Trail Tested: Salsa Cycles El Mariachi

Take a trip to your local bike shop and chances are some of the retail prices you see will make your knees buckle. It’s all part of the unfortunate trajectory of the cost of performance and the demand for lighter, stronger, and faster machines. Standing in contrast, and offering tremendous bang for buck, is the Salsa El Mariachi.

The El Mariachi is not a new platform, nor does it pretend to be anything it’s not. Originally crafted from high tensile steel, it is still made of that stalwart material with the only current alternative being a titanium model. Despite its somewhat humble DNA, it is a frame with updated features and ride attributes still prized by many.

With six models within the El Mariachi lineup, there’s a bike for nearly every type of rider. From the one-geared entry point at $1,500 to the sublimely smooth titanium model at $4,000, the El Mariachi wears many faces. Our own Brian McVickers has spent the last year atop a 2014 El Mariachi 3, a bike he has used for everything from short commutes to multi-day bikepack trips in the high peaks of the Colorado Trail.


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Fully loaded and knocking down the miles. Brian McVickers tackled the Colorado Trail on his El Mariachi.


My friends Kurt and Kaitlyn (Kaitlyn pictured in the lead image) used their Ti El Mariachi bikes to traverse a gigantic swath of the high Alps in Europe, all self-supported, frequently conquering thousands of feet of gain through snow choked passes in brutally punishing weather. If there is a bike with a more proven track record of performance and reliability, one so loved by all who ride it, I’d be surprised to learn of it.


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Brian’s 2014 El Mariachi 3




The key to the El Mariachi’s most recent success can be attributed to a handful of refinements. At the back end of the frame are Salsa’s proprietary Alternator dropouts which permit the use of a variety of hubs from singlespeed hubs to internally geared Rohloff systems. The relaxed geometry permits long days in the saddle without sacrificing performance and nimble handling qualities. The 430mm chain stays give the frame a short wheelbase for responsive turns without causing the bike to feel twitchy or nervous.


It is the versatility of the El Mariachi that I appreciate most. Whether ripping your own backyard trails, or loaded up and taking on a multi-day ride, the EM shines. It has a compliant ride typically reserved for boutique steel frames but at a fraction of the cost. With a build quality that belies its attainable price, these are bikes with exceptional value.

In an era when all bikes seem to be shunning the past, the El Mariachi holds its ground as a modern machine, but retains many positive qualities of bikes from yesteryear. Anytime I swing a leg over a steel or ti Mariachi, I instantly remember why I love the lively feel of a metal bike.


For a limited time, Salsa Cycles is offering reduced prices on their El Mariachi bikes. Click the image below for details.

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Lead image courtesy of Salsa Cycles and Kurt Refsnider.

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. 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.