I’ve been riding the Salsa Fargo mostly in a mountain biking vein of late. Here is an update on what I think of the Fargo as a single track machine. Please keep in mind that the Fargo’s main intent isn’t pure single tracking, so this is just one facet of the Fargo’s many faceted personality.

Fargo against the Wall

I used the “stock” (for the complete) WTB Vulpine tires on my first few rides. The limited grip in the wet caused me to swap out to a different tread and wheel set. I put on some Saguaro TNT tires mounted on Mavic Cr29max wheels. I also moved to a 185mm front rotor but retained the Avid BB-7’s. Here’s a look at what it looks like with these changes. (See below)

Fargo in the snow III

Okay, so how does it ride then? Well, like a mountain bike, thank you! Only with a few important differences. I don’t mean to be smart, but the Fargo is born out of a mountain biking mold, so it only makes sense. There are a few “quirks” that one may want to think about here though.

Drop bars: Drop bars off road are either a whole lot of fun, or just not your style. Here are a couple of caveats to think about concerning their use. First, the shifting is either bar end or STI type. The STI type is far more preferable from a pure mountain biking sensability where shifting and braking are sometimes done simultaneously. Also, STI levers will help promote shifting, which can be seen as both good and bad, I suppose! Bar end shifters are a little inconvenient when the action gets hot and heavy off road. From that standpoint, racing a Fargo may be best done with STI type shifters. Casual mountain biking, all terrain rides, and touring are all fine with bar end shifers.

Then there are the bars themselves, which are limited in terms of width choices and basically are only available from three sources. (For “real” offroad drops, that is) The Salsa Bell Lap comes stock on the “complete” version, but it has a pretty deep drop, which gets into fit problems, so that can be an issue. (Rumor has it that Salsa is working on a off road drop bar solution for the Fargo.)

Fork Offset: To avoid toe overlap with Salsa’s preferred shorter top tube design for this rig, and for handling heavy front end loads, the offset was increased to 55mm on small through large sizes and 50mm on the XL and XXL sizes. This means that even with the “slack” head angle Salsa uses on these rigs, the steering will be on the quick side for some. Just be prepared for a rig that rips it on fast, tight single track, and may be a bit of a hand full in some longer technical descents.

Lower Bottom Bracket: Here is the thing that may turn some folks off to the Fargo as a “true” off roader. The bottom bracket was lowered purposefully with the intentions that this would be a “adventure/touring” 29″er and not pigeon holed as an off road bike adapted to touring/adventuring. This means that it’s versatility off road is compromised somewhat to achieve it’s intended purpose. I found that this was evidenced by pedal strikes where I never experienced them before on my trails. Those that already are striking their pedals on their 29″ers may not appreciate the lower BB on the Fargo.

About that shorter top tube…: As stated, the top tube was shortened on the Fargo to accomodate longer rides. This may impact the feel off road for you, and it may not. The Fargo I am riding is a full inch shorter in the cockpit measurement than any other bike I ride off road. I didn’t seem to notice that at all. It may really bother some folks, but as always, you can put a longer stem on it. Typically I run an 80-90mm stem on a large. On this Large sized Fargo, I have a 100mm stem and the saddle is as far back as it will go. Just be advised, the Fargo is designed to fit just a bit differently than a typical mtb. That is because, well……it isn’t just a mountain bike! It’s something very unique and different than that.

The ride is really different. The lower bottom bracket makes you feel more “in the bike” rather than “on top of the bike”. This translates to a feeling of more stability and I wanted to rail every turn I could to take advantage of this. The bike climbs pretty well, and soaks up trail chatter very nicely. It still is a rigid bike though, so rocks and roots will send your eyeballs rattling. Descents are really fun. I felt like I was in a rocket ship flying down the hills compared to most 29″ers I’ve ridden. Still, you have to remember that clearance is limited.

I was made aware of this when I stuck the big ring on the XT trekking crank right into a log! Folks getting the complete bike next year may want to look into a bash ring or smaller outer ring if you will be spending a lot of time on rough terrain.

To sum it all up from an off road perspective, the Fargo is a capable single track bike that is only limited by its lower bottom bracket and rigid chassis. Due to the specific nature of its geometry, a suspension fork could be mounted, but that would radically change the way the bike fit and handled, so it may not be a viable choice in this case. On terrain suited to the Fargo, the bike is a fun, fast handling, awesome mountain bike. Rougher, rocky, chunky, and trails that demand a high bottom bracket are not the Fargos forte’. Finally, drop bars are not everyones cup of tea. The Fargo can be set up with flat bars, or “funky” bars, such as a Titec H-Bar, but if you crave lower front ends,this may not work for you.

The Fargo is a bike with a purpose and intention that isn’t limited by “just mountain biking”. I’ll be doing some different sort of adventuring in the coming weeks, as you can see, due to the onset of winter. I’ll be exploring the different aspects of the Fargo that are not specific to mountain biking. Stay tuned for the coming adventures!