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Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Bike Plan B: La Steel, La Disc, La Cross... La Cruz!!!

And That Means Its Good!

I started out my year on a bit of a sour note. The bike I had been riding for three years, the bike which had defined so much of my riding experience in Taiwan, had developed a fractured head tube. When I saw that hairline crack in the lower lefthand corner of the tube, my heart cracked as well. I loved that bike. It could do so much so well, and we'd been so far. Still, a defect like that could have led to a serious injury.

I could have been upset and made a gripe about the quality and design of Salsa bikes, but I don't think that would have been right or responsible. I don't blame the company, the design or the manufacturer.

A long time ago when I was a flustered teen trying to cope with a Murphy's Law moment in a fast food drive-thru-- which is sort of like taking the Bar exam for Murphy's Law-- a customer imparted on me some words of wisdom that have stuck with me since. As I continued to get worked up over a hamburger, he calmly called through the window, "Shit happens... and when it is not happening to you it is happening to me or to someone else."

This is sooth.

I think it was just shit that happened. No need to assign blame.

I also feel Salsa's 5 year warranty backs up their own confidence in the engineering and manufacture of their frames.

When people ask me to suggest some bikes for riding around Taiwan, Salsa is at the top of my list and I think, even after the broken head tube, I still wouldn't hesitate to put Salsa at the top of the list.

Unfortunately, I picked up one of the last of the Las Cruces framesets before they divided the bike into two different bikes designed with diverging purposes.

What really attracted me to the Las Cruces frameset was its versatility. It was light and responsive like a cyclocross racer, but it had disc brakes and could easily do double duty as a dirty roader or even a light tourer. It was made from scandium alloy tubing and the frame itself weighed in at only 2.5 lbs.

Still, the UCI had balked at sanctioning disc brakes and riders want to look pro, so the Las Cruces was discontinued and replaced by the Chili Con Crosso cyclocross race bike-- a lean, mean, racing machine focused purely on racing on a circuit of mud. It was also replaced by the La Cruz, a steel framed bike with relaxed cyclocross style geometry, but with disc brake exclusivity, eyelets and a steel fork. With a frame weight of over 4 lbs, it was not a lean racer, but it was ideal for almost everything else.

The La Cruz could be built up as a cyclocrosser, a light tourer, a commuter, a flatbar singletrack splitter, a smooth longhauler and a gravel roader. As a steel framed wonder, riders found a way to mold it into whatever they needed. It was such an expandable frame, it quickly became legendary in the same way its QBP stablemate, the Surly Crosscheck, has become an everything bike. The allure of shiny disc brakes made it even better.

And it was orange.

I have recommended the La Cruz to numerous people and brought them to Famous Bikes in Taichung to have a look in person.

This is the bike so many riders in Taiwan should be riding right now. It is made for the way real people ride.

After a rough start in trying to figure out how to replace my frame due to my location in Taiwan, Salsa was incredibly helpful in offering a solution. Since Salsa's Taiwan distributor does not have the 2011 models in stock, and will not have them for a while longer, I was offered a 2009 Salsa La Cruz as a replacement. I thought that seemed fair and accepted the offer.

The La Cruz is made from True Temper OX Platinum steel tubing, which is a very hard, durable alloyed steel tubing, allowing strength with lighter weight. It also lends itself to TIG welding, which is how the La Cruz is welded. Actually, I have been really impressed with the quality of the welds on the La Cruz. And that is coming from a Seven owner.

The complete La Cruz comes with a lot of Salsa branded extras, like the Salsa embroidered WTB saddle, which is soft and seems easily comfortable enough to keep the backside cool from Taichung to Kaohsiung.

The bike also came stocked with a shiny Cane Creek headset to highlight the "orange pop" paint job. The paint is sort of tricky to photograph. It has a satin sheen to it and a little sparkle. Really nice.

I was happy to get another set of off-road tires with the Panaracer Cross Max, but they were a little softer and slower than what I would normally have on the road. I will probably switch them out for a set of Continental 4000GP 25c road tires and possibly a commuting tire as well.

The 430mm chainstays can accommodate a 42mm dirt tire, so this bike could conceivably be used for some more heroic dirty riding than I have done so far. I might try to ride the entire length of the Highway 16 to the helicopter pad on this beast.

The drivetrain uses Shimano's trusty 105 group set with a Truvativ compact crank (50t/34t) and a 12-27 rear cassette. This is pretty much what I had been using before.

The La Cruz also uses Shimano's XT mountain bike hubs laced to some sturdy Salsa Delgado Race 29er Rims. These should make for some bomb proof wheels to handle anything from potholes on Taichung Harbor Road to the stony betel nut tracks of Taichung county.

With rear eyelets, I hope to strap a rear rack to the back and make this machine a regular commuter. I had been overstuffing a backpack, but it was too cumbersome and a rack set-up would really give me more of a utility angle than what I can currently do. What makes the La Cruz so awesome is that it can easily go from a quick road bike to a hauler with the snap of a rack. So many of the bikes sold in Taiwan for this purpose are ill suited for actual use. There are far too many flatbar aluminum bikes with panniers hanging off their seat posts.

The La Cruz sports some relaxed angles, which are great for comfort, touring and easygoing in traffic. The seat tube and head tube angles are each about a degree back from my Axiom. This would be perfect for riders with reach or back problems. It brings the bars closer in a more upright position as opposed to stretching way out over the top tube to reach the handlebars.

The Avid BB7 disc brakes are really a fantastic feature. I am still assessing them for their stopping power and ease of use, but I have been eager to compare them to my old Shimano Br-505R disc set. I was having some noise issues with the Shimanos, and thus I am pleased with Avid. The stopping power of discs trumps the cantilever brakes that are usually found on cyclocross and commuter bikes, and I can recall a few rainy days where the discs saved my ass in traffic.

In my early assessment, the bike rides like a Cadillac compared to the stiffness of the Las Cruces. Not that I didn't like the snap of the Las Cruces, but the steel tubing, long stays and fat tires really made for a plush ride. I am sure it will firm up a little with road tires, but I could just roll over anything.

The handling was much more firm and deliberate. The Las Cruces was just inside twitchy, while the La Cruz was firm. I could cut through scooters and cars while craning my neck without having to look back at the bars to be sure I wasn't going to lose control and hit something. I must say, I did miss the raciness of the Las Cruces, but the Seven has it in spades, so a little more stability is welcome at this point.

Another feature of the bike I am just getting used to is the Moto Ace Bell Lap Bars. These are really shallow bars with a slight flare to them. Once in the drops, they are pretty easy to reach the controls. I am used to the Deda Newtons, so it might take a little time to adjust. The shallowness would be very welcome for a rider with flexibility issues.

The front fork is also made from True Temper OX Platinum Steel. It feels rigid and absorbs the abuse from the road with aplomb.

This is really a gem of a bike and after trying to get so many people to pick one up for themselves, I can enjoy the ride for myself. This is really a special bike and an ideal ride for Taiwan.

Steel is resilient and can take a pounding on Taiwan's roadway, but also in train cars, busses and in the back of a van with a load of other bikes. It can take the right sized tire for the job and it can easily take you from the city to the mountains, from road to track without having to change a thing.

The rack mounts can allow you to take your regular ride and do the fabled round-island tour with a full load of gear. They just don't make enough of this type of bike.

Sadly, this version of the La Cruz is out of production, but Salsa does offer several models that I regularly recommend to riders in Taiwan for their stated purpose:

La Cruz Ti: The steel La Cruz may be dead for now, but its titanium brother survives. Salsa has been incorporating several affordable titanium models of their popular frames and the La Cruz Ti looks like a winner. Although it lacks the signature disc brakes, it could be a great bike.

Vaya: The Vaya can be viewed as the successor to the steel La Cruz. The Vaya is a ChroMoly steel frame that has been optimized for the credit card adventurer. It has disc brakes, relaxed geometry and it is orange.

Fargo and Fargo Ti: When the Fargo was introduced it immediately reminded me of a fighter plane-- The A-10 Warthog. The Warthog isn't pretty, but it is unstoppable and completely lethal, which is why it has been in continual service since 1977. The Fargo is a steel or titanium drop-bar go anywhere bike with disc brakes, rack mounts and five water bottle mounts. I can see this being used for touring and camping around Taiwan's East Coast.

Casseroll: If there was ever a perfectly balanced road bike for the non-racer, the Casseroll would be it. I have begged people to try the Casseroll. It has rack and fender mounts, room for 38mm tires, but more roadlike geometry. Steel. The Casseroll can be built as a geared, single speed or fixie. This is the All Rounder. Why won't anyone listen to me? So many riders in Taiwan would love this bike.

Salsa has several other models, including several mountain bikes, but the bikes above should be on your short list if you are looking for a well thought out, versatile, and tough bike that should last you a long time on Taiwan's roads. Although my alloy frame broke, I don't think it is indicative of Salsa products. Beyond that, Salsa backs up their frames with service that can only be described as Above and Beyond. I was in regular communication with Chuck at Salsa during my warranty process and he was courteous and he seemed to really care that the company stood behind their products and service. It is easy to tell that Salsa is a company of people who are passionate about what they do.

Unfortunately, the Salsa brand suffers a bit of a disservice in Taiwan as the local distributor has not done much in the way of promoting or preserving the best qualities of such a great brand for Taiwan's rugged landscape, so you may not even be aware of where to check them out if you are interested. Although I am aware of several distributors that would love to add Salsa to their stables, I am only aware of one dealer: Famous Bikes in Taichung.

Frame: Salsa La Cruz (True Temper OX Platinum)
Fork: Salsa True Temper OX Platinum
Group: Shimano 105 -> Ultegra 6600 (50/34 to 12-27)
Headset: Cane Creek -> Chris King
Bars: Salsa Moto Ace Bell Lap -> Deda Newton
Stem: ? --> Something Smaller
Seatpost: Salsa ?
Saddle: WTB --> Selle Italia Flite Gel
Rims: Salsa Delgado 29er Race --> DT Swiss1.1 / 1.2
Hubs: Shimano XT --> Chris King ISO Disc
Brakes: Avid BB7 Mechanical Disc
Tires: Continental 4000GP 25c / Panaracer Cross Blaster / Others
Pedals: Crank Bros. Candy SL (Generation 1)

Great Bikes. Great People. Great Company!!!

For any questions regarding Salsa bikes or their availability in Taiwan, contact Salsa:

This review has in no way been paid for or supervised by anyone other than Taiwan in Cycles.