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.
Review: Small Pannier Shootout – Ortlieb Frontroller Plus vs Salsa Touring Pannier and Arkel Dry-Lites
Rackless bags are blowing up the bike touring / bikepacking internet. In the last few years, framebags (feedbags, seatbags, etc.,) have moved to the mainstream. With so many people going rackless, what is to become of the beautifully functional bicycle pannier? We think that panniers are here to stay, but are interested in the next evolution of small/micro panniers. If bikepacking has shown us anything, it is how little you really need to carry to travel by bike and that this lower pack weight lets you access rugged terrain. But, sometimes you need to carry a bit more than a rackless system can carry or perhaps you don’t/can’t re-invest in ultralight camping gear to make it fit in, or you ride a small frame and your storage capacity has shrunk proportionally. We think that many will take lessons from the streamlined minimalism of bikepacking and apply it to touring with panniers and that we will see an interesting hybrid of bikepacking and bike touring develop in the next year or so. Until then, here is a close look at three small panniers that will keep you from packing too much on your next bike tour.
Ortlieb Front Roller Plus
Ortliebs are often regarded as the gold standard of panniers. A quick look at bike commuting rush hour in Portland and Ortliebs easily outnumber other brands by a pretty big margin. On our big US tour we used a pair of rear Ortlieb Bike-Packer Plus panniers which we only recently retired and served us for nearly 5 years under hard use. For our future trips, we are planning to pack a lot lighter and are hoping to only rely on smaller front panniers.
The latest iteration of the front Front Roller Plus panniers come in rather fetching duotone colorways. The blue as pictured is “denim-bluesteel”. The Cordura material is completely waterproof but has a bit more texture than typical drybag material. A single pannier and strap that we weighed came in at 725g or 1.6 pounds.
Closure and Hardware
The front Backpacker Plus panniers can be closed two ways. You can either roll the top two to three times and connect the end buckles to themselves, or you can use provided shoulder strap to hold the end buckles down. We’ve found that using the shoulder strap gives you a little more volume to play with. An additional top strap helps compress the load and also makes a handy place to stick some clothes that need to be dried while riding.
The Q3 hardware consists of two adjustable locking hooks (opened and closed via the pannier handle) and a third lower hook to stabilize the bag. The mounting hardware is easily adjusted without the use of anything but your fingers. Spacers for the hooks are provided so you can match the diameter of your rack. For a truly perfect fit, we like to wrap a little electrical tape on the rack to take up any additional space.
Weight 1440g/50,8 oz./pair
No longer just single color bags! The aesthetics are great and the Ortlieb bags come in various colorways to suit your tastes.
Small enough not to overpack on tour but still large enough to serve double duty for daily commute/shopping errands.
Hardware can be adjusted without tools.
The heaviest of the three panniers reviewed.
Shoulder strap closure is a little confusing.
Wider profile may be problem on more technical terrain.
Salsa Front Touring Panniers
While Salsa has been helping lead the charge with the rackless revolution, they also recently released panniers of their own. Fashioned around the simple dry bag concept with few internal compartments, the panniers come in red/black and are nicely decorated with a reflective compass design. The material is waterproof and feels noticeably heavier than the material in the Ortlieb Front Roller Plus range. Interestingly, however, a single front pannier weighed in at 695g (1.5 pounds) and was marginally lighter than the Ortlieb. This bit of weight can be probably accounted for in the slightly smaller overall volume of the front pannier.
The Salsa pannier has a very simple and tidy closure mechanism: roll the top and lock down the sides. It is a bit more intuitive than Ortlieb’s closure utilizing the shoulder strap and tidier than both the Ortlieb and Arkel when you have to roll and join the top buckles. The pannier has a nice and thick rubber feeling handle which won’t cut into your hand like some fabric handles when you have to portage the bags off the bike.
The hardware is simple but effective. The hooks, like the Ortliebs, come with spacers to match the tube diameter of your rack. They have the additional feature of having a locking mechanism that keeps the panniers secure to the rack. The bottom hook is a simple hook that can only be adjusted laterally. Unlike the Ortleibs, all hook and hardware adjustment is limited and requires the use of a screwdriver.
Volume: 14.0L / 900 cubic inches
Great roll top closure system that is neat, intuitive and preserves bag volume.
Secure hook closure.
Hardware requires tools to be adjusted.
New and unproven track record for durability.
The Arkel Dry-Lites are an exciting departure from what Arkel is usually known for: panniers with lots of compartmentalization and beefy mounting hooks. These panniers are a glimpse of what taking bikepacking minimalism and traditional bike touring gear might look like. Immediately, you’re struck with the packaging – they come rolled up in a tube! The weight is staggering low for a pannier. The entire set weighed a scant 417g (.9 pounds)! The lower weight is achieved a few ways. Firstly, the waterproof material is noticeably the thinnest between the three panniers, requiring a bit more care with abrasion and the packing of sharp pointy things in your bag. The overall volume also appears to be the smallest of three as well, though the manufacturer states the volume as 28L. The bottom of the pannier is tapered for foot clearance and is less boxy overall than both the Salsa and Ortlieb. Also lacking in the Dry-Lite was any back stiffener. This saves weight but might be problematic for some racks which don’t provide enough support to keep the pannier out of the rear wheel.
Closure and Hardware
The closure is like any dry bag system. Roll the top and lock the two ends together. The attachment to the rack is where things get interesting: there are no hooks! The panniers are an interlocked pair and sit across the top of the rack like Dutch style commuter panniers. There are several velcro straps which let you adjust the fit of the panniers to your rack.
Holding the panniers down are a pair of bungee hooks. Simple but effective and provide enough tension to prevent the bags from flapping around. This style of attachment saves weight, but also to some degree limits their use. You have to use both simultaneously. Taking them on and off is cumbersome. You can’t use them with front low-rider racks which have no platform.
Featherweight 18 oz / 454 grams for the set!
Volume for the set: 28 litres / 1708 cu.in
Ultralight for pannier.
Simple bungee and velcro attachment system with little to break.
Limited to using the pair at all times.
Can’t be used with lowrider racks.
Slow to remove and put on a bike.
Which One is For You?
Out of the three, which is the perfect one?! Well, it depends. Each of the three panniers have various features that might be more important to one user over another. If you’re a gram counter and want the absolute lightest pannier option, but don’t mind running them on the rear then the Arkels are the clear choice. If you want a small pannier, but not so small that you couldn’t fit a laptop and some commuting essentials and want to adjust the hardware on the fly for different bikes then the Ortlieb is a good choice. If you want a small pannier with a solid and clean closure and slimmer profile for bushy or rocky terrain, then the Salsa panniers float up to the top of the list. For us, we reach for whichever pannier seems appropriate for the trip we are doing. The Ortlieb makes a great everyday around town pannier for me. I’ve used the Arkel Dry-Lites on tours with lodging or quick and fast #bikefishing excursions. Laura loves the closure and the compactness of the Salsas.
There is nothing quite like new bike day, is there? The hand wringing anticipation as you wait for the call from the bike shop that your bike is ready to go home with you. The simultaneously familiar and strange feeling of throwing a leg over a new bike and pedaling it home for the first time. This weekend, we added two new bikes to the flock – Salsa Warbirds.
The Warbirds are Salsa’s dedicated gravel racer and for some readers will seem like an unlikely departure for us (it doesn’t even have fender mounts!). But let me explain. Over the years, our interests and style of riding has changed over time. To paraphrase much wiser men/women than I: mutability is the only constant. Many will remember that we started with traditional fully loaded touring rigs, segued into lighter multi-modal touring with Bromptons, and for the last 3 years have been doing shorter trips with less overall gear on our Vayas.
While not quite ultra light, we’ve learned to pare down quite a bit! Check out our Gravel Getaway story.
We’ve also started doing more road rides and venturing into gravel riding. Fatbiking and bikepacking have exploded onto the scene, but since we choose to be car free in Portland, getting out to where those bikes really come to their own means a lot of pavement riding or navigating a Rube Goldberg puzzle of light rail and regional buses.
This is where the Warbirds come in. They are a better fit with our preference for trips that originate from our doorstep. We plan to experiment with a rackless softbag/bikepacking system on the Warbirds for mixed terrain, multi-day tours. There are so many backroads to interesting destinations and classic mixed terrain routes from Portland that we haven’t really explored yet.
We’re also eying some gravel rides and events, for research purposes, of course :), to understand what this “new” kind of riding means in terms of bicycle tourism and rural communities. One of the rides we’re looking at in particular is put on by Bicycle Rides Northwest, which features 3 days of gravel riding out of a basecamp along an awesome flyfishing river! Of course, we could use the Vaya for a lot of this, but they are our daily drivers and loaded tourers. For more spirited gravel rides, we find ourselves constantly taking off the racks and then putting them on afterwards. I’m a bit weary that we’ll strip out a bolt one of these days so it’s great to have a dedicated rackless go-fast bike.
Enough of the why and more of the how’s it ride?! Just as a note, we’ve only put in a few short rides and are still dialing in the fit, so these are pretty early impressions. We both have the Tiagra versions of the Warbird which come in a glossy orange and a more muted “army green.” Orange is my favorite color and the orange on the new Warbird is sublime and reminiscent of the orange waterproof Field Notes notebooks. The army green has a matte finish and evokes a more utilitarian version of Bianchi’s Celeste.
The bikes are outfitted with Tiagra throughout. The rear cassette is 12-30, fine for unloaded riding, but we might look at options to put in a 12-34 in the future. The crankset is a 46-34 cross crankset, which we actually quite like. The 46 is a sensible size chainring size for the kind of riding we do and lets us stay in the “big ring” a lot longer.
The handlebars are Salsa Cowbells, which we love and are on our Vayas. They have a very usable shallow drop and a bit of flair so they are pretty functional, even for cyclists that aren’t contortionists. The Warbirds came stock with WTB Silverados which many people like, but which we found a bit narrow for our anatomies, so Laura installed a Charge Ladle and I put on a 143mm Toupe harvested from another bike. As mentioned earlier, the Warbird has no eyelets for racks or fenders. For some, this will be a deal breaker. We knew about this limitation and since we have fully fendered Vayas, if the weather really got that wet out we’d have other options.
For our first ride we took them out to Forest Park, Portland’s local mixed terrain playground. The surface in Forest Park varies based on the amount of recent rain. When it is dry, there are some head rattling stretches with fist sized rocks. Just after a rain, you can get some muddy sections. The day we went, it was somewhere in the middle. Some of the rocky portions had been smoothed over with dirt and there were a few muddy patches but nothing too severe. The main road through the park is also generally climbing anywhere from a 2-3% to some 7-8% grade.
The first thing we noticed immediately was how the bike seemed to dull the rough surface. That’s not to say that it magically made everything buttery smooth, but the bike was working to take the sting out of the ride. We plan to ride the route again with various tires to see how much is a function of the rubber (35mm Sammy Slicks) and how much is the function of the bike. Another very noticeable difference from the Vaya was the Warbird’s willingness to climb.
The rear end of the bike felt a lot more taut and responsive to standing and seated efforts, due to the shorter and flattened chainstays. While not as responsive a climber as a pure-bred carbon roadie, it definitely had more get up and go than our Vaya and All-City Space Horse. The front end of the bike is mellow and predictable which is always welcome on bumpy road surfaces. Most interestingly is how well the bike descends on dirt, the mild mannered front end lends a lot of confidence on mixed terrain descents.
So far, in the short time we’ve ridden the Warbirds, the bikes are undeniably a blast to ride. If the Vayas are about going the distance, the Warbirds are about going fast. We’re looking forward to really dialing them in during the next few months and figuring out how to pack our gear without racks! So stay tuned!
We like to march to the beat of our own drummer here on PathLessPedaled, so sometimes that leads us to trying things out that may go against conventional wisdom. For example, riding in flat pedals, touring with a 16 inch wheel folding bike, and touring with a paella pan :). It keeps things interesting. In the same vein, we’re going to make a bold statement here: Da Brim’s Rezzo visor is the most functional bike helmet visor ever. I’m sure there are lots of roadies cringing at something so Fredtastic. Deal with it : )Read More»
As some Facebook fans know, I just got an iPad Mini and have been nerding out on it. One of my favorite apps so far is Maplets. It lets you find and download regional paper maps! It’s great for touring or if you’re visiting another city/town and want to see their local transit/walk/bike map.Read More»
At this year’s Interbike, one of the new items that got us the most excited were the Velo-Orange Sabot pedals. Yes, they are “just” platform pedals and aren’t clipless. Yes, they aren’t made of any exotic alloys or fiber weaves. So what’s there to get excited about? As platform pedal users ourselves (and before you ask, yes, Russ use to ride clipless as well before coming back to platforms), there seems to be little innovation or new thinking in the commuter/touring flat platform pedal, so it was good to see that Velo-Orange was taking a stab at new designs. Perhaps the last interesting flat pedal design that was targeted towards tourists and commuters were Riv’s Grip Kings (aka Battle Axes). The Velo-Orange Sabot pedals is an attempt to up the ante, but does it succeed?
We’ve been riding our Salsa Vayas for a little over two months and have managed to put over 1000 miles on them. In that time, we’ve ridden them around town, on the 25th Anniversary Cycle Oregon ride, on our first randonneur event (the Verboort Populaire), up Larch Mountain, on a few overnight bike tours and miles and miles of hills and gravel on road rides around Portland. The good folks at VeloCult built up our frames with components that we picked out that are a little different from the off the shelf Vayas and we had the bikes fitted at Crank PDX. We’ve ridden them enough to get a good sense of how they handle and the ride qualities and what the best uses would be. So what’s the verdict? How do they compare to the venerable Surly LHT?Read More»
Let’s just get it out of the way in the very beginning. The worst thing about the Travoy is it looks like you just cart-jacked Arnold Palmer on the 18th hole. Yes, it looks funny. Yes, it looks tippy and strange. But, if you can get over that, you’ll find the Travoy is a pretty amazing trailer on and off the bike.Read More»
We’ve been riding the sweet 2013 Salsa Vatya frames for a while and have been dialing in the fit and components. Here’s a quick video tour of how we built them up. There are a few differences from the stock build. We wanted lower gearing than the cross double provided so we are running a 42-28 mountain double. Laura wanted to still shift friction so we set her up with some Paul Thumbies. We’ll post a more comprehensive component list soon, but for now enjoy the video!Read More»
In this video review, we take a look at the “small” handlebar bag by Arkel. I use the air quotes because for a small bag it is fairly big! The current trend is to get all rando with a small front rack and boxy style bag that sits on the platform. I’m a big fan of rando bags. I am NOT a fan of having to buy and install a small front rack for every bike I want to use the bag on. Thus began the search for just a Plane Jane handlebar bag.