VA’s Salsa Deadwood (Take 2): Built for Comfort

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The second coming of Virginia’s Salsa Deadwood was a last-minute scramble build finished the day before our flight to the Republic of Georgia. Fortunately, it couldn’t have turned out any better… or more comfortably. In this Rider and Rig we talk to Virginia about her style of bikepacking and how to stay comfortable on long tours… plus her full packlist.

Back in 2012, after a multi-month blur of placing tenants in our house, selling many of our earthly possessions, putting the rest in storage, and planning a big bike trip, Virginia Krabill and I boxed a pair of Surly Trolls bound for Panama via Mexico and Central America. Prior to putting rubber to la carretera we only made time for one trial-run overnighter trip on those bikes. That was mistake number one. Fortunately, my bike fit like a glove. Gin wasn’t so lucky. Nevertheless she powered through many long days in the saddle.

Over the next two years we honed our kits and tweaked her blue Troll (AKA ‘Steve’) numerous times. We swapped out stems, saddles, and handlebars. She was even professionally fit for the bike, all to no avail. Since then she’s tried a few bikes… some that fit her well, and others that haven’t. In 2015 while scouting the Trans-Uganda bikepacking route, she rode the then new drop-bar Salsa Deadwood 29+. Although the fit was good, something was still a little “off”.

For our trip to the Republic of Georgia she decided to give the Deadwood a makeover, one that included a quick engagement I9 hub, 29 x 2.6″ ‘wide trail’ tires, a super short Paul Boxcar stem, Jones Loop handlebars, and a new saddle. As is our tendency, we made all of these changes at the last minute, leaving just enough time for a quick neighborhood test ride. After five years of trial and error did she finally figure out her perfect dirt-touring rig? I asked Gin a few questions to try and figure it out…

  • Jamis Dragonslayer, 27.5+ Bikepacking, Bedrock Bags
  • Salsa Deadwood, Bikepacking, Rohloff 135mm, Spacer Kit
  • Bikepacking The White Rim, Canyonlands, Utah

Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars

For starters, what’s your favorite type of riding conditions while bikepacking?

I like variety. A perfect scenario would be a combination of rolling hills interspersed with some tough climbs followed by long descents… all on dirt roads punctuated with small villages. I enjoy a combination of double and single track and don’t mind some pavement here and there. On extended journeys, or when the environs are getting a little mundane, paved roads change the pace up a bit, and, for me, it’s just fun to haul ass on occasion. Taking the time to explore more off the beaten path tracks can also be rewarding. Sometimes you find the sweetest trails and most interesting situations, and sometimes the consequences lead you to a seemingly dead-end. Even so, those challenges force you to be creative, and that’s a big part of the adventure..

virginia's Salsa Deadwood

  • Virginia's Salsa Deadwood

What’s the most comfortable bike you’ve taken bikepacking… and least comfortable?

The most comfortable bike I’ve ever ridden while bikepacking is probably the Jamis Dragonslayer, but that’s owed in part to it having a suspension fork. When I’m bikepacking in my favorite places, it’s usually a safe bet to assume there won’t be any well equipped bike shops, and I’m no bike mechanic. As such, riding a fully rigid bike is the safest bet in places such as Uganda. But, I’ve struggled a lot over the years to find a comfortable ride on a rigid bike. I rode this bike — the Salsa Deadwood with Jones Bars – on a recent bikepacking trip, and I believe I’ve finally struck gold. The least comfortable bike for me was my old Surly Pugsley. It was just too heavy for me to manage on hike-a-bikes and even just while loading and unloading gear.

What do you think makes a bike uncomfortable?

Discomfort comes into play in a number of ways. While riding, the thing I’ve struggled with most over the years is my rear end. How much of that is actually due to the construction of the saddle versus my positioning on the bike is unclear. I’ve tried numerous saddles and I’ve adjusted their angles to no end. Another big issue I’ve had to contend with is my hands. They go numb, most noticeably, on gravel and paved roads, where there is just a constant, low-grade vibration. Again, I’ve tried stems of varying lengths, played with my saddle height, and numerous styles of handlebars and grips. On my most recent bikepacking venture, I tried out Jones Loop H-Bar, and I think they may well be the answer to that issue. All in all, finding the right fit can be an exhausting and frustrating matter of trial and error. Sometimes you just need to be open to making a drastic change and sometimes there are more nuanced adjustments that need to be made.

On a different note, the overall weight and size of a bike can really affect how comfortable it is. If a bike is cumbersome, or heavy, it’s no fun trying to load and unload your rig. If I can’t hold my bike up and handle the gear, it’s frustrating. If I can’t push it up a steep climb, it’s a no-go. Again, the current build on the Deadwood strikes a good balance. It has a relatively lightweight steel frame and a carbon fork… featherlight when compared to something like the Pugsley.

Virginia's Salsa Deadwood, Jones bars, 29x2.6, bikepacking

  • Virginia's Salsa Deadwood, Jones bars, 29x2.6, bikepacking
  • Bikepacking Republic of Georgia

You’ve had a history of powering through discomfort on your long distance bikepacking rigs. What usually bothers you most?

The most frustrating thing about being uncomfortable on a long distance trip is accepting that I might just have to suck it up and deal with what I’ve got for the time being. You can only adjust positioning to the extent that your gear allows. And, unfortunately opportunities to swap components are sometimes limited. That may mean waiting a few days or even weeks to find a well-equipped bike shop with alternative saddles or stems, or it may just mean thinking about the changes you’ll make the next time you hit the road. I guess the best approach, given the opportunity, is to ride your bike a lot before setting out, so you can get it dialed in while you’ve got the chance.

What all have you tried in order to eliminate the discomfort?

I think I’ve tried just about everything. I’ve tried too many saddles to count, leather, plastic, softer, harder, narrow, wide. I’ve experimented with various styles of handlebars, grips, and seat posts. I’ve changed the length of my handlebar stem and added spacers to adjust their height. I’ve pushed my saddle as far back and forward as it will go. I’ve worn numerous bike shorts and chamois.

Virginia's Salsa Deadwood, Jones bars, 29x2.6, bikepacking

  • Cane Creek Thudbuster, bikepacking
  • Industry Nine Wheels, bikepacking

So the Brooks Cambium and Thudbuster combo have been a breakthrough as far as the rear end is concerned. Why?

If I could nail down exactly what it is I’d been missing all of these years, that would be great. In general, I’m rough on saddles, maybe I’m a little lazy in my riding style. I’ve just destroyed multiple leather saddles over the years, and it hasn’t taken long. As soon as they’re getting comfortable, they’re stretched to their limits. I met this girl (who’s name is escaping me right now) on our Swift campout. She swore by the Cambium C17, so I thought I’d give it a try. There’s just something about it that works. It was comfortable straight out of the box. I’ve tried a few (plastic) saddles that seemed comfortable at the onset, but quickly caused problems. This saddle has been consistent. As for the Thudbuster, I think it provides just enough dampening to alleviate some of the back strain and bum bruising that long days, riding over even minimal chatter, can create.

And the Jones Loop handlebars?

What I love most about these bars is the versatility. Repositioning my grip fairly frequently helps a lot with the numbness. It also helps with back strain, as I can stretch out when I need to or take a more upright stance when that feels right. I take the versatility that the handlebars’ shape provides a step farther than most people would. By rotating the handlebars in the stem, I can mix things up even more. It’s amazing how the smallest adjustments in their rotation can change the whole feel of the bike. I’ve tried drop bars, and though they’ve grown on me to some extent, they’re not nearly as comfortable or stable feeling as the Jones bars… especially more technical terrain. The foam grips are great too. I actually switched to foam grips on my trail bike as well. They provide a touch more vibration dampening, which I think helps with my nerve issues.

Theoretically, the shorter stem with the backswept bars kind of drop your elbows and shoulders, and give you a little more of an upright position. Do you think this has helped?

I haven’t really thought about the mechanics that much, but that makes sense. I do like an upright feel. And, by dropping the shoulders and elbows, it seems like there’s a lot less stress placed on my neck and shoulders, which is most likely the root of my nerve problems.

What do you think about the new 29×2.6” tires compared to the 3” tires you ran on the Deadwood in Africa?

I’m totally sold on the smaller tires. While the fatter tires may provide a little more cush on rough terrain, their heft is just too much for me. The 2.6”s are still big enough to absorb the bumps, but the smaller profile makes maneuverability much easier. They are simply a little more agile than the big 29×3 tires I had on the Deadwood in Uganda and Rwanda. Another plus… they don’t hold on to nearly as much mud.

Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars

  • SRAM Eagle GX, bikepacking awards
  • Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars
  • Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars

Bike Build

  • Frame: Salsa Cycles Deadwood w/ 148x12mm rear dropout
  • Fork: Salsa Firestarter (100x15mm thru-axle)
  • Headset: Cane Creek 10
  • Handlebar: Jones H-bar Loop
  • Stem: Paul Components Boxcar
  • Seatpost: Cane Creek Thudbuster
  • Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17
  • Grips: Jones EVA H-Grips
  • Crank: SRAM Eagle GX 170mm
  • Bottom Bracket: SRAM GX
  • Chainring: 30t SRAM Eagle Narrow Wide Chainring
  • Chain: SRAM Eagle GX
  • Cassette: SRAM Eagle GX 10-50
  • Shifter: SRAM Eagle GX
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM Eagle GX 12spd
  • Brakes: Paul Components Klamper
  • Brake Levers: Avid
  • Rear Wheel: Industry Nine Torch Classic, Industry Nine Enduro 305
  • Front Wheel: Industry Nine Torch Classic, Industry Nine Enduro 305
  • Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29×2.6 Addix
  • Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars
  • Virginia's Salsa Deadwood, Jones bars, 29x2.6, bikepacking

Salsa Deadwood Jones Bars

Bikepacking Bags & PACKLIST

Here is Virginia’s full packing list, by bag:

Handlebars (Revelate Sweetroll M)

Sleep system (Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt, Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat… I’ve given up on a pillow), Big Agnes hooded pullover jacket, toiletries, tent poles

Handlebars (Revelate Periphery Pocket)

Phone, hat, paper map, Zip-locked passport, ink pen, snacks

Top Tube (Oveja Negra Snack Pack XL)

Battery charger and periphery cables, lip balm, titanium spork, snacks

Handlebars (Jones Loophole Pack)

More snacks, sunglasses, little nylon shopping bag/purse, riding gloves, Buff (actually a ½ Buff), sunscreen, 1-2 spare grocery/trash bags

Frame bag (Porcelain Rocket 52Hz)

This is where I like to keep my back-up supplies (eyeglasses, spare contact lenses, a few lady supplies), Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan paperback (I know, it’s crazy), Vargo 1.2L Ti cooking pot, Trangia stove, small Nalgene bottle of olive/canola oil blend, salt and pepper, 2 small bottles denatured alcohol, Fozzil (doubles as a plate, bowl and cutting board), Sawyer Mini water filter and bag, food

Seat Pack (Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion)

Clothes, including NZO riding shorts, 2 short sleeve merino t-shirts (Specialized and Icebreaker), Icebreaker wool skirt, Patagonia Merino Air hooded baselayer and bottoms, cotton leggings, 3 pairs of wool socks, 3 pairs of underwear, Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket

DOWNTUBE (Rogue Panda Oracle)

Spare tube, 8 oz Orange Seal sealant, tire lever, patch kit

What’s your favorite thing about bikepacking?

Exploring our wild public lands here in the US is great, but my true passion lies in using bikepacking as a means of international travel. For me, it’s all about the people you meet and the interpersonal experiences that you have. Being on a bicycle means you’re traveling slowly enough to actually interact with people… and the bicycle, no matter how fancy, is something that people can relate to. One of my favorite memories from our time in Malawi is when Logan and I were on a pretty boring stretch of flat backroad, and I rode up alongside a young woman on her bicycle. Without words, an unsolicited race ensued. As the miles went by, our exchanges became more and more playful. Genuine fun, smiles, and laughter between two people who may have never have enjoyed each other’s company were it not for our bikes. Bikepacking also allows us to get off the beaten path. We get to see places that we’d otherwise miss in a car, and still cover much more ground than we could on foot.

  • Virginia's Salsa Deadwood, Jones bars, 29x2.6, bikepacking
  • The Breaking Trail, Bikepacking Georgia Caucasus

What was your favorite piece of gear on your last trip in the Republic of Georgia?

That’s a tough one. Since I’ve already lauded the Jones bars, Cambium saddle, and Thudbuster, I’d have to say that the combination of the Jones Loophole Pack and Revelate Periphery Pocket was pretty awesome. Between the two of them, I have more packing space than I needed for easy access items. And, in comparison to other front cockpit accessory bags I’ve used, I didn’t have to deal with the sag of an overloaded handlebar bag.

Another great piece of gear that I took to Georgia was the Enlightened Equipment Revalation quilt (rated 32°F/0°C). Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always been a bag gal. Quilts just looked a little fussy, having to strap them onto the sleeping pad, and I just couldn’t imagine that they could be as warm as a traditional sleeping bag. I was wrong. The minimal time it takes to strap the quilt to my sleeping pad is well made up for in the comfort it provides. It’s plenty warm when necessary, but it’s also easy to cool things down a little by loosening its straps. I also tend to toss and turn a bit in my sleep. With the quilt, I don’t get knotted up or feel stuck like I do in a bag. I wish I’d tried out a quilt earlier and saved myself a few restless nights.

For more on the Republic of Georgia, make sure to check out our Feature, The Breaking Trail. Also, to learn more about the route, read the Georgia’s Caucasus Crossing route guide.

29 Comments
  • Doug Reilly

    I caught the little comment about the half buff and laughed…A few years ago I cut my gray wool buff in two because it was just too hot and bulky for warmer weather. One is always in my backpack!

  • Nice. We cut that one in half a couple years ago because we both needed it on this super dusty road in Uganda… and we just had the one. As you mentioned, turned out that a half buff is perfect!

  • Mark Troup

    Re: numb hands, I have Ergon grips on a straight bar on one bike and ESI Extra Chunkies on a Jones H-bar on the other. The Jones/ESI combo is far better for me.

  • NezaP

    I have the same nerve problem – numb hands most of the time and it sucks! This made me think, that maybe the Jones bar could solve my painful issues, just have to figure out where to get one!

  • Don Neifert

    Curious of any negative aspect of the Thudbuster, e.g. excessive rotation or bouncing. As a long-time bottom soreness sufferer, I’ve finally settled on the Sella Anatomica as probably the best I can ever expect at the two contact points, but I’ve been wondering if the Thudbuster might just take the edge off, or help with that sudden impact that occurs occasionally when I’m not paying attention. Thanks! Don

  • Virginia

    Yes. I’ve used lots of grips over the years, including at least 2 models of Ergon. The foam grips are a help, but I think the Jones Bars are where the real magic happens.

  • Shyone

    FWIW, when I tried the Jones bar my hands rapidly became unbearably numb. I do much better on drops, tho I still ride a flat bar on a mountain bike for control … and deal with the numbness.

  • Virginia

    I don’t have anything negative to say about the Thudbuster. It didn’t interfere with my seat pack at all, and I never noticed any rotation. It never felt excessively bouncy either. In fact, the cush it provides is almost imperceptible . Logan could see it compressing when he was behind me, but it just felt like a straightforward seat post while I was riding.

  • StaySaneSleepOutside

    I second the half buff. It took mine from never used to always with me.

  • StaySaneSleepOutside

    Synthetic version at least… does the merino unravel?

  • It doesn’t seem to. ours have been in use for a couple years now (as half buffs) and a year before that in its full glory.

  • Angela

    I really enjoyed this particular “Rider & Rig” write-up. On another note, I don’t think I caught the size of the frame being used. Regardless, this makes me think it would be nice to see some focus on those who use smaller rigs. Even the bagmakers (large and small) seem to forget that some of us ride a small. When you visit their sites, it is obvious they photograph their gear on larger frames. It has been a frustrating year sorting it all out, never mind the money spent. And it is still a work in progress!

  • Virginia

    Hi Angela. The Deadwood is a medium. I here your frustration and you make a great point about bags. Unfortunately you may need to go with a custom bag until bagmakers catch up on that front. Or, you could try your hand at constructing your own frame bag?

  • Porcelain Rocket did a pretty good job at matching size for size… especially in the Salsa/Surly range as well as other steel hardtails. They make a small 52hz too…

  • Angela

    Thanks! I have definitely been checking out the 52hz as I also am becoming convinced the zipperless design is the way to go. Salsa’s frame bags (for the Cutthroat), though I like the material, don’t seem to cut it for me when it comes to space and the zippers. My money is tied up in some winter fun right now, but will soon start seriously looking at it.

  • Doug Reilly

    Ditto what Logan said. It tends to curl on itself on the end so it kinda locks itself.

  • tony

    Am I correct in thinking that this bike has now been discontinued? All I can find on the Salsa site is the full sus Deadwood.

  • Joshua Wheelock

    You are correct. I think if you’re looking for a comparable frame then you’ll have to go with the Fargo Rival
    http://salsacycles.com/bikes/fargo/2018_fargo_rival_1_27.5

  • tony

    Thanks Joshua, I hadn’t seen that one, so many good bikes out there makes it hard to make a decision. First world problem!

  • The seat height into relation to the bar height looks super comfortable! I’m never satisfied with my setup but I can ride and never really get sore hands or butt so I suppose I’ve got something right.

    I have a set of Velo Orange Crazy Bars. They are similar to the Jones but way cheaper and possibly more varied in terms of hand positions. Running them with the ergon grips which are specifically designed for swpet bars eliminated wrist pain for me almost completely under most riding conditions.

    I would also recommend the SPA cycles leather saddles which are similar to the B17 but heavier and sturdier. I’ve had mine for a few years and absolutely abused it. It’s still holding up great but the Cambium saddle looks nice maybe I’ll try it next. I read reviews they are prone to falling apart after a few thousand miles – is this true?

  • PS … What I was actually looking for was bike reviews which are for the budget minded Bikepacker? Those carbon fibre beauties are no doubt amazing but seems me to me most of us work seasonal jobs and would rather spent money on actual trips than top spec mountain bikes. Maybe some sort of round up of cheap(er) bikes would be useful for some of us. So far I’ve been looking at the Kona Unit X and Genesis Longitude which are both around a 1000 pounds sterling, but would love to hear any other suggestions?

  • Biker Jarter

    Check out everydaymtb.com It is focused on more of the obtainium side of the spectrum!
    I do love some carbon bits though….

  • Tim Clarke

    How did you find the reach on the deadwood with the Jones bars?
    I have had a deadwood. Now I’m building up a replacement.
    I have a good connection with a salsa dealer. I wanna be able to have the bike run plus tires and 2.0 with fenders for commuting. Looking at the ECR the BB drop is very low. When I go back to a Fargo the BB is better but the reach is really short comparable. I know this is because of the drop bars but I want a set up with Jones bars.

  • She actually prefers a short reach, so we even used a short stem. Maybe a little onorthodox though. But it works.

  • Doug Reilly

    What is the rim diameter used here for the 2.6″ tires?

  • I think you probably mean rim width? That’s the Industry Nine Enduro 305 29er wheelset (30.5mm inner width / 34.1mm outer width). FWIW, I prefer a 35mm IW for 2.6″ tires… like the I9 Backcountry 360, Ibis 938/942, or the WTB i35.

  • Doug Reilly

    Ha yeah I meant width! Thanks…I was debating between asym 35s and scraper 40s for my new Sutra build.

  • Hmm, I doubt the Sutra LTD will fit 29×2.6. Or are you thinking 27.5×2.6? The Backcountry 360 is a great rim too (36mm IW). As is ibis’ 938 (34mm IW).

  • Doug Reilly

    27.5…the 2018 frame seems to have excellent clearance. I will get a set of 29ers for more road/grvel rides, though I could see myself choosing one or the other down the line and simplifying. Thanks for the rim suggestions, I will check them out!