Sometimes the cheesiest of cliches ring true. Bigger is better. Take for example Salsa Cycles’ recently announced adventure bicycle for 2016, the Deadwood. Rolling on 45mm wide 29-inch rims combined with 3.0-inch tires, it has a commanding footprint. It also has a beautiful steel frame, carbon fork, excellent build spec, and much to my satisfaction––flared drop bars. There is almost too much to like about the Deadwood.
It should come as no surprise why I am drawn to this bike. A few years ago I assembled a Salsa Fargo as a project for Expedition Portal and then followed that up with an upgrade to the titanium Fargo. My love for that bike is deep and unwavering, mostly because of its versatility. A Fargo is effectively a standard 29er mountain bike with a few subtle tweaks to create an ideal platform for multi-day tours over varied terrain. The drop bars, not completely understood by all, add an array of hand positions making long hours in the saddle less punishing. As capable as the Fargo is, I concede it has some limitations.
When the going gets rough, the Fargo’s unsprung frame and fork get bumpy. I’ve tackled my share of singletrack on the Fargo, even under full bikepacking load, and while it does better than expected, it feels out of place on rugged singletrack. The Deadwood’s wider tires, however, not only improve traction they greatly dampen the ride making forays into the rough stuff less fatiguing. That directly correlates to more miles.
Like the Fargo, the Deadwood has all of the touring-inspired features we have come to expect of Salsa. The Alternator rear dropouts accommodate a range of hub configurations and the Three-Pack bosses on the fork blades and down tube permit the use of Salsa’s much-loved Anything Cages. For us desert dwellers, the ability to mount three bottles outside of the main triangle is critical.
Keeping things simple, the disc brakes are cable actuated Avid BB7s. The SRAM build kit includes Apex shifters paired to an X9 rear derailleur and a GX crank with 28-42 rings. The rear cassette has a sufficiently wide 11-36 range for steep climbs and lucky tailwinds. The build kit isn’t exotic, but it is proficient and well suited to the bike’s design mission.
The all-carbon Firestarter fork has the stiffness needed to command the large front wheel. It’s ridiculously light as well.
Impressions from the Trail
Given that only a handful of Deadwoods currently exist, I consider myself beyond fortunate to get to ride it, and not just in short circles at a demo event. For that, we are extremely grateful to Salsa Cycles and their support of Expedition Portal. So, how does the Deadwood perform?
My first ride started out as a brief shake down spin which turned into a 46 mile mini-epic. I kept reloading my bottles and ducking down another section of trail pointing the front wheel at anything that looked like it needed a good beat down.
The second and third rides offered more of the same. Whereas my Fargo keeps me on my toes and shakes my bones in the rocky sections, the Deadwood rambles over everything with silky smoothness. Salsa Cycles’ brand manager, Justin Julian, said it best,
As a fellow Expedition Portal member, and a lover of lift kits and big tires, I say his description nails it. It also left me searching for the inherent negatives, as everything in life is a compromise––or, is it?
WTB’s Scraper rims have carried me over a thousand miles of trouble-free touring on another bike and make me feel right at home on the Deadwood. The Surly Knard tires hit where other plus-size tires miss. They have great feedback and low rolling resistance.
I expected the weight of the large WTB Scraper rims and Surly Knard tires to degrade acceleration, but I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. Climbing up steep and rocky switchbacks, the Deadwood spins up to speed better than expected, particularly as the trail surface gets more “featured.” The key to maximizing the performance of the wheels is maintaining appropriate air pressure for the conditions. I find the lower pressure ranges offer the most efficient roll with sufficient tire volume to assuage most of my concerns for pinch flats.
The thru-axle hub uses my favorite DT skewers. The BB7 brakes are a smart and uncomplicated choice for a backcountry whip.
The graphics of the Deadwood are elegant and classic.
Considering its purpose as a touring platform, I also expected the handling to be truckish and slow. While there is a certain amount of stability to the ride, the handling is quite spry thanks in part to the large contact patch of the tires and the ability to push them to heavy lean angles.
It’s another home run for Salsa and proof again they know the adventure bicycle segment better than anyone. The next stop for this Deadwood is a multi-day ride around the famous Alpine Loop in southern Colorado. With the Deadwood’s thirst for miles, that loop most likely won’t satiate its appetite for adventure. Not to worry. I’m sure we’ll find plenty of trails to explore.
Click the image below to read more about the Deadwood and the upcoming line of 2016 bikes from Salsa Cycles.