79 comments


  • John Sellars

    While I’m slowly warming to the idea of disc brakes on a touring rig, one thing I will say is that I wouldn’t dream of running anything else on a cargo bike regardless of weather, terrain, etc.

    December 02, 2012
  • doug

    How does the ride compare while loaded? I find that my LHT is a turd unloaded, but putting some weight on the racks gives it a neutral, comfortable feeling. Not a road bike by any means, but a lot more fun to ride.

    My old camper, a Jamis Aurora, is much ligher duty than the LHT. Perhaps it’s similar to the Vaya. I had no issues riding it unloaded and took it on many days rides. While loaded, I noticed a lot of flex and a generally unseated feeling. I use it as a commuter now, a task to which it is most suited.

    Also, how does tire clearance compare for the two frames? My LHT can fit 43mm cyclecross tires, making it very well suited to logging road tours in the National Forest. Can the Vaya fit that kind of rubber?

    December 02, 2012
  • @Doug We’ve pared down our touring loads since riding the LHTs, so we haven’t ridden the Vayas with 4 panniers. Definitely agree the LHT comes to its own when loaded. From the rear only touring we’ve done with the Vaya it compares favorably. We are going to be spending the month of January touring in California so we’ll have a better sense of how it does on longer tours.

    Vaya without fenders will take a 43…we’re running ours with fenders and 38mm tires.

    Russ

    December 02, 2012
  • juan

    Traitor! I bought my first touring bike, a LHT, because of the way it held up during your trip across the USA. Vayas are okay, but as for me——-long live the Long Haul Trucker!!!

    December 02, 2012
  • @Juan :) Don’t get us wrong, the LHTs still rock it for loaded touring. Can’t go wrong with the LHT. But after three years, the sorts of rides and riding we like to do has changed and our choice of bike reflects that now.

    R

    December 02, 2012
  • Hi Laura and Russ,

    Thanks for the interesting and pertinent report. Some questions and comments came to mind.

    Are both bikes you compare equipped with 26″ wheels? If not, that can make a lot of difference.

    Wheel and bike weight have most to do with how a bike accelerates.

    My favorite way to set up a LHT is with V-brakes. In my opinion they are the ultimate set-up and that can be done for the same price as buying a LHT with discs.

    My personal preference is for bar end shifters as they have proven to be more reliable in the long run and in adverse conditions. It is the long run that endures them to me.

    I started to put this subject in the disclaimer. I have no problem with having overlapping gears. In my opinion, too much is made of gear ratios and how we get them. I’ve always said that what I want is a high enough gear and a low enough gear with a few in between. With bar end shifters, a triple has, in my opinion, no disadvantage. With brake lever shifters, I can see a reason to move away from triple chainrings.

    The sloping top tube is, in my opinion, a good trend. I would especially like to see it come to the smaller sizes of Long Haul Trucker.

    Disclaimers: My bike shop sells both Surly LHTs and Salsa Vayas. I own a LHT. I work on “brifters” every day I work and that has been enough to make me stay away from them. I have never owned a bike with them.

    Have good rides,
    Chuck Hoefer – Pacific Coast Cycles, Oceanside, Calif.

    December 02, 2012
  • jdg

    the vaya can fit a 1.9″ knobby 29er mountain tire fine! i’ve done it, and loved it! no fenders tho with this setup.

    i love mine, its really versatile, and i’ve had it setup as many different types of bikes: fire road/bikepacking, “fast” winter roadie, racked up commuter/cargo, touring, cyclocross even!

    pretty much nothing this frame set can’t do IME

    December 02, 2012
  • Hey there Chuck,
    My LHT is 26inch and Laura’s is 700. Our wheels on both the LHTs and Vayas are fairly comparable. Nothing super lightweight on the Vayas. Laura is actually using the same tires. It’s probably a draw in terms of overall wheel weight. Marginally fewer spokes (32 instead of 36) but have the weight of rotors. Despite that, the Vaya feels a bit more livelier. Perhaps the shorter wheelbase, slightly lighter tubing? Not sure exactly.

    We were running V-brakes on our LHTs too : ) Got rid of the cantilevers mid-tour after being unhappy with their stopping power on steep descents.

    Laura is still in essence running bar-end shifters, just moved up to the stem with the Paul Thumbies. I’ve never owned a bike with brifters until this year and they have their ups and downs. Took a while for the cable to really seat in it seems, but now shifting is great. If we were to do a long open-ended tour again, I would probably use some sort of friction shifter set up (Retroshifts perhaps?).

    In the end, both are great bikes and in some ways its sort of splitting hairs. For super HEAVY touring, the LHT probably comes out on top. For light to moderate weight touring and unloaded riding, advantage Vaya.

    R

    December 02, 2012
  • Pat Jones

    I’m confused by your evaluation. You state one of the “cons”, the only one, is that the LHT is “sluggish unloaded”? Having my LHT for 7 months now loaded or unloaded it’s anything but sluggish. It comes up to speed quickly and I can maneuver quicker than any previous rides, mainly Motobecane and Raleighs. Granted this is the first touring bike I’ve had so that is like comparing apples and oranges. Almost like your comparison of a “built up” Vaya to a LHT. I would like to try a Vaya just so I can draw my own conclusions but for now I’ll stick with my Surly.

    December 02, 2012
  • Bob Brown

    One thing I will add about disc brakes is that my friend was touring on a Raleigh with discs in Europe and he had to buy a new caliper because of all the compatibility issues and no one had parts or pads that fit. That was 3 years ago, but there is still a good choice that many places won’t have parts for road compatible disc calipers.

    December 02, 2012
  • Glad you guys took my advice on the Vaya ;-)

    I’ve been commuting Seattle for nearly a year on mine and have to agree with you on it’s great function as an all-rounder. I have yet to manage any tours – however as light as I pack I don’t see any potential issues there. I do occasionally load it up with farmers market bounty (like squash and pounds of meat), and I find it nearly as much fun loaded as un-.

    I look forward to seeing your Vayas the next time you’re in Seattle! We can compare notes, as by then I may be nearly to 1000 miles…

    Jesse

    December 02, 2012
  • @Pat When we first got our LHTs three years ago and rode them everywhere they were great. They’re STILL great. However, compared to other bikes like the Vaya for us, the LHT feels a hair on the sluggish side.

    Yes, its the only con but a fairly substantial one. Since we’re not touring continuously at the moment, we find ourselves leaving the LHTs in the stable rather than going on a ride since the Vayas are a bit zippier. We find, for us, the Vayas are getting more use for lots of different kinds of riding.

    So if you occasionally tour, but mostly commute and go on longer day rides – then the Vaya might be a better fit for you.

    If you’re continuously touring and are always carrying heavy loads – then the LHT might be a better fit.

    The evaluation is a little confusing, because neither the Vaya or the Surly is categorically better than the other at all times.

    There are trade-offs for each. Right now, for the kinds of riding we are doing now, the Vayas are a better choice.

    R

    December 02, 2012
  • Russ, Laura,
    Great review, and great pictures as usual. I’ve ridden the Salsa Vaya and it’s a great bike. Unfortuantely last year’s Vaya 2 was crippled with road bike gearing or I would have had one. Just as well because I’m thrilled with my Soma Saga. Your review inspired me so I just wrote my review of the Saga. http://bike.paullieberman.net/articles/soma-saga . They are vey similar bikes, your’s having the advantage of disc brakes.
    I’m going to post my review on Twitter and would be grateful if you could re-tweet for me.
    Thanks,
    Paul

    December 02, 2012
  • David Irvine

    Hi Russ, thanks for this informative review. However, I gotta ask: What is your beef about the modern Trek 520? I bought one a few years ago and after a few mods I like it just fine for moderately-loaded credit-card touring compared to my Rivendell Rambouillet. A friend has the earlier edition Trek 520 with its taller road bike gearing which he has ridden loaded many 1000′s of miles and he likes his too. Thanks, DTI

    December 03, 2012
  • @David I purchased a Trek 520 new a few years ago as my first touring bike (2007 or 2008 model). As I learned a bit more about bikes, it felt like it was a frame that Trek was just trying to get rid of odd parts with. The gearing was really high and it used a 1 inch threadless fork when at the time everyone had pretty much gone 1 1/8 . The components just weren’t really thought out. It seemed more like a budget event bike that they were passing off as a touring bike. Probably my biggest problem with the bike was that mine had a pretty bad front end shimmy with a load on fast descents.

    But, yes, it would work as a fine touring bike for moderate loads and terrain and a lot of this is nitpicking. It’s just a shame that Trek’s only touring bike, which once had a great reputation, is just a shadow of its former self!

    R

    December 03, 2012
  • Jamesw2

    Thanks for the article! Glad you are back writing. There is a need for information about Rando and ultra-cycling events.
    I have spent 3 years getting myself to the point that i just did 15 miles in one hour on my trainer and a few weeks ago i did 103 miles, with 4,300 feet of vertical around a lake in 16.2 hours (6 mph average) on my touring bike .
    . . . I had the park ranger looking for me i was gone so long.
    I have a new tent ordered so the gear for some real overnight adventure is a set of bigger panniers away.

    Any-who back to the review. Laura (hi) and you could become the counter part to Top Gear only for bicycles.

    December 03, 2012
  • Sat Sang

    Interesting comparsion. I’d appreciate any thoughts on where the Salsa Casseroll fits into the LHT v Vaya discussion.

    December 03, 2012
  • MTBaddict

    I purchased a Vaya frameset to build into a touring rig over the winter. I agree with staying away from brifters and one good feature of the Vaya is the braze-ons which accept down tube shifters. My last touring rig had bar end shifters but I intend to change to down tube shifters for a variety of reasons. Is this an unpopular choice for touring?

    December 03, 2012
  • @Sat The Casseroll is not intended as a loaded tourer…its a bit lighter and faster feeling than the LHT and Vaya…more as a long day ride/rando kind of bike…

    December 03, 2012
  • @MTBaddict I like the fact that you can use downtube shifters on the Vaya as well….may carry a pair on future tours in the event the brifters do give up the ghost.

    R

    December 03, 2012
  • Marcus

    Not to be pushing Surly, but did you guys consider a Crosscheck for light touring? It’s responsive and nimble while still being able to carry a moderate load. It’s what I use for commuting and overnight rides.

    Just curious.

    December 03, 2012
  • David Irvine

    Hi Russ, your response led me to Google ‘Trek 520′, look at the current Trek site and read other reviews about the 520. I gather the 520 model has been around since the early 1990′s and seems to have been a work in progress ever since, morphing from the 30/42/52 CW to the present 26/36/48 CW with 11-32 rear cassette, plus other notable improvements. I changed my gearing to 24/36/48 CW and 11-34 rear for better loaded hillclimbing; on hills I can’t pull with the 24-34 combo I’m down to walk/push speed anyway. I removed the cap on my steerer and the steering tube appears to measure 1″ ID and 1 1/8″ OD. Handlebar is now Jan Heine’s Grand Bois Randonneur to minimize my numb hands, Shimano A520 pedals to minimize my foot problems, and a Berthould leather saddle minimizes my tush problems. Rivendell front & rear carriers plus SKS mudguards complete my mods. Re the 3rd bottle carrier, I’ve found that a smaller 1 pint size bottle with the narrow neck will clear the front SKS mudguard ok. Here is a link to an informative review I found: http://bicycletouringpro.com/blog/trek-520-touring-bicycle-review/
    I’m not a Trek spokesman and I too would avoid an older Trek 520 with its too tall gearing and other issues, but I think the the latest edition of the 520 may be worth a second look by those in the market. Cheers, and thanks again for sharing your adventures! DTI

    December 03, 2012
  • @Marcus Yes. Test road some Crosschecks, but wanted disc brakes and something slightly stouter. The Vaya falls somewhere b/w the LHT and Crosscheck it seems.

    Russ

    December 03, 2012
  • Tom

    After that slapdown I can hear my 520 crying in the garage. I might have gotten the LHT but after failing to find a dealer with one I could actually ride before purchasing I opted to support my local bike shop and purchase the 520. I week later I was riding in BikeVa and trying to get over my LHT envy because they were very popular, but the 520 rode very well for me. It seems the LHT vs the 520 is a lot like Ford vs Chevy. It all depends on who you talk to.

    December 03, 2012
  • Nice use of the 12-36 cassette. I plan to use that in combo with a standard compact 34-50 to go touring

    December 04, 2012
  • ……also big 10 sp cassettes and lighter loads opens up the possibility of using bikes that are anything but traditional tourers.

    http://wheelsofchance.org/2012/09/01/no-bagman/

    December 04, 2012
  • Hi Russ,
    Thanks for sharing your insights on a cool bike. Just curious – in the video you mentioned switching to Charge saddles. How are they holding up on the Vaya? Are they working out well? Thanks a bunch! Dan K

    December 04, 2012
  • Leaf Slayer

    Thanks for taking the time to post your observations. In the LHT’s defense, I’ve put plenty of miles and hours on it unloaded and have really liked the way it rode. I think it’s a great bike for centuries and rambling. I even did a 300k brevet on it earlier this year because my dedicated brevet bike was out of commission. While it started to feel sluggish at about 250k that was more due to rider fatigue and the 35mm Schwalbe tires. I think with a set of 32mm Paselas the bike wouldn’t have felt sluggish at all, just me. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again on a brevet, even a longer event like a 600k. Still, I don’t doubt that the Vaya is a bit more lively and just as capable for rambling, touring and even distance events such as brevets.

    I’m becoming a convert to disc brakes. I have them on my Big Dummy and they’re great in the rain in spite of the screech. I have a feeling I’ll be parting ways with my LHT to make room for a Disc Trucker, just a matter if I’ll go with a 26″ wheeled version or a 700c.

    December 04, 2012
  • @Dan LOVE the Charges saddles. I have the Spoon and Laura uses the Ladle. They have a nice shape. A little narrower than say a B-17 but not a a$#-hatchet by any means. Love that we don’t have to worry about them getting wet and stretching in weird ways.

    Also, the Spoon is inexpensive. Think I got mine for $25.

    R

    December 04, 2012
  • Russ – thanks for the advice. I’m looking for a change from my B-17s (gone through two in six years). Will give the Charge a try!! All my best, Dan K

    December 05, 2012
  • chad

    Thanks for the well written article. I unfortunately am in the market for a new touring/commuter bike, after having my rocky mountain sherpa stolen :-( I have been looking at both the LHT disc and Vaya. I have been leaning towards the Vaya, and your article helps me justify spending the extra cash.

    Chad M.

    December 05, 2012
  • Russ, Great considerations. Touring bikes aren’t really such specific things, are they? Disc brakes? Mountain bike gears? You and Laura have really lost it.

    I like most any bike, and given the right riding conditions and some proper tuning, almost anything with wheels can be a touring bike. My biggest complaint about the newer 520s are the number of busted wheels I see while out touring. At such a rate, they will soon be outdone as “the bike with the most cross-country trips” by the LHT. The stock wheels on the LHT seem to be very reliable, and the frame has more generous tire clearances.

    nicholas

    December 06, 2012
  • Nick,
    I think you’ve misinterpreted the post. We’re not saying that the Vaya is categorically the best touring bike ever made and that people shouldn’t tour on anything else. Nor are we saying that a touring bike must have disc brakes and mountain bike gearing.

    Heck, remember we toured with 6 speed Bromptons for a year and got all sorts of flack for it. We know and believe any bike is a touring bike.

    I was just merely stating that having ridden both, that we prefer for the type of riding we are doing now the Vaya. We’re not saying the LHT is a bad bike and no one should buy one (which I stated several times in the post), just that hey, we like our Vayas.

    R

    December 07, 2012
  • gl.

    i am interested in disk brakes, but i cannot cannot cannot deal with squealing.

    December 08, 2012
  • Carl

    Russ and Laura,

    I just wanted to say that this review is written very well. I appreciate what you guys have done in sharing you personal journey. Your willingness to get out there and experiment (Bromptons in New Zealand, cross country touring, Xtracycle) and share what you experience is fantastic. Reading the comments above many folks really got caught up in all the Techie stuff on the bikes. That is cool and has it’s place. But for me, it is the experiment itself, the pushing of boundaries, that is the real treasure.

    Thanks again and Merry Christmas

    December 08, 2012
  • al_yrpal

    Greetings from South Oxfordshire England. I liked your review, thank you, it reflects my own feelings pretty much. I tour all over the UK including the Scottish Highlands and Islands as well as regularly exploring Europe. The Vaya is the second American bike I have purchased. My Cannondale Rush is a great MTB

    I just purchased a standard Salsa Vaya 3 (a 2012 model possibly) a few weeks ago. I previously toured on various bikes including a Dawes Galaxy and latterly an aluminium framed trekking bike with disc brakes and butterfly bars. I cannot understand peoples’ inhibitions about disc brakes.
    I am quite happy with the various standard components on the Vaya although having only 32 spokes doesn’t make me comfortable about a bike that’s supposed to be aimed at a bit of off road.
    The ride is very good, the shock absorbing qualities of the steel frame soak up a lot of vibration and that which is left is damped OK making the bike comfortable for long hours in the saddle. Comfort was my main reason for buying the Vaya and I am very pleased with it. I like the sloping top tube, easy to stand over. The Salsa Cowbell bars are wide and very comfortable, especially off road. This has surprised me, I have always rejected drops on a touring bike. The cheapo Velo saddle fitted is surprisingly comfortable too, no need to fit a B17. To me, comfort is one of the main factors in the choice of a touring bike.

    The only thing I have had to change is to fit a 24T inner ring because the 30 tooth fitted is just too high for a fully loaded touring bike. My maximum load when camping is usually just less than 15kg. I am quite happy with the 50/39 rings. The cassette is 11-34. The geartrain spec appears to be different from that on Salsa’s website?
    I have fitted mudguards (fenders) and a Topeak supertourist disc rack. You would need to put a spacer on the front for the mudguard stays to clear the disc brake. I used the front pannier braze ons for the front mudguard stays because I never use front panniers.
    The bar end shifters are great, as are the cable operated discs, no need for unnecessary complexity on a touring bike.
    I took the tyres off and fitted Schwalbe Land Cruisers for a bit of off road on bridleways and forest tracks. The Vaya was well balanced and felt safe and stable off road.
    Its not a greatly exciting ride, but it is a sure-footed comfortable one which is exactly you want in a touring bike.
    The one thing I would criticise is the paint finish which chips and scratches too easily. When I compare it with my old bike which cost 1/3 of the price of the Vaya its very poor.
    All things considered the standard Vaya 3 is a very good choice for anyone wanting a comfortable, stable tourer whose routes include a bit of off road. Its good value too.

    December 08, 2012
  • Al. Agree the stock gearing on the Vaya 2 is a bit high for fully loaded touring. That’s one of the reasons we went with the mountain double 42/28 and a 12-36 cassette. May throw on a 24t inner if we expect lots of mountains.

    R

    December 08, 2012
  • GL the squealing IS a pain. Still sorting it out. May try organic pads which I’ve been told are better.

    R

    December 08, 2012
  • Pat Jones

    Thanks for the reply. Guess I will need to try the Vaya if I can find one. I agree with the Chevy vs. Ford comparison that has been made. I completely agree with your statement about squealing disc brakes. Had the same problem on a Motobecane and could never get it fixed. Yeah, drove me nuts. Thanks for the review and look forward to your postings. Some great reading from a couple of very experienced riders.

    December 10, 2012
  • Ralph

    Disc brake issues. If you are touring I would take a little spares kit with pads along with extra cable, washers, bolts. The squealing, cars with discs some times used a bit of high temp lube between the piston and the back of the disc pad. This would cut pad chatter for some applications. Not sure you get the same issues with bike discs. Keep the lube off the disc side of the pad.

    December 10, 2012
  • Chris Sorlie

    Always love your photography! Panasonic Gh2 20mm 1.7?

    December 10, 2012
  • Russ, Oops, I was joking that you’ve lost it. Tongue in cheek equals foot in mouth. Of course I remember the Bromptons and the LHTs, and I love your new Vayas. I’m always surprised by the strength of the “touring bike” genre– 700c wheels and very specific braze-ons, cantilever brakes, etc. For the many paths we travel, I am happy to have options like the Vaya and the Fargo; the Ogre and the Troll, and even, my Pugsley and your Brompton.

    I got a whole lotta flack for touring on the Pugsley this summer. I wouldn’t do that to you, or anybody. I love your Vayas!

    I’m also not particularly in love with the LHT, but I do think the build is generally better than the 520 and is a better value. Note: I’ve never owned an LHT, but rode an old 520 for a few years.

    Enjoy the new bikes.

    nicholas

    December 11, 2012
  • Steve Perkins

    Russ/Laura,

    I’m pleased to have found your review, a real working review not one from a shop or a mag. I’m planning on buying a touring bike and struggling to make a decision between the two bikes. I was in looking at the Disc Trucker when the sales guy suggested I look at the Vaya. Clearly the Vaya is a prettier bike but that’s not on the top of my list.

    Since I have other bikes that I would use for daily rides, training, or fast group rides I think that the only time I would use this new bike would be for loaded trips which makes me lean towards the LHT. I have questions/concerns about the support of the manufacturer.

    On their website FAQ so many of their responses were “no, we don’t/won’t do that”. I sense a bit of a “top dog” attitude towards the customer. I’m wondering if there are customers out there that can ease my concerns or confirm my fears.

    Russ or Laura any input on the builder?

    Thanks,
    Steve

    December 11, 2012
  • Aaron

    Steve,

    Surly and Salsa are effectively the same company. They are both owned by Quality Bike Parts. Both companies have great customer service. The “arrogant” posts are mostly just marketing bluster.

    December 17, 2012
  • Who let that Gypsy in the house? Somebody call security…

    December 17, 2012
  • Terry

    I started out with a Surly and switched to the Vaya about 2 years ago. I have several bikes from carbon road bikes, mountain bikes to my steel Vaya. If I could only have one bike, it would be the Vaya. I’ve used it for singletrack, urban riding, commuting and weekend touring. It is without a doubt the most comfortable and versatile bike I have ever owned.

    December 17, 2012
  • Tom

    As someone about to buy his first bike with brifters, I appreciate your comment—”I still believe in the reliability of friction shifting, but I also know that having brifters on your bike won’t tear open a hole in the Space-Time continuum”—more than you know. Great writing; great write-up. Best of luck in your future travels.

    December 18, 2012
  • Steve Jones

    My Mountain bike and Road hybrid both have disc brakes BB7 and BB5 respectively. They easily bend out of alignment ( especially if you have to pack a bike for traveling) and it’s almost Impossible to straighten them back again. That’s the problem with discs.That’s why I keep V brakes on my other bikes and on my last build, a Surly troll. The feel of the V brakes is much better and really in practice the stopping power of good V brakes is not so different from discs even in the wet despite what you read. I know, I’ve got both on my bikes and can compare. And the discs do squeal and it’s a pain. As for the argument against V brakes wearing out your rims.well you’d have to be doing major mileage for that to happen. Also Good v brakes are cheaper and lighter.in real world riding I have not noticed much benefit to running discs but HAVE noticed the drawbacks I’ve mentioned.Sorry NOT a fan of disc brakes except perhaps for downhill mountain biking.

    December 21, 2012
  • Gordon Oslund

    Great review and comments. While I have much experience on my many bikes, I’m only learning about touring bikes. I can make a contribution regarding disc brakes and look forward to the response of the touring crew. Bottom line, to get rid of squeaks and marginal disc performance upgrade to a hydraulic system. I switched the BB-7 mechanical (cable) disc set-up on my hard tail MTB to the Shimano XT hydraulic system that I also ride on a full suspension MTB. That took care of the noise – both squeaky and disc rub. The hydraulics have far better power, expert responsiveness and thus don’t squeak, they just stop. As odd as it may sound, hydraulic brakes take mountain biking fun to a whole new level. I’ve never had a problem with the hydraulic systems, but that’s riding MTB from 1 to 6 hours in a day in the dirt, not 8 hours touring for many days in a row. I’m interested in feedback regarding hydraulic systems under increased weight load and touring conditions. Thanks in advance.

    December 27, 2012
  • carl

    the vaya now comes with s&s couplers which makes it more ideal for me. i know the lht comes with couplers but only in the 26″ version. one question on your comparison, do you think a heavier wheel set might have made the bike more capable for a heavy tour load?

    January 07, 2013

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