We’ve been riding the Salsa Warbird for a couple of months and have easily logged over 1000 miles in all sorts of riding conditions. Designed as a gravel race bike and purpose built for events like Dirty Kanza, Trans Iowa and Land Run 100, it seems at first a bit of a strange choice for us since we’re not gravel racers. Over the years, we’ve learned to carry less stuff when we travel by bike and to be perfectly honest, the novelty of carrying heavy loads by bike from place to place has lost some of its appeal. We still love to travel by bike, but are also beginning to be more appreciative of ride quality and handling and the Salsa Warbird has that in spades.
Climbing up to Vista House on a lightly loaded tour through the Gorge.
Despite being marketed as a gravel racer, the Warbird is a great all around road bike. Swap out the stock Sammy Slicks with some smoother faster rolling rubber like a pair of Clemente LGGs or something big and luscious like Rivendell Ruffy Tuffys, Vittoria Hypers or Compass Barlow Pass and the Warbird is transformed into a capable endurance disc brake road bike with mixed terrain capabilities. It’s sort of like a modern version of the Rivendell “Country Bike”, good mannered handling but with a go-fast attitude.
We’ve taken the Warbirds on long rambling gravel rides as well as long paved rides. We’ve ridden them unloaded and have even packed them down for overnight tours. We still haven’t quite figured out how to carry a full camping kit with the Warbirds, but we did take them recently on a multi-day tour from cabin to cabin over some pretty challenging terrain.
Unloaded, the bikes are a blast to ride. These are our first aluminum frame bikes and I was initially worried about the harshness of the ride. The big bowed seat stays give noticeable compliance in the rear and the carbon fork does a great job at dampening the front. The bike accelerates noticeably quicker than our Vayas and my All City Space Horse, though not as quick as an all out carbon road bike. The handling is responsive but not road bike twitchy and through whatever front-end geometry voodoo, it steers pretty well going down rough terrain as well.
Lightly loaded, the Warbird still rides really well. The stock 48-34 cross double paired with the 11-30t rear cassette is great for most terrain, though on a loaded trip where we were climbing 5400ft in 45 miles, I was wishing for another gear to relieve the legs. If we do more loaded touring with them in mountainous terrain, I would probably switch out the drive train to SRAM Apex brifters and run a mountain derailleur with an 11-34 cassette. The stock Tiagra components are functional but not my favorite with the awkward shift cables coming out of the brifters. I would have preferred Apex from the beginning for the neater cable routing and ability to play with long cage derailleurs.
If there are any downsides to the Warbird it is the lack of eyelets for fenders. This is a deal breaker for many in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve sort of accepted that limitation and either suck it up and get wet or run some detachable plastic fenders on the rear. Also, the 42mm tire clearance might not be big enough for some. For most of the riding we have done with them, they were more than adequate.
During the last few months, I did manage to mangle my Warbird. On a trip to Eastern Oregon we rode through some ridiculous peanut butter mud complete with rock chunks. My derailleur committed hair-kari as I was slowly trying to pedal up a hill. Before I knew it, I came to a grinding unceremonious halt. That ride claimed another derailleur that day as well. As good as the mud clearance is, there will be some conditions when you will have to walk.
Perhaps more disconcerting was the carbon fork. I noticed after the ride that the mud and rock chunks had started to abrade the insides of the fork. I sent the fork to Salsa and they determined the abrasion wasn’t structural and gave me the all clear. This isn’t specific to the Warbird, but to any of the new generation of gravel/adventure/all-road bikes with carbon components. If conditions get muddy and rocky, be sure to check for possible abrasion points. After seeing this first hand, it would be awesome if they created a “gravel guard”, some alloy plate embedded in the carbon fork and rear stays designed to specifically take the abuse.
If you’re not a gravel racer and have no plans to ever toe the line at the Dirty Kanza or Trans-Iowa should you even consider the Warbird? We think so. Its a road bike that doesn’t get skittish when the tarmac turns to gravel. In our fleet, it is our go to bike when we only have an hour or two to spare and want to bang out some quick miles with some climbing. It won’t replace the Vaya as our touring bike, but for quick and lightly loaded tours where we aren’t carrying all our camping gear, the Warbird lets us thoroughly enjoy both the journey and the destination.
When we were invited to speak at the first-ever Lodi Bicycle Summit, we were thrilled! Lodi is a wine town (our first experience with Lodi wine was in Iowa of all places!) in California’s central valley. Probably best known for their old vine Zinfandel, the wine industry has expanded and matured during the last two decades and has become one of the major draws to the area. Lodi is perhaps lesser known as a cycling destination; however, hosting the Stage 2 finish of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California has put them on the map and created interest in the area.
We spent five days in Lodi, with the first few spent riding with local cyclists to get a sense of Lodi as a bicycling destination, before presenting at the actual summit. Lodi, like all destinations, has strengths and challenges. For us, the most obvious strength was strong community support for bicycling in the area. Several wineries support bike teams and bike events. Giro d’ Vino attracts around 700-900 people every year and generates an estimated $40,000 in wine sales on that day, not including dollars spent on local lodging and restaurants). LangeTwins not only sponsors cyclocross riders, but hosts a cyclocross race on their property as well. During our stay, we saw about a half dozen jerseys from various wineries. There is also good political support for cycling in Lodi. City manager, Steve Schwabauer, is an avid cyclist and spoke about the freedom he feels while bicycling at the summit. Mark Chandler, former executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and vice mayor of Lodi, is a cyclist as well and was instrumental in bringing the Amgen Tour of California to town.
Headbadge sticker on the bike of David Philips, part owner of Michael David Winery.
Location. Location. Location.
Geographically, Lodi makes a perfect weekend escape for people from Sacramento and the Bay Area. Lodi is also fortunate enough to have an Amtrak Station run right through downtown, with roll-on bicycle service. This opens up any number of multi-modal bike vacations in the central valley. Topographically, Lodi is flat as a pancake, which can be both good and bad. For the casual cyclist and bicycle commuter, this makes for easy pedaling terrain. However, for someone who wants hills, this is a bit more of a challenge. We did learn that many local cyclists will head east into the foothills of the Sierras to test out their climbing legs (this site has some great ride suggestions). West of Lodi is the California Delta. We got a short tour through some of the Delta communities, like Locke (a historic Chinese community whose labor built the levees), and were blown away. It was like stepping back in time, with old weathered wooden buildings leaning towards the street.
While people currently ride in Lodi, big gains with ridership (as with most destinations) can be made with more bike infrastructure. On one morning ride, we got caught in few lights with busy crossings that weren’t sensitive enough to recognize our bikes. This is the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Bicycling Needs – being recognized by the all-seeing traffic signaling device. There were some bike lanes but not a very thorough network. Some two lane-country roads were lightly trafficked and delightful, others (which looked very similar) had very high traffic volumes – and as a visitor it would be easy to end up on the “wrong” road. Because of farming and water drainage needs, many roads were shoulderless or had soft shoulders. While almost all the drivers we experienced were really courteous, a few “Bicycles on Roadway” signs or “watch for bicyclists” would be a welcome addition in terms of feeling safe. Bike destinations become attractive because of great riding opportunities AND the presence of other cyclists. Building infrastructure that grows cycling for residents will also attract bike travelers – we like to travel where our tribe is.
Promote Beyond the Silos
In addition to biking, Lodi also has some surprising outdoor recreational assets – like a lake! I had assumed that most central valley towns were just hot and dry, so I was surprised to learn about Lodi Lake, which is formed by the Mokelumne River (which gets a salmon run!) that passes right through town. Dan Arbuckle, owner of Headwaters Kayak and an avid cyclist, has been working hard to make more people aware of the recreational activities you can do on the lake and river. Dan offers SUP yoga classes, kayak and SUP rentals and can also give you tips on where/how to fish in the waterways around town. While seemingly tangential to bike tourism, these other recreational activities are a great compliment to the experience. For me personally, I could see one day of riding in the morning and tasting in the afternoon and another day floating and fishing the river in the morning and more wine in the afternoon. If you look at the travel experience beyond just neat activity silos, but more of as a traveler archetype (explorer, adventurer, epicurean), and package complimentary experiences together, you are more likely to entice multiple overnight stays.
Regionally, Lodi is in a unique location. To the West is the California Delta and Bay Area and to the East are the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. One could create a fascinating multi-day bike tour throughout the region and get a different perspective of California every day. Or, one could use Lodi as a base camp, with day explorations to the Delta and the foothills. Thinking regionally is essential. When a cyclist goes on a bike ride they are blind to arbitrary political borders – they are just going on a bike ride. And while it is important to promote your home destination, it is just as important to have information available about bordering areas.
Drawing a slightly smaller circle, there are some interesting communities that don’t fall under your typical wine-tour experience which we appreciated. We rode through the community of Thornton which has a panaderia with a sign welcoming cyclists and advertising free ice. How could we not stop? Around the corner, we learned there is a bullfighting ring where they hold Portuguese style bullfights (the bull isn’t killed). A little further away is a nature preserve with a visitors center that tells you about the area’s wildlife (complete with a large Sand Hill Crane and aquarium with Steelhead smolt). We appreciated these stops which don’t fall in the typical wine-tour itinerary, because it gave us an authentic-feeling look into the area. Often, looking at what is in your own backyard that will provide a memorable existence to a visitor is the biggest challenge in developing bike destinations. After you’ve ridden a route a thousand times, things don’t stand out as special or unique anymore and sort of blur into the background scenery.
The Bike Summit itself was an awesome event. Organized and spearheaded by Robin Knowlton, a longtime Lodi resident and art gallery owner, the Summit attracted not only cyclists and business owners from Lodi but the neighboring communities as well. The morning kicked off with a community bike ride on an informal tour of Lodi’s bike lanes led by local bike shop owner Jon Tallerico. It was great to see a wide spectrum of cyclists at the ride, from family cargo bikes to faster riders. Pat Patrick, CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, gave introductory comments and was the event emcee. In total there was an estimated 150-200 attendees which is a great turnout for a first time event. After our keynote, the attendees broke out into small working groups to identify gaps in bicycling in the area. Everyone remained engaged and all the comments were to be turned over to the city for consideration.
Lodi has a strong identity as a wine destination and we are excited that they are getting more serious about incorporating bicycling as a complimentary activity. While the bike advocacy is in its early stages, we expect great things in short order by the amount of community support and enthusiasm we saw during the last week!
We’re excited to announce that we’ll be heading to Lodi, California next week to present and participate in their Bike Summit. This will be our first visit to Lodi, but our favorite wine comes from the region, so we know we’re headed to a good place! We’ll be speaking about bike tourism and the potential for the area – and we hope that it sparks some good conversation.
We’re also excited to be flying down a few days before the Summit to ride some of the routes that they’re proposing as designated bike tourism routes – some short mileage, some long, some through a quiet nature preserve, others stopping for wine and beer tastings.
If you’re in the region, we hope that you’re planning to join us and local community members at the Summit. No doubt it will all be great fun and a lot of valuable work – and definitely find us to say Hi.
Standing on the edge of Lost Lake, with Mt Hood looming majestically in the distance, it’s easy to see why it’s the second most photographed lake in the whole state (behind only Crater Lake). As the sun set behind the forested hills and shadows crept across the water, I stood on the shore and watched as the kayakers slowly turned back toward land and Russ hooked into trout after trout. It was about as idyllic an evening as you could imagine – made all the sweeter by the challenging ride that had gotten us there.
Knowing the elevation profile in advance, and the fact that the temperatures were forecasted to be well into the 100s, we let public transit carry us straight to the start of the good riding – first the MAX to Gresham, then the bus to Sandy. As we loaded the bikes on the bus, the driver inquired about our impending adventure, and then cheered enthusiastically at the very idea. Here was a man who clearly relished the way his bus takes city dwellers to the foot of the mountain.
We navigated our way out of Sandy, onto Ten Eyck Road, then Marmot Road, winding alongside the Sandy River and picturesque small farms. Tall trees and wildflowers lined the road. Cows milled about in the pastures. And every viewpoint showed hills that seemed to roll out forever.
Our first glimpse of Mt Hood.
As Marmot Road ended, we turned onto Barlow Trail Road. We stopped in the small hamlet of Brightwood, where we stocked up on water and snacks at the Brightwood Store. A few miles further and we finally turned onto Lolo Pass Road, the iconic road which had lured us into this entire trip.
Since moving to Portland, we have heard about Lolo Pass Road. It’s a beautiful country road that lets you wind up the base of Mt Hood without the headache of the nearby highway. It provides views of the mountain and surrounding forest that you can’t see from other roads. It’s also one of the original routes across the region and once served as a final leg along the Oregon Trail. Today, it’s mostly paved and mostly ignored by motorists.
She turned out to be our constant companion.
We worked our way up Lolo Pass slowly, stopping frequently to take in the spectacular views. The power lines that share the corridor meant little shade along the route, which became increasingly more brutal as the afternoon wore on and the temperature increased. But the grades were mostly gentle, so we dropped into the low gears and spun up the long climb, reminding ourselves to enjoy every moment of the long-awaited ride.
As we crested the pass level, we were met with a crossroads. Straight ahead was a very rough and rocky road, with a “not maintained for car travel” sign. The road surface to the right was more appealing, but the GPS said to go straight. A family in a minivan waved us down, concerned, when their GPS said to take yet a third option. We finally decided to go straight, and bombed down the rock garden of a road.
The giant chunks of rock don’t mean anything with that view, right?!
Eventually, we merged back with the main paved road, which treated us to a fast tree-lined descent, and then we hooked a left to continue on to Lost Lake Road. Russ joked that his GPS said we still had 1400 feet of elevation to climb to get to the lake, and that it must be wrong. Jinx. As we spun our way up the last few miles, the sun beat down, and car-after-car passed on their way to the lake, with rafts strapped to the roof. Slowly, we crested the last of the climb and then dropped into Lost Lake campground.
It has taken us a long time to finally ride Lolo Pass Road for the simple fact that we were stumped by how to ride it the way we wanted on the bikes we wanted. In our minds, this was a road that cried out for a light and fast bike, a machine that would let us simply enjoy the climb and the view – not a heavily-loaded touring bike that would get us there, but in a fashion more akin to slogging. At the same time, we wanted the freedom to stop a lot and take photos. We didn’t want to just bang it out like any ordinary day ride.
Yes, there really are that many trees.
In other words… How could we plan an overnight trip up Lolo Pass, while bringing a few necessary items and leaving the rest, and still have an adventure? How could we go “credit card touring” without the often-negative connotation of going “credit card touring”?
If you’d asked us about credit card touring when we first took off six years ago, we likely would have scoffed at the very idea. For us, at that time, the fun of traveling by bike centered around the self-sufficiency of carrying all our stuff with us wherever we went. A week’s worth of food, six gallons of water, extra wool layers, metalsmithing tools… whatever we needed to be able to ramble off into the middle of nowhere for an extended period. But strip away the stuff, and our beast-of-burden bikes weren’t “fun” on their own. As we grew weary of lugging around all the gear, we began to re-think our bike travel model. Which is how, over the past year or so, we have come to appreciate and value ride quality over utility.
In fact, part of the reason we got our Warbirds was to take them up Lolo Pass. Fast and nimble, while still stout enough to handle rough terrain and a bit of gear, we knew instantly that these bikes would fit that ride in a way that surpassed our other bikes. And our spring trip to Cascade Locks had proven our hunch correct – the Warbirds could handle a super-lightly-loaded trip without sacrificing the ride quality.
But what unlocked the whole puzzle was the discovery that Lost Lake Resort (a private entity operating along the lake, just a few miles off Lolo Pass Road) offered minimalist cabins with a bed and linens, and a store stocked with beer (and, if you remember to order in advance, fresh hot pizza).
Since we didn’t need the wood stove, it provided perfect indoor bike parking.
Double gas burners + pots + dishes + toaster. Pretty well set-up for a tiny cabin.
On the morning of Day 2, we were up early in the cool mountain air. We navigated our way our of the campground via trail, which was mostly planned but also a bit of a gamble – and which turned out to be a very bumpy shortcut to NF13. (To avoid the trail, just backtrack out of the campground and turn left.)
Before we left Portland, we were tipped off to NF13 as a better way to ride down the mountain to the NE. NF13 basically parallels Lost Lake Road, but the narrowness of NF13 makes it feel more like a bike path through the woods. Without a doubt, it was the best stretch of road of the whole trip. We passed a ranger a few times, and a couple logging trucks, but otherwise it was just us and the quiet, as we descended through giant rock flows and old growth trees.
Boulders bigger than our apartment.
Quiet descent through the thick forest full of old growth trees.
At some point, we popped out into the Hood River Valley. Mt Hood gleaming to the South, Mt Adams to the North, orchards all around. On our way into Hood River, we stopped at Tucker County Park for a fishing break. In talking with the campground staff, we learned that they now offer hiker-bike camping for just $5 per night (so does nearby Toll Bridge Park). We also learned where to find the “best street tacos in all of Hood River” – and, when I had to dust off my rusty Spanish to order, I knew it wasn’t a bluff (a little food truck by a gas station called “Nobis” for fellow taco aficionados).
Since we had decided to turn the ride up Lolo Pass into a whole trip, we routed a 4-day loop: up the mountain on the West, then down the North slope into Hood River for 2 nights (giving us time to ride another iconic route: the Rowena Loops), then back to Portland via the Gorge.
Hood River is a beautifully-appointed small tourist town, so we knew lodging wouldn’t be a problem. But after a night in a cabin in the woods, we bristled at the idea of just crashing at a motel somewhere. Small towns excel at unique lodging options, so I went hunting for something that could parallel the cabin experience. I found it in the tent cabins (also known by the terrible term “glamping”) at Vagabond Lodge.
Our tent cabin, secluded, yet just a short distance to town.
Makes you sleepy just looking at it, doesn’t it?
Set back at the edge of the property and nestled a short distance from the cliffs that drop down to the Columbia River, the tent cabins felt like some modern-day version of Hemingway going on safari. The soft-side canvas tent was pitched on a wooden plank floor, set up several feet off the ground. Beautifully furnished, it came with a vintage-styled cooler, full water jug, and LED lanterns. No electricity, no running water, a short walk to the outdoor shower and porta-loo. The only downside is the low rumble of traffic from the nearby freeway, although the crickets put up a pretty good fight for loudest white noise.
Our “layover” day in Hood River was meant to be a long day ride, a chance to tick off some of the iconic area rides. We decided to head out to Rowena Crest, along the Historic Columbia River Highway. From Hood River, we followed the state trail through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, then passed through the small community of Mosier, before continuing through the orchards and vineyards.
Mother Nature was out in force that morning, determined that her latest heat wave should keep us all inside by the air conditioner. By this point, we had traveled far enough to the East that we were officially on the “dry side” of the state, meaning no shade, and the little wind that kicked up was hot and dusty. Still, we were determined. We were also not alone, and the several dozen other cyclists on the road far outnumbered the cars.
We reached Rowena Crest and peered down at the twisting curves of the old road. And then we kicked off. When the road was first built 100 years ago, it conformed to the needs of the cars at that time: wide curves, gentle grades. But it feels as if it was built for cycling, because those wide curves and gentle grades let you let off the brakes, lean in, and just enjoy the ride.
They don’t build roads like this anymore. Absolutely perfect descent.
The next day, we would return to Portland via the very-familiar-to-us Historic Columbia River Highway corridor. But it didn’t escape our attention, at that moment, that we had successfully pulled together a multi-day, lightly-loaded-yet-bikepacking-esque, Lolo Pass themed trip. Our pursuit of Lolo had also enabled us to check off several other iconic NW rides. Despite the heat and the moments of getting lost, it absolutely lived up to our hopes and expectations.
After soaring down the Rowena Loops, we turned around and rode them back uphill. We backtracked our morning route, and stopped in Mosier for a taco lunch. And then, when we were safely back in Hood River, we waited out the rest of the 109-degree day with a few perfectly cold adult beverages.
Climbing back up Rowena Crest, with the mighty Columbia River in the background.
Margarita salt is an electrolyte replacer, right?!
Curious about the route we took? The GPS tracks of our route are below…
– Sandy to Lost Lake. Remember that we took the straight and rocky route over Lolo Pass. To avoid all that bumpiness, turn right. Both roads intersect again.
– Lost Lake to Hood River. With no signs and a confused GPS, we didn’t realize that the trail had delivered us to NF13 – so we did some extra credit and rode uphill until we found a sign that told us we had been exactly where we wanted to be. If you take the trail, just turn left.
The Historic Columbia River Highway is a fabled piece of road in Oregon history. It has the distinction of being designated the first “Scenic Highway” in the country and inspired other great roads in the US. With the construction of I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge many parts of the historic highway were lost. We’ve had the great pleasure of working with ODOT the last few months to create a web video series explaining the highways reconnection as trail and build support for the difficult final stretch. As a bicycle tourism asset, when it is complete it will provide an amazing experience. But, we are not quite there yet. Sit back and enjoy the videos and share them!