by Christophe Noel

It was just a few years ago when I first discovered the Salsa Fargo while walking the narrows of the Interbike trade show. At first, the Fargo didn’t strike me as a must-have and seemed like an unnecessarily contrived Frankenbike. However, over the last two years images of would-be Fargo adventures kept popping into my head. Daydreaming prevailed and before long I was unboxing a beautiful Fargo frame as part of a long-term Expedition Portal bike review. It’s been over a year and the Fargo has certainly provided ample adventure.

The Salsa Fargo is a serendipitous collision of two distinct styles of bikes. It’s the love child of a 29er hard tail mountain bike and a genuine touring bike with the more prominent attributes coming from mountain bike chromosomes. The drop bars tend to raise an eyebrow and even tempt derision amidst true mountain bikers, but those riders just don’t get it. For me, a competitive roadie, the drop bars looked intriguing and have proven to be central to the Fargo’s true identity. The frame is constructed of good old 4130 chromoly steel, with a few unique design elements that set it apart. The head tube is massive, but places the bars high for all-day riding comfort and serves to put the drops in just the right spot for aggressive ring. The overall geometry is assembled around the notion that anyone on a Fargo is in it for the long haul. The Fargo is designed to go far. Get it? 

Central to the mission of going far are a myriad of braze-ons to accommodate all sorts of racks, bottle cages, and fenders. The most unusual of these braze-ons are those designed to accommodate Salsa’s Anything Cages. Like bloated water bottle cages, these clever little racks are designed to hold light loads on the fork blades or down tube. I’ve been using 5 liter stuff sacks in my fork mounted Anything Cages and it’s been great.

What is that thing?

I got the idea for this ExPo Fargo project within a week of completing the build. I kept getting asked the same question by everyone that saw my new bike. “Cool bike. What is it?” Every time, I had a hard time finding my big people words. Largely because it’s such a versatile platform. I found myself saying, “Uh, it does a little of everything, and it’s awesome.” That was the lightbulb moment and what sparked the goal to build one bike for all things. Using the frame as the platform, I’d use it as a commuter, tourer, singletrack mountain bike, bikepacking rig, and if I could muster the courage, even race the thing.

The Singlespeed with Two Gears.

The initial build was a bit of a weird-one, but it was beautiful and fun. With help from our friends at White Industries of Petaluma, California the first rendition of the ExPo Fargo was a singlespeed––sorta. Building around their stunning ENO eccentric rear hub, I built the Fargo up as a singlespeed using White Industries’ Double Double system. Think of it as a singlespeed with one ratio for tarmac, one ratio for singletrack. Switching between the two ratios took just a couple minutes. In this configuration, the Fargo was a blast. Simplicity is fun, especially for simple minds.

Adventure by Bike, Bikepacking on the Fargo.

Well, it does say right on the chainstay, “Adventure by Bike.” So adventure I did. Realizing it might be nice to employ a few gears to hump my gear over some big hills, I outfitted the Fargo with a 1×9 drivetrain. Bar end shifters gave me a nice retro-grouch utility that any touring bike should have. The SLX rear derailleur did the changing duties. For storage I went with a custom Carousel Design Works frame bag, Moots Tailgator tail bag, and dual Anything Cages on the forks. It was, and still is, an insanely capable hauler. There’s a reason why many ultra-distance racers sit atop a Fargo. It totes gear with aplomb. It’s a bizarre feeling to huck over ledges and logs with a weekend’s worth of camping gear along for the flight.

Woody the Commuter.

By now, I was fully smitten with the Fargo. So much, I found myself using it to get around town. Phase three took shape with the addition of finely crafted set of wood fenders from Woody’s Fenders in Oregon.  A pair of Fat Frank smoothy tires gave the Fargo a plush road feel. There’s not much to say about this configuration other than to say, this; the Fargo is perhaps the finest commuter bike I’ve ever owned. Fitted with a Salsa Wanderlust rear rack I can haul up to four six packs of beer in my panniers, passing the beer test with flying colors.

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Off to the races!

Great ideas are often punctuated with really bad ideas. I’m not saying racing on a Fargo is a bad idea, but racing 100 miles on a rocky course was a day I’ll never forget. The race was the 100 mile Barn Burner in Flagstaff. A qualifier for the prestigious Leadville 100, I had designs on a fast time and was fit as a fiddle. I started off immediately aware the rigid fork was no match for the rocky punishment that was to come. The drop bars, although they made me feel very much like John Tomack, were crushing my triceps. My teeth rattled in my head like a maraca. I finished the day suffering like a whipped pig. The Fargo loves nothing more than to chew up big miles. It just doesn’t like doing it at full race tempo. It’s an overland rig. Not a rally car.

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A year later

More than a year has passed and the Fargo project has been one of the most rewarding bikes to ever grace my quiver. From coffee runs to shredding singletrack, this bike has delivered. Not just delivered, it’s been a blast. One bike to rule them all? I think so.

The 2013 Salsa Fargo:

www.salsacycles.com/bikes/fargo/

The Salsa Fargo: “Adventure by Bike”

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About the Author: Christophe Noel

Christophe Noel is Expedition Portal's Editor and the Senior Editor for Overland Journal. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.