Salsa Deadwood Review: Trail Tested

If the last few years have taught me anything, it is to keep an open mind with regard to bicycle design. Conceding that resistance to change is futile, I have since become eager to adopt all the strange and new offerings on the market like the forthcoming Salsa Deadwood.

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Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

When it was announced to the public earlier this summer, the Salsa Deadwood appeared to be an instant hit. Those lucky few granted a chance to ride one, even if for just a few short miles, were quick to laud it as far more than a novelty. With its flared drop bars, shapely carbon fork, and 29+ wheel package, the Deadwood is decidedly unique, but many wondered how well it would deliver on its all-surface promise. After spending a month on the Deadwood, including a multi-day bikepack in the high Rockies, I can confirm first hand that the Deadwood achieved its design mission––dead on.

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking - Bedrock Bags

It has become a simplified description, but the Deadwood is in many ways, a Fargo with a larger wheel format. That seems like an innocuous riff on what is already a class leading bicycle, but those big 29+ wheels redefine the versatility of a drop bar mountain bike. Whereas my Fargo can be a handful on singletrack and in choppy conditions, the Deadwood eats up rugged terrain without complaint. On the Fargo I find myself carefully dodging little intrusions in the road, picking careful lines that won’t offend the standard width tires. With the Deadwood, I tackle those obstacles head on, the big hoops largely unfazed by small rocks, ruts and bumps. The result is a less fatiguing ride. We all know what that means––more miles.

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking - Bedrock Bags

  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking
  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking
  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking 29+

As I have discovered with other plus-sized bikes like the Salsa Bucksaw, Surly ECR, and Rocky Mountain Sherpa, the Deadwood shoulders a heavy bikepacking load extremely well and with little disruption to the bike’s natural unweighted performance. With a few pounds between the brake hoods packaged in a Bedrock Bags Entrada bar bag, the steering inputs were not altered by all too much, nor did the few pounds under the seat compromise the handling. As I have come to love of Salsa’s bikes, the auxiliary cage mounts on the underside of the down tube and fork blades permitted the addition of three large bottles for easy access and ideal weight distribution.

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

Getting more specific with the ride qualities, many people have asked me about the compliance of the all-carbon Firestarter fork. I have ridden this same fork on my Ti Fargo for a couple of years now, and while I can attribute many fine qualities to it, compliance is perhaps not one of them. This is not a negative, particularly with the addition of 29+ tires. Big wheels demand big stiffness to retain steering accuracy and the Firestarter is if anything, stiff. When charging hard into a turn, particularly under full load, the fork doesn’t yield a nanometer keeping that big front wheel pointed right where it needs to be. Mid-turn the fork permits finite corrections that are translated instantly. Whereas some forks are vague and mushy, the Firestarter is a scalpel.

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking
  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking 29+ Knards
  • Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

As someone who began riding when steel was the material of choice, I’ve always liked a classic metal rig, but once again, it would be difficult to isolate the subtle nuance of the frame against the plushness of the wheel package. The frame is however a stout foundation and the geometry is well chosen by Salsa’s engineers giving the bike a harmonious blend of stability and handling. The Deadwood is ideal for weekday training sessions and ready for weekend escapes with bags attached.

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

My final assessments turned my attention to the parts spec, which is in my opinion, perfect. I wouldn’t change a single thing save for lower gearing for the most offensive steeps. The stock ratios are likely low enough for most users, but my lap around the Alpine Loop with ascents over 12,800 feet had me grinding a bit more than I preferred.

Build Kit

  • FRAME Cobra Kai 4130 CroMoly
  • FORK Salsa Firestarter Carbon, 100mm Thru-axle
  • STEM Thomson X4
  • HANDLEBAR Salsa Woodchipper
  • BAR TAPE Salsa Gel
  • REAR DERAILLEUR SRAM X.O Type 2, Long Cage
  • CASSETTE SRAM 1030 11-36T 10SPD
  • FRONT HUB Salsa 15mm x 100mm
  • REAR HUB Salsa 12x148mm BOOST
  • TIRES Surly Knard, 29×3″, 120TPI
  • SEATPOST Thomson Elite, 20mm setback
  • SADDLE WTB Pure V Comp
  • RACK MOUNTS Rear mounts, Front-facing triple fork cage mounts

Salsa Deadwood Bikepacking

Wrap Up

It’s another thoughtful and creative bicycle from the free-thinkers at Salsa Cycles. Given its favorable reception, I have to assume they will sell out quickly. With this particular demo bike on a UPS truck headed back to Salsa HQ, I have already started saving my pennies for my own Deadwood. It is that good.

  • WEIGHT (claimed by Salsa) 29.5 lbs (13.4 kg)
  • Size tested Large
  • PRICE (as tested) $2,599.00
  • RECOMMENDED USES Expedition, Dirt Touring
  • Michael Dachs

    I would never buy an adventure or touring bike with any carbon parts on it

  • They make a cromoly version of the Firestarter; or the Krampus fork has the same axle to crown, with a slightly higher rake:

  • Christophe Noel

    Meh. These things are very solid. I have seen carbon fiber downhill bikes take a beating that would just as easily damage steel. The reality is, there are far more delicate parts to worry about than a massive, overbuilt carbon fiber fork. In short, I have every faith in the carbon Firestarter fork. I remember in the 80s when people said they’d never ride a carbon frame. Then in the 90s when they said they would never ride carbon wheels. Then, mountain bikes, mountain bike wheels…I’ve ridden carbon in every ugly scenario possible with never a failure I could attribute to the material. In 30 years of near daily riding the only frame I’ve ever broken was a steel frame. Go figure.

  • Andrew

    I have put my carbon firestarter fork through the wringer on some tough rides and beat the crap out if it. still works and rides perfectly. Also if you treat it right, carbon fiber can last a while.

  • Malcolm

    Ouch – the lowest gearing is 28 X 36. Seems a bit odd given where these bikes are likely to be ridden.

  • Lewy

    So many nice bikes but so little money to buy them all.

  • St-Jean Mathieu

    Shimano BB7 brakes…. :)

  • Michael Dachs

    I agree, in terms of durability carbon has advanced, but I dont like the fact that it cant be repaired and frankly, I still dont trust it

  • Michael Dachs

    Yeah, thankfully there are alternatives for those of us that don’t want carbon

  • Christophe Noel

    That is actually a curiously common misconception. There are a multitude of superb carbon repair facilities all over the US. Most carbon frames repaired these days have suffered insane tragedies like getting hit by cars, rammed into garages, often busted clean in two. I have an acquaintance with a carbon repair business and he’s repaired frames that looked like they were beyond destroyed. Literally in pieces. The prices to repair carbon are even reasonable with the repaint and refinish the lion’s share of the expense. In fact, carbon is more repairable than even steel in many cases. Just google: Carbon bicycle repair. You will be blown away.

  • Daniel Stange

    If I had the money this would be an instant buy. love the colour.

  • charlesojones

    Great looking bike. It needs to be spec’ed with some lower gearing for loaded riding though.

  • Hola Christophe, looks like an amazing option to cycle South America :)

  • RJ

    Thanks you for the insightful review. It can be extremely difficult for “the rest of us” to ever find an opportunity to test ride these niche bikes. With the resent introduction of the the Deadwood I’ve narrowed down building my bike packing rig around either it or a Surly Krampus. Any thoughts on the pro’s & con’s between the two?

  • Ooh, that’s a tough one. They are both really unique and interesting bikes. I would say that the first question would be what type of tracks will you be riding. If it’s more singletrack and technical trails, the Krampus; but if you are looking for something to tackle long dirt road and gravel jaunts, the Deadwood would be more fitting…

  • Spindoctor220

    I’m intrigued by what appear to be rack mounts in the rear… or am I seeing things?

  • Yep, on the seat stays…

  • Brenton

    In the market for a do it all adventure/mountain bike. Thought I was set on an ECR but after reading about the deadwood I am not sure anymore. Cant find one in the area to test ride. What do I do?

  • From what I understand, the Deadwood’s release date has been delayed a bit.

    Salsa run a bunch of demo days – check them out via their Facebook page. Maybe one will line up for you.

  • Ride Alongside

    The real benefit of a steel fork in my opinion isnt so much in the durability or long-term reliability, but in compliance. Yes steel will undoubtedly be durable and relaible, but it gives in a way that is so sweet. I love how a well designed rigid steel fork is predictable and yet compliant. The Salsa Fargo V2 fork is one of the best I have ridden, it has anything cage mounts, fender mounts, rack mounts, and it fits a 29+ just fine as well. That being said, it is much heavier than the carbon Firestarter fork and is not as stiff/precise in the turns. It does cost 1/6 of the price of the Firestarter carbon fork however. As Christophe had said in this article though, at some point it will be difficult to tell how much the compliance from the steel plays a part when running high volume, low pressure 29plus tires.

  • DamagedSurfer

    I’m definitely late to the party here (as usual) but I’m looking at getting the Deadwood over the Surly Krampus. I just love the drops. Don’t know if the initial specs changed, but per Salsa’s site, the Deadwood has a 38/24 crank paired with an 11-36 cassette, which should be all the gearing you ever need. I guess you could even swap the rear for a 40 if necessary. It’s weird though, cuz 2 other sites list the crank at 42/28. Huh? Anyway, there’s 1 available locally and I may jump on it. I’m not stoked on the Krampus’s stock build, so with the added cost of swapping parts the bikes are about even.

    Logan, I hope you’re still reading old threads like this one cuz I’m wondering about pedal strike. It seems the BB is higher than an ECR, but lower than the Krampus. Did you have issues on trail? I’m not into the most techy singletrack, but I do like being able to explore. That’s where I see the value with the wider tires over bikes like the Fargo, Vaya, Awol, Sutra Ltd etc. Thanks.

  • billz410

    I wonder….would a Fargo with a suspension fork satisfy one’s lust for a Deadwood?

    I’m sure the big tires provide some cush, just wondering how a 3″ rigid compares in ride-quality to a 2.3″ with suspension.

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