Salsa Cycles Tributary E-Bike Review: A Great Documentary Tool

Two of our contributors, Spencer Harding and Jarrod Bunk, spent some time on the new Salsa Cycles Tributary gravel e-bike earlier this spring. Each used the bike to help transport themselves and camera gear while photographing various cycling events where a car would have otherwise been used. Today, we look at their first impressions and some details from Salsa‘s lineup of new 2024 e-bikes.

Salsa Tributary Quick Hits

  • Sizes: XS–XL
  • 29 x 2.6″ tires (2.4″ with fenders)
  •  6061 T-6 alloy frame
  • Available with suspension (Apex Eagle) or rigid (GRX 600) with new Tributary carbon fork
  • Class 3 motor that delivers electric assist up to 28 mph/45 kph in USA
  • Class 1, 20 mph/32 kph in Canada
  • Bosch’s Performance Line Speed with smart system
  • Up to 85 Nm of assist
  • 625 WH internal battery
  • Class 5 VRS
  • Internal dropper post routing
  • UDH compatible
  • 49.5 lb for Medium
  • $5,999 as shown

Several of our contributors at the Radavist used the Tributary this past spring to document cycling events. Having the motor helps offset the weight of camera gear and allows us to be quicker on the course. Most importantly this allows us to not be reliant on cars, which can be dangerous and unpleasant to navigate during a bike event.

Tributary Experiential Overview

The Tributary is a gravel-focused e-bike that feels very familiar if you have ever pedaled a Cutthroat before. No need for massive fat bike tires, integrated lights, or huge racks — the Tributary is a gravel bike that also happens to have a motor and battery.

The heart of the bike is the Bosch Performance Line motor with its smart system of controllers and tech connectivity. With an easy-to-use app, you can control many factors such as top speed and max torque for all four assistance level settings. If you are concerned about having too much power or speed, just dial back the max speed and torque for the lower settings and you won’t be too turbo.

The rider can adjust the support settings with a smaller button panel on the top tube or Bosch’s new BRC3300 wireless controller. The small controller is handlebar mounted and uses Bluetooth to wirelessly change the level of assistance. These two means of controlling the bike keep the cockpit neat and free of wires. Surely the battery running out on the wireless controller could lead to unpleasant circumstances, but you can always use the controller built into the top tube that’s wired to the internal battery.

Jarrod’s Take

Look, over the last few years, my body has undergone some changes that I really didn’t sign up for. Two knee injuries that won’t heal, a broken foot a hell of a lot of weight gain, and depression kept me away from the main thing that helps to cure it: riding bikes. When I got the call to cover Midsouth this year, I was elated to find out that Salsa had a Tributary e-bike on hand for me to throw a leg over and venture onto some parts of the course that I wouldn’t have been able to get to promptly by foot. I was able to cover an additional 30 miles and do it swiftly, all thanks to the Bosch-powered Salsa.

I’ve spent a lot of time hating e-bikes earlier in my life. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t a fan early on. That was until my body checked my privilege and showed me what other people might be feeling, whether it be mobility issues or depression, which slowed the stacking of base miles.

Over the last few years, I’ve thrown my legs over a few e-bikes with a variety of motors, mostly Shimano and Bosch. The Bosch Performance Line motor on the Tributary is a major step forward in technology. The power delivery of this new-to-me motor was so smooth. The Class 3, 28 mph top speed allowed me to catch riders out on the course or cover much more ground quickly than I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. This thing ripped. I rode some of the Midsouth route and some of the Heywood route on it, and surely without it, I wouldn’t have been able to ride either of them as quickly… or maybe even at all.

I bounced around a little singletrack in Oklahoma while there, and that’s where the bike came alive. Front-end steering wasn’t too slow or too fast, and flat turns felt like they were on rails. The Tributary feels planted due to the motor weight being distributed down low. The stance doesn’t have a race feeling, but it makes for some really fun times. I rode a drop bar version Tributary during both trips, and I can’t help but wonder just how fast this thing would rip as a rigid bike with a swept-back flat bar. I’d love to try that sometime. Why doesn’t this model exist?

In all, I spent a few rides out on the bike. Due to my weight and height (360 lbs, 6’3”), I was put into an unusual spot where the distance I could ride was much lower than published; like dramatically lower. Just par for the course, I suppose. I rode just under 20 miles, mixing between Eco and Turbo modes, and drained the battery completely to zero. Bosch/Salsa does offer a ride extender battery, although I didn’t have one for either of my rides. The Heywood ride was a bit more rolling and punchy than what I had ridden in Oklahoma, so I’m sure the terrain and the heat contributed to the shorter battery life. If you’re larger and using the bike to get out more frequently you’ll find yourself charging the bike more often, or adding a ride extender, so budget for that. This isn’t something I’ve seen other folks talk about with e-bikes, but it was my experience, so I figured sharing could help someone make the most out of their time on the bike.

Aside from the limited range, I think the Tributary would be an awesome bike to venture out and explore a bit more, supplement weekly rides, or get out and pedal without knee pain. It was a joy to experience riding a bike without discomfort for the first time in a long time.

Spencer’s Take

Since using an e-bike to help document the Tour Divide back in 2019, I’ve been sold on e-bikes as a tool for certain jobs. Being able to keep up with world-class athletes while being able to photograph them is truly a treat. I’m a fairly fit cyclist, but carrying two cameras and full-size lenses while riding a bike will wear down most — not to mention stopping and then trying to catch up again. E-bikes just make it easier that keep cars off the event course. I’m sure there have been moments where I’ve passed someone easily on an e-bike and that felt disheartening, but I can guarantee it was more pleasant than being dusted by an SUV.

I only spent a short time with the Tributary and it felt at home as I have spent some time on the past two iterations of the Cutthroat. The Tributary feels like the 2024 geometry inflation-corrected version of the Cutthroat. I’m hoping we get a nonmotorized version, as the geometry felt spot-on for my preferences in a gravel bike.

Some could argue that such large 29er tires are too much for gravel, but I ride most gravel on 29 x 2.4″ tires on a rigid MTB. The Tributary hit the mark for my expectations of a gravel bike. The wide 52 cm bars felt cozy and are the narrowest I’d prefer to ride on any terrain these days.

While riding the bike at Ruta Del Jefe, I rarely used anything but the lowest level of assistance. This was mostly to conserve battery, which lasted the whole ~30 mile, 3000+ ft day. It’s easy to get battery fatigue but the Bosch system worked great. The terrain was rugged and steep at Ruta, so I pushed the intended terrain a bit, but I feel like 40+ mile rides could be handled with less elevation and smoother terrain. For reference, I weigh ~200 lbs with camera gear.

Around town, it was amazing to commute at 28 mph as the average car speed on many surface streets in Tucson is over 40 mph. The high top speed got me home quicker and got me off the road sooner. Having that kind of speed off-road is daunting, and while I rarely used the high setting while riding off-road, I’m glad the power was there.

Jarrod mentioned that he would like to see a rigid, swept flat bar version of the Tributary. While there is no production model available in that spec, I was able to try a Salsa employee’s prototype build which was set up just as Jarrod would like. I can say with confidence that it does indeed rip.