Cycling is an ever evolving sport. It seems like every year there is a new discipline with a new type of bike with something unique that sets it apart from its predecessors. While gravel riding is in no way new (especially to Boone County) more people are starting to explore beyond their regular paved routes. Recently gravel has gained the status that, in my opinion, it deserves. With races like the Dirty Kanza 200, the Almanzo 100 and the Trans Iowa seeing huge participation numbers (the Kanza filled up 450 spots in under 3 hours this past year) it's clear that gravel roads are becoming more than just a means for putting in off-season miles. Last year in Missouri we saw the invention of The Cedar Cross, a 100 mile race taking place on a mix of trails and gravel just southeast of Columbia. Bob Jenkins, the event's promoter, had the idea for the race and expected just a few participants. What he got was a full-blown gravel peloton with 120 racers on a wide range of bikes. The Cedar Cross returns May 4th, 2013. Making sure you have an appropriate bike to handle the rigors of Boone County gravel is paramount. Road bikes are fairly limited in choice of tire. Mountain bikes work well, but can be much slower than a more appropriate dedicated gravel bike. So what exactly is a dedicated gravel bike?
Introducing the 2013 Salsa Warbird.
One of the first in its class, the Warbird is a purpose-built gravel racing machine. With a lightweight aluminum frame that forgoes the usual rack mounts found on similar bikes, the Warbird is quick without sacrificing comfort. Salsa also offers the Warbird in a beautiful titanium frameset and complete bike. At the front end you'll find an ENVE CX carbon fork with superior tracking and stiffness. Avid mechanical disc brakes add a considerable amount of braking power that won't falter on those muddier days and a Shimano drive train offers smooth dependability.
The first thing you notice riding this bike is the wheelbase. The Warbird has a much longer wheelbase than your typical cyclocross bike which translates to a more stable feel over rougher terrain. Andy and I spent some time on Salsa's latest this past Summer in Utah. The bike was a blast on the fire roads and we even jumped onto some single track for a bit. The first time I swung my leg over the bike I was expecting the same feel as your everyday touring bike, but what I found was an awesome blend of comfort and speed.
One thing that I've always loved about Salsa is that almost all of their bikes can be used efficiently in a multitude of situations. The Warbird is a perfect gravel bike, a decent cyclocross bike and an ok commuter. I really think the bike could hold its own between the tape and over the barriers, but if you want to be a competitive cyclocross racer you'll be much happier on a more traditional cross frame. As a commuter, the lack of rack and fender mounts may have you getting to work in the morning wishing for something more along the lines of a Trek 520, Salsa Vaya or a more traditional hybrid.
Maybe you're a roadie that's used to long days in the saddle and would love some new roads to explore. Maybe you're a regular at Rock Bridge and Cosmo and want to jump in on some group rides when the trails are wet. Maybe you've got a training schedule that has you peaking for the Dirty Kanza. This bike was developed and tested in gravel races throughout the midwest, so what are you waiting for?
Probably the biggest question asked by people in the shop is something along the lines of, "What's that big tire bike over there for?" In the past, answers have ranged from "snow bike" to "joke bike." It's easy to look at a fatbike and immediately decide that you'd never be able to use those tires in Missouri. And while we really don't get enough snow to warrant the purchase of a steed dedicated to the stuff, you should know that fatbikes aren't only for snow!
Fatbikes have evolved into something much more than what they were first intended for. While they really excel in loose conditions, they're also a blast on mountain bike trails. Frank, the owner of Walt's built up a Surly fatbike a couple of years ago and has used it both on the gravel trails and singletrack in the area. He's also traveled all over the country riding in Nevada and California.
So what does a fatbike do that a mountain bike can't? Well nothing really, but it does a few things a lot easier. Picture Hinkson Creek this past summer. Dry as a bone and full of rocks the size of your foot or larger. Now if you're brave enough to get out in the nasty Missouri humidity you could practically use the creek as your own trail system. 3.7 inch or sometimes even 4.8 inch tires allow you to run them at much lower pressures which spreads the tire out over the terrain making it feel like it's floating over holes, rocks and roots.
We've had a few customers in the shop recently that have been looking for a bike to ride around their property. Fields can be filled with potholes, cow patties and big ruts left by tractors and trucks so a fatbike would be a great way to get around the property whether it be for exercise or to just check the fences. We've even heard of hunters using them as a means to get out to their tree stand, which is one of the reasons why Salsa is making a Mukluk in they very aptly named "You Can't See Me Green."
Fatbikes also make a great bikepacking vehicle. Don't know what bikepacking is? Well that's a whole other topic, so for now picture light weight bike touring over rough trails and terrain. Salsa is now making a rear rack specifically designed to fit around wide tires and Revelate Designs makes a wide range of packs that'll fit perfectly onto the frame. Load up all your gear and take off for a few days and explore some of the beautiful scenery that can be found in our national forests.
When all is said and done, fatbikes aren't for everyone. In fact, most people will be just fine with your everyday hard tail mountain bike. It takes an experienced mountain biker that is ready to explore new terrain and trails, someone that won't be discouraged by the lack of a beaten path. If you think this describes you, stop by the shop and see what we have in stock and if you're interested in trying out a fatbike keep an eye on our website and facebook page. Hopefully Salsa will be stopping through with their demo truck sometime soon!