The Salsa Fargo Ti: Josh Kato’s Tour Divide Rig
Deep thoughts on the bike, components, and beakless rubber ducky that carried Josh from Canada to Mexico in record time.
Like all riders, racers on the Divide develop a definitive bond with their bikes. I would guess that most people have a healthy relationship with their pony after the race but I’m sure others want to take it out behind the barn and put it out of their misery. My bike still has a very special place in my heart. It began as a 2013 Fargo Ti frameset and was purchased with the primary intent of racing the Divide in 2014. My 2014 race was a bit of a bust, so to speak, however when I was able to return for this years race there was no question for me which bike I’d bring again.
Plenty has been written about the Salsa Fargo. Tests, reports and many reviews. Briefly, the Fargos are a go anywhere, do almost anything bike. Load it up with MTB tires and it’ll tackle trails for a great camping trip. Throw some skinny road tires on it and race your STRAVA roadie friends. It’ll do most things better than you imagined. I know that the Fargo makes me smile when I ride it. For me it’s just a fun bike. Like all “serious” cyclists I have a few more bikes than most people think is healthy. While I really enjoy my very techy carbon full suspension bike, my phat fat bike and even my vintage(ish) Bridgestone XO hybrid I always come back to the Fargo as the bike I’d ride from here to the end of time if I could only take one.
It’s rare that a bike actually inspires but the Fargo does so for me. When I first got my Fargo it really rekindled my joy of the ride. Drop bars, MTB tires and the capability of being loaded up with racks galore was fun. Being on a bike that could take me anywhere really made me want to go farther. Much farther than I ever had before. It’s a bike that literally carried me to my dream of finishing the Tour Divide. Bikes alone don’t win races but having the proper tool for the job is essential. There were a lot of Fargos in the Tour Divide this year. Easily more than any other bike listed on the start sheet. Salsa, one of the few companies that support bikepacking, is obviously onto something with the Fargo.
The ti frame was the base for my Tour Divide bike. I built the frame up with a selection of parts that I use on a daily basis. Parts that have held up for me through many bike tours in some pretty nasty conditions. It’s stuff I can service myself and also parts that I can usually find suitable replacements for in smaller bike shops everywhere. My wife Valerie also used a very similar build for her divide run in 2014.
Here is the breakdown of what hung on my titanium Fargo Frameset, during my 2015 Tour Divide race. Following the parts list are a few of my thoughts about the parts.
- Frame: 2013 titanium Salsa Fargo- size small
- Fork: Niner full carbon – tapered steerer, 9mm quick release drop out
- Headset: Chris King Inset 7
- Handlebar: Salsa Woodchipper – 46cm wide model
- Bar tape: Salsa Gel Cork Tape with Fizik Under Tape Gel pads
- Stem: Salsa Guide Stem – 15 degree rise, 70mm extension
- Brake Levers: SRAM S500
- Brakes: Avid BB-7 front and rear with sintered pads
- Brake Rotors: Avid Centerline 160mm front, Avid G2CS 160mm rear
- Cross-top brake levers: TRP RL951
- Shift Levers: 9 Speed Shimano SL-BS77 Dura Ace bar-end
- Aero Bars: Syntace C3
- Aero Bar accessory: Profile Designs UCM computer mount (used to mount Fenix BT 10 light)
- Cables/Housing: Jagwire Road Pro XL “racer” kit
- Cable Accessory: SRAM compact barrel adjusters- on brake and shifter housings within reach of bar
- Front Derailleur: Shimano XTR FD-M981 direct mount 3×10
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano XTR RD-M960 GS – medium cage, rapid rise
- Crankset: Shimano XTR Trail FC-M980 – triple, 24-32-42 rings
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano XT SM-BB70
- Chainrings: Blackspire SuperPro M980 24t inner, Shimano M980 32t and 42t middle/outer rings
- Cassette: Shimano XTR 9 speed CS-M970 – 12-34
- Chain: Wipperman Connex 9sX stainless steel chain 9 speed
- Pedals: Speedplay Frog – titanium axles
- Seatpost: Erikson titanium Sweetpost
- Saddle: WTB Pure V – cro-mo rails
- Seatpost binder: Salsa Lip-Lock
- Hubs: SRAM X0
- Rims: WTB KOM i23
- Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray bladed
- Nipples: DT alloy
- Rim Strips: WTB TCS covered with 1″ Gorrilla Tape
- Sealant: Stans- about 100ml per tire
- Front Tire: Specialized Renegade Control 29×2.3
- Rear Tire: Specialized Fast Trak Control 29×2.2
- Valve Stems: WTB TCS
- Quick Release Skewers: Salsa Titanium Flip-Offs
- Water Bottle Cage: Portland Design Works the Bird cage – on underside of downtube
- Water Bottle: Zefal Magnum 33oz
- Accessory: Rubber Ducky (named Lucky) – zip-tied to seatstay bridge
- Accessory: MTB Cast sticker on my aero bars
Love this bike! The ti Fargo is a sweet ride. I’ve had a few years to dial in the fit. The reach, rise and positioning on the bike is about as ideal as I can imagine for a ride like the Divide. It’s just a super nice bike for long, long days in the saddle. It’s by far my favorite bike ever. However, when I finally caught up to Jay P near the end of the race I was eyeing his Cutthroat quite closely. The increased clearance in the main triangle of the Cutthroat’s frame looks very nice. I think that may be my only criticism of the Fargo, especially the small size. The sloping top tube. It increases stand-over clearance but I’d quickly sacrifice that for more room so as to fit a bigger frame bag.
Drop Bars/Aero Bars
One benefit of the drop-bar mountain bike concept is that the frame’s top tube is shorter than a comparable flat bar mountain bike. This makes the bike super comfy in the aero bar position. I don’t have to add on something like Siren Bikes Fred Bar adapter to make the reach of the bars more manageable. I spent a lot of time in the aero bars and it is very important to feel comfortable in that position.
From the list above you can see that I used a 3×9 setup. First off, the chains (and subsequently the rest of the drive-train) on my 9 speed bikes last quite a bit longer than the chains on my 10 speed equipped bikes. I changed my chain in Steamboat. I measured the old one before swapping it out. It did not register any stretch but I swapped it out anyhow. I also feel 9 speed shifts smoother when gummed up with muck and tolerates gunky or stretched cables slightly better than more tightly spaced options. I’m not bad talking 2×10 or 1×11. I just like the durability and gearing range offered by a 3x setup. I’m very comfortable with the range of 3×9. Heck, I seem to remember a time that we used to be able to ride everything and have a lot of fun with 3×6 drivetrains. On my setup the 24×34 low gear would be achieved by a 30×42 on a 1x drivetrain. Problem is that a 30×10 high on the same 1x drivetrain is quite a bit lower high gear than the 42×12 on my particular setup.
To some the 42×12 high gear on my bike may not sound that high but on a 29er it equates to a speed of around 27.1 mph at a cadence of 90. Plenty fast for the Divide. There are tons of options in all systems and all have their strengths. I just like my 3×9 and it’s still easy to get 9 speed chains most everywhere. Last year Valerie finished the race on 3×9 in conditions that were MUCH muddier/grittier than this year. Her drivetrain is still going strong to this day. The 10 speed rings on the crankset work perfectly with the rest of the 9 speed parts and I don’t notice the chainrings lasting any less amount of time than proper 9 speeders. I do find the 10 speed rings shift a bit smoother than the 9 speed rings so that’s a bonus. The “demise” of high-end 9 speed parts saddens me a bit. Of course, bikepackers and tourers don’t really drive the parts market that strongly.
Rapid Rise Rear Derailleur
A rapid rise rear derailleur. Who uses those? Not much of anyone anymore since they aren’t available. You can still occasionally find some new (old) ones lurking around. I always liked rapid rise. I suppose one of the only logical reasons for them is say if you snap a cable you are then left with your easiest gear vs your highest gear. Makes a difference sometimes, especially when riding a loaded bike. Yeah you can mess with limit screws to reach a happy medium but there’s nothing like instant gratification. Not much other rationale for it other than I just like them.
My bar-end shifter setup isn’t for everyone but I find it excellent. Shifting pretty much necessitates taking your hand off the bar to reach the lever. Over the thousands of shifts a day on the Divide this alleviates quite a bit of pressure on the hands. This in combination with the excellent Woodchipper drop bar created a situation where I had zero hand numbness by the end of the race. Another nice option of some bar-end shifters in the friction mode. Bend something, or gunk up something severely and you still have shifting that will work beautifully. Also, you have the option of putting on a non-compatible derailleur or cassette. Just after Wasmsutter, Wyoming I turned my rear shifter to friction mode. Everything was working beautifully I just wanted to go to friction mode. It’s the way I used to ride when I was young (there was no index shifting) and it just seemed to give me a different experience on the bike. I liked it.
Hoops and Rubber
My wheels are some that I built up prior to the race. I like building wheels. It’s a bit of a meditative experience and gives a nice sense of accomplishment on finishing a race with wheels you built up. The WTB KOM i23 rims sealed up tubeless with the Specialized tires superbly. I did use two rim strips on each wheel. I’ve never had a problem with the Stans or WTB rim strips. I added the Gorilla tape simply as an extra measure of insurance. I used a fair amount of Stans sealant. About 150 milliliters per tire. There is still a fair amount of it in liquid form in each wheel. I never got a flat until the morning after the race. I looked at the bike in my hotel room in Silver City and the front was flat. I aired it up and it sealed itself up fine. Looks like I got a hawthorn-like bit of branch stuck to the sidewall area when I rolled off the bike to get some water in the last 5 miles of the race. The wheels are in 100% the same shape as when I built them. All spoke tensions are exactly the same as when built and they are still the same trueness and roundness as from leaving the wheel stand. The Sapim spokes are nice, light, aero and expensive. I still wonder if bladed spokes actually give any significant aero advantage on a 29er wheel/tire over 2700 miles. Maybe 20 minutes over 14 days…
The X0 hubs held up wonderfully. The cassette body can be removed without tools so you can get to the drive mechanism if needed. It’s just some simple spring pawls in there but they have super fast engagement the way they are set up. Two pawls at a time engage vs 1 on most spring pawl systems. Carrying a couple of spare pawls doesn’t take up much of any space and they don’t weight much either. The bearings still spin super smooth. The bearings in both mine and Valerie’s DT hubs last year developed a fair amount of slop that necessitated all new bearings in each of the hubs.
I’m still riding the same tires I started the race on. I imagine they have around a thousand more gravel miles on them (based on my riding of the tires in training over the past few years). The Specialized tires are the same model my wife and I used last year. No issues for either of us. I run fairly high pressures. I weigh in at around 155 pounds and typically run about 32 psi with the full race kit when tubeless. The last morning of the race I aired up my tires to probably around 40 psi front and rear as I knew there was going to be some longer stretches of pavement to Antelope Wells. It was the only time during the race I added air to the tires. I find the Renegade and Fast Traks roll quite fast. Faster than other tires I’ve tried thus far and I like the ride feel of the casings. They also shed mud easily as they have a pretty minimal tread. I never fell during the race and always felt like I had sufficient cornering and drive traction.
The Niner Fork
Light and fast. It does help tame small road “chatter” but will properly beat you to a pulp on bit bumps and major washboard sections. My wife runs a White Brothers Rock Solid and it might have a small edge in taming washboard but is still a rigid fork. All rigid forks will get to you at some point or another. They are lighter, simpler and usually more reliable than a suspension fork. Again, I was looking at Jay P’s Cutthroat the last day and was envious of his bottle mounts on the fork, but you can’t put the newer Firestarter fork on the older Fargos. The 2013 Fargo uses a lower axle to crown height as opposed to the newer models so a Firestarter Carbon fork would raise the front end a bit more than acceptable. When I am not racing I use and enjoy the bottle mounts on my steel Fargo fork.
The Erikson seatpost and WTB Pure V saddle kept my backside very happy the whole way. The Erikson Sweetpost is very pricey but is super smooth as it flexes quite a bit to smooth out the ride. The older WTB saddles are very compatible with my underside. The newest models have the same names as the old ones but something feels different/not quite as comfortable to me.
As for a few of the accessories. I mounted my main light, a Fenix BT-10, on a Profile Designs UCM computer mount that was attached the mid section of my aero bars. Worked well in that position for me and was out of the way when I rode in the aero bars. I do use cross-top levers on my Woodchipper handlebar. I like to ride on the tops of that bar quite a bit and having braking readily available or when in really rough terrain is very nice. It kind of approximates a very narrow MTB bar position. The MTB Cast sticker on my aero bar reminded me to call in on occasion. Too bad the waterproof case of my phone caused some very poor sound quality when calling in. Calling in isn’t always on a racers mind but I know that in years past when I was a TD “spectator” I really enjoyed hearing a few call-ins from the folks on course. It helped me connect a person to a blue dot.
One of the most important parts of my bike kit was Lucky. The little rubber duck attached to my seatstay bridge. I put him on my bike last year before my first TD attempt. Why? Some things are just for fun. Lucky might have played more of a role than just fun. I know a lot of us TD racers end up talking to cows at some point during the race. I also had Lucky to talk to. Mental engagement is a key factor in TD success. Good memories are also a great bi-product of a successful TD ride. One of my most memorable moments of this years TD was when I was riding near Dylan Taylor. I was just a bit ahead of him and I started hearing a weird noise from my bike. Dylan started yelling, with great urgency, “DUCK, DUCK, DUCK!!!”. At first I looked up to see if I was going to get clotheslined by a branch or something and then realized poor Lucky had taken a bit of a swan dive into the rear tire. He had come loose from his upright perch on my seatstay and spun upside down. His head scraping against my spinning rear tire. His beak will never be the same. His sacrifice to shave off a few grams might have helped me in the end. Poor Lucky.
My set up ended up working well for me. Zero mechanicals and zero flats during the race. There are as many set-ups out there as there are riders. I think the most important things are to use what works for you, keeps you reasonably comfortable in the long haul, and to use what you can service yourself or in a tiny, minimally stocked bike shop.
In case you missed Josh’s first post, check out his Tour Divide Packlist.