Way back in August, we started a virtual road build here on the blog. For me, this blog project was one of the most fun and educational projects we've done here on the Amigo's blog. Not only did we get to build a fun project, but we learned a lot about our customer(s). Well, I've finally gotten the build complete...OK almost complete. I've also gotten to spend quite a bit of time on this bike including some riding in the mountains of Colorado. I've ridden this bike in original OEM bike spec and also in the virtual road spec. This provided a nice back drop for this discussion.
First a recap. These are the parts we chose.
Frame: Pistola Fork: Alpha Q CS10
Headset: Custom Chris King
Component Group: SRAM Rival w/compact crank
Hubs: Custom Chris King Road, 32h
Rims: Mavic Open Pro, black Spokes: Supercomp with alternating red & silver alloy spoke nipples
Tires: Conti Grand Prix 4seasons, 700 x 25c
Saddle: Fizik Aliante
Stem: Painted to match Salsa CroMoto
Handlebar: Ended up with a 26.0 Salsa Short & Shallow
Bar Tape: New Salsa Gel in black
H20 cages: Salsa stainless
Just a few comments on components before I go into my review. I was riding this bike in the original OEM spec prior to the build. As such, I ended up just riding the bike with the Salsa Shaft post and the stock saddle. I still plan to put a ti post on this and the Fizik saddle, but I didn't want to jump into a trip to Colorado with a new saddle. All this means is the pictures you'll see in down below are quite exactly the components from the virtual spec. So with that, here is my take on this bike along with some history. Hope you enjoy the story and pictures.
About 4 years ago, I came on board here at Salsa. I was super excited to jump in and get involved. Prior to my starting, the Salsa crew had started prototyping what came to be the Primero. It was a beautiful bike. I really wanted to ride one of these bikes, but we had plenty of good road testers that could give better feedback than I could. Frankly speaking, I wasn't riding that much due to other factors in my life.
2 years ago, I picked up a Primero that had a couple of finish defects. I never built it. Again, I wasn't riding that much and when I did, I almost always chose to ride my mountain bike because I felt I could get a better work out in the 2 hour window that I had to ride. If I was going to ride road, I wanted to go out for longer than 2 hours. I ended up selling the Primero to one of my coworkers.
Eventually, the Primero went away due to manufacturing, cost, sustainability, etc. The model just wasn't sustainable from a production view point and in the end, we didn't sell enough of them to continue. It was a sad for me personally as I never got one. It was also sad for Salsa because we think the Primero was one of Salsa's best kept secrets. After its demise, we got a lot of feedback from dealers and consumers. We wanted something to fill the void. We just had to make a new recipe. This is where the Pistola story begins.
Our main goal with the Pistola was to produce a finely crafted, beautiful, functional and high performance steel bike. Many thought we were looking to simply replace the La Raza but the bike we wanted would be more performance orientated than the La Raza. We ended up specing 100% True Temper OX Platinum tube set. We also wanted a carbon fork that had a more steel like flavor so we chose the Alpha Q CS10 fork that has an OX Platinum steerer tube. In the end, we ended up a really amazing concept and we all couldn't wait for this bike to arrive. One Salsa employee even went so far as to compile his own personal Campy Record group in anticipation.
For me personally, the Pistola is as close to my dream road bike as we, or anyone, have ever come. In 2009, I made a commitment to ride and take care of my health. I've lost 25 lbs and rode A LOT! It's been glorious. I couldn't wait to get a Pistola because I had this vision of spending long hours on the bike heading out into the corn filled country side of south western MN and then returing through the bluff country overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. I've missed those 5+ hour rides on sunny days. So, when the Pistola final samples came in, I had one built the next day with our tentative OEM spec.
Like every new bike, I took it on my Friday AM breakfast ride. I got a good hour in before meeting the guys for breakfast. I then took the "Edina" route and ended up looking for the hills of the western suburbs. My immediate feeling is that this bike was just right, except for a few details that I'll call out later. It's weight was just right. The geometry was just right for those long 5+ hour rides. Even at 200lbs, I wasn't getting chain rub on the front derailleur cage when I stood and mashed the pedals. Wow. This thing was awesome. I ended up getting about 55 miles on it that first ride. I also set a PR for my commute home and I couldn't wait to build it with my own parts and do those long rides that I had envisioned in my mind.
The virtual road bike project took the Pistola in a new direction for me. The parts choice is almost exactly what I wanted for my own bike. I couldn't wait to build it and ride it. In the end, with only a couple of changes to the virtual road bike spec, this Pistola will be put into my long term collection of bikes. Some might think that every Salsa bike ends up there, but that is not true. My long term collection are bikes that I actually spend my own money on and keep for the long haul. Only two Salsa bikes are in this collection now, the 25th Anniversary El Mariachi and my Casseroll. Good company I think.
Just prior to Interbike, my family took a trip to Colorado to visit friends and family. Here, I got to see just how the Pistola performed. I couldn't wait to ride in the mountains. It had been years since I've spent quality time on beautiful mountain roads. After careful planning, the route was picked. I'd start in Estes Park, Colorado and I'd ride out the Peak to Peak highway. My brother would ride highway 7 up from Lyons where we'd meet on the road. After our meet up, we'd ride the Peak to Peak out and then ride down the super popular Left Hand Canyon and end up in Boulder where my wife had to pick up her triathlon race packet. Sounds like a good day doesn't it?
Well the ride was incredible. My day started with a 8.5 mile climb out of Estes Park. The climb was a wake up call for this flat lander. The road was pretty good, but rough in a few spots. The new custom wheels were lighter than the stock OEM Mavic wheels and I could feel that weight right away. The 25c tires were super comfy as well, and certainly didn't feel big or slow. In fact, by the end of the day, I thought the tires were amazing.
I met my brother and we headed out toward Ward. Wow, riding in the mountains is amazing. The fall colors were just starting to show. We ended up pedaling comfortably. I was sure glad I had that compact crank. While I really don't like compact gearing in MN, I sure LOVED IT in the mountains. After a refueling in Ward at the general store, we flew down Left Hand. It was so cool seeing hundreds of road cyclists out on the roads. We were feeling so good, we ended up doing Lee's Hill off of Left Hand. Ouch. While the climb isn't really that bad, we had been resting our legs for what seemed like 30-40 minutes (including the stop in Ward) so my legs felt terrible starting out on the climb. They eventually came back to life and I re-caught my brother just before cresting the climb and then we descended into Boulder.
The ride was fast, fun and glorious. We had some extra time so we headed north towards Lyons before turning back to meet our wives back in Boulder. All in all, we got almost 6 hours of glorious road riding. It was here that I knew the Pistola would be committed to my long term ownership. I love this bike. I can't wait to build my own.
With that, I'll sign off. Here a few pics of Pistola from various rides and in various stages of build. Notice the varying build spec of the bike. One note, we also changed the cable routing form this prototype. On the larger sizes, the brake cable is run on the underside of the TT. On the smaller sizes it stays in this position due to proper brake routing.
Here's to long days and smooth pavement! Thank you Pistola.
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Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.