Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Ride Report: 2008 Salsa El Mariachi

This week I've been fighting a chest cold I gave myself (again) after going waaaay too hard in the super cold weather at the PCL race this past weekend, but yesterday I decided it was too nice outside and I had to ride, so MW and I got a nice easy spin out the Jamaica North last night. It gave me a great opportunity to do a shakedown run on my new Salsa El Mariachi, and boy, did I ever return home with a smile on my face!!

Like the 2007 model, the new El Mariachi features a True Temper OX Platinum mainframe, with butted chromoly chainstays and seatstays. A Bushnell eccentric bottom bracket, along with a standard derailleur hanger and vertical dropouts make the frame easy to run single or geared. Currently, my '07 frame is my singlespeed, and my '08 frame is my geared mountain bike. Perfecto!

Awesome paint & graphics are part of the deal with the El Mariachi too. Similar pattern to my '08 La Cruz 'cross bike, only in scarlet and cream... Cornhuskers everywhere give it two thumbs up! Yeah, I like red bikes...

So how's it ride? Fast, tight and smooth. It's definitely an El Mariachi though. It feels similar, familial, but somehow a bit quicker to drop into a corner. Perhaps it's just a bit lighter on its feet? I'm not sure -- I haven't ridden them back to back yet, so I'm pulling my impressions from memory, and I'm also comparing a singlespeed to a geared bike, so keep that in mind.

It could also be that I've been running an Exiwolf on the rear of my '07 El Mariachi for a while now, and those of you who've run an Exi on the rear know that while good, it's a bit of a bear when it comes to ultimate speed. A Jones XR Front on the rear however, is a fast rear tire, especially paired with a WeirWolf LT 2.55 on the front. The MG Getto Tubeless System, of course. Big and fast, fast and big. Like a racing beach cruiser that's goin' off the rails.

Wait a Minute... That's a lot of fork! On the front of my new El Mariachi, I decided to go a bit bigger than I have to-date on a 29er, and called up a 100mm travel Manitou Minute 29 -- the quick release version. And while I'm still playing with air pressure and damping settings to get the full performance potential out of the fork, I can tell it's got a lot of potential. I just need to figure out the sweet spot in the settings. The damper has an amazing range of adjustment, and it definitely has an effective "platform" damping function that quickly blows off when a bump is encountered and gets active to absorb it. You can tell there's a lot to like, but it's going to take a little more time and diligence in set-up before I can truly say "I love this fork." That's OK though. I haven't been riding suspension since the 24 Hours of Landahl last year, so it doesn't surprise me that it's taking me a little while to get back into the swing of squish again.

For the front wheel, I laced up an old (circa 2001) Chris King Universal disc hub to a Salsa Delgado Race 29 Disc rim with DT spokes and brass nips. The good stuff. Strong, light, not cheap. Pretty much as good as it gets.

Here's where you see the biggest difference between the '07 and '08 El Mariachi frames. There's no secondary triangulation brace, because the seattube doesn't extend far enough above the top tube to need/warrant it. It's a cleaner, lighter design, and it may account for my perception that the bike is lighter, quicker handling overall, since in theory, there should be less weight carried up high on the frame. Clean, tight welds and excellent craftsmanship can be found throughout the El Mariachi frameset. It's all good stuff, and did I mention how much I love that new red color?!! It's a stunner in the sun. My camera doesn't do it justice... or perhaps it's the photographer who doesn't do it justice -- not sure which, exactly.

It's funny, because I was a big fan of the '07 frame design (with the extra little triangulated brace and extended seattube), but now that they went and changed the '08 frame, I do like the clean, compact look of the '08 better. You guys made a change I wanted, and I didn't even know I wanted it! Nice work Salsa! You've moved beyond merely listening to your customers -- straight to pulling Jedi mind tricks on 'em! But as long as the bikes keep getting better, just keep it up, thank you very much.

Stars 'n Bars: I went for Salsa's new Pro Moto Carbon low-rise handlebar with a 0-degree rise, 100mm Cro Moto stem. The Pro Moto Carbon low-rise bar has 25mm of rise, 10 degrees of bend, and 6 degrees of upsweep. It's a very comfortable bar, and Jason at Salsa tells me it's amazingly strong, especially for its weight. I like the fact that they're offering it in a 'standard' 25.4mm diameter as well, instead of doing the new-school 31.8-only thing.

The Cro Moto stem is a well-known quantity -- strong, light (just 180 grams) and an awesome value for a piece that'll likely last the lifetime of the bike. Everybody should have at least one Salsa stem in their stable, if simply to have a 'standard' by which to judge all their other stems against. Salsa stems are that good.

Thanks EP -- The Zen Master Mechanic at Monkey Wrench Cycles, EP, has an awesome sticker collection. Here's a nice little gem he passed along to me for my new ride. Arriba!!

This one's for you Guitar Ted -- Here's the rim strip you were asking about.

My initial impression of the '08 El Mariachi? Overall, the folks in Minneapolis made some good revisions to what was already a stellar steel steed. I can't wait to get some real singletrack time in on this new bike and see what it's really made of, but if my initial impressions are any indicator, I'm stoked to be back on steel this season.

Ten years ago, who would've thought that I'd be toeing the line on a steel hardtail in 2008? But here we are, and the more things change, the more the 'real things' keep looking, and riding, better and better. Thanks again Salsa Cycles. Clearly we're on the same page.


Jason said...

My fave part of the EM is the cleaner look of the seat tube/TT without the brace and the color/decal combo. I LOVE those decals on the EM. I'd love to see the 09 Dos, Mama, or other, get that same treatment.
Very sweet MG. Rock on.

MG said...

Thanks Jason -- I have to agree with you 100-percent on both points. The st/tt junction is totally clean -- simple, elegant, functional.

And the paint/graphics package is absolutely stunning... My take on the new Scandium graphics is that they did so good with these updates, why limit them to this, let's see if they can one-up themselves with those!! Bring it on! I bet they'll be awesome, whatever they end up doing...

Thanks again brother,

Oscar said...

How 'bout the 100MM fork on a bike designed for 80MM. I've got a 100MM Reba that I was planning on converting.

MG said...

I like the feel of the Minute at 100mm better on the El Mariachi than I like a 100mm Reba, I think mainly because the Minute has a little more offset. This makes it steer just a touch quicker with the slacker headtube angle.

That said, you definitely do have a bit more stable handling bike, so if you're a fan of very quick handling bikes, it's probably not the ideal setup. I'm still getting used to it, but I like the extra travel.

Guitar Ted said...

Thanks for the pic of the strip, mg! Love your new rig and I do a "Ditto" on all your points in your write up on it. While I have never owned a El Mar, I have ridden several, and the newest one is a gem. Good on ya! Have a great season aboard that rocket!

MG said...

Thanks Guitar Ted! I'll tell ya' all about the process of getting to that too.

You can see how I'm basically creating a lip that interfaces with the tire bead, which physically keeps the tire bead from unseating from the rim hook/bead seat. Eventually, the latex sealant mixture causes the white part of the rim strip to bond to the tire bead edge, if you leave the tire installed for more than a couple weeks, which essentially makes it a tubeless tubular, using the rim strip to cap the (now) airtight tire casing.

Hope your Texas adventure is going super, my friend!!