Test Ride – Salsa Vaya

I made arrangements with the owner of Endless Cycles in Castro Valley, CA. to test ride the Salsa Vaya 2 on my way home from the Sea Otter Classic a few weeks ago. Since we were already near the Bay Area it made sense to make a stop and test the Vaya. Though Endless Cycles is nearly 100 miles away from my home, they are the closest Salsa dealer to me. I have to admit, a 90 minute drive to a Salsa dealer for parts and service does curb my enthusiasm a bit.

I realize that I can and probably will perform many repairs myself. I also know that a LBS closer to home would be able to work on the Vaya. However, I still think it would be nice to buy a bike from a dealer that’s closer to home. Bike shops often extended discounts to clients that have previously purchased bikes. Setting aside the distance aspect, Endless Cycles is a nice shop and they had a lot of Salsa bikes on the showroom floor. If your living in or around the Bay Area and you’re shopping for a Salsa, I recommend you give Endless Cycles a try.

Salsa Vaya

The Salsa Vaya features a double-butted  CroMoly Steel frame and fork. Salsa designed the Vaya as a drop bar touring bike capable of handling any road, paved or not. Whether your looking to do a hundred miles or getting ready to set out for a month or two of riding, the Vaya is well equipped to handle the task. With rack, fender mounts and clever design elements the Vaya is also a very capable commuter.

I test rode a 54 cm frame Vaya 2 but a 56 cm would probably be the correct size for my height and build. Endless Cycles didn’t have a 56 cm Vaya built up but the test ride on the 54 cm was just fine to get a feel for the bike.

I live near Sacramento, CA and the landscape around here is fairly flat. Castro Valley on the other hand is moderately hilly. I took the suggested test ride route which was a basic one mile loop but it started out with a short climb up a hill. I’m not in horrible shape and I made it up the hill without walking but it was certainly a workout. The trip up the hill and then back down gave me an opportunity to test the full range of gears on the SRAM Apex 2 x 10 setup. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if the Vaya had an extra gear up front when I was climbing that hill. More time in the saddle will help remedy that problem.

My test ride of Specialized Crux led me to start looking at more cyclocross style bikes. Specifically, I was looking for something a little less race bike and a little more practical as an all-rounder than the Crux. The Vaya fits that bill very well. I get the feeling the Vaya can take just about anything you can throw at it. The real beauty of the Vaya is in the details. Rack and fender mounts are only the beginning. For example, the rear disc brake mount is found on the chainstay rather than the seatstay making it easier to mount those racks and fenders. With it’s focus on touring, the Vaya is equipped with three water bottle cage mounts. These functional design elements are no doubt appreciated by touring riders.

Salsa Vaya Dropouts

I find all of these little details quite appealing. Here you can see the replaceable derailleur hanger and one of my favorite little features of the frame, the Salsa logo integrated into the seatstays. Though the Vaya is a mass produced frame it feels a lot more like a custom bike than anything I’ve tested before.

The Vaya is available as a frame only or in one of two different complete build configurations. The Vaya 3 is the base model where the Vaya 2 that I rode is an upgraded model with higher spec components. The Vaya is also available as a Titanium frame or complete bike. I’m quite satisfied with the steel framed Vaya 2 and I appreciated the SRAM Apex group and Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes on the Vaya 2.

After test riding the Vaya and then spending some time to think about the results, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vaya is the most practical bike I’ve tested. The Vaya would suit my current needs very well and offers plenty of room to grow. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to an all round, do everything bike. This is the bike I should buy and start riding. Still, the Vaya lacks a certain je ne sais quoi, I found in the Specialized Crux. Salsa describes the Vaya as having, “stable geometry” that,¬† “keeps the bike from being twitchy, and makes the bike a pleasure to ride while loaded.” Those are the exact qualities which, I believe, takes just a bit of the fun out of riding the Vaya or bikes like it.

To draw analogies to the automotive world, I would call the Vaya an SUV. The Specialized Crux on the other hand is more akin to a rally car.

Ford RS

You won’t find any cupholders or utility items in cars equipped for WRC. In racing it’s all about performance and weight reduction whether car or bike. Of course after a long trip in an SUV you’ll arrive at your destination fairly comfortable and with no concern you’ve ruptured your spleen.

So the contenders at least at the moment are the Specialized Crux Comp Disc Apex and the Salsa Vaya. While both bikes share a few similarities for the most part they are different bikes. I’m really no closer to making a final decision but I still have a bit more time to decide. Unexpected expenses and my desire to pay cash for this purchase have cause a bit of a delay.

So what do you think? Should I go for the practical Salsa Vaya or the performance oriented Specialized Crux?

Test Ride – Specialized Crux

After testing a dozen different hybrid bicycles over a number of different visits to several bike shops, I still found myself looking for something more. While all of the hybrids I tested were solid and I assume reliable bikes only one, the Jamis Allegro, really felt fun or exciting. Based on this, my decision was to keep looking. One thought that remained in the back of my head was the idea that I would like to be able to take longer rides as my fitness improves. Everyone seems to recommend drop bars with their multiple hand positions over flat or riser bars for longer rides. Here’s a photo of a typical drop style handlebar.

Typical Drop Bars

 

To put it very simply, flat bars are those typically found on mountain and hybrid bikes and drop or road bars are typically found on road bikes. If you’re not familiar with the many different types of handlebars you might find on a bicycle, I found a good article on the subject over at Urban Cyclist.

While I was testing hybrid bikes I did test ride one road bike, the Specialized Allez Compact, an entry level aluminum road bike. I didn’t care for the bike. The short wheelbase, narrow 23c high pressure tires, and overall geometry simply isn’t my style. I was uncomfortable in the riding position and felt like I would fall if I wasn’t devoting all my attention to riding the bike. That test ride turned me off to the idea of a road bike but not to the idea of a bike with drop bars.

Back at my computer, I continued to research bikes and brands online. I stumbled on to an article at Urban Velo on cyclocross bikes for commuting. While the post is a bit dated, it turned me on to the idea of riding a cyclocross style bike. One of the bikes mentioned in the post on Urban Velo is the Specialized Tricross, a bike that’s at home on the pavement, on dirt or perhaps even on some light single track. A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to check out some more bike shops. At on of the shops I visited that day, I met a very experienced salesman and long time bike industry professional. Mike, the salesman, really took the time to explain a lot of things to me about bikes. The information he gave me has really been a great help in narrowing down my choices for a bike. While we were talking, Mike did mention the Tricross but the shop didn’t have any in stock. After a long conversation, I decided to test ride the Specialized Sirrus, a bike I had already tested at a different shop. Not much had changed from my first test ride, the Sirrus is a comfortable, solid and stable bike. Still, it just isn’t all that exciting to me.

2011 Specialized Crux Comp

While I was out testing the Sirrus, my salesman setup a 2011 Specialized Crux Comp, the closest thing they had in stock to the Tricross. Before I headed out Mike, told me there was “something special” about riding a bike with geometry like the Crux.

Before I continue, I want to take a moment to talk about the equipment found on the Crux. The Crux Comp comes with SRAM Apex equipment and shifters. Operating the SRAM shifters is different than operating the shifters on the Allez I had rode weeks before. The Allez I tested was equipped with Shimano Sora shifters which I really didn’t like all that much. The Sora combination brake lever / shifters or “brifters” pull inward like you would expect to apply the brakes. The brake lever also pivots inward to shift up to the next larger cog or chainring. Shifting to a smaller cog with the Sora shifters requires your hands to be placed “on the hoods” so you can reach a small tab with either thumb to click down to a smaller gear. I don’t like how you’re required to move to the hoods to shift down nor do I like how the brake levers pivot to shift up. The SRAM Apex “double-tap” shifters have you pivot a smaller lever behind the brake lever to change gears. Pressing the lever a bit inward will drop you down to a smaller cog, pushing the lever further will move the chain up to a larger cog. After riding the Crux, I decided I liked the SRAM setup better than the Shimano Sora shifters. I feel more confident knowing that the SRAM brake levers only serve one function and I like how you can shift up or down while your “riding the hoods” or “the drops.”

Okay, now back to the test ride. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go. My last test ride on a bike with drop bars wasn’t my favorite. The Crux, while similar to the Tricross, is a full on Cyclocross racing bike. I also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the salesman’s comment that there was something special about riding a bike like the Crux.

I started my test ride in a empty part of a parking lot behind a supermarket. As I began to ride the Crux up and down the parking lot past the grocery store loading docks I started to get comfortable with the bike. Once I got comfortable, I started pedaling faster and began making gear changes. After only a few shifts I knew I liked the SRAM Apex group better than the Shimano Sora group that was installed on the Allez. After bit of riding, I noticed that my hands were more comfortable on the Crux as well. When I rode the Allez my hands started hurting even after only riding a few blocks. This could be attributed to any number of things, the adjustment and placement of the bars, my seating position, the differences in geometry between the two bikes, or even just the handlebar tape. I really didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, I just noticed that I was comfortable riding the hoods and didn’t feel like I needed to move my hands to different positions on the bars to maintain comfort.

After playing with the shifters and the brake levers, I started to focus just on the ride. The ride was firm but compliant. I began to feel comfortable and confident riding the Crux. I started to make some more aggressive turns and the Crux delivered. My skill level is admittedly low but nevertheless, I felt assured riding the drop bars of the Crux. This led me to test the handling of the bike. I began to look for the rough spots in the pavement, the bumps and ridges between cement and asphalt sections of the parking lot and I pointed the Crux right at them. Over the rough spots the Crux maintained it’s composure much like my old mountain bike.

After all that, I began to notice the sensation of speed. The Crux feels quick and nimble. You point it in the direction you want to go, pedal and you’re there. From a stop it doesn’t seem like it takes much effort to motivate the Crux. I felt like this bike had faster acceleration with minimal effort compared to just about all the other bikes I have tested. As I started pedaling it seemed like I was speeding along at a rapid pace even after only a few revolutions of the pedals. This is a fantastic sensation. It was almost as if the Crux was a sports car and all the hybrids I’d been riding were SUVs. The only other bike that gave me a similar sensation of speed was the Jamis Allegro. I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why the Crux feels quicker than the other bikes I’ve tested. I just know that I like it.

I kept riding the Crux for and expanded my test ride beyond the parking lot before returning to the shop. As I rolled in at the shop, my salesman, Mike was coming out the door. One thing was different about this test ride, as I got off the bike and started talking to Mike, I was smiling the entire time. My grin is what’s been missing in all the other test rides I’ve taken. Mike was right, there was something special about riding the Crux.

Though I would have liked to, I didn’t take the Crux home with me. I figured it would be best to test more cyclocross or cyclocross style bikes before making a decision. While the Crux was a blast, it’s a racing bike. I don’t have any aspirations of racing cyclocross, at least not yet. The Specialized Tricross with it’s ability to mount fenders and racks would probably be a better choice for my needs. The Crux however, would become the new basis for comparison. Any bike I would test ride from that point forward would be compared to the Crux.