Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thoughts After My La Cruz Honeymoon...

Saturday's Maiden Voyage: A break in the deep-freeze conditions we've been having brought out a great crew of almost 20 for Saturday's ride. We got a solid 50 miler in heading south and west from town on gravel before turning our backs to the wind and flying back into Lincoln on A street. It might have been the best, most trouble-free maiden voyage I've ever had on a new bike. I only had to stop to adjust the saddle once, and that was it!

Sweet Stem: The painted-to-match CroMoto stems only come on the complete Salsa bikes. This one looks so cool, and has already generated enough positive comments from people that it makes me wonder how many Salsa would sell if they'd offer the color as an aftermarket item??? Do I hear a need for a "stem color of the season" program? Yeah, that'd be sweet!!!

Don't let the sun hit those Delgado 29er Race rims wrong. They'll blind ya'. 25mm width makes even 34c 'cross tires look pretty substantial. Laced up to XT 756 6-bolt disc hubs with butted spokes and brass nipples for strong, fuss-free, good rolling wheels. I particularly like how smooth XT hubs roll once they are broken in. The bearing races are much better quality than the lower line hubs, and I'm strongly considering trying out ceramic balls in the hubs just for shits and giggles, because they're what all the "pros" are using. Even if I don't though, these wheels will likely roll smoothly with zero or little maintenance for just about forever.

What's really sweet is that nothing in the wheelset is anything spectacular, or that'll call attention to itself on a ride. It's just good, get it done sort of stuff that works, is reliable and isn't too expensive to replace. Right on.

The view from the front: Salsa's designers have a firm grasp on how to build a great handling 'cross bike, yet the stability of the frame is the quality that makes it such a perfect partner on extended gravel road excursions. My first two rides on the bike were 50 and 44 miles, respectively, and I was immediately comfortable enough on the bike to ride hands-off the bars long enough to take a jacket off and stash it in a jersey pocket.

The frame is packed with cool little details that you might not immediately notice, like threaded barrel adjusters on the downtube for both deraileurs, so you can adjust your shifting on the fly, fender mounts on the seatstay and chainstay bridge, so you can mount a fender in about two minutes flat, a reinforced headtube to prevent ovalization when you get a little too radical... not that you'd ever do that, of course. And neither would I. But it's nice to know it's there in case you do.

The steel fork is another little gem in today's world of carpet fiber this and tweaktanium that. Not that I'm anti-technology, mind you. It's just that this here steel fork on the La Cruz proves that, while yeah, it's a little heavier than perhaps the lightest carbon uber-fork, it's got it goin' on as far as ride quality goes. That's no jokin' either. It's sweet. Super sweet. I've ridden some steel forks recently that I was waaaaay less a fan of than this one. It's not that just making it out of steel makes it blessed, you have to design it right and build it well to give it the special ride quality that makes me say things like I just said about the La Cruz fork.

It just might be the best steel fork I've ever ridden, but I'll save that judgement for later, after I've ridden it on a wider variety of stuff. As of today I'll say it's got a big old load of promise, and I intend to find out if it's the real deal.

Wonderful Welds: Sweet beads don't get much sweeter than this. Tight, clean welds are the rule throughout the frame. Salsa's clearly got their production machine running very well right now. The quality of the frames they're producing today is absolutely stunning. Everything from welds, to the paint, to the panels and lettering is cleaner, classier... better on the '08 bikes. Impressive, very impressive.

Clearance Clarence: Roger, Roger -- plenty of mud clearance, so you can easily fit up to a 44c WTB MutanoRaptor into those slim steel chainstays. There's one of those aforementioned fender mounts too, so when it rains, fenders are easy to mount up.

All in the family: If this was green, it seems like this could be a picture of my El Mariachi mountain bike, and in reality, there are quite a few details of the La Cruz that remind me of the El Mariachi. I kind of think of the La Cruz as somewhat of an "El Mariachi Light," if you will.

No, I don't advocate you ride the La Cruz like you ride your 29-inch mountain bike, but that said, I do believe that you can ride a La Cruz harder and faster off-road than you can, for example, a Chili Con Crosso with a True Temper Alpha Q CX carbon fork on it and road wheels with 32c 'cross tires. Even with 'cross tires mounted up, the La Cruz still has a tougher, "Bring It On" sort of feel that certainly encourages you to seek out more entertaining lines. It's a willing partner in shenanigans, you could say...

That's a lot of gears: I realize now that, when you have a 10-speed cassette, you end up shifting a lot! My mountain bike wired brain feels like a 10-speed 12-25 spread has really closely spaced ratios, which makes rowing the box the order of the day. I'm not sure that's totally my style, but I'm pretty sure a 12-27 is the widest spread available in a Shimano 10-speed cassette, so it's hardly worth buying a whole new cassette simply to gain two extra teeth. Crap... Maybe I need to ditch this stuff on Ebay and go back to 9-speed? I'm not sure what I'll end up doing, because this 10-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain shifts super smooth, and the dual-control shifters have a big, ergonomic hood design that is easy to hold onto for hours on end. The 9-speed dual-control design doesn't have the same super-ergo design. There was definitely an ergonomic evolution between nine- and ten-speed groupsets.

Bummers of the weekend are above: I got my first wipeout out of the way on today's ride. Hit some black ice in a corner and went down hard, scraping up both shifters and my rear der, and ripping holes in lots of clothes. Luckily the only hole in my body was a small strawberry on my knee. Gotta' be careful out there!!

The middle picture is probably the most expensive bummer of the weekend. I didn't look at the crank length when I built the bike up, or even through the first ride, but I could tell within the first ten miles of its maiden voyage that something was not quite right. Turns out it was about 2.5mm from being quite right. I could really tell on the climbs too. It felt like I had about ten percent less climbing power than I normally have. It's amazing the difference just a couple of little millimeters in crank length make in the leverage you have on climbs...

So, I guess I'm now in the market for a 175mm crank. The good news for anyone who might be considering a complete La Cruz is that the stock production bike should have a 175mm crank. The bike I got is a pre-production sample, and some of the parts are not exact production spec. As I've come to find out, the crank length was one of the items that was/is not production spec. Oh well. I've been wanting to try a Shimano R700 compact crank for a while now, so I guess this is as good a time as any to do that.

Aside from my little issue with the crankset, I'm 100-percent stoked with the La Cruz. It's actually exceeded my expectations for how it would ride and perform, and that's no small feat. No, it's not as light as my Chili Con Crosso, so I suppose as an ultimate 'cross racing machine, it's not probably the first choice, but for an all arounder, or a first-class adventure bike, or a steed to straddle for your weekend randonneuring epics, I think you could definitely do a lot worse.

Salsa leaves Retail pricing up to its individual dealers, but you'll typically find the La Cruz at most bike shops for around $1700, which is a great deal for the bike you're getting, in my opinion. Learn more about the La Cruz at the Salsa Cycles Website.


Jason said...

Sweet write up man. Bummer about the shifter and crank. Luckily that was it and no serious body harm.

I just got a R700 for my Campeon. Build not done yet, but watch my blog for feed back.

I will say this Salsa has got the paint dialed in too. That looks freaking SWEET! I'll also say they (Salsa) MAY want to include some pic that show the frames close up so as to get a better feel for the color and paint job. The pics on the Salsa site do NOT do justice to the frame.

Great pics and write up. I'll be making sure folks swing by to take a look at it. Now I want one. But do I NEED a 4th bike? HELL YEAH! ;)

debaser said...

So... You've got some cranks for sale?

MG said...

Thanks Jason. And you know, I got super lucky on the fall this morning. Had it been summer, with me in shorts and short sleeves, and it'd have been my skin that'd have been cheeze gratered... I've got a sewing machine! And the crank deal. Pffffft... It was just one of those weird "hey, I knew something felt a little 'off'" sort of things. I was joking to Cornbread that I had to get pissed off that I was getting dropped to actually pedal hard enough to climb with him. Granted, Cornbread is packing an unusually large hammer for January. It's freaking insane in fact how hard he can pedal that singlespeed Bianchi he's riding, but that's beside the point. I can usually keep up. And it was clear I had to get pissed and go totally into the red to even come close. It might not have been 100 percent the 172.5mm cranks, but I'm blaming at least part of it on 'em. That's my story at least. We'll see if I can stick to it when the 175s come and I have to back my big words up. ;-) (Cornbread, you know you got my ass covered...)

Oh, and Jason, you definitely need one. After riding this thing, it's amazing. It's got the "Salsa handling," but it's got a very distinct personality of its own. And that fork is a lot responsible for it, I suspect. That fork is amazing. What can I say, I'm a fan of steel, even if it's a little heavier.

I love Salsa's Scandium bikes for racing, and I've still never ridden bikes that feel faster, but when you ask me to define the "feel of steel," I'll point right over to my La Cruz and my El Mariachi and say "there it is" and send 'em out on a test ride.

And eight times out of ten they'll have a smile on their face when they come back. Those two will want something lighter. You put them on a Scandium bike.

Hey Ganzel. Give me five minutes to check a price and I'll be sending you an email. I'll make it affordable. ;-)

Thanks guys,

gNAT said...

MG, great write up. Thank you. Glad you like it. As you know, I'm loving mine. I got out both Friday and Saturday on mine with just over 50 miles total. Not bad considering it was 1 degree (10 below zero with windchill) when I started. Saturday was much better with temps in the mid 20's.

I'll check on the crank length.

Again, thanks and I'll be in touch.

MG said...

Brrrr... and that's a warm-up for you, 'eh Gnat! Glad to hear you were able to get out both days to ride. You get the gold star for the most hardcore homeboy here. How 'bout that?

Thanks for the props on the write-up too, buddy. No sweat on the crank either, just like I said in the email I just sent you. I could just tell that something felt distinctly "different," from my CCC, and since I knew the geometry is identical between the bikes, that couldn't be it, and I also found my seat hight didn't work out quite right when measured from the center of the BB. That was the kicker. When I had to raise my saddle 10 miles into the first ride, that got me thinking about why, because I knew it was measured out right.

It was only later, when I was shooting pictures, that I found the reason, and was like, "well will you look at that?!!"

Crazy stuff, I tell ya'.

This bike is gonna' be perfect for our trip down to the Big Wheel Ballyhoo... Yeah... Lookin' forward to that one.


Guitar Ted said...

mg: Sounds like a great weekend and the bike is certainly super cool. I have been in awe of what Gnat and Co. have been pulling out of their collective hat lately.........and they ain't done yet! Amazing!

Could it be the perfect gravel grinder? Hmmm......if not, it's danged close. Only a way to convert it to SS duty would make it better in my way of thinking, but that's me. :>)

Anywho, glad you are stoked and that was an excellent write up. Guess I'll be handin' over my scribin' duties to you if'n ya kin keep that up!

MG said...

Thanks for your thoughts Guitar Ted, and I like where you're going with that SS dealio. Wouldn't that be sweet? Sort of a hybrid Casseroll/La Cruz... kind of a 'Super Casseroll.'

Yeah, that'd be the ticket. Man, imagine a La Cruz with a disc version of those pimpy Casseroll dropouts. Now I'm dreamin... I'd better just go to bed.

Nighty night...

MG said...

BTW - Guitar Ted, thanks for the nice comments on the write up. You're doing your job very, very well however, my friend.

It's weird, I have two lives. I love bicycles and I love words. Right now, this is the only place where those two loves meet. I don't know why that is... but it's frustrating at times.

But then at times like tonight, when friends like you take the time to appreciate my writing, even just doing it as an amateur seems pretty worth it. Thank you friend.

Cornbread said...

You write good. :)

Seriously, great write up on the bike. That is a sweet machine. Nice to see it in action this weekend. We were really hammering those hills. Hope you're feeling better after going down on the ice.

Looks like this weekend may not be as hospitable. Bummer.

MG said...

Thanks Cornbread -- that means a lot. I can definitely still feel which side I went down on, but that said, I'm feeling a ton better than I was even just yesterday. It's amazing what a good night of sleep will do for my body!

Thanks again good buddy!


Josh said...

Glad to read you're enjoying the La Cruz.

I'm waiting on Mike@Salsa to send one my way to review for Cyclocross Magazine.

It might be just the thing for midwest enduro-gravel riding!

MG said...

Hey Josh -- Thanks for the message. I'll look forward to reading your Cyclocross Magazine review of the La Cruz. If your experience is anything like mine has been so far, you're going to dig it. That said, if you're strictly after a race bike, the Chili Con Crosso is still the racier of the two Salsa 'crossers.

But for the gravel road grinders I'll be doing this spring, and the possibly inclement conditions we could experience out there, I'll take those disc brakes any day! And anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for the ride of a great steel frame.

Happy trails,