Author Topic: Salsa Vaya Travel Review  (Read 9123 times)

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Offline bengrier

Salsa Vaya Travel Review
« on: August 10, 2015, 10:14:34 pm »
I've been meaning to do this since i bought the frame last year and rode it across the country fully loaded.

Salsa Vaya Travel: $2200 for frame/fork
This one:

Full length review:

Let me start by saying, if I had to do it again….well I’d probably buy this bike.  I bought this bike for 2 reasons.  The main one was for riding across the country.  The secondary one was to have a bike to travel with. I figured why not knock out two birds with one stone, right? 

Here’s a secret. Airlines don’t like transporting your bike.  Why? I don’t know, but considering that many airlines in the US are now charging 150 dollars per way, I think they’ve made their attitude on the subject pretty clear.  Even Southwest, who still have free checked bags, charge $75 per direction for a bike.  The idea of putting a bike in an airline legal suitcase was something I wanted to try out and hoped it would eventually pay for itself. This leads me to my first point:  couplers are expensive and are usually only found on custom or retrofitted frames.  The Salsa Vaya is the cheapest of the extremely limited stock bikes that include them.  The notable exception is the Lynskey Backroad which is almost 2000 bucks more.   The Ritchey breakaway frames are a different breed, and while they probably work great, they don’t have rack hookups, so it was a non-starter for a touring bike.  So hats off to Salsa for making couplers (at least more) accessible when it comes to cost.  S&S couplers are a tried and true product, so I won’t say more than they work great and didn’t loosen at all despite manufacture warnings to check them. 

Ever packed a bike with couplers?  It’s like solving a four grand Rubik’s cube for the first time, but every time you turn a row you might scratch and dent something.  This problem wasn’t made any easier by my 61cm frame due to my 6’4” stature, but I’m sure this is hard for everyone.  And because of that, I can’t sing enough praises for the stainless steel material.  For starters, it’s just plain cool.  How many people do you know that have a stainless steel frame?  And it soaks up bumps, so nicely.  Every time I ride this bike instead of my carbon race bike it’s just a joy.  But most importantly is that it looks AMAZING and it stays looking that way.  All that bumping around in the packing and plane abuse and the frame still looks great.  I’ve flown with it roughly 10 times and the scratches just buff out.  More often than not it comes out the other side looking perfect.  I can’t even imagine how ragged a painted frame would look already.  My aluminum wheels for example look beat to hell simply from being bumped around in there.  Luckily, I have disc brakes so I don’t really care about the rim surface. 

Disc brakes.  That should be enough said, but since I like talking, I’ll keep going.  I couldn’t be happier with disc brakes on the road.  They’re just a joy to ride.  When I load the bike with gear it weighs close to 75 pounds.  The discs provide so much confidence in getting all that weight to a stop.  Long descents in the Rockies? No blown tires.  If a spoke breaks a long way out from help? (ugh, yes this happened multiple times) Keep riding without a problem.  I made the mistake by going with a standard 6 bolt system.  They work great, but Center Lock discs would be much easier to get on and off every time I pack the bike.

Ride quality.  I usually hate these parts of reviews, which are apt to compare ride quality of a 10k carbon bike to a cup of cappuccino at the top of a famous climb in the alps; give me a break.  But in all seriousness, this bike seems to ride really well.  Disclaimer:  I’ve been on VERY few touring bikes.  Here are my thoughts  anyways.  No flex when loaded up, and it soaks up the bumps really nicely, as I presume all steel bikes do.  What really surprised me was the cornering.  Having raced for many years, I assumed I’d have to back off a little, but this thing is confidence inspiring in the corners.  Throughout my whole trip I bombed descents without a worry. 

Well this may seem like an glowing five-star review, but wait, there’s more!  There are some things about this bike that, for the cost, make me really scratch my head.  I’ll start with the easy rants and move down the line.

Two water bottle cages?  This is your ultra long, high-end touring bike and you can’t put a third cage on?   Your lower models have it. And don’t pull out the coupler excuses.  If Lynskey has a third on their S&S coupler Backroad, you can find the space too. 

I almost feel bad complaining about this. But the frame is really heavy.  Any idea what 2660 grams is in pounds?  I’ll spare you the suspense.  It’s 5.86 pounds.  I built this frame up with Shimano Ultegra 2x11 and not overly heavy components and without racks, bags or anything it came to 25.5 pounds.  Ouch.  I know it’s steel, but it would be more usable as a do-everything bike if it were lighter when I didn’t have the extra stuff on it.  It would also be much easier to drag around the airport.

Ok, here’s the big one for me.  (And I’m sure people will disagree with me, but trust me, you’re wrong.)  On a lot of Salsa frames, including this one,  there are alternator dropouts.  It’s suppose to be a do everything system.  Regular gears, single speed, belt drive, Rohloffs.  If you can name it, it’ll probably work.  God, do I hate these things.  I hardly know where to begin.  Let’s start with the “versatility.”  No one is running single speed on a touring bike. End of story.  If you want to run a Rohloff, that’s fine, but then you can also afford a custom frame.  Well that was easy.

So what does this “versatility” cost us.  The number one thing is racks.  Hey, guess what? Salsa claims you can ONLY use their rack with this system.  Why? Because the dropout connections make the bike really wide.  Wider than any standard rack claims to be capable of conforming to.  Ok, so now you’re saying, “Cool your jets, Ben! What’s wrong with the Salsa rack?”  I’m so glad you asked.  The answer is that it’s aluminum.  Ask any long distance bike tourer.  Aluminum breaks.  Aluminum has a much lower fatigue life than steel, which means those rods are going to give catastrophically at which point you’re going to be pretty screwed.   

I was totally unwilling to use an aluminum rack for my trip, not wanting to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.  I ended up using a Tubus Cosmo rear rack. I chose this rack for a few reasons.  For starters it’s stainless steel and matches the frame beautifully, but mainly because it’s the widest rack that Tubus makes.  It’s still not supposed to be stretched as wide as the Vaya Travel mind you, but it’s close.  About 8mm close.  And yes, this voids my Tubus warranty should it ever break (So far, so good).  This isn’t without its complications though.  The alternator dropouts don’t have standard connections, which means you have to use the holes on the dropout pivot as your rack mounts.  This means getting different length bolts as well as nylon spacers from your local hardware store (you can also buy a bolt kit from Salsa).  The rack being stretched that far also means you don’t get a nice flush fit.  So it works for me, but it’s a LOT more work than it should be to get it there, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to stretch a $200+ rack past its designed limits.  Not to mention that a heavy-duty touring bike should be compatible with many rack options. 

Here’s another problem.  At least when I bought this, the dropouts came without fender attachments.  WTF.  Salsa makes these dropouts with the fender attachments but decided not to include them?  It’s literally one extra tapped hole.  I pitched a fit and they sent me the ones with fender mounts under warranty.  I can tell you that nothing in warranty ever happens quickly, and after 4 weeks had passed I had to start my 4000 mile trip without fenders.  Hopefully my bike was a mistake or they have since rectified this issue.  Judging by the stock photos, I think they all come this way.

Ok, I think I’ve had my say on alternator dropouts.  It’s an almost all lose, no win part.  The few people who really want their Rohloff will be happy.  For everyone else there is literally no benefit and lots of drawbacks. 

I think maybe the reason I’m so passionate about these flaws is because the bike is so close to being great.  It’s a niche product.  I dare you to find anything else on the market quite like it. It drives me absolutely bonkers that the things wrong with it are so easily fixable.  So when I said at the beginning of this review that I’d probably buy the bike again, that really means yes I would because it’s the only thing like it.  Could someone make a stock, disc brake, coupled touring bike better?  Almost assuredly, and I’ll definitely be checking it out when it arrives.   Till then, I’ll be enjoying the heck out of my Vaya.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2015, 10:40:46 pm by bengrier »

Offline ACA-Admin

Re: Salsa Vaya Travel Review
« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2015, 11:19:21 pm »
Great informative review. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.

Offline bengrier

Re: Salsa Vaya Travel Review
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2015, 02:17:25 pm »
I had forwarded this to Salsa and got this reply:

Hello Ben,

Thanks for the detailed and real life feedback! I will pass this along to the team.

Also, you suspicions are correct, we replaced the Vaya Travel with the Ti version, and I hesitate to call it a “replacement” because it lacks the coupler system however, the spirit of the new Vaya is still the same. You will also see a new steel rack in the near future, that addressees your concerns.

Anyway, thanks again.