Friday, August 7, 2015

Salsa Colossal Report

The new ride is in.

I arrived in my office in Indianapolis to find this:
Promising.  (Unless you are the Neuvation in the background, on your way to being replaced.)
Need a better mount position for that pump.

The Bike.

This is the Salsa Colossal Titanium, 2014 version, with Ultegra 2 x 11 (50-34 and 11-30), Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes, stock Thomson setback seatpost replaced with the Specialized Cobble Gobbler and WTB Silverado saddle replaced with the Rocket V.  Crank Bros. pedals, Thomson X4 stem, Salsa compact drop bars, 3 x WB cages, Shimano/Stan's 340 wheels, and Vittoria Randonneur 32mm tires.

Nice discrete manufacturer labeling.

The standard in heavy-duty road stems.

I made a great iMovie with an overview.  Unfortunately, my iMovie application is stuck in the publishing process.  Will post when and if possible.


One thing about this bike:  it's called the Colossal.  The marketing photos are all taken from ground up, so it looks Colossal.  Or maybe Titanic.
With the baby blue 2015 color scheme.  Even less Colossal.
But big, in any event.  Look instead at my photo second from the top.  There's nothing Colossal about it.  Not even big.  The 58 cm, which I have, second from the largest frame size, is about as small as I'd want with a full size set of wheels.  Not sure I can handle a frame bag with the full-size water bottles.  As I describe below, I love this bike.  But it is not Colossal.  

The wheels.

The bike came built with Shimano HBCX75 hubs, presumably designed for 'cross use, and Stan's Alpha 340 rims.  Nice and sturdy with 28 spokes front and back.  Good looking set-up with blue accents on the rotor-mounts.

Lighting is bad, but that is a nice anodized blue.

Cheap Shimano cross hubs.  If they are as good as everything Shimano, no complaints.

Who specs a brake track on a bike with no rim-brake mounts?  Seriously.
I'm disappointed in the wheels.  Why take a bike without rim-brake mounts and spec. it with wheels with a brake track -- which adds weight but little else?  And the after-market for affordable light-weight disc brake wheels remains thin.  I see two options:  a relatively inexpensive higher-end Stan's from Competitive Cyclist or the very competitively priced Kinesis disc wheels from Merlin Cycles.  Reviews on the Kinesis are positive, they match the Colossal's color scheme, and at $325 shipped it is hard to go wrong.

The tires.

I asked Sharon at CycleQuest to replace the standard Schwalbe Ultremos with the 32mm Vittoria Randonneur tires you see pictured here.

Look like they could roll over a few broken bottles with little concern.
Not that the Vittorias are better tires, but I have enough 28mm Ultremos lying around to shoe a TDF team, and I wanted something large and durable for commuting use.

Aside about the Vittorias:  there has been much discussion of tire rolling resistance in recent years, with general wisdom being that touring-spec. tires are much slower than race tires because they just bring that much more friction.  Is it true?  

Anecdotal evidence: my usual long-ish ride wattage is maybe 170.  That's casual out-for-several-hours power output.  The Strava power *estimate* from an 80-mile ride reads 150.  Strava's estimate does not control for factors other than hills and rider weight.  Rolling resistance and wind resistance will both be reflected in a pessimistic power estimate. 

Summary conclusion: There was a tailwind going out and a headwind coming back; if those cancel out, the 20 watts -- say 8% -- power loss is due to the tires.  Pretty noisy data, but a large enough differential to be intriguing.

An early question is whether this frameset really fits 32mm tires.  Salsa advertises the 2014 frameset as running a maximum size of 28 (increased to 30 for 2015).  The Vittorias clear, but it is close.  A tire with less pronounced tread might fit better.  I've been tempted to mount my Gran Bois Cerfs in 32mm for real riding use.

On the other hand, is that important?  I have the absolutely perfect 28mm Compass Chinook Pass tires, which are a tight fit on the Focus but would fit ideally on this bike.  I accept that bigger is better and rarely ride 23mm tires on anything -- but is 32mm that much better than 28mm?  I am a skeptic.

A comfortable fit and ride.

The fit was perfect out of the box.  This bike is plush.  Look back at the picture two up -- that's the Specialized Cobble Gobbler seatpost, taken from the Ritchey and installed here for permanent use.  That's my WTB Rocket V saddle, which is perhaps the perfect perch for my particular shape of bum.  Those are Salsa's proprietary bars with a very short reach and very shallow drop, which make moving among the three primary hand positions both easy and comfortable.  The 58cm size comes with 175mm crank-arms, longer than on the tri bike and about right for long legs turning at a slightly slower cadence.  The 58cm comes built with a 100mm stem.

Bike comfort is largely about fit, which is a question of measurement.  I've dialed my three primary bikes in, so the Gunnar, the Focus, and the Cervelo all sit just how I like them.  What intrigued me about the Colossal is that the fit was dead on right out of the box.  I mounted the seatpost, eyeballed the bottom-bracket to seat-top dimension, and rode 81 miles.  Wouldn't change a thing.

On that first ride, I found myself on 10 miles of very fresh chipseal.  With the Vittorias at 75 psi and the Cobble Gobbler, I can say without reservation that the ride was easy; the road surface manifested in an almost pleasant humming sensation.  This bike, similarly spec'd and shod, would be an easy way to cover the worn pavement on a road like Highway 14 in southern Washington.  (Which, to be honest, is probably where I was riding when I first hatched the plan to buy this or a like bike.)

Highway 14.  As reported elsewhere here at HBC, unfinished business on this road.

In addition to the one longer ride I have commuted two and from work for maybe 20 miles total over a few days.  I have enjoyed it commute, mostly because I think the bike looks sweet and commuting across town in Indy is an exercise in profiling.  The large Vittorias roll well on broken city pavement.

The Cobble Gobbler is almost too plush on a truly bumpy road.  Over the pot-holes I find myself bouncing along sort of like riding a rear-suspended mountain bike.  Not too bad, just enough to feel odd.

Riding titanium is new to me.  I'm tempted to say it is comfortable, but I concur with Sam that frame material must be the least of the various factors that go into comfort.  Fit, geometry, wheels/tires, and componentry seem to overwhelm something like a difference in chemical make-up between (say) steel and titanium.  (Could you test this scientifically?  Anybody have a 58cm steel Colossal around to lend HBC for a comparison?)


The Colossal comes built with a matching Enve full carbon fork.  (I like the Enve brand but I can't help but feel that this is like getting Brembo brakes on your Volkswagen GTI:  great brand, but brakes do not a race car make.  Nonetheless, they look nice and are a nice complement to this frame.)  As an aside, I note that this is the same fork spec'd on the gorgeous Breadwinner B-Road, which I might add here looks a whole lot like the steel Colossal, including the build and finishing kits.

Breadwinner B-Road.  Enve fork.  Two obvious differences from the also-orange-painted steel Colossal:  down-tube shifters (rock on) and internally routed brake cable, which leaves the top tube free for a frame pump.

JH at Bicycle Quarterly reviewed the B-Road this summer and, while largely appreciating the bike, generally panned the front-end comfort.  I can't compete for anecdotal evidence against a guy who rides the miles JH does but I do disagree.  This fork is as comfortable as any I ride, including the steel fork on the Gunnar and a handful of carbon forks on my other bikes.

The Frameset.

Titanium frame, full carbon fork.

What makes a frame?  Shape?  Material?  Direction of carbon weave?  Hydroforming?  This is a fairly standard (by modern lights) road-bike geometry.  Double triangle design, sloping top-tube, longish head-tube for a more up-right position (or as a marketing schtick, as a short head-tube with spacers gives exactly the same riding position).  

It is made from titanium, which is (1) lightweight, (2) rustproof, (3) pretty, (4) flex-y, as well as (5) expensive and (6) hard to weld.  It has a modern bottom bracket shell for press-fit BBs, which looks weirdly wide.  It has 135mm rear triangle spacing for 'cross-bike wheels.  Three WB mount points on the 58 cm size, standard (not tapered) head-tube, no pump peg, no chain hanger. 

The frame is predominantly white, with Salsa in black on the down-tube and Colossal in black on the top-tube.  There is a tasteful blue-and-black stripe separating the painted main triangle from the titanium rear triangle.  I don't know why the choice of naked titanium on the rear triangle, but if it is because that is where paint chips frequently occur, I say "genius."  Cable routing is external and the brake cable guides are designed for full-length housing, which both looks pretty cool and permits a later upgrade to hydraulic discs.

It rides nicely.  Better than others?  I doubt it.  Three reactions:


It does feel really, really comfortable.  Once I got the fit right -- and that was quick -- this felt like my bike instantly.  None of that "learn to appreciate the quirks" bit that I have found on nearly every bike in my basement.  I get a touch of toe overlap on the front tire, but I get that on the Gunnar, too.  It might disappear if I was willing to put normal size tires on it.


Noodle-y under hard acceleration, like climbing a steep hill.  Almost unsettlingly so.  Titanium is reportedly that way, but I hadn't quite believed I would be able to feel it.  When I stand on the pedals on the Focus, the bike lays back and forth.  When I stand on the pedals on the Colossal, the back end wiggles.  I felt a little like I might fling my seat-bag off.


Stable.  Riding hands-free is natural.  Seated track stands are easy.  Is that wide tires?  Is it natural flex from the frame material?  Is it shape?  Maybe even the brakes?  Whichever it is, the Colossal feels like an extension of my person.  Sitting on it is like standing anywhere else.

It's Pretty.

The bike looks good, particularly when parked behind a stack of kegs.  (Too bad this new tasting room is literally 1 block from my Indy condo, so no real riding required to get there.)

Looked much clearer in the viewfinder.
My overall impression is that the Colossal is very pretty.  I'd prefer naked titanium, but they left me some in the rear triangle and this is white with black lettering is a tasteful paint job for the rest.  Combined with blue accents on the hubs and blue bar tape, the bike is downright elegant.

I've had a thing for titanium with blue accents since, well, since some custom maker or another built one up and had a mouth-watering picture up on the internet.
Here's one from Firefly.  Need I say more?
My guess is that every custom maker working with titanium has played with the blue accents at one time or another.  It did not help that I learned from good friend Dan at The Intrepid Wendell that the color in a natural sapphire is attributable to the mineral titanium.

An aside:  my predilection for buying the occasional Rapha kit is well documented.  It's good-looking, nice fitting, and high performing cycling gear.  And, it turns out, the Team Sky club jersey pretty much perfectly matches the Colossal.
Team Sky club jersey. 
Blue accents rear triangle, fork, and hubs.
Then Rapha had its 40% off sale.  Yeah, you guessed it.  The Team Sky Club jersey is en route.  In my defense, blue was my favorite color before Chris Froome was born.

Disc Brakes.

The real question for us here at HBC, rim-brake fanatics that we are, is "how are those disc brakes on the road?"

I was inclined against them.  I think it is JH's fault with his pan of the Volagi a few years ago.  Basically, who needs discs when rim brakes work just fine; this "dirt in the calipers" nonsense is nonsense for 99% of road riding; and this "stopping power" bit is silly given that my bikes stop just fine.  (Usually.  Wasn't so pretty toward the end of Sam's and my 90 miles around the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula the other week.)
Beautiful ride, but man, was it wet.
On the other hand, there is a steady drumbeat about the superiority of disc brakes for road use.  I kind of like the look and I very much like the ease of wheel removal, particularly with larger tires.  I also like that rim wobbles, which almost inevitably develop, will not cause brake rub.

Commuting gives some information about the brakes because I use them block by block across town.  I think I really like the discs.  People talk about "modulation" a word that, like panache, I had to look up.  "Exerting a modifying or controlling influence on."  Huh?  So the disc brakes control braking better?

I suppose they do.  Mostly I would say it is smoother.  Rim brakes sometimes shudder, when the pads and rims are not interfacing well, and in my experience they can have some random variation, where they grip well sometimes and slip others.  My assessment so far is that these disc brakes are just smoother.

The better test, of course, would be a high-speed technical descent in less than perfect conditions.  Should have brought the bike home to test on the Sugarloaf descent.

Sugarloaf descent.
The Avid BB7 mechanical discs do brake a tad harder than most rim brakes. I can skid the Colossal and I cannot skid the Neuvation.  (Though I can skid the Focus, so maybe it's a rim/pad/Ultegra vs. 105 thing.)  Not that skidding is very interesting to me, but there is that.

Tuning the brakes is a breeze.  I found a video, posted by Volagi Bikes, about adjusting this particular design (Avid BB7s).   It is trivial and fast to accomplish.  And once adjusted, they seem not to pull out of tune like caliper brakes do.  This is substantially more elegant than the old grip-the-caliper-and-center-it-and-yard-on-the-fixing-bolt-to-hold-it-fast approach that I have used on caliper brakes since 1989.

One question left floating:  is there an argument for hydraulic discs for road use?  They weigh less and, I suppose, modulate better.  After 100 miles or so riding the Colossal with the Avid BB7 mechanical discs, I say there is not an argument.  I can't see what they would offer that these don't and the upcharge is not small.  On top of which, for a roadside repair, I'd rather replace a cable than I would brake-fluid.


This bike checks all the boxes.  Nicest riding bike I've found straight out of the box.  Few upgrades, if any, necessary to at least tie it for status as the favorite in my rotation.  At $3000 on sale from CycleQuest in San Diego -- a shop worth checking out in its own right, for the massive collection of do-it-all rides -- I'd say the Colossal was a very good buy.

Highly recommended!


Unknown said...

Congrats on a great-looking addition! As you know, I rode titanium for 7 years, and my decision to sell the Seven was driven primarily by my profound lack of space to store bikes. (It also had a catastrophic amount of toe overlap -- like, more than an inch -- which caused any number of low-speed tumbles over the years.) One thing I'd say is that I never discerned any flex from the rear triangle while out of the saddle. I don't doubt it's there on yours, and I'd certainly agree that, all else being equal, titanium flexes more than some other materials. But I suspect that it has a lot to do with the shape and size of the seat stays.

sam said...

This is a great looking bike. Some serious drop to the bars, it looks like far more than either your Gunnar or Ritchey. The tires look to me like one pothole away from rubbing on the fork.. 700x28 is still a really plush ride. But it is unfortunate that disc-brake equipped bike, which could theoretically handle much larger tires, isn't sized for 700x32.

I haven't noticed a great deal of flex in any of my Ti frames, but then I have very little to compare them against. Making an educated statement on that seems as valid a reason as any to pick up a Venge.

Your thoughts about the brakes are intriguing. I'd really like to try a set.

The real question is, do you plan to use this bike at Natchez?

Max said...

Thanks, guys. You will certainly see this if we all ride one of the Voyageur divisions in a coming event.

7 and Seven: are you a numerologist or something? That's a very lucky set of statistics.

Natchez -- no, I don't think so, but I could be convinced otherwise. The Focus is riding really nicely. I had thought I might bring this as a backup, but the 11-speed cassette undermines its utility (i.e., it works as a backup but not as a parts warehouse). I had thought about the Cervelo as a backup. If, as it appears, long stretches of that course are toboggan rides, I might appreciate the aerodynamics, silly though that sounds.

Noodling: Sheldon reports that all else equal, titanium will be substantially softer and whippier than steel. Titanium builders compensate with larger tubes to take advantage of its lighter weight (also per SB). I haven't measured tube diameter on the Salsa versus the Gunnar. ( It is of course much more so than a modern carbon build with the uber-fat bottom bracket housings and chain- and seat-stays. But all this is in the arse of the beholder, too. This is my first titanium bike.

Brakes: yes, I have meant to encourage you to reach out to your new framebuilder and see if it is too late to build for discs. I can't say they are better but I can say they were really easy to enjoy riding.

Venge: this is about the 10th time that word has left your computer this week. Hmmm.

Unknown said...

I have one ti bike, a 1999 or 2000 DX 10.9 Mongoose; the intervening years have not induced me to consider ti again. It's a noodle in the rough stuff and under gotime power but I'm a big guy, raced at about 195lbs. The bike feels very lively and comfortable in less stressful endeavors though.

I would have went for the GT Carbon Grade (except I want to see room for a high profile 32mm tire like the Kenda Happy Medium); I love carbon fiber because if done right, it gives just right and then STOPS giving, unlike ti (under my large carcass).

Unknown said...

As the owner of a 15 year old Ti MTB bike I agree 100% with Sheldon. I think a 150 or 160lb. guy who climbs is going to find a magic carpet ride. Being a climber trapped in a downhiller's body I can attest to noodling of Ti. It wiggles all over the place in the rough and I swear there's at least half an inch or more deflection (an inch counting both directions) in the bottom bracket under sprint loads.

Consequently I have many more Al/Cf or all Cf bikes but no more Ti, even though it is ever so pleasing in the weight category.

Thanks for the tip on the Kinesis CX Crosslights. If I wait for an even better deal will I be rewarded? I was looking at a sub 1800 gm set for $210 but I'd be willing to pay another $100 I guess, to save half a pound. 15-1600 grams is where a wheelset feels light to me and 1750-1800 feels what I label as merely decent.

Max said...

GTW: Good comments. Thanks for jumping in. Thanks for the thoughts on the GT. Gosh, it is tempting, isn't it? In particular it's just a wonderful build job for the price point.

Kinesis: I now have them in and mounted. They ride nicely. I don't have enough aggressive use on them yet to give a better review. But at the price point they're pretty nice.

I have succumbed to fancy wheel temptation and ordered a custom build from Ron Ruff at White Mountain Wheels. Ron makes the best handbuilt wheels I've found and charges cost plus $50 for the pair. The new ones will be White Industry hubs and Pacenti rims with CX-Ray spokes, <1600gms for the set.

One thing about disc wheels, of course, is that the hubs are just heavier relative to caliper brake wheels, but the rims can be a fair chunk lighter. So while I can't say this definitively, my suspicion is that the feel-good weights are higher for disc wheels than for caliper-brake wheels, because the part of the mass that is rotating 12" from the axle is so much less.