A few months ago I tested the Salsa Fargo, and had a jolly good time doing so. It's the most versatile bike I've ever tested and a real hoot to ride. In the cold hard light of day though, when you're about to put your money on the counter, you might question whether you're actually going to ride an MTB enduro on it, or tackle the Karakoram Highway. Enter the Salsa Vaya – a more mainstream do-it-all option. It's not quite got the range of the Fargo but it's still a massively enjoyable and capable bike, that'll be a better option for many. It's a bit cheaper too.
First off we'll deal with what the Vaya isn't. It isn't a chuckable city iron with discs and drops like the Kona Dew Drop, or one of the growing band of disc-clad 'crossers. It's a touring bike. With discs. That might not make it trendy, and Salsa opt for 'Road Adventure' as a less beardy way of describing it, but essentially it's a big, comfy, rangy, stable touring platform. The frame uses Salsa's Classico Cromoly and the same disc-specific dropouts as the Fargo, so the same proviso about the fiddly access to one of the mount bolts applies, but other than that it's very well put together and well adorned with braze-ons: front and rear racks and 'guards, three water bottles and a pump peg. The 58cm frame (with a 58.5cm effective top tube) was perfect for my 1.90m frame and there's a good sizing chart on the Salsa website that shows what frame fits who.
Transmission is a mix of Shimano's MTB and road gear, with Tiagra STI levers shifting on a 54/30 compact chainset and 11-32 rear cassette, with an LX rear mech to handle the big range of gears. SRAM's BB5 road discs do the stopping, and wheels are DT Swiss X470 rims (26" X430s on the two smallest sizes) on Formula hubs, running Conti's chunky Tour Ride rubber. Finishing kit is mostly Salsa's own, and again it's tailored to the bike size so the biggest frames get the whopping 46cm incarnation of Salsa's excellent Bell Lap bar.
First impressions of the Vaya are of a bike that's easy to get on with. The position is neutral, the steering a touch on the slow side but perfect for cruising along. Everything falls to hand easily and the Bell Lap bars offer a useful and not-too-racy second position that drops you out of the wind a bit but won't stretch your back. The wheels and tyres are built for comfort rather than speed but the bike as a whole is more sprightly than the heavier Fargo, and lighter road-specific rubber (we tried some 28mm tyres for comparison) speeds up progress no end. Even with the thinner tyres pumped up hard the frame and contact points do a great job of smoothing out the ride. If you're just going to ride on the road and the odd gravel track, the tyres are the first thing we'd change.
The Vaya is more than capable of handling a bit of proper off road too. Okay the tyres won't give you much grip over wet roots but it's a stable bike, sturdily built with lots of standover height and some low gears. I took it on a loop of the White Peak up in Derbyshire and it was well behaved even on the rougher sections. It feels big and a bit slow in the singletrack but that's not really what it was designed for. The all-round capability of the bike means you do find yourself darting off down lanes and tracks for a poke about, even when you're meant to be on a road ride. It's a very liberating experience.
The bike gets better the longer you ride it. When you set off you're maybe thinking of how much faster you'd be on that racier steed you've got stabled in the shed, but a few hours in and you realise you're looking around at stuff, you're comfortable and you're enjoying yourself. You might not have gone quite as far, but you'll have seen much more. Touring's great like that. Sorry, Adventure Road riding. Having said all that, there's no reason why you can't also go day-to-day on the Vaya for your commute and shopping trips. After all, it's easy to ride and built to last. It's not the fastest skipping through traffic but it's perfectly rideable in town. Similarly there's no reason why it couldn't handle a faster pace on an Audax, say, especially with a change of tyres. The 11.7kg weight will drop a bit with skinny rubber and the position is great for eating up the miles.
I did load the bike up in various ways: with panniers, with a child seat and with a trailer (not all at once) and it was perfectly happy pootling around weighed down with whatever I could throw at it. I didn't take it on an epic tour to the Pyrenees, but I'd certainly like to. However, I'd question whether it'd be better with a road triple or even an MTB triple rather than a compact. It is a tourer after all, and 34/32 sounds like an impossibly low gear until you're trying to haul 20kg of luggage up the Tourmalet, at which point you'd probably be pretty grateful for another few ratios. Having said that the Vaya is a very happy climber and easy to spin up the hills. Point it down and the combination of the easy steering and powerful brakes make descending pretty stress-free.
Whilst we're on the subject of the brakes, though they're good – plenty of power and easy enough to adjust – I did find myself pining for the BB7 Mountain stoppers of the Fargo, which are a class above but not an option here because the STI levers don't pull enough cable. BB7 road units would have been nice though, and can be found on bikes costing a lot less than this. The transmission worked its faultless magic throughout. Tiagra levers are the lowest level at which I find I can shift without thinking, and the MTB bits worked perfectly with them, no issues there.
Overall I found the Vaya a really enjoyable ride. It's perfectly set up for comfortable and enjoyable riding, the spec is well thought out and functionally excellent. You could throw most tasks that come under the umbrella of road cycling at it and have a good time, and what it lacks in ultimate versatility it makes up in lower weight. Given that it's a pure-and-simple touring bike, though, it's easier to compare with other touring bikes in terms of value. Salsas aren't cheap: the Fargo, at £1600, is a fair whack but there's nothing really to compare it to, except the Singular Peregrine and a few other very niche bikes. There's a raft of tourers out there though, and the Vaya is competing with them on price as well as performance. Take for example the Kona Sutra we currently have in on test: it's £350 cheaper for a bike that not only comes complete with racks and guards but also scores BB7 discs and an XT mech. Okay it doesn't have STI levers, but it's a lot of bike for the money. It'll be interesting to see how it scores on the ride.
Suffice to say that the Salsa will appeal most to people who want something a different and are prepared to fork out a bit extra, but still want a bike that performs. It'll be money well spent with the Vaya: it's a lovely bike, comfortable and versatile. Me? I think I still want a Fargo. But I'm odd like that.
Lovely touring bike that's perfectly set up for comfortable and enjoyable riding
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Salsa Vaya
Size tested: L
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Vaya, Road Adventure, Salsa Classico CroMoly
Fork Vaya, Salsa Classico CroMoly, 1-1/8", Disc Only
Color Upside Brown
Crankset Shimano FC-4550-S, 50cm=165mm, 52,54,55,56cm=170mm, 57,58,60cm= 175mm, Silver
Chainring Shimano 34/50T, Compact Double, Silver
Bottom Bracket Shimano Tiagra Hollowtech II BB
Chain Shimano HG-53
Cassette Shimano CS-HG61, 9-Speed, 11-32T
Front Derailleur Shimano Tiagra, Silver
Rear Derailleur Shimano LX, Long Cage, Silver
Headset FSA Orbit DL Alloy, 1-1/8", Silver
Handlebar Salsa Moto Ace Bell Lap, 26.0mm, Silver, 50/52cm=42cm, 54/55/56/57cm=44cm, 58/60cm=46cm
Stem Kalloy AS-009, 26.0mm, 50/52/54cm=80mm, 55/56cm=90mm, 57/58cm=100mm, 60cm=110mm
Handlebar Tape Salsa Gel Cork, Dark Brown
Front Brake SRAM BB5 Road, 160mm Rotor, 6-Bolt
Rear Brake SRAM BB5 Road, 160mm Rotor, 6-Bolt
Brake Levers Shimano Tiagra STI
Tires 50/52cm=Continental Town Ride, 26x1.75" Wire Bead, Black. 54/55/56/57/58/60cm=Continental Tour Ride, 700c x1.6" Wire Bead, Black
Front Shifter Shimano Tiagra Double STI
Rear Shifter Shimano Tiagra 9-Speed STI
Seatpost Kalloy Radiused Top, 27.2 x 350mm, Silver
Seatpost Clamp Salsa Lip-Lock, 30.0mm, Silver
Saddle Velo w/ Salsa Embroidery, Brown
Chainstay Protector Salsa Leather
Hub Formula, 32H, 6-Bolt, Silver
Spokes DT Swiss Competition, Double-Butted, 2.0/1.8mm, Silver
Rims 50/52cm=DT Swiss X430, 26", 32H, Black. 54,55,56,57,58,60cm=DT Swiss X470, 700c, 32H, Black
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Vaya is our road adventure bike, designed to take on any surface that someone might consider a ‘road’.
Crafted of Salsa Classico CroMoly, the Vaya is loaded with braze-on’s for fenders, racks, and lowriders. This makes everything from wet weather commutes to full-on touring a breeze.
Stable geometry keeps the bike from being twitchy, and makes the bike a pleasure to ride while loaded. Our two smallest Vaya sizes use 26” wheels to provide better fit, improved standover clearance, and to eliminate toe overlap. The larger Vaya sizes use 700c wheels.
Enjoy a long day in the saddle. Link up pavement and gravel. Hit that limestone rails-to-trails route you’ve always wanted to do. Do a light tour. Or load your panniers to the hilt for a month of two-wheeled exploring. The Vaya will get you there. And bring you back.
Vaya. A true do-it-all road-riding bike.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Lovely build and finish, the lustre on the paint is especially nice in the flesh
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Salsa Classico Cromoly
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
see http://salsacycles.com/bikes/vaya/ for all sizes. The 58cm is a 72°/72.5° with a 58.5cm effective top tube
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's a lovely bike to ride, a happy balance of upright position and speed
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's not overbuilt and you can feel some spring from side to side when loaded, but it never felt flexy
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It's mostly a sitting down bike, power transfer is very good
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Slow but not unresponsive
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Touring handling: stable, not twitchy, great for cruising
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Everything comes together well. Bell Lap bars get another mention, they're my favourite
Very good transmission
Doesn't burst from the lights
Not exactly a major concern
great descending at speed
What it's built for
easy to muscle about even with slowish steering
Sit and spin
You can get more for the same money elsewhere
Wheels and tyres
Salsa's own brand kit is some of the best around
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, very much
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, although I still really want a Fargo
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 37 Height: 190cm Weight: 96kg
I usually ride: whatever I\\\'m testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with Ultegra 6700
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.