Salsa Cycles Stormchaser: Checkpoint – by Guitar Ted
The single speed gravel bike dubbed “Stormchaser” by Salsa Cycles is a unique bicycle in many ways. The last time I left you with this review I mentioned that there were some fit concerns, some handling traits that were unique, and that I expected that the Stormchaser would do what it was intended to do. Let’s move on now and I’ll relate my latest findings with this bike as I got to know it better over the last three to four weeks.
The Fit: I mentioned it in the first post of this review, but the nearly-no offset stock seat post was exchanged for one with set back and I have been happy with that since then. I have not changed anything else with this bike until recently when I swapped out wheels to 650B sized hoops. More on that later.
The fit of the Stormchaser is very aggressive. With a low stack height, this means you are nose down/butt in the air when seated on this bike. For example, the 57.5cm sample we have here is listed as having a tic over 600mm stack height. The Noble Bikes GX5, tested here and still on loan as a test mule, has a stack height for the 58cm size of 612mm. The oft seen pink Black Mountain Cycles MCD I use as a test mule for the site has a stack height of 629 mm for my size. Compared to a 2020 model year 57.5cm Carbon Warbird, the stack height is 604mm. So, as you can see, the Stormchaser has a pretty slammed front end. Pretty racy positioning. Those wanting a handle bar drop of minimal distance from the saddle height will find it challenging to get a stem to work to get you where you may want to be.
I don’t mind a lower front end, so I haven’t had any complaints, but be aware that this bike isn’t going to be ‘out of the box’ ready for a higher front end/handle bar set up.
Ride Performance: The Class 5 VRS system does cut down on the edges that could sting you on bumps, depressions, and does a bit for vibration reduction. That said, the fork is doing much less of that. I had to move my hands around on the bars a lot on my gravel rides with this bike because of a combination of weight shifted to the hands due to positioning and that fork, which is pretty stiff.
The front end geometry is reminiscent of old, rigid mountain bikes I used to ride. Going fast the handling was fine. No issues. Going slower? Well, the front end starts to wander a tad and you have to pay a little more attention to the bars. However; when things get loose, due to mud or gravel, that stability pays off. This bike can do things on gravel I cannot do well, or dare to do at all, on other bikes. Things like cutting across a line of deep, loose gravel at close to 30mph? Yeah, no biggie. The Stormchaser feels rock solid. In mud and looser sand the bike holds a straighter line, and the back end doesn’t come around, nor does the front end wash out as easily. Stability. The Stormchaser has it.
Now with the 650B wheels installed, I noticed that this wandering feeling at slower speeds went away. That’s due to the slight decrease in wheel diameter, and the fact that the wheels I put on were significantly lighter as well. Both things livened up the handling enough that I found it to be more ‘normal’ in regards to handling, but the wider tires (650B X 47 Ventures in this case) meant that stability was also retained.
There is a weird thing with the frame on this bike. Salsa decided to opt for a different way to join the tubes at the bottom bracket area. According to Salsa Cycle’s engineers, this was done to make routing cables easier for the home mechanic. The larger openings requiring less bending of housing to get around the bottom bracket. But it also had an unintentional, secondary benefit. The openings, being so large and at the bottom of the bike, make it so that water can drain more efficiently from within the frame, in case you got really wet in rain, or a water crossing, for example. It looks odd though, especially the chain stay terminus, which looks like two misplaced hood scoops from a race car. (Mud scoops? Could happen, I suppose.) It does allow for any water that gets in through the ports on the down tube and chain stays to find a way out though, so that’s likely a good thing.
The performance of this bike as a single speed is really good, by the way. It is stiff enough in the bottom bracket area that flex is minimized and I never got the chain to pop or make any untoward noises during a mashing climb. The drop outs for the Stormchaser are easily adjusted for a different cog size as long as you have chain enough to do that. In my case I went from a 17T to an 18T when I swapped out wheels. The adjuster bolts are accessed through two tiny ports in the back end of the frame’s sliding drop outs, and since the heads of those bolts are hidden, one must take care that you get the hex key into the head of that bolt squarely. Otherwise it’s easy-peasy to adjust the drop outs on this bike.
So Far…. The Stormchaser’s mission is to perform well in the worst of conditions, and I think it has the characteristics to make a name for itself in those situations. But let’s face it- This bike also has to hold up as a gravel bike in normal situations as well. I feel that, besides a couple of quirks in the handling and fit departments, yes, this bike does gravel well. The Stormchaser is especially stable and well mannered on looser gravel and sandy roads, which many gravel bikes have a hard time with.
There is that low stack height though, and if you are not one that possesses flexibility in your core, or if you just don’t prefer a racy seated position, this bike may present set up issues for you. So, the Stormchaser may not appeal to more casual riders. The Stormchaser also doesn’t possess that ‘snappy, quick to accelerate’ feel when stomping on the pedals, or that ‘flick-able’ handling style which a racing oriented bike usually has though, so it is a bit of a conundrum. You have that aggressive positioning mated to a super-stable handling package, making the Stormchaser a very unique experience, besides the fact that it is a single speed bike.
Back to that front end for a minute- The Stormchaser’s fork, which has carbon legs and an aluminum steer tube, by the way, is possibly the stiffest fork I have ever ridden on a gravel bike. If this ended up being my bicycle, there would definitely be a Redshift Sports ShockStop stem in its future. I suppose that stiffness is prized in sloppy, severe conditions though. There is no doubt the front wheel is going where you want it to on this bike.
The bike does have versatility in that you can mount several things like rack and fenders, extra water bottle cages, and bags, of course, making it a great choice as a stable, long distance adventure single speed. Add in the wheel size swap to 650B and you can have a different feel as well to the handling. I will be trying out some wider 700c rubber next, and I should have a report on how that worked out in the final update, coming soon.
Note: Salsa Cycles sent the Stormchaser to RidingGravel.com for test and review at no charge. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.