A Salsa Beargrease, the Snumbler, and Team Colin
On my third foray into the world of bicycle reviews, I dipped my feet into a pool of Salsa, and demoed a 2016 Salsa Beargrease X01.
The Salsa Beargrease (and Mukluk, and Bucksaw) have a huge chunk of the fatbike market. The Mukluk is most popular because the aluminium frame gives it a great entry price, but it’s the Beargrease that seems to be their flag-bearing fatbike, especially for RACING. They’re everywhere you look, and there are legions of fans who swear by their Salsa fatbikes. They rave every chance they get. “Salsa this”, “Salsa that”, “MY Salsa is better than your…” So I jumped at the chance to debunk the Salsa groove, and demoed a sherbet orange and pink monstrosity (officially called the orange/pink fade), in race #4 of Dan Marshall’s 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Race Serie, the ”Snumbler”: A 25k romp through the rolling Northumberland Hills, just north of Coburg, Ontario. The race was presented by Substance Projects, and my bike shop, Cycle Solutions (who also provided the demo).
I also thought the review would be a chance to say “Take THAT, Salsa”, and dispel the notion that I’m a lightweight “fanboy” bike reviewer. Finally, I’d be able to demonstrate my technical knowledge with some witty barbs and critical comments, instead of my usual position of fawning over a review bike.
Aw dangit dangit dangit. Dang. It. I LOVED THE BEARGREASE! I wanted to hate the Salsa vibe. I wanted to sound like a critical rider. I wanted to poke fun at the fact that it looked like you could walk-up to its order window and order a large vanilla swirl ice cream cone…
Instead, after the race, I wrote this in my blog:
“Best fatbike ride ever… by far, the most fun I’ve ever had on a fatbike. Ever”.
You can read the whole race report on the Team Colin blog.
Also, full disclosure, I LOVE the way the bike looks. It’s not an orange/pink fade monstrosity. It’s a sherbet delight. So damn boss looking. It’s like an orange and pink DREAMCYCLE. See what I did there.
Now, since I’m being honest, I have to be clear and say the course conditions on race day were perfect. Seriously perfect: Great hardpack, exceptional grooming, and just enough granular stuff for maximum traction, grinding, and rippage. Combined with the rolling terrain of Northumberland County Forest, and a course designed to perfection, I really don’t think there was much that could have put a damper on the day.
However, somehow I don’t think it would have mattered because the Salsa Beargrease X01 is one heck of a fatbike.
My past fatbike reviews have employed generous portions of words like “weapon”, “legendary”, and “loggles”.
Oh, and I may have used the words “awesome” and “boom” a few times.
And this review will be no different. The fact is, I just love bikes, and there is no doubt in my mind that any company selling bikes with a retail price over 5 grand must know their stuff. Also, as my reviews have proven in the past, my enthusiasm for bikes has made me what the industry calls a “not-so-great reviewer”. However, there’s more to this bike, and here’s what I have to say about the Salsa Beargrease X01: I only had it for two hours, on one cold Ontario winter afternoon, and it was more than enough time for me, but not nearly enough time for me.
It was enough time because of the sheer beauty and performance of the bike, but it wasn’t enough time, because now that I’ve had a taste, I want MORE.
This review is taken from the perspective of a race setting, which is a really great opportunity to push a bike. Under race conditions, you get a REAL feel for the performance of a bike, REALLY fast.
Hold on a sec. Do your bikes talk to you? When you ride a bike, does it speak to your soul? Bikes talk to me. It’s true—and when I sat on the Beargrease, we exchanged all of our knowledge in a cool, Vulcan bike-mind meld. I felt like a bike whisperer. BOOM. Sorry, I should have whispered that. boom.
With virtually no warm up (having put on my pedals with no time before the race started, and only riding it a hundred metres to my van to get my sunglasses, and a hundred meters back to the start line–it’s all in the Race Report), I was a bit worried immediately before the race started. And then, I had to pee. The race was moments from starting, and I was busting a kidney. What did I do? Well, I peed. I was in the midst of actually peeing when the race started just a few feet away from the door of the port-o-potty. What the? After finishing, reclothing, regloving, and regloving again, I was under the gun to seed myself within the pack. Actually, by the time I got going, I couldn’t even see the tail end of the pack and first had to catch up with them.
It was a less-than magnanimous start, but I was immediately comfortable and aggressive on the bike.
The race course had it all:
- gentle stretches of double track, and tight and winding switchbacks;
- perfect, and less-than-perfect-but-still-awesome singletrack;
- gruesomely awesome climbs that made my lungs SCREAM; and
- long, swooping, downhills that felt like they lead directly to Fatbike Heaven (totally a real place).
I knew the race was going to test me, and the bike. Sweet.
Salsa Beargrease X01: Review
So, I’d like to start with a Team Colin PSA rating (Pure and Simple Awesomeness: a PSA of 10 is perfect, a PSA of 1 isn’t). My PSA rating for the Beargrease is infinity. Actually, it’s infinity plus one. Some people will say that infinity isn’t a number, so you can’t add one, but they haven’t ridden the Beargrease…
However, for a more scientific method, I want to talk about:
The X01 that I rode had a ton of custom components. It was a demo from Cycle Solutions, and my good buddy dialed it in with some sweet extras that made it sing. To be safe, I think there was probably about a grand worth of sweet extras. Most of them were pretty comparable to the factory specs, but the build also included Hope hubs, with Rolling Darryl rims, and Dillinger 4 tires that were custom “semi-studded” (two sets of studs: 120 on the front and 80 on the rear). The engagement and sweet ride from the Hope hubs was stunning. Powerful, quick, and smooooooooooth. I could write a whole review on these puppies. When you crank a Hope hub, the bike roars to life. Instantly. So damn awesome.
The demo also had a sponsor seat made by Fabric. Gotta say, pretty sweet for the money. Supple and comfortable, and their pricing is very competitive.
In terms of performance and durability, aside from the hubs, I really don’t think the custom build components made a huge performance difference from the factory spec components, and were probably just preference.
Although, the Hope hubs sure sound cool when you’re ripping…
I cannot say more than the Salsa Beargrease website:
“At its core, we used the shortest chainstay possible in conjunction with a headtube angle and fork offset that place the rider’s center of gravity further over the rear wheel. This location and combination of front and rear center is key to getting a fatbike that is stable, steers well in loose conditions, and still feels nimble and agile despite the massive wheels and tires. A low bottom bracket height is also key, to keep the rider’s center of gravity low, and make dabbing and dismounting easier.”
Truer words were never spoken. That is all.
No it’s not! I really love talking about this bike. It. Just. Fits. The demo was a large frame, set up for regular height and weight riders. I’m irregular. I’m 6’2” and I weigh 250 pounds. And did you read that part at the beginning about my warm up. There wasn’t any. Was it because I spent my time before the race sizing the bike for me? No! It was because I was late. Before the race, I only had time to adjust the seat height to “stupid high” clip in (and pee) before racing. Everything Salsa says about center of gravity, cornering, stability, and agility is actual fact. No need for manipulative advertising here—the bike is the proof, and instantly, the bike sprung to life.
Fit and adaptability with the Salsa are also pretty cool, and it’s fitting that the demo I had was so dialed, because I think that’s part of the Salsa thing. The bike can accommodate a huge range of tire and rim sizes. They’re listed after the review.
What can I say? This bike was a demo, not a freshly unboxed new build, but it still hummed like it was on its first rip. Durability is a reputation game, and the reputation of the components on the Salsa is there from top to bottom. Seamless shifting, precise and nimble braking, and rolling that was easy like Sunday morning. The reliability on a bike in this price range is unquestionable, and Salsa delivered with top components that will stand proudly to any test that most riders can throw at them—both in terms of durability, and performance.
Also, aside from the sweet aesthetics of full length cable routing and housing, maintenance is less frequent, and way easier.
I wonder about durability issues that I’ve heard about with the PressFit bottom bracket, but I haven’t experienced any, and I think the problems usually aren’t catastrophic. Plus, you get such an awesome fit with a PressFit BB that it’s worth any risk.
Also, the reliability of the frame’s High Modulus carbon is no stranger to anyone who rides bikes. Aside from the awesome stiffness and supple vibration damping of the High-Modulus carbon, it’s almost a pound lighter than the aluminium model. The factory build comes with an optional RockShox Bluto (with 100mm of travel), but the model I demoed had a matching orange/pink fade fork made of the same High Modulus carbon. Wow.
I know that PERFORMANCE is key, but without value, it’s moot. Compared to the Trek Farley 9.9 that I reviewed earlier this year (with a retail of 10 grand) this bike stands its ground. It’s comparable to the Norco Ithaqua 6.1 (with a slightly lower retail price), although it has a very different feel. It also has a different (and I think maybe even a little better) frame composite.
Plus, there really isn’t a flaw in the bike’s build that I could see. Every component was pretty excellent.
This is where the matte finish of the orange/pink fade really shines. Everything else aside, the PERFORMANCE of the bike is what really matters. In a race, you don’t pay attention to what gear you’re cranking, or have time to test the range of your brakes. But I didn’t have to. Whatever gear I needed, the bike had it: hard-pack granular, deep soft snow, grinding climb, or gut busting sprint. The course tested the range of this bike’s drivetrain, and it didn’t flinch. And when I needed to feather my brakes before a corner, or help me not die when descending, the brakes were there at every twist in the trail.
Nuance. That’s the word I think of when I daydream about this bike, because the performance of the bike isn’t confined to cranking and braking. The performance of the Beargrease relies mostly on the nuance of its ride, and, while the ride is something to behold (infinity plus 1, remember), I couldn’t believe that a rigid fatbike felt like a full suspension bike.
The Beargrease literally wraps itself around corners, torques through heavy pedal cranks, and hugs the terrain like a, um, well, like a torqueing-wrapping-hugger thing. I get it, groomed snow is more forgiving than hard singletrack, but there was no mistaking the FEELING. Around corners, the frame “schwinnnnngs” back into place with a quick snap. I think the torqueing motion may have actually helped propel the bike.
Better yet, at full sprint, the bike feels like an amorphous beast, bending, transforming, and adapting to the terrain. I don’t care how that sounds, there simply aren’t better words that I can think of. Try to imagine the ride I just described. Yeah, pretty awesome.
Here’s a story for you.
I’m a fairly conservative rider. I like the race vibe, and a podium finish is out of reach for me, so my philosophy in a race is to ride hard, ride fast, push myself as hard as I can (and maybe bust a lung–or two), but I don’t take chances because I want to be able to drive home and snuggle my kids without a trip to the hospital. I don’t rail corners, and I often take it a bit too easy, especially in the snow when I’m not sure how the conditions will shuffle my wheels. On the X01, I actually railed a few corners. Well, I’m not sure it was me. I’m convinced the bike is like some sort of Herbie, and it took over and cornered for me. This bike made me feel like a pro team rider.
One more thing, the bike actually feels, rides, and performs way lighter than its listed weight. The factory specs weigh in just over 29 pounds. I think they weighed the bike with a 5 pound bag of avacados on the seat (Get it, avacados. To make GUACAMOLE. You know, for SALSA. Oh, forget it).
The nuance of the bike may intangible to talk about, but I have to say this, it’s something you have to try.
The bike stands on its own. Look, it’s literally standing on its own. Magic
The Beargrease is light, super high quality, nimble, and stunning, without the pro price tag. Granted, when you’re paying around 5 grand for a bike, you expect that, but compared to its peers, this bike will keep the weight in your wallet, in the form of dollar bills.
Plus, I’m not convinced the extra coinage is worth it for a few newer, and (slightly) more durable, components that you’ll find on more expensive bikes, especially given the exceptional performance of the Beargrease.
There’s a reason why Cycle Solution stocks predominantly Salsa fatbikes as their go-to fatbike: It’s awesome. Matt Morrish, and the staff at the shop know their stuff, and they know the Salsa Beargrease is one heck of a sweet fatbike dream.
End of Salsa Beargrease X01 review.
The Salsa Beargrease actually made me a better rider. No, that’s no entirely accurate. I was a better rider when I was on the Beargrease. After always hearing about Salsa’s legendary fatbike racing groove, I now get it. I finally get it. The Beargrease cuts through the trail like a bullet, and soars through the forest like a wild animal. One race, two hours in the saddle, and 25k of fatbike perfection: my time with the Beargrease was definitely a game changer.
Do you know the way we see ourselves riding in our dreams. With this bike, it’s possible.
The only problem is now that I’ve had a taste of the Salsa, I want more. I probably won’t even need to make guacamole with that extra bag of avocados. Pass the nachos…
2016 Salsa Beargrease X01: Factory Specs
- Frame: High-modulus carbon fibre
- Fork: RockShox Bluto RCT3 (with 100ml travel)
- NOTE: the demo I rode had a High Modulus carbon rigid fork
- Seat/Seatpost: WTB Silverado Race/Thomson Elite
- Handlebar: Salsa Salt Flat carbon (750mm)
- Stem: Thomson X4
- Brakes: SRAM Guide RS
- Crankset/shifters/rear derailleur: SRAM X01
- Cassette: SRAM 1180 (10-42)
- Bottom bracket: PressFit 41/121mm
- Rims: Runringle Mulefut SL (80ml)
- Hubs: Salsa Fat
- Tires: Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 26 x 4
- Wheels up to 100mm wide
- 26 x 3.8 -4.8” (on up to a 100mm rim)
- 29 x 2.25-3” (including 29+)
- 27.5 x 3.0t3.25” (including 27.5+
- 26 x 4.33” (up to 100mm rim, 1x drivetrain)
- 26 x 4.34-4.7” (up to 82mm rim, 1x drivetrain)
- 29 x 2.25-3” (incl. 29+)
- 27.5 x 3.0-3.25 (27.5+)
2016 Salsa Beargrease X01 Retail cost: $5,499
Well, there you have it: Team Colin’s take on the Salsa Beargrease X01. Did I get this right? Have something to say about this sweet piece of fatbike dreaminess? Comment on the blog, or send me an email: Team Colin Email
One last thing, don’t forget to enter the Team Colin Epic Boom Prize Fundemic, and come to Team Colin Day, um, Night @ Joyride 150 (on April 7).
Here’s one more picture of the bike leaning against the Cycle Solutions Team Support vehicle.