There’s nothing like taking a brand new bike and throwing it into the proverbial fire.
Bikes like this are not meant to be babied, nurtured, wiped down with a micro-fiber cloth and sprayed with chemicals to make them look shiny. They’re meant to be abused, smashed, shredded and put to the test, straight out of the gate. Especially bikes specifically designed for arguably one of the most intense endurance races in the Continental United States.
The Salsa Cutthroat is what I would call a first for the company. In the sense that it’s a bike designed for a specific event: the Tour Divide Race.
A detail shot of the TDR’s course map on the underside of the downtube.
Everything from the Vibration Damping System to the flattened-out tube profiles which allow for more frame bag space and the Firestarter fork with triple bottle boss mounts, has been designed, engineered and tested specifically for this event.
Backpedaling a bit. Before I dive into this, I should point out that you can do the TDR on any bike. The bike you already own is capable, but if you don’t own a bikepacking-specific rig, don’t overlook the Cutthroat. It definitely surprised me.
Onto my experience with Salsa:
I’ll be completely honest here. I didn’t like the “predecessor” (in quotes because it’s only a visual cousin, the Cutthroat is a completely different bike) to the Cutthroat: the Fargo. At all. Granted my limited time on one wasn’t the most exhilarating experience, but it just felt too, I dunno, “meh.” So coming into this bike launch, I had no idea what to expect. Personally, I don’t like the aesthetics of a non-sus corrected rigid bike. I want lines to collide in elegant ways, not with giant gaps or offsets. I get the fact that you could throw an 80mm XC fork on it, but still…
Yet, when you strap a bunch of bags onto it, suddenly the silhouette of the Cutthroat not only looks balanced, but it looks damn confident. The way the downtube sits proud of the bottom bracket cluster and gives you extra mud clearance at the head tube cluster makes sense. Also, there’s room for a third bottle cage on the downtube… Nice.
The thru-axle completes the bottom of the “springy” feel of the VDS stays. With long, narrow seat stays and wide, rectangular chain stays, the rear end of this bike really does soften the blow of rough roads. However, I should note that I couldn’t notice feel it until we hit a sealed road climb and I had more air in the rear tire. That’s the point, right? You don’t have to think about it…
The gearing was more than acceptable, with a 36t front ring and 42t rear. Granted I was also carrying a 25lb camera bag on this trip but I didn’t have to walk anything (except for “The Wall”). 1x systems take a bit to get used to but I like the convenience. Although if I were doing the TDR, I’d go with a 34t direct mount ring to give myself more spin, thus sacrificing the top-end.
Tires! Everyone wants to know about the tires. Teravail is a new tire brand from QBP (the distributor and owner of Salsa, Surly, All-City, etc). They’re offering three sizes initially, the Cannonball is a 38mm tire, the Golina is a 32mm “cross tire” and the Sparwood (pictured) is a 2.2″ multi-use MTB tire. These are made in Japan and come in a 60tpi and 120tpi version. We rode the 60tpi tire. JP is currently racing the TDR on the 120tpi.
The wheels were solid. SRAM Roam 40’s are a great option. If I were to build this bike for the TDR, I’d go 36h 3x with a generator hub on the front though. Just something to consider…
My favorite spec on the bike is the Woodchipper bar. You can have a bar-mounted bag without interference of the paddle shifter with the SRAM 1x system. There’s more than enough real estate for your hands with the drastic flare. I always descended in the drops and climbed on the tops, never feeling too upright. These bars are a lot of fun and truly make the bike’s experience what it is: a fuckin’ blast to rip on!
Why doesn’t the bike have fender mounts? Because they’d be redundant. Sure, fenders keep your bottles and legs clean, but they’re a nuisance off-road. They rattle, loosen and get clogged with mud. A seat pack keeps your ass clear of over-spray and the fat downtube of the Cutthroat keeps most of the mud off you anyway. Remember, in a ride / race like the TDR, you’re getting dirty anyway. There are rack mounts on the stays however!
Reviewing bikes like this can be a daunting task. There are so many marketing details packed into the press-kit, but ultimately what matters is how no-nonsensical its ride quality is and its capability for packing your daily essentials into its tubing profiles.
The Cutthroat has more than enough real estate for bags. Here’s what I was carrying:
Gear (seat bag):
-Rain Jacket and pants
-Short sleeve base layer
-1 pair of socks
-20º sleeping bag
Handlebar Feed bag:
Top tube feed bag:
Equipment (frame pack)
-Coffee beans, grinder, pour-over cone
-Plastic bag for used TP, trash, etc.
Bike reviews are not one of my strong suits. I’m more experiential driven and sometimes It’s difficult to capture those experiences with words, much less technical jargon. Let’s be honest, you can read the Cutthroat’s technical data at Salsa. All I want to do is express how much fun this bike was to use on our three-day bikepacking trip. I never felt like the bike was too much for me to handle, or not burly enough for the technical sections. It was lightweight, nimble and descended with confidence. So much so that I had to remind myself a few times of just how remote we were… Don’t wanna eat it on this ride!
As I begin to plan for the 2016 TDR, this bike has inspired and influenced how I’ll ride this challenging course…
Questions? Drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.