For a few weeks last month I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ride Salsa's latest generation of its classic Warbird gravel bike - a bike with a proven gravel racing pedigree. The bike didn't disappoint in any way. Not only was it one of the most comfortable drop bar bikes I've ever ridden, it was a joy to ride. Equally at home on or off road, this really is a versatile bike. On successive outings I rode over as wide a range of terrain as possible - from smooth tarmac, to hard packed gravel to technical, single track routes, which up until recently I'd viewed as pure mountain bike terrain.
For those who might not be familiar with the Salsa brand, I'm talking here about one of the true pioneers of the gravel genre. The first Warbird was launched in 2013 when "gravel bikes" weren't really a thing. Since then the popularity of gravel riding and gravel bikes has soared, with most mainstream bike manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon. During this time Salsa has released four iterations of the bike. The 2019 edition saw some of the biggest changes in recognition of gravel riding getting increasingly gnarly often including single track, double track and rough and rooty forest trails. Changes included a slackened head tube angle of 70.75 degrees, a decreased wheelbase, a longer top tube and most significantly, massive tyre clearance with the option to fit either 700c or 650b wheels - the latter designed to handle the more gnarly stuff. For me, this added flexibility is a must for a gravel bike, greatly extending the range and type of riding it's capable of.
For 2020, Salsa has introduced a wide range of options including three models equipped with Shimano's superb GRX gravel specific groupset (electronic and mechanical), two SRAM Apex 1 models, an Ultegra di2 option, with Force and Tiagra equipped bikes rounding out the comprehensive range. All frames are carbon and a frameset option is available for custom builds. Prices start from £2950.
The 2020 Warbird retains Salsa’s own Class 5 VRS (vibration reduction system). This passive suspension system employs tall, thin arched seat stays, designed to flex outward on impact. I can safely say it works incredibly well and produces a superbly comfortable ride. The arched seat stays also provide ample clearance for a 2.1" tyre on a 650B wheel.
My bike for a few weeks was the Warbird Carbon GRX 600 model which sits in the middle of the range. My first impressions were one of a good looking bike! Pictures rarely do it justice but close-up, the solid blue frame with subtle Salsa branding looks fantastic. Important in my opinion for a gravel bike that many including me would also want to tour on, the frame is packed with mounting points. This includes mounts for two bottle cages inside the triangle, another on the outside of the downtube, a top tube mounting point and fittings on the forks for water bottles or larger carriers. If you want to run mudguards for winter riding, that's no problem with integrated mounts.
Wheelset-wise, the bike came equipped with a pair of alloy hoops - WTB Speedterra 12 x 100mm hubs and WTC ST i23 2.0 28h 700c rims. The 42mm Trevail Cannonball tyres were setup tubeless for added peace of mind. I found that this wheel and tyre combination worked really well with the tyres providing enough grip for the vast majority of terrain I encountered, although I was fortunate enough to pick a prolonged sunny and dry period while riding this bike which ensured the trails were largely mud-free. There were a few occasions on some patchy, muddy upward trails that I could have done with some more nobbles and on some of the fast rocky descents I'd have benefited from a wider tyre. There's plenty of available options on that front both on 700c and of course 2.1" 650b wheels, should your budget stretch to having two sets.
I should add that on a couple of later rides I borrowed pair of Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel Disc X-wide wheels which retail at £799. At that price point, I doubt you can get much better if you're looking for a robust yet lightweight, carbon gravel wheelset. As you'd expect, these upgraded wheels did make a noticeable difference as I took the bike uphill. Perhaps unsuprisingly, this would definitely be my first upgrade, although I should stress that the supplied wheels also performed admirably. They felt quick, and picked up speed easily particularly on the hard packed gravel and road surfaces.
My first ride on the bike took me straight to the top of my local Cleeve Hill climb and this was a good opportunity to get a feel of the bike on tarmac and to see how it climbed. The first thing I noticed was how well the bike fitted me. At 6ft 2" the 57.5cm frame with the supplied bars and stem were perfect. The comfort provided by the GRX hoods and shifters was also immediately noticeable. Shimano really has nailed this. The hoods are covered with tacky rubber and the leavers are textured. Their added height compared to the road-oriented equivalent also proved invaluable on some of the rough descents, providing a feeling of assurance and security. While on the drops, the levers were also perfectly positioned and didn't require an overstretch - at least for my hands.
The Shimano GRX groupset also features a clutch on the rear derailleur. Its purpose is to tension the chain to keep it in place when riding over rough ground, eliminating or at least reducing chain slap, when the chain lashes the chainstay, potentially causing damage and of course the risk of the chain completely coming off. Throughout my rides on the Warbird, which included plenty of rough, high speed trail descents (chasing a couple of seasoned mountain bikers who happen to be living with me at the moment), I had zero issues with the chain and the gear changes were faultless. My setup included a 2x front derailleur (46/30t) coupled with an 11-34t cassette. While there's lots of debate about the merits of 1x versus 2x on a gravel bike, I found the extra gearing particularly useful on the fast, flat sections of road where I could hit nearly 30mph without spinning out. In fact, most of the time on road I sat in the big ring, with the little ring being the immediate option when going off road. For me, where I'd tend to combine off road gravel riding with some on-road sections - particularly during touring expeditions - I think 2x just has the edge.
That's the thing about gravel bikes. They're equally at home on the road and off-road on the rough stuff. I could quite happily ride all day on this bike knowing that it wouldn't stress my body too much. The Warbird is a go-fast gravel and adventure-oriented bike also ideally suited to multi-day gravel endurance events.
So what's not to like about this bike? Very little indeed. I'd put it right to the top of my very favourite bikes. If I was being picky, the demo bike had an excess of cables at the front end which did on occasion prove a minor annoyance and looked a little unsightly. However, this is nothing that Sean or Mike at The Ark Cycles couldn't sort out, and I think was just a feature of this particular demo build supplied direct from the factory.
If you’re looking to enter the gravel riding game (which I have to say has me hooked, having come from a road cycling background), and you want a fast, lightweight gravel bike suitable for any adventure ride or bike touring trip, this classic from Salsa is definitely worth a close-up look.
Warbird GRX 600 Build
Frame : Warbird Carbon V2
Fork : Waxwing
Colour : Dark blue
Front derallieur : Shimano RX810
Rear derallieur : Shimano RX810
Cassette : Shimano HG700-11, 11-34t
Chain: Shimano HG601-11
Crankset : Shimano RX600-11, 46/30t
Shifter : Shimano RX600
Brakes and rotors : Shimano RX400, Hydraulic, RT66 160mm rotors
Headset : Cane Creek 40
Stem : Salsa Guide
Handlebar : Salsa Cowbell Deluxe
Grips : MSW Anti-slip gel
Seatpost : Salsa guide deluxe
Saddle : WTB Volt Comp
Front wheel : WTB Speedterra 12 x 100 mm hub, WTB ST i23 TCS 2.0 28h 700c rim
Rear wheel : WTB Speedterra 12 x 142 mm hub, WTB ST i23 TCS 2.0 28h 700c rim Tyres : Teravail Cannonball 700c x 42mm, durable, Tubeless-ready