45mm tire clearance; pink paint only; slack geometry
Stable; huge amount of flex and thus comfort in the seatpost; GRX Di2 performs well in nasty conditions; mounts for days
Lax steering will be welcomed by some but might feel sleepy or stubborn to others; only comes in pink
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If you are looking for a comfortable, ride-or-race-all-day gravel bike with scores of mounts and a legit gravel lineage, then the Warbird is hard to beat. With a cushy carbon seatpost and plenty of tire clearance front and rear, really the only two divisive things are the color (do you like pink, punk?) and the front end geometry (do you like slack, slacker?). If you answered yes to both, then it is hard to find fault in this top-end build with Shimano’s Di2 GRX group and matching pink-highlights DT Swiss 1400 wheels.
- Photo gallery: The Mid South
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- 20 gravel bikes I’m excited about for 2020
How it feels to race and ride the Warbird
I raced the Warbird this year at The Mid South, a.k.a. The Mud South, where torrential rains made for soupy conditions. I ended up 12th overall /2nd in 40+. While not ideal for the laundry situation, the all-day mud and muck was excellent for testing.
First, tire clearance. With up to 45mm claimed clearance, I ran 35mm tires and only gummed up towards the end when the sun made a brief appearance and the clay-rich soil began to create sculptures on my frame. I don’t think any wider clearance is necessary, as very few if any gravel events feature such nasty mud build-up as The Mid South, and a 40mm tires with mud clearance is excellent for normal gravel riding and racing.
Salsa uses a drop-chainstay design to offer wide clearance and still keep chainstay length reasonable. Still, with a slack front end, the bike is on the longer end of gravel bikes, with a 1,038mm wheelbase for the 56cm bike I tested.
More so than a few extra millimeters of wheelbase, what’s noticeable about the Warbird is the relaxed steering. Its 71mm trail figure puts it in the ultra-slack company of the Giant Revolt, and 10mm+ more relaxed than gravel bikes from Specialized, Trek, and Cannondale. What does this mean? On the plus side, it means the bike is hard to shake off its line, allowing you to relax your upper body on long, straight stretches of rough gravel road. On the negative side, this lazy geo means quick line changes or even sharp road corners take a little more intentional steering than other bikes.
In terms of comfort, this bike is a champ. The Salsa Guide carbon post deserves much of the credit here, allowing generous flex over rough terrain. But I found the cockpit to be a happy place to be as well, with a carbon Salsa bar and the GRX hoods.
Acceleration isn’t necessarily a critical component of a gravel bike the way it is with a tarmac-racing machine, but the bike feels lively enough when you stand up and stomp on it.
The pros and cons of the GRX Di2 group
For the record, I’m a fan of 2x drivetrains, especially Shimano drivetrains. Having a wide gear range with plenty of small steps between gears and an ability to make large changes with the front derailleur makes for good riding. And I’m also a fan of Shimano’s Di2 electronic systems, particularly in mucky conditions.
At The Mid South and ever since, the Di2 shifting has been flawless (provided that I remember to charge it!) regardless of conditions. This build has a 48/31 crank with an 11-34 cassette, which makes for Jeep-like low gearing for crawling up muddy, rooty, rocky hills. And the 48-11 is pretty decent for spinning on the tarmac, too, although if you do group rides you’ll probably run out of top-end gear pretty quick. For gravel, though, the combination is pretty ideal.
You can run up to a 52/36 and down to a 46/30 on the frame.
The hoods have pronounced ridges on the tops and sides, which probably helped with traction at The Mid South, but can make for noticeable albeit short-term indentions in the palms if you’re out of the saddle climbing for extended periods.
The tops of the levers have a cool, curved-back shape that really locks in your hands when riding on the hoods. Ergonomics are personal, but I dig the feel.
I also dig the little thumb buttons tucked in the inside of the levers. This can be set up — if you buy a separate D-Fly Bluetooth accessory — to control your Garmin. It’s annoying that Shimano sells this as a separate piece instead of just building the functionality into the hoods.
At the back, the rear derailleur has a clutch that minimizes chainslap. On really rough days, I still end up with a bit of grease on the ankle of my right sock from the chain jumping around, but the chain-on-chainstay noise is definitely less than with a non-clutch derailleur.
Shimano doesn’t (yet) make a power meter for the GRX group, but Stages does. So I put my Stages meter on the left side. (Shimano does have a Dura-Ace power meter, but the Q factor is narrower on its road crankset than the GRX gravel group.)
Wheels and tires
DT Swiss handles wheel duties with the CR 1600 aluminum models, which use a 350 hub with a Ratchet System 18 hub. After a few months of abuse and power washing, the 937g wheels are still spinning smoothly.
The 22mm inner width plumps up tires nicely and offers a stable, wide base for the Teravail Cannonball 42 tires. Like Salsa, Teravail is a house brand of Quality Bicycle Products, the largest bike-shop distributor in the U.S. QBP recently began selling Teravail consumer direct.
I didn’t test the Cannonball tires much so I can’t speak to them here.
How does Salsa love frame mounts? Let me count the ways: Three bottle mounts inside the frame. One underneath the frame (which I used at The Mid South). One set of mounts on the top tube, and sets on either side of the fork. Throw in hidden fender and rack mounts, and you are set for pretty much any distance gravel race under the sun.
The Salsa Warbird is a great gravel race bike. It checks all the boxes in terms of fit, function, comfort, and — in my experience — durability. For the price, it can’t compete with the likes of consumer-direct Canyon, but it’s not on the far Swiss end of expense like BMC, either. Thanks largely to the seatpost, it is one of the most forgiving gravel bikes I’ve ever ridden, up there with the Canyon Grail CF SLX.
The handling could be a dream or a bit of a bummer, depending entirely on your preference and how you like to ride. Some folks like to take gravel bikes on tame singletrack, and that’s a-okay in my book. Just know that the Warbird is purpose-built for stability on long-haul gravel races on mostly straight roads. As for the pink, well, you don’t need me to tell you how you feel about that.