Salsa's Pistola is a lovely US-built Steel sportive iron, and a smooth performer over rough terrain. You'll pay a bit of a premium for that US labour and the quality ingredients, but if what you really like in your road machine is a bit of steel spring mated with sure handling and classy looks, then this should be the last frameset you'll ever need to buy.
The Pistola frame is a lovely looking thing, with classic straight stays mated to a longish headtube (which, as usual, divided opinion) and a fairly sharply sloping top: 7cm from front to rear.
Closer inspection reveals that some of the welds are a bit workmanlike in appearance, but there's certainly no issues with their integrity. The Alpha QS10 fork with its wide blades might not be the obvious choice to match the skinny tubes but the overall look is surprisingly harmonious. The gunmetal finish is tough and the cream and red decals classy and very Salsa. I like the fact that I can hop on the Pistola in jeans or baggies and not feel too self conscious: on most road bikes you feel a bit of a spare cog in anything but lycra.
It's always hard when testing a frame and fork to know what aspects of the ride are down to the core properties of the bike, and how they're affected by the equipment that's fitted. Here the true essence of the frameset seems to be comfort. There are plenty of bikes I've ridden and really liked that have taken some time to grow on me, but the Salsa wasn't like that at all. From the first few miles it was as comfortable as an old sofa, and those first impressions were only reinforced as the miles racked up. I've seldom ridden a more accommodating road bike. That's not to say it isn't fast or sure handling, but the comfort of the ride is what you notice most. It's a bike that comes into its own after a few hours when a stiffer Carbon or Aluminium unit would be starting to beat you up a bit, and for that reason it's perfect as a sportive mount.
When you're climbing you get that springy steel feel as you stamp on the pedals, but there's no rubbing or creaking and the flex is kept well in check. Similar to a good Titanium frame, the Salsa seems to afford a little more traction on loose climbs than a stiffness-is-everything Carbon frameset; they tend to be jumpier on the looser stuff. Point the Pistola downhill and the fork takes care of sending you where you want with no fuss. Tracking through corners is excellent and the Pistola is especially good at quick left-right switches, feeling very agile without being twitchy. Cruising on the flat is an absolute joy, with the Pistola among the nicest bikes I've ridden in a group. With the frame taking care of keeping you happy in the saddle you can concentrate a bit harder on the wheel in front.
You'll pay a weight penalty for steel but it's not a big one, and it's for you to decide whether it's worth paying. Our bike tipped the scales at 8.6kg/19lb when it arrived, of which the frame accounts for 1860g and the fork 900g. Certainly you can buy lighter framesets for a thousand quid, but the 19lb build is pretty conservative. Swapping out the Aksium wheels for Shimano's excellent RS80s (with Hutchinson tubeless tyres) shaved the best part of a pound from that. With a lighter stem and 'bar, a feathery saddle and a carbon seatpost – and remember, you'll have to build it up as it's supplied as a frame and fork – it wouldn't be difficult to build a sub-18lb Pistola.
It's worth mentioning a few aspects of the kit. The Salsa Pro Road bar is a particular favourite of mine, wide with a generous drop. Carbon's generally regarded as the best material for bars but these aluminium drops are among the comfiest I've used. There's enough give in them to hand you a really comfy ride, especially when you're on the drops – I spent much more time on the drops than I normally would. They're plenty stiff enough for anything short of a bunch sprint too. SRAM's Rival groupset performed faultlessly throughout, the Aksium Race wheelset felt a little ponderous compared to the RS80s we swapped them for.
Overall the Salsa is an instantly likeable bike in terms of both look and feel, and it's a grower too: I'll be really sad to see it go. And is it worth a grand of your hard-earned? Well, I don't think you'd be disappointed if you bought one but there's plenty of choice at this kind of price, including a hand-built steel frame from any one of a number of good UK builders, so it's certainly worth having a look at your options. If what you're after is a steel frameset that mates comfortable and dependable performance with a classic and slightly quirky look, then the Pistola will be hard to beat.
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Salsa Pistola
Size tested: 58cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Tig welded True Temper OX Platinum tubing
Fork: Alpha QS10 w/OX Platinum steerer
Drivetrain: SRAM Rival
Bars: Salsa Pro Road
Stem: Salsa Scandium
Seatpost: Salsa Shaft
Saddle: WTB Silverado
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race (swapped for Shimano RS80)
Tyres: Continental Ultra Race
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?
"If you’ve developed a fondness for long road rides, the Pistola might just become your weapon of choice, delivering the sweet feel of premium steel mixed appropriately with a carbon fork.
"The Pistola is designed to deliver a smooth and efficient ride in the famed tradition of a high quality steel frame. An appropriate level of stiffness allows an appropriate level of comfort. This keeps the bike efficient and the rider fresh after many miles of pavement.
"Pistola. Weapon of más satisfaction."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Some of the welds aren't the prettiest but it's a well built and finished frame. Fork is very tidy too
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Frame: Tig welded True Temper OX Platinum tubing
Fork: Alpha QS10 Carbon
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Compact geometry with 73.5° / 73° head tube and seat tube
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
575mm effective top tube is about right for me, the position is sportive rather than full race
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Ride quality is exceptional, one of the comfiest road bikes I've ridden over long distance
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
There's plenty of steel spring but it doesn't cross the line into unwanted flexibility
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes - it's not the same immediate kick as a carbon slab but you don't feel like you're wasting energy
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? neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Pistola cruises really well and it's a good stable descender. there's plenty of traction on steep, loose uphill sections too
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels felt a bit heavy for the frame, we swapped them out
On the springy side of direct, but none the worse for it
Happy to spin up to speed
Not the best but not really designed as a sprint iron
Tracking is excellent at all speeds
At its best on the long cruise
Fine at slow speeds too
Good traction and feels planted
Very predictable and the fork is excellent
A bit of extra weight to carry but traction is very good out of the saddle
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, but I\'d also look at custom options
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: Schwinn Moab, urbanised with 700cs My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with upgrades
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, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.