Cast your mind back to the time when the idea of gravel racing was making its way across the Atlantic from the US to the UK, in around 2015, and Salsa’s Warbird was a big player on what was, by that point, a mature US scene.
In fact, the original iteration, an aluminium frame from 2012, is credited as being the first-ever gravel racing bike.
The original Warbird was Salsa’s answer to the twitchy, mud-clogged, sometimes bruising cyclocross bikes that were being used at the time – the closest thing gravel racers had at their disposal to meet this new discipline’s unique demands.
However, with their race-orientated steering, stiff frames and rim brakes, they were the wrong weapon for the fight of 100+ mile races.
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 frame
While early on in the UK’s gravel riding education there were questions, such as, ‘Just what is the difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike?’, you don’t have to stare at the Warbird, now in its fourth generation, for long to figure out the distinctions.
The thin seatstays are extravagantly bowed, creating enough space to churn through mud all day, while the driveside chainstay drops lower than the left, enabling bulbous 45mm tyres to be fitted (on the supplied 700c wheels), or 2in rubber on the smaller 650b size. The head tube angle is breezily slack at 70.75 degrees.
There are mounts galore, too: three within the main triangle, one on the underside of the down tube, on both sides of the fork, plus an integrated mount for Salsa’s top-tube bag.
Regrettably, neither option was open for the duration of the Warbird’s test, due to Covid. That said, months of long rides on roads rough and smooth, byways and towpaths have brought out many of the Warbird’s endurance qualities.
Unlike the original Warbird, this 2020 version is carbon, and all five builds in Salsa’s range come with the same hi-mod frame.
It also has a carbon fork, although in my model and the others below it in the range, the steerer is aluminium, rather than carbon, adding a little weight.
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 geometry
|Seat angle (degrees)||75||74||73||73||73||73||72.5|
|Head angle (degrees)||71||70.75||70.75||70.75||70.75||70.75||70.75|
|Seat tube (cm)||39||44||47.5||51||52||54.5||57|
|Top tube (cm)||49.9||52.5||54.5||56||57.5||59||61|
|Head tube (cm)||9||12||14||16||18||20||22|
|Fork offset (cm)||5||5||5||5||5||5||5|
|Bottom bracket drop (cm)||7||7||7||7||7||7||7|
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 kit
Elsewhere, Salsa’s own components deck out much of the spec, alongside WTB’s tubeless-ready ST i23 wheels and Volt Comp saddle, and knobbly, gravel-specific 42mm Cannonball tyres by Teravail.
The saddle, always a very personal choice, was far too soft and squidgy for my rump. It was eventually swapped out wholesale along with the perfunctory, unforgiving alloy seatpost and replaced with my own favoured combination by the time of the bike’s photoshoot on the bumpy Ridgeway trail.
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 ride impressions
Given all the talk of racing, you can be forgiven for thinking the Warbird is all about agility, speed and brutal efficiency, but that’s not quite the case.
On the scale from cross-country mountain bike to lightweight, aero road bike, I’d put the Warbird somewhere close to the middle.
It’s far from the ideal bike for somewhere as uneven and rutted as the Ridgeway, and its weight and substantial tyres will make you work harder on lumpy rides than your road bike-equipped mates. However, it’s been a total joy on long, mixed-terrain rides through summer and winter, the sort of ride where speed is secondary to satisfaction.
Its wheelbase (1,038mm) gives it a sturdy base, while the slack 70.75-degree head tube offers languid steering, in the best sense of the word. This is what will have made it a star on the long, straight gravel roads of the US – the fire in which this bike was forged – but over the more mixed, uneven surfaces of British gravel it might not be responsive enough for some riders.
It’s always a comfortable ride, though; the frame cushions you without ever feeling like your effort isn’t being efficiently translated into forward momentum. Like your favourite seat, the longer you sit in it, the more it takes your shape.
The Warbird isn’t fast out of the blocks, but once you’re up to speed on flat and rolling straight roads, you can quickly build up a head of steam and maintain it.
The Teravail tyres’ tread pattern – tight-knit in the centre and more knobbly on the edges – encourages this. On longer climbs where speed quickly drains away, the extra weight of a gravel bike, such as the Warbird, is counteracted by a tiny low gear of 30/34 in its twin-chainring configuration (though it is 1x compatible), while the top 46/11 gear was high enough on group rides with roadies to not stifle progress.
In many ways, it’s the winter bike of my dreams, gobbling up the rough stuff in its path, whether that’s on muddy towpaths or backroads scarred with winter debris.
The Teravail tyres offer effective grip in the gloopiest mud and I suffered only one flat in six months of extensive use (be warned, though, the tubeless-ready rims and tyres add up to a puncture repair ordeal if you’re running inner tubes).
With the Warbird’s ability to take as narrow as 32mm tyres, you could up its mobility for group rides on the road, too.
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 bottom line
It’s all well and good a pampered bike tester calling this a dreamy winter bike, but it would be somewhat remiss to overlook its rather hefty price tag: at £3,400 it is undoubtedly a lot of money to muck about on through the muddier months, but it’s also steep for a built bike with this particular spec (although there are deals to be had).
It’s a surprise to see Tiagra brakes on a bike at this price. They are capable stoppers, it’s just that they’re the bottom rung in Shimano’s GRX range. The same goes for the alloy steerer and disposable saddle, a degree of spec compromise that’s hard to fathom.
Find the Warbird on offer, though, and such concerns can be more easily addressed. There’s certainly a lot to enjoy here – and a lot of land out there to explore aboard this bike.
|Price||GBP £3400.00USD $3299.00|
|Available sizes||49, 52.5, 54.5, 56, 57.5, 59, 61cm|
|Brakes||Shimano GRX RX400, hydraulic|
|Cranks||Shimano GRX 46/30|
|Fork||Waxwing – carbon with aluminium steerer|
|Frame||Warbird Carbon V2|
|Handlebar||Salsa Cowbell Deluxe|
|Headset||Cane Creek 40|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano GRX|
|Saddle||WTB Volt Comp|
|Seatpost||Salsa Guide Deluxe|
|Tyres||Teravail Cannonball 42mm|
|Wheels||WTB ST i23 700c|