The Salsa Warbird: A "Playful" gravel bike? - Ski Base

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The Salsa Warbird: A "Playful" gravel bike?

The Salsa Warbird: A "Playful" gravel bike?

With the famous Tour Divide race passing through Fernie this past weekend, there's been a lot of buzz around the Salsa Cutthroat, which the brand considers their "ultra-endurance, mixed surface" bike, and is arguably the signature bike of the grueling Divide race. But the bike I wanted to highlight today is actually the lighter, zippier little brother of the Cutthroat, the Salsa Warbird, which I've spent the better part of the past year using for everything from early-season asphalt rides, to events like the Cranbrook and Fernie Gravel Grinds, to ill-advised under-biking missions on some fairly chunky singletrack.
When I began considering adding a gravel bike to my quiver, I had it in my mind that I wanted something with big beefy tires, a suspension fork, and an overall mountain-bike-esque silhouette. This made total sense to me, having previously had a ton of fun racing the Fernie Gravel Grind on my 120mm travel Evil Following. A couple of options I was tossing around at the time were the Cannondale Topstone Lefty, the Evil Chamois Hagar, and the Salsa Stormchaser. What I've realized after several hundred kilometers aboard my considerably less burly Warbird, however, is that if I really wanted to ride something with the spirit of a mountain bike... I would just ride a mountain bike. To elaborate on that; I've found that having a gravel bike which is, on paper, less "capable", has really opened by eyes to the joy of gravel riding as a distinctly different sport than mountain biking.
With that being said, I don't want to imply that the Warbird is at all a fragile or delicate machine. In fact, as I'll get into below, I think it punches well above it's weight and manages to hang with much burlier, heavier, and more expensive gravel bikes, while still maintaining a distinctly zingy, snappy personality and racy riding position.
Although I think that a ton of riders could get along perfectly well with one of the stock builds of the Warbird, (of which there are an impressive seven, plus frameset-only!), I chose to start with the GRX 600 1x build, and add a handful of parts which I think make the bike a bit more capable and a whole lot more fun for me personally. Namely, I added a 125mm-travel PNW Rainier dropper post, and a pair of CushCore Gravel/CX tire inserts. Knowing me, one might think that I made these changes primarily to enhance the singletrack performance of the bike. While it's true that they do, I honestly find myself benefitting from them in all conditions and terrains, including on pavement. I don't need to discuss the obvious advantages of having a dropper post for technical terrain, but the ability to drop my seat to get into a more aero tuck, or when leaning hard to corner on a washboarded gravel road, are things that I wouldn't have expected myself to utilize as often as I do. Additionally, the CushCore inserts provide the ability to ride much more aggressively (read: "like a dumbass") when descending on gravel, and allow me to run super-low sub-30psi tire pressures in the stock 42c Cannonball tires, greatly enhancing their comfort and rolling speed. It's also worthwhile to note that the Gravel inserts have proved significantly easier to install and remove than their full-sized MTB compatriots.
I think that this build definitely brings out the best in the frameset, and overall, I think Salsa has built a bike with a ton of personality. The frame uses Salsa's "Class 5 VRS" design, which essentially means that the seatstays are super thin, and dramatically bowed outwards from the rear wheel. Aesthetically, it reminds me a lot of the Vroomen & White-designed Cervélos of the 2000s and 2010s. What this frame design also does, is give the back end of the bike a ton of energy! When standing up and mashing on the pedals, the frame really feels like it's putting that power down to the ground efficiently, without being harsh or overly torsionally stiff. It's a bike that simply makes you want to pedal harder, and it accelerates in a way that's almost e-bike-like.
Although it's not a word that you would necessarily think of when talking about gravel bikes, I can't help but to describe the Warbird as "playful". When preloading hard to bunny hop a water bar, the bike feels all too eager to get in the air, and it lands with a similar level of comfort. I also think Salsa nailed the sizing and geometry on the Warbird. At 5'11", I feel right at home on my 57.5, and the moderate stack height allows for a lot of versatility in fit, from racer to granny.
So I think it's obvious to see that the Warbird has been pretty much the perfect first gravel bike for me, but who else could it be a great fit for? Anyone looking to participate in the AGES events or similar races, for one. But also those looking to explore the network of gravel roads around Fernie, without shying away from mixing some singletrack into their rides. Who should be looking elsewhere? Well, if you truly want your gravel bike to feel like an MTB with drop bars, the Warbird probably isn't the best fit. Additionally, those planning on doing many multi-day bikepacking trips may be better served by something with better rack-and-fender compatibility and wider tire clearance. Also, being made of carbon fibre, it's noteworthy that the Warbird's frame can't be as easily repaired or recycled if ever broken or damaged. But for those seeking a fast, everyday rig that puts a unique, playful spin on gravel riding, I would encourage you to come into Ski Base to chat about the Salsa Warbird!
-Ethan (Bike & Ski Tech at Ski Base Fernie)


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