ride real harsh? Generally we’d say yes but Salsa have done a great job of engineering a huge amount of comfort into all the models we’re discussing today, especially the Stormchaser. You’ll notice in just about every picture that the bikes have a super-curvy rear end without a bridge between the seat stays. Without getting into the marketing speak, basically this is designed to damp a tonne of vibration from the ‘road’ and let you ride comfortably for longer. As a long term Cutthroat owner (we’ll get to Cutthroat) I can tell you this 100% works and the ride comfort is unbelievable. The Stormchaser doesn’t ride as comfy as the carbon bikes, but it rides a lot more comfortably that any alloy bike we’ve ever ridden.
Stormchaser features a carbon fork that looks a LOT like the Waxwing model that comes on the Warbird but is apparently not the same. Either way, it’s light and rides super smooth, has triple pack mounts for bottles and gear and also features internal dynamo wire routing to keep everything clean and out of the way. Like most Salsa bikes the Stormchaser has loads of waterbottle mounts, a direct mount toptube bag mount and a little bit less standover height to maximise frame bag size.
So who should get a Stormchaser? Maybe you want to build a solid spec gravel bike but don’t quite have the available coins now. The ability to purchase a great quality frame and fork that you can ride now rather than hang on the wall is great, especially considering the quality of the WTB wheelset and Raceface cranks. Then later, when funds allow, you can add the drivetrain and hydraulic brakes of your choice. All of our current Warbird customers fit into this catergory and are stoked. Some people though want a bike lighter than steel but less expensive than carbon and here the Stormchaser is also a great option. If you took a complete Stormchaser and immediately added a Shimano GRX 800 groupset it’s be easily the best value GRX bike in the shop (and maybe industry wide?), wouldn’t weigh a lot and would be as fast as hell! Certainly food for thought.
That said, there is definitely a reason that carbon fibre has been adopted pretty much exclusively for high end road and mountainbike use and the durabilty issues certainly don’t exist in the ways they used to. Let’s have a look a bit further up the tree.
Originally released in aluminium and titanium options the Warbird has evolved over the years to become widely regarded as THE gravel ‘race’ machine to beat in the industry. Yeah, fair call, we don’t have a lot of gravel racing to attend in Australia but a lot of the things that make the Warbird such a capable race bike translate super well to recreational use in Australia.
Firstly, this thing is COMFY. As I mentioned above with the Stormchaser, a bunch of the Salsa dropbar bikes feature the Cat 5 vibration reduction (basically a curvy rear end designed to absorb bumps) and the Warbird has been engineered to be the most compliant bike in the range. Tyre clearance is not quite as beefy as the Stormchaser at a quoted 45mm and, being carbon, you do need to be a little bit more cautious with over-speccing that and avoid any tyre/frame buzzing. You can definitely get a 47 in there no worries though.
In our opinion Warbird is pretty hard to beat as a mixed-terrain explorer for Melbourne and beyond. Whether you’re carrying just a few water bottles or enough gear to roll around for a few days and stay at pubs, or even camp, the Warbird will be nothing but pure joy on rail trails, gravel roads and fire trails as well as being fast enough that the tar to link them up doesn’t wear you down. While the Warbird can be setup with a 1x drivetrain, and there are a couple of models that come standard like that, you’ll notice that the majority of builds you’ll see are with 2x drivetrains. Given that the Warbird’s strength is certainly gravel ‘roads’ rather than trails and singletrack, the closer spaced gearing of 2x will often be welcome. And who doesn’t like pedalling up to 70km/h down Steel’s Creek Rd!
With varied tyre choice the Warbird is good at a lot of different things. Run some 32mm slicks and roll around with your friends on ‘proper’ road bikes. Stay almost slick but add some serious volume and go explore the Dandenongs and Mount Donna or add some aggressively treaded 45mm tyres and go bikepacking occassionally. If your focus is pushing your distance boundaries a little on smooth to medium terrain carry light to medium load then we’ve no doubt you are going to LOVE Warbird. That said, if you want to get a little more rough’n’tumble or are focussed a little more on bikepacking we have a real nice option for you.
If you type Salsa Cutthroat into Google you’re sure to come up with one thing – Tour Divide. After the industry-changing launch of their Fargo, Salsa decided to create a drop-bar carbon mountain bike designed pretty specifically for racing the 5000km Tour Divide bikepacking route. Again, bikepacking racing is something few of us are likely to do a whole lot of, but the requirements of events like Tour Divide translate pretty well to features that are going to put a smile on our faces.
I know I keep banging on about comfort, but how good is a bit of comfort! Especially when you’re hauling camping gear through some rarely used 4WD trails in the Victorian High Country. In all seriousness with good tyre choice, the Cutthroat doesn’t give up much to the Warbird as far as speed goes on smoother surfaces but it’s likely overkill if you don’t plan to bite off much more than that. Cutthroat’s real strength is multi-day adventure where the surface conditions are unknown. Capable of taking 29×2.4 rubber in the rear and much bigger than that in the front with plenty of clearance for boggy mud, the high volume rubber alone adds a tonne of forgiveness and comfort over a regular gravel bike like the Warbird but the differences run much deeper than that.
If you take a look at the geometry charts of the Warbird and the Cutthroat you’ll notice some big differences. Firstly the headtube angle on the Cutthroat is much slacker and the wheelbase is much longer. While the Warbird is certainly very stable descending on the gravel (if you haven’t checked out Old Toolangi Rd please go do so!) the Cutthroat takes this to a whole other level, enabling you to stay in control in some properly steep and loose conditions like Fainters Trail out of Falls Creek – somewhere I would not want to find myself on a Warbird. Those slack angles and longer wheelbase allow you to remain much more relaxed as conditions become rougher and you’ll find yourself finessing rather than wrestling the bike though rugged trails.
Hauling gear was obviously a design priority with the Cutthroat and while you CAN fit racks it has been designed with travelling ‘light’ in mind. There are once again loads of mounts for bottles and cages including TWO underside mounts on the downtube, triple pack mounts on the fork and mounts underneath the toptube for a direct mount framebag. Being carbon it’s certainly a very good idea to use some protective tape on areas where straps from handlebar rolls and other bags meet the frame. A little bit of dirt in there for a few hundred kays is going to remove paint at least, but other than that the care that needs to be taken is similar to an alloy bike. I have crashed my personal Cutthroat HARD a bunch of times, once rag-dolling it into trees, and it’s come out unscathed every time, proof that carbon manufacturing has gotten much, much better over the years.
Cutthroat is likely the right answer to the question – ‘What should I get if I want a fast and light gravel bike that I can also take on the Hunt 1000 and Vic Divide without getting overly beaten up and feeling like I’m on the wrong bike?’ As I said above, I’ve been on Cutthroat for some time now and can honestly say it’s hands down the best bike I’ve ever owned (and I have owned a ‘few’ bikes) although I certainly prioritise offroad handling and capability and am happy to just daydream and eat snacks on the tar. It’s also a great option if you’re uncertain where your goals are headed. You’re unlikley to ever outgrow a Cutthroat, regardless of your adventure goals, whereas you may find yourself wishing for something more forgiving and capable if you’re on a Stormchaser or a Warbird, especially if you start setting some goals related to bikepacking.
All three of these amazing bikes are getting around on our shop floor most of the time, but if you’d like to know anything I haven’t covered here or you have some specific questions please feel free to give us a call at the shop.
Stay safe everyone and we’re looking forward to seeing you out on the trails soon.