Editor’s Note: This is the story of a SoCal guy, (Grannygear), and his pursuit of an “all-road” bike for adventures that fall between full-on mountain biking and road riding. In this post we will get a feel for where he is coming from and why he chose a Salsa Cycles Warbird as his foundation for a bike build to pursue his vision of gravel riding.
Warbird build: By Grannygear
The parts for the Warbird are a bit of old stuff, new stuff, borrowed stuff and not really any blue stuff that I can think of (you know that old saying for brides to be, yes?) Before I put any parts on the frame, I grabbed some rolls of Racer’s Tape and noted where the Revelate Tangle bag will sit, where cables might rub, and where the chain might bang around, and covered those sections in the clear, protective solution to fending off most anything other than a chainsaw or rocket attack. You can barely see it when applied. That done, it was time to pick some parts and begin the build.
Let’s start with…
The drivetrain. I have come to really like SRAM Double Tap on my road bikes, both in the 10 speed Rival and the 11 speed Force 22 variety. Originally this was going to be centered around the 10 speed Rival group I had. I was going to run disc brakes of course, but they would have been cable operated versions from TRP. Staying 10spd would allow for lots of options in gearing including running MTB cassettes and even MTB rear derailleurs as SRAM uses the same pull ratio (1:1) across both MTB and road in ten speed. I also had lots of 10 speed MTB wheels around that would go 142×12.
But SRAM offered a step up in techiness with the new 11 speed Rival 22 version, including hydraulic disc brakes, and I was intrigued. Ok…SRAM you twisted my arm with shiny new things. Temptation is a bummer and I resisted at least 30 seconds or so before saying yes, although I knew I was perhaps giving up some gearing options in the process.
Is that a big upgrade, going to 2×11 Rival 22? Well, the disc brakes deal is a bit controversial for gravel bikes, but since the Warbird is dedicated to disc brakes, that decision is made for you, and frankly, disc brakes are the future whether you want them or not. I can see how, on undulating roads covered with loose gravel, that a brake only needs to be so strong and in fact, the limits of braking force allowable on loose surfaces like that would easily be overcome with rim brakes, not to mention discs. But there are some really compelling things that discs bring to the table.
They should offer the same (and greater) stopping power with less lever effort. They completely decouple the shape that a rim needs to be from the rest of its functions by eliminating the need for a brake track. Carbon rims really do not like brake pads very much. The rim can be wider now, etc. Will we see ridiculous levels of pad wear or lots of finicky hydro brifter issues as disc brakes move into the gravel world? We shall see. In many ways, a hydro disc setup is easier to live with than a rim brake, but when the hydros go wrong, it can be a real pain. I plan on using the supplied 160mm rotors front and rear. In my case, I think I will enjoy having ‘more’ braking power as I will see a lot of vertical on a typical ride and likely some fast road stuff too.
11 shiny gear things out back. Well now that is nice for that closer gear spacing we can get and still have a pretty wide range cassette. It is a bit more particular as far as getting the setup just right or it will not shift well, but I get very little mud or rain out where I live so I am not too worried. For now the gearing is the normal road compact crank/chain ring combo of 50/34 with an wide range 1132 rear cassette. I will have to see how this works out. I am thinking the 50T is a bit much for the way I will use this bike and a 46/34 combo (just try and find that setup somewhere) would be tighter and likely allow for all the top gear I need. A 50/11 gear is pretty darn tall…I can’t imagine spinning that out anywhere I would be riding this bike. I chose a 172.5mm crank length like I use on the road rather than the 175mm length I use for MTB.
I used a SRAM press in adapter to get the Rival 22 crank to play well with the BB86 bottom bracket shell (as one commenter noted from the last post…it is NOT PF30). Easy enough to install with a simple homemade bearing cup press. The Rival 22 crank is pretty good looking and the whole group looks nice on the Warbird…not too ‘roadie’ looking in that black and grey motif. The brakes are hydraulic discs and the brifters have a pretty tall shape to them at the hoods. That will be nice for keeping my hands from bouncing over the hood tops under rough use.
If I had the ability to go bigger than a 32T rear cassette, I would. I would sure like to get enough of a low gear to survive long grinds up fire roads on this thing. Maybe the 34T/32T combo will get it done. We shall see. I think that it is folly for the manufacturers to assume that the low gears that work on a road bike will be good enough for all these ‘allroad’ bikes we are seeing popping up everywhere and I bet that in the future we will see some fusion of ‘cross and MTB drivetrains that will be better suited to the genre. If I had to pick the gearing out of thin air, it would be a 46/36 with an 1136 cassette, like the new WiFli one from the CX1 group that SRAM introduced, but the rear derailleur for the Rival 22 group will not officially handle that. Is 1×11 Road with a super wide cassette the ultimate gravel gearing choice? It might be (SRAM has that now) and maybe that option will come along in time for this build. If not, I will be going outside the box to see what I can do.
Bars and stem. I chose Salsa Cowbell 2 bars, the 7075 aluminum alloy ones, at a 46mm width. I like the slight outward turn, the shallow drop, and the wider than standard road bar width (44cm for me). I had a Salsa stem with marching graphics to the bar but the 110mm length was bit much. For now I have a 100mm stem I had sitting around but it does have Ti bolts so that makes it a much faster stem than the other one. SRAM supplied some bar tape from the ZIPP Service Course ‘cross line that feels pretty tough, almost rubbery in fact, and should be easy to clean.
Headset. Cane Creek makes some great stuff and I have used their headsets on many, many builds. I have never had one issue with any of them. One of them, a 40 series, is still turning smoothly on a bike I sold to a buddy…thousands of miles at this point. They sent a 110 bottom IS47/33 and a 40 series UD carbon IS41/28.6 top section. Good to go.
What to sit on. I have been playing with an Ergon SMC3M saddle that shows great potential a good flat place to sit, enough padding, and good support. It has one point of annoyance for me where it rubs me wrong right at the bottom of my butt cheeks. I am not sure if I can get past that, but I hope I can as I really like it otherwise. I grabbed a Ti Lynskey seat post with a good amount of setback and a very compliant nature. The single bolt clamp works perfectly but does have very little support for the seat rails, so running it at the extreme end of the range one direction or the other is possible but perhaps not healthy for the saddle.
Wheels. Using only my hands, and in about five minutes, I converted a set of DT Swiss Spline 1 MTB 29er wheels from 10 speed 142x12mm to an 11 speed road 142x12mm with nothing more than a new free hub and a set of end caps. I love DT Swiss 240 (or 350) based hubs. The star ratchet system is bombproof and the end caps make life easy. These rims are decently wide at 22mm (internal) and are an easy tubeless setup. I weighed them at 1686g when I first used these, so they are not super light, but I will never kill them either. I did not bother to redish the wheel as it is very close to center as is and I expect other wheels will come along that I will run longer term. I wonder if my wife would notice if I swapped out the carbon Roval SLs off her MTB? Yeah…probably so. Drat.
Tires. I mounted up some Specialized Trigger Pro 2Bliss tires in the 700×38 size. I weighed them at 489g and 485g ea. That is about 300g less thanmost MTB tires I typically roll around on so that should feel pretty fast on smooth dirt climbs. Zoom zoom. They have what I would call a file tread and ended up at 35mms wide with tubes installed. It’s a good looking tire and should work well on hard dirt and paved roads. I began at 50psi and will go down from there and I will try going tubeless at some point. I would like to get to a true 38mm tire to up the tire volume a bit…I think…maybe I will be happy with this current setup, but volume is so key to a happy ride and a bit more tire might be nice to have. That said, I want to keep this bike feeling fast so maybe this size tire will be just right for faster courses and all around training loops. I also have a set of Panaracer Comets in the 38mm size so I may mount them up at some point to see how they compare. They are a bit knobbier but do not go tubeless officially (or at least do not say so on the package).
I also picked up a Revelate/Salsa Tangle bag to try and keep the weight off my back for longer rides. Note that this 58cm frame required a medium Tangle bag as the Large bag was too long by over an inch.
I weighed the bike at 21lbs pretty much dead even with a couple of water bottle cages and no pedals. In my mind I had wanted to get that number to 20lbs as a final build. But that was a bit arbitrary really, and I did not know what to expect. I left the cables/housings a bit long (the steerer too) just to allow for any adjustments I might need to make, but the fit so far has been spot on. Very comfy. At 6’2″ with a 32″ inseam and long arms, the 58cm frame is very good for me with that 100mm stem. I set the bars to where the hoods were only slightly closer to me but at the same height as my road bike (also a 58cm with similar dimensions/geometry). I do feel a bit more behind the bottom bracket with the 72.5° seat tube angle, but I think that will be to my benefit on longer uphill grinds with no real granny gear.
How does it work? Well I am still tweaking things but I am quite pleased. It feels pretty fast in a ‘slow road bike’ kind of way when you are on pavement. The Specialized Trigger Pro tires roll with no vibration or buzz/noise at all. Hard out of the saddle or seated pedaling efforts show no sign of bottom bracket sway or wrap up at the stays. Solid. It really pops forward when prodded. Racy feeling. I like!
The disc brakes on the Rival 22 group absolutely rock so far. I will have disc brakes on my next road bike build. Shifting is quite good although it is not as nice at the shift lever as the Force 22 group I have. Still it is quite solid although I never seem to be able to get the SRAM road bike front shifting to really be 100% ‘there’, and that is across three road groups so far (and not all of them were Yaw).
The gearing really surprised me. If it were not for the Col ‘d Crush looming in the upcoming Crusher in the Tushar event, I think I could do fine with the 34/32 low/low combo. But one more gear lower would be welcome. That would allow me to spin and save the legs over a long event. Some work to do here.
It is really a bit difficult to judge frame comfort as the tires make any rough pavement we have around here a nonevent and I do not have the background with this type of bike to be the impartial, experienced judge that Guitar Ted is. But my feelings are pretty positive about it so far, the ride I mean. I imagine that steel would be smoother overall, but in the dirt it is surprisingly fast, especially uphill. I am already setting PRs on Strava. I was a bit worried about the handling being too quick but so far I have been very relaxed at pretty high speeds on dirt downhills, the caveat being ruts and sand. Sand is just a factor of a skinny tire and it is what it is, but the ruts are a real bummer. I mean, really we are riding a road bike with big tires here and there is no magic going on to change that. So ruts and hard edged bumps are a real beatdown for the upper body. I know that Salsa makes a lot of noise about a gravel tuned front fork, but it feels less compliant than I expected. Perhaps I expected too much?
But to be fair, I also did not expect to have an MTB experience with this bike. I wanted a fast, smooth, racy blend of allroad performance that would allow me to achieve my goals of long, mixed terrain rides and to contend in a couple of gravel race events. I did not set out to, nor did I succeed in, building a single track slayer. I think I did good. I think Salsa did too. I will be getting out on the Warbird on some big rides, refining some things a bit, and then I will go racing.