Salsa Primero £999.99

While steel frames are still number one choice with touring and audax riders, the popular consensus is that it is not 'cutting edge' enough for lightweight frames today - and to think that as recently as the mid 1990s steel was the material of choice.

BikeRadar score4/5

In days gone by the Salsa name was associated with legendary American frame builder Ross Schaeffer but it lives on in an increasingly competitive market as a product of QBP who outsource the frames to Taiwan. Brand new for 2006 the Primero (available as a frame and fork only) uses American company True Temper's new steel tubing that usurps the range-topping OX platinum tubeset.

 

FRAME

True-Temper proclaim their new steel tubing as used on the Salsa to be 'lighter than steel, stronger than aluminium', and using finite element analysis and salt furnace quenching they have created what is probably one of the best steel tubesets money can buy - and, they claim, the lightest. The teardrop shaped top tube and the bi-axial shaped downtube make it look more like a super-oversized aluminium frame than the others here but the tiny TIG welds give it away as steel. True-Temper's anticorrosive Trucote treatment should ensure a long life on British roads in the winter but the paint tended to chip more readily than the others.

While the Salsa is sized on the basis of the seat tube length measured from bottom bracket to the top of the top tube where it meets the seat tube, it's best to choose your size based on the virtual horizontal top tube dimensions. It comes in six stated sizes: 43-53cm (with virtual horizontal top tube length 50-59cm). Our stated 49cm frame has a 56cm top tube. Unusually, the fork rake varies from 43mm for the three smaller sizes to 41mm for the larger sizes. While they could have used a steel fork, Salsa have chosen a carbon fork on weight grounds and a good choice it is too. True Temper's Alpha Q CS10 fork is a straight bladed design that looks good with the compact frame and is a full-carbon construction.

The head tube is traditional in preference to the hiddenset design and varies in length from 11-19.5cm depending on frame size selected.

 

HANDLING

There is a common misconception that steel bikes are somehow lacking in stiffness but in fact, just like carbon or aluminium they can be built for a soft or stiff and unyielding ride according to the tubing diameter used. The change to oversized tubing means that steel has come a long way since the days when all steel tubes were of a stock 1in diameter.

The Salsa was equipped with an 11cm stem which would ordinarily be on the short side but the wider than usual 46cm handlebars compensated for this. While the riding position was generally approved of the jury's still out on the Flite Ti saddle.

It is hard to be sure how much of a factor the compact frame design has on the overall effect as the others have top tubes that are closer to the horizontal, but True Temper have hit the spot with the new S3 tubing. While any tyre will absorb a greater level of shock than the frame it's clear that the S3 tubing has a dampening effect that is akin to a good titanium frame and bottom bracket stiffness is sufficient to ward off chain rub when turning a big gear on the flat.

The True Temper 100% carbon forks have just enough lateral stiffness to keep everything together on fast descents and the steering geometry is sharp enough to make short work of diving in an out of traffic.

In many ways the handling character is quite similar to the Airborne Zeppelin and Valkyrie and favours the long distance rider.

 

EQUIPMENT

The Salsa Primero is available as a frame and fork only but would cost in the region of £2180 as specified here, which seems a little expensive given that an aluminium bike of comparable weight would cost around £1450. But what you are paying for is the relatively high cost of manufacturing a steel frame plus an entire Ultegra groupset.

We feel that Shimano's new 10-speed groupset integrates perfectly with any bike and looks far more expensive than it is but the STI levers have a lightness of action that you'll either like or loath and work reasonably well here once the indexing was carefully adjusted.

The Salsa Pro series stem is scandium and works well with the rest of the bike though flipping it to point upwards creates less rise than we hoped for. The wide 46cm Salsa handlebars quelled our doubts though, with an anatomic bend that all the testers approved of.

The Thomson setback seatpin (£69) fits perfectly in the frame and allows plenty of scope to move the saddle back on the rails. As ever, saddle choice is a personal thing but we would change to the Fi'zi:k Arione that is well worth the £85 asking price.

 

WHEELS

A good frame deserves a great set of wheels and that is what the Salsa arrived with for testing with DT240 wheels. These cost around £600 per pair and use the superb Swiss made Hugi cartridge bearing hubs and RR1.1 rims. The low rotating weight of the rims makes them feel fast on the climbs and at a whisker under 2.5kg with tyres and cassette fitted they are comparable with the Mavic Ksyrium SSC SL.

In contrast with what other manufacturers are doing with their high-end wheels DT use traditional spokes that can be purchased anywhere. This makes them a very practical choice for those who compete regularly and need the security of knowing that crash replacement spokes will be available from any cycle shop at short notice. The Schwalbe Stelvio tyres appear to be wearing well and as we've said before of these tyres, they grip well in the wet despite the smooth tread.

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