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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Packin' Pistola

Cycling has become a part of the local landscape

For the past few months my good friend Michael C. (also friend of cyclists Michael T from The View From Taiwan., Michael F., and Michael K.) has been sorely disappointed with his current bike, a Giant hybrid, and has been plotting and negotiating with the missus to get a new bike that actually fits his riding style and suits his goals for his future as a cycling enthusiast. I have been doing my best to give him some help (or not) in finding something that he would really want and like to ride and that fits his size and power. I have to admit, I have been playing a bit of devil's advocate to help clear away the clouds of marketing to look at the fundamentals of the bikes... and at times I am sure I have been a bit of a jerk about it, but when you've watched your friend agonize over having the wrong bike, you hope he gets it right the next time. It is like watching a friend date a girl who is bad for him. So for some time I have been pouring over geometries, discussing materials and components, looking at after sale service and warrantees, and lots and lots of customer reviews. I have been looking for the potential problems. But when it comes down to it... you just need to get out and ride the friggin' bikes. Even if you don't want to buy them, the more you ride the more you can tell the difference between them.

The Salsa Pistola tester

Today Michael C. took the day to test out the steel Pistola from Salsa Cycles. Just because I own a Salsa does not mean I wasn't critical of it. The Pistola is kind of a neat bike in that it is a modern road bike with compact geometry, but it is made with True Temper OX Platinum alloyed steel, which is a composite of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium for a lightweight steel tubing that retains its rigidity. It is really an excellent frame material, but steel has lost out in recent years to cheap aluminum frames and carbon fiber. Still, steel makes an excellent frame that can take some real punishment. The tester was supplied by Tom at Famous Cycles in Taichung and it was speced out with SRAM Rival, another great groupset. SRAM has been a real innovator in the past few years and I gotta say, as a Shimano man, I am a bit jealous.

With a bike to put through its paces Michael C., Michael T. and I decided to hit the pavement and punish the bike in real world conditions. A lot of shops don't let customers ride before they buy. Giant shops often don't let customers take a bike out of the store unless it is paid for. A terrible way to buy a bike. We are really grateful to Tom for allowing a full road test.

Michael tests the bike on a standing climb

We took off from Feng yuan in Taichung County and followed the Highway 3 past the reservoir. The first part of the trip took us over the rolling hills between Taichung and Miao li counties.

A group of Taiwanese cyclists brave the risk of falling out of fashion
by participating in last season's fad: cycling

A few clicks past the reservoir we turned onto the Miao li County Rd. 130. The 130 is a pretty rough hill climb that scales a (770m) 2500ft. mountain and descends into San yi. It is a beautiful road that really let Michael C. put the climbing abilities of the Pistola to the test. He tested for excessive flex, comfort and climbing chops.

A peloton of Michaels

We stopped at an expensive Hakka restaurant called the Mile High. They served fat. Really! We ate a bowl of fat with some traces of meat in it. As an athlete it is really hard to deliberately eat fat. I have been conditioned against it.

The view from the 130

We continued to the top where the views are spectacular and, like most roadside scenic views in Taiwan, the hill top was canvassed in carts selling coffee and sweet sausages. I have been told by an area local that the rice sausage they sell at the top has been bleached to make it look fresh.

Michael T. and Michael C. crest the last hill

The back side of the hill is a great, high speed descent with tight turns and switchbacks. Michael flew down the hill and cut into the turns. The Pistola was extremely stable in this regard.

Stressing the frame on a steady climb

We took the left at the bottom of the hill that leads to the "Broken Bridge". As I was flying down the road at 27mph. my derailleur cable snapped and I was stuck on the 12 tooth cog. This made the entire ride to Feng Yuan feel like another hill climb.

Michael on the Pistola

We finally made it to a Giant shop and chatted with some old men, exchanging routes and biking info while they fixed my cable.

Michael finished his tester of the Pistola with a generally positive review of the frame. It was stiff enough for climbing, yet forgiving in that it could easily be used for century rides without getting beaten up. It descended with confidence and felt solid, like a steel bike should.

The fit wasn't quite right and so he felt he was reaching for the levers and the biggest problem he had was with the Salsa Short and Shallow ergo bars. Some people like them others hate them... he was a hater. He could have used a different seat. The Mavic Askium Race wheels, which we all expected to be a bigger problem, were not that bad, but a serious rider would probably want to upgrade. The SRAM gruppo was tight and responsive. The hoods were comfy and the brakes worked very well. So the review was mixed. I am not sure if he will go with this bike or not, but it would be a great bike for a person looking for a durable, distance bike or a person who likes the feel of steel. I would say if you are considering a Specialized Roubaix and want or prefer a tough steel frame, the Pistola is worth a look. With the right fit this is a real stand out. Oh! It is manufactured, I believe, but don't quote me, by Maxway in Da jia, which is known for its high quality steel welds. I have to admit to a twinge of jealousy.

If you really dig this picture I have a set of replica samurai swords to sell you.
The view on the way home.


  1. I enjoyed reading your article about my son testing the bike. Well done.

  2. Thanks! Your boy is a fine young man. A gentleman and a scholar. I truly enjoy his company and conversation while riding.