Second opinion: Salsa Fargo £1599

Do-it-all big wheeler

BikeRadar score 4/5

The Fargo is Salsa's monster cyclo-cross-cum-mountain bike, born out of the long-distance gravel and dirt routes that cross America, like the gruelling Great Divide Ride that runs from Montana to New Mexico.

What Mountain Bike's Guy Kesteven reviewed it earlier this year and reckoned it was "a lovely looking bike that rides well, but is not really suited to its intended purpose". But when it was handed over to our colleagues at Cycling Plus they disagreed, describing it as a great ride-anything bike.

Rather than trying to combine two such different opinions from testers who do such different types of riding, we thought we'd run both reviews and let you decide. You can read Guy's review of the Salsa Fargo here. Read on for the opinion of the C+ crew...

  • Frame & fork: Classy and well finished, with elegant, classic-profile tubing (9/10)
  • Handling: All-conquering ride that swallows up everything in its path (8/10)
  • Equipment: Nicely specced; a good mix of traditional and modern kit (8/10)
  • Wheels: Those big wheels could be an issue away from home, and sturdier tyres would be better (7/10)

The 29er wheels on the Salsa are the same in diameter as 700c wheels, but with a wider, more robust rim, shod with a larger volume mountain bike tyre. This added volume offers lots of extra comfort; big wheels roll over bumps noticeably better, to the extent that you can often do away with front suspension and run a simple, reliable rigid fork instead. Bigger wheels also make lots of sense for taller riders, so it’s good to see the Salsa going right up to size XXL (24in).

There are some downsides though: the large wheels are inevitably heavier so take more initial effort to kick up to speed and, since the spokes are longer, they aren’t quite as strong as their smaller wheeled brethren.

Salsa say this bike "will take you wherever you wish to go", but at the risk of sounding pedantic, we’d disagree. For off-the-beaten-track touring, 700c/29er spares are all but impossible to find outside of Europe and North America, so if you’re heading to Asia or Africa, stick with 26in.

Freak or unique?

These background issues aside, we really enjoyed riding the Fargo. The super-sloping top tube, big wheels and drop handlebars may lend it the looks of a freak bike, but the low top tube means easy mounts and dismounts when laden. What’s more, the riding position is incredibly commanding and confidence-inspiring.

With the extra weight and plushness in its wheels, it’s unbeatable on descents, though the flipside to this is that the Fargo does seem to lose its momentum quickly on climbs. 

Typically for Salsa, the quality of the finish is gorgeous, with neat welding, an unusual but distinct ‘Fun Guy Green’ colour and an elegant, classic profile to the chromoly pipes.

The tubing is a little narrower than we’d expect, particularly at the rear end, which contributes to a plush, comfortable ride. We’d recommend letting a little bit of air out of the front tyre when you’re heading off-road as the disc-specific, straight bladed fork is a little on the jarring side.

In terms of loaded travel, the Fargo feels best with a moderate cargo; the frame doesn’t feel quite stiff enough to handle a full expedition kit list, which is fair enough – if you’re anticipating a heavily laden tour, you’re better off with 26in wheels anyway.

Thirsty? There’s provision for six bottle cages – two on the fork – and a pump peg on the Fargo's clean, disc-only frame. Front and rear rack eyelets are present and ready for duty. We particularly like the way the rear disc brake mount is tucked out of the way between the seatstay and chainstay.

Good for many a mile

When you’re running a mechanical brake – like the reliable, powerful Avid BB7s fitted – it won’t foul the rack. Disc brakes don’t clog with mud and also mean there’s no need to worry about rim wear or, if the wheel does take a knock, any annoying rubbing.

You’ll need to carry spare pads though, and be sure you don’t drag the brakes on long mountain descents as rotors are more likely to overheat than V-brakes, which dissipate heat better.

Although we tend to recommend flat bars for off-road touring, thanks to their confidence-inspiring braking position, drop bars do offer a variety of hand positions, and we really like the shape and comfort of Salsa’s flared Bell Laps. Our only quibble is that we’d have liked a slightly longer stem to stretch out the position of the cockpit.

Old fashioned bar-end shifters may not be as convenient as modern integrated shifters but they’re more reliable, robust and can be set to friction mode too. Teamed with a Shimano XT Trekking drivetrain (26/36/48T) and an extra wide 11-34T cassette for those big wheels, it should be good for many a mile.

It’s good to see 36-hole wheels with reliable cup-and-cone XT hubs on a bike intended for distance, though we’d question the durability of the relatively light WTB Vulpine tyres fitted. If you’re intending to put in the miles, we’d point you to Halo's Twin Rails or Schwalbe’s Marathon XRs, which are both heavier but do offer far stronger sidewalls.

Overall, the Fargo is definitely something of an idiosyncratic beast. We see it as a high-mileage, all-condition touring machine, on which you can happily tackle bumpy bridleways and woodland singletrack, without lamenting the odd stretch of tarmac too. It’s a modern take on a roughstuff tourer, offering big wheel comfort, the tradition of drop handlebars, the power of disc brakes and the simplicity of a rigid fork.

Just be aware of the 29er conundrum outside of Europe and North America. If this isn’t an issue for you, you’ll find that the Fargo is a unique tourer with a moreish inclination for long off-road escapades that lie well beyond the confines of a typical cyclo-cross bike.

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