Salsa Vaya Review

I bought a Salsa Vaya 3 from Freeze Thaw Cycles in May of 2015. I've used it primarily for commuting (off-road) but also have taken it for recreational rides on road, gravel, dirt, etc, totally about 4,000 miles. I paid \$1,500. I've ridden bikes a bit all my life, but never really committed to riding a lot for fitness or for transportation. Without being really into cycling I think it is hard to grasp that that \$1,500 does not buy you a high end bike.

There is a great thread of Vaya builds on mtbr.

The Bad

Nothing really.

The Mediocre

The bike comes with a 3x9 Sora chainset, with 50-39-30 chainrings on the front, and an 11-32 cassette. This has been mostly fine, despite being chuckled at by better equipped cyclists on occasion (which is a ridiculous thing to do imo). The front shifting is a bit finicky and the lever action (i.e., how far you have to press the lever to shift) is way further than my girlfriend's Ultegra 6800 levers. Mostly it works fine though. The gearing is low enough for most things when the bike is unloaded and everything but long, steep climbs when loaded. This obviously depends very much on your fitness level. The gearing indicators are (contrary to my expectations) not so useful. In any case crashing, flipping the bike after flatting, and general carelessness/haste have scraped them up enough that they are unusable anyhow. It is somewhat annoying that the port for the shifter cable is on the side, rather than being routed out the back and under the bar tape. If you want to mount a front bag this gets in the way, in addition to looking a bit messy (cables everywhere!). Also, having a 50t big ring on this type of bike is excessive. I spun it out once trying to break 50 mph but that was stupid.

The wheels are a combination of a 32 hole Sun SR-25 rim and Formula hubs. The stock tires are Schwalbe Silentos. I abused the wheels pretty thoroughly by crashing repeatedly, riding too fast with low pressure and a load, failing to maintain the hubs, etc. I now have a HED Belgium Plus, DT Swiss 350, SON 28 wheelset which cost as much as the bike (and are super cool) but I have nothing bad to say about the stock wheelset (aside from weight).

Replacing the tires on the other hand, would be a good move. Depending on where you might like to ride the Surly Knard 41 (stock on the 2016 Vayas) is fun and makes riding off-road a more comfortable experience. A slick (even > 35mm wide) road tire also feels like an enormous (speed) upgrade. I have tried Compass Barlow Pass and Schwalbe G-Ones, both 38mm wide and run tubeless. Either would be a good choice I think.

It sort of stinks that there are no braze-ons on the fork for mounting a front rack. There are mounts for low-riders but they are (unsurprisingly) sort of low for a front rack (at least a rando-style one). So if you want a rando-type front bag you either have to use clamps to attach the rack or are stuck with ones that mount directly to the handlebars (e.g., these). This mostly works but if you ride off-road a lot it will swing around a bit since it only has one point of attachment.

This bike is not light, which makes you strong and/or whiny.

The steerer tube is straight 1 1/8th inch and will not accept most carbon forks which are tapered.

The Good

The color. It is very nice! The new blue is similarly awesome. I recently powdercoated my girlfriend's Vaya and it came out fantastically. It is nice that this is a (relatively cheap) option.

The brakes. Tuned correctly the Avid BB7 that it comes with is very powerful. They squealed an uncomfortable amount in the rain, but this was almost entirely fixed with these rotors. I would switch them out straight away. Maybe a hydraulic disc brake would be noticeably better but traction has been the limiting factor every time I've needed to stop quickly, regardless of conditions.

The frame. I'd never ridden a drop bar road bike before this and it is comfortable. It is a bit more upright than most drop-bar bikes it seems. I have the stem slammed into the head tube, and flipped, and there is still substantially more stack than most road racing bikes. The reach also isn't very long (it also comes with a pretty short stem). The frame has loads of mounts. It has 3 waterbottle cage mounts (seat tube, and top and bottom of down tube), two sets of braze-ons for both a rack and fenders, plus the low rider mounts and a pump peg (for a frame pump). I think with some straps you could mount anything cages or more water bottle cages on the lowrider mounts. I do have a good bit of toe overlap with large tires or fenders (55cm TT with a US 10.5 shoe) which is annoying but apparently inevitable.

Other Comments

The 2016 Vayas are specced with SRAM 10 speed drivetrains which combine an almost completely mountain bike setup (i.e., cassette, derailuers, crankset) with road shifters. This is a nice combination but is really only possible with SRAM 10 speed (see this for a more full discussion). This newer spec is geared a wee bit lower than the 2014-2015 stock on the Vaya 2 and 3 (compare here). FWIW I think the best (widest) setup is as follows. A Shimano 11-speed road drivetrain (derailuers, crank, shifters, chain) (e.g., 105 5800 or Ultegra 6800) with a Wolf Tooth Road Link to accommodate a mountain bike cassette with up to a 40t max cog. My setup now consists of 105 5800 shifters, and rear derailuer, Ultegra 6800 front derailuer and crankset (46-36), and a Deore XT 11-40 cassette.

My girlfriend has a similar setup which isn't supposed to work but does nonetheless. She has a 42-28 Deore XT crankset and front derailleur with Ultegra 6800 shifters and an 11-32 105 5800 cassette. The cable pull for the derailleur isn't the same for Shimano's mountain bike and road bike parts, so the trim feature on the front derailleur doesn't work, but this is a pretty minor issue. Everything else works well.

I don't think I would have bought bikepacking style frame bags if I had it to do over again. If you use water bottles instead of a hydration bladder they just get in the way. A partial framebag might work though.

You can get a better component spec on a \$1,500 bike, but there aren't a ton of options that are as versatile. Others popular options to look at are the Soma Wolverine (if you want to build it yourself), Marin Four Corners, Surly Straggler, and Jamis Renegade. No doubt any of these would have been good choices as well.