The big surprise at Saddledrive this Summer was the new Salsa Blackborow. Not the same Blackborow that Sven raved about in years past. This is a new mid-tail fat cargo bike that might look like a copy of a Surly Big Fat Dummy, but the Blackborow has significant differences, that start with the frame material. The Blackborow (BB) is made from double and triple butted, heat treated 6066-T6 Aluminum Tubing. 6000 Series tubing exhibits superior strength and durability allowing Salsa to design a stronger and lighter frame. The BB is 9 inches shorter than a Big Fat Dummy and has a 120 pound recommended cargo capacity compared to the 200 pound cargo capacity of a BFD. The BB also comes equipped with 27.5 x 3.8 (low-fat) wheels with Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR tires and Sram GX Eagle, which all contribute directly to the functionality of how the bike performs out in the field. Salsa took a completely fresh look at the design of the Blackborow’s cargo area and designed a custom bolt-on rack, that adapts to a variety of bags or containers.
Fat cargo adventure bikes really make the imagination go wild with ways that they can be enjoyed. If you like to load gear on your bike and hit the road or back country, the rear rack of the Blackborow is like a blank canvas, ready to accept bags, baskets, backpacks, hardcases, packrafts, video equipment….the list just goes on from there.
My first ride on the Blackborow was at Saddledrive, which is held at Northstar Resort on lift serviced ski area trails near Truckee, California. The one and only Jay Petervary was helping out in the Salsa Tent and he prepped a demo bike for me to try. He gassed up the tires with 10 psi and installed some flat pedals and I was off. I slowly spun up the ski hill to a spot where the singletrack crossed the double track. That’s the photo (above), with the bike leaned up against a rock, (while I gasped for air). It was at that moment, that I noted the 50 tooth cassette was a welcome addition to the BB’s drive train and also…that the bike felt ‘right’. The front end feels like a bike should feel and the cargo portion is barely noticeable (unloaded). I took the singletrack back down to the demo area and was pretty impressed with how the Blackborow handled the big bermed turns and even a big rock over, before the trail dumps you back out to the double track. Out on the double track, the BB hit warp 2 and felt confidence inspiring.
Salsa displayed the Blackborow in two different configurations at the Saddledrive event. One fully customized for Salsa’s Marketing Director, Mike Reimer (above) and one in an ‘off the shelf’ bag configuration (below).
At the beginning of October, we received the demo Blackborow from Salsa. It came in just a few days before the Bikes, a Boat and maybe a Goat, bikepacking trip that I planned to ride the new gear hauling Blackborow. Salsa also sent along a frame bag and one of their anything bags for the BB. When it came time for me to figure out how, I’d pack my gear, I took my inspiration from the ‘off the shelf’ example above. I have one set of dry bag panniers and a set off madden bags that I lined with garbage bags to keep things dry(ish). I used a frame bag from Backcountry Stitchworks that was made for a Fatback Corvus, but fit pretty well. I even pulled out an old Jandd rack trunk and strapped it to the top of the rear rack.
I used a pair of Revelate Washboard Straps to attach the Salsa Anything Bag, with my stove/cook kit inside, behind the seat tube. Below the frame bag, I used a Becker Gear 40 below bag to carry my tent poles. I used my Oveja Negra handlebar bags to secure my sleeping bag and warm clothes and the rider cockpit was filled up with Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbags and Mag-Tank. I mounted two (old school) Salsa Anything Cages to the Blackborow’s Carbon Fork legs and used four more Revelate Washboard Straps to attach a pair of Sea to Summit Compression Dry Bags. There was still ample room for more gear. I could have brought my packraft, paddle and pfd, with no problem. Most of what I used to pack my gear came from my own inventory of bike touring gear from back in the last century and bikepacking gear from more recent, fat-bike forrays. I suspect many of you, out in the real world, are in the same boat. The hodge-podge assortment of new and old gear came together very nicely.
We rode on bike trails, roads, gravel, dirt (which is pretty sandy in Michigan) and beach during our trip. We racked up somewhere between 50-60 miles over the 3 day excursion. BBR Test Pilot and Dose of Fat, Color Announcer, Spinner Ryerson was along on the trip. Spinner was riding his Surly Big Fat Dummy, so we traded (unloaded) fat cargo bikes and rode them back to back on paved bike path and local bandito singletrack, during the middle day of the trip.
Before we get into Spinner and my BFD comparisons, lets set the table with some loaded ride reflections on the Blackborow. The low-fat wheels on the BB make this bike feel fast rolling on road, gravel and pavement. The gear range that the 1 x 12 Sram GX Eagle provides helps this bike negotiate off road climbs easier than anticipated and the ‘load to rider’ input was very minimal. Once you get the BB cruising on a gravel road it felt really easy to keep at speed. I was surprised to learn that I could very slightly manual the front tire, over logs and curbs up to about 5-6 inches and the bike handled pretty well on singletrack. (nothing to technical). The only area where, I felt like the Blackborow faltered was in deep soft sand. There was just too much weight over the rear wheel and the 3.8″ tires didn’t have enough volume to create enough flotation, when fully loaded. The BB did a fine job on firmer sand , but in the soft fluffy sand, the rear wheel sunk in and then spun. The good news is, there are much larger tires out there and I bet that with a big ole’ 4.5 Bonty Gnarwhal, mounted on the rear, we could have had better flotation. (but more weight and rolling resistance on the firmer sections of the trip).
So Spinner and I traded back and forth during the middle day of the trip and this is what Spinner said about the experience. “The BFD is built to haul cargo first, and as a close second, it’s designed to be a viable mountain bike, while the Salsa Blackborow seems to approach the mountain bike design first and hauling gear second.” My impressions were that the Surly had a slightly more upright rider position and a steeper front end, while the Salsa felt more in line with a slightly slacker front end and slightly more nimble overall. I feel that the low-fat wheel size on the Salsa makes for a better trail set up. It’s going to be interesting to see how the low-fat wheel size will work on snow compared to traditional 26″ fat-bike wheels. The BFD bags are always there and are pretty damn versatile, while the BB’s bags are not the traditional extra-cycle type of sack that reside full time on the rear rack. But the BB rear rack allows the rider to customize the set-up to work best with what they have or the situation at hand.
Versatility is the Blackborow’s middle name. I took a run to the post office with some prizes that we sent out to our readers the other day. I was in the store looking at new hard sided luggage and thought to myself, that I could easily attach two carry-on sized suitcases to the BB rear rack and be able to pack my tuxedo on a luxury bike tour across the bible belt. Last summer I met Salsa rider, Ben Weaver, who was traveling all over the US with a banjo, guitar and all of his camping gear on a Fargo, and I thought, now there’s a cat that could use a Blackborow!
I also took our demo out to the Mountain Bike Trails at the Kettle Moraine State Forest and rode the fast rocky singletrack on an overnight bivy. The BB handles singletrack surprisingly well. I’m used to outfitting my normal fat-bike for an overnight trip, so with all of the extra room that the Blackborow has to offer, I only needed one set of panniers.
I think that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with this new Mid-Tail adventure platform. Salsa created the bicycle equivalent to a bitch’n off-road pickup truck and I can’t think of a better compliment that I could give to a fat cargo bike and the Blackborow has earned every word. Let your imagination run wild and start planning the trip of a lifetime, because the Salsa Blackborow can probably get you there in style! MSRP on the Salsa Blackborow GX is $2,799 and is available from your friendly local Salsa Dealer.
Check out more information from Salsa at – http://salsacycles.com/bikes/blackborow/2018_blackborow_gx_eagle