Bike Review: Salsa Vaya

I posted a long rambling blog about how I came to make my decision to purchase a Salsa Vaya gravel bike, but I also promised a review at a later date. I’ve now got nearly 200 miles on the bike, and it’s about time to put pen to paper and talk about how the Salsa Vaya has been treating me.

Over the past month and 200 miles I’ve had the opportunity to ride the Vaya on city streets during my commute, as well as a couple of gravel-ish rides. I even recently did a short bikepacking trip with a friend and learned a lot about how to best pack this bike. My main takeaway from my experiences so far is that this bike is perfect for the way that I ride, and it feels and moves better than anything I’ve ever owned. I’ve been able to transition over any surface with ease, and the component upgrade from my previous ride has improved my skill noticeably.

What do I like?

There’s a few key things that really make this bike amazing for me.

  • Shimano 105 groupset. This was the groupset I was looking for when shopping for a bike, and the fact that I was able to find it in a 2×11 configuration is perfect. The shifting is smooth between all 22 cogs, with only one configuration (little front -> little back) causing any rubbing. It’s not a gear that I would every really use anyway. Add to this, the smooth shifters and I couldn’t be happier. dsc01587
  • Steel frame. This was a complete surprise to me, but I love the feel of steel. I had never looked at steel bikes before, but when I test rode the Vaya next to a carbon bike, I was able to tell a huge difference. The steel just felt smooth and buttery, and I love how it responds to rough terrain.
  • Geometry. The more relaxed geometry of the Vaya works great for me, and even on a 50 mile ride I never felt like I was uncomfortable. In combination with comfortable dropbars, I can always find a position that works for me. It’s not the most responsive bike out there, but it’s quick enough from the start-line for what I need.

Is there anything I don’t like?

Overall, there’s really nothing I’ve found that I truly dislike about this bike. If I had to nit-pick a couple of things I would say I would have liked a set of top tube bag mounts. My wife’s Journeyman came with those, and that is an awesome perk to just screw your bag in, instead of straps.

The only other thing that I had to give up with the steel frame was internal cable routing. Because the cables route down along the bottom of the down tube, it’s not feasible to mount anything there. When I was bike packing this past weekend, I needed a good spot for my tent poles, and the down tube is probably a good option. However, I need to strap them to the top of the down tube, which means moving my water bottle cage. This isn’t a big deal, but I need to think a little harder about where things go, compared with an aluminium, internal routed, frame.

img_0074

Am I happy?

In a word… yes. I love this bike. As I talked about in my previous blog, I spend a lot of time figuring out what to buy. I test rode plenty of bikes before deciding the Vaya was mine. Despite a couple of nit picks, it’s exactly what I was looking for. I love riding it, even if it’s just to the train station 1.8 miles away.

I feel that this bike will be a solid investment for many years to come, and I can’t wait to rack up the miles in the saddle.

Fitness week recap – 10/7/2019

Week Starting 10/7/2019
Running:
 15.6 miles
Biking:
 43.1 miles
Steps: 83,683
 (41.07 miles –  25.47 walking)

Impression: Little bit of a down week this week. We’ve had some crappy weather, but I’ve still tried to get out when I can. A couple notable highlights of the week were my first ever beer mile on Friday night, using hard seltzer. I managed a 13:39 mile with chugging 3 hard seltzers and one mineral water. I got a time penalty in the official results for switching up one of my beverages, but in hindsight, the mineral water was much harder to chug and sat worse in my gut.

I also got the fat bike out for the first time in a while with some friends. We ended up on some singletrack, which is still really new and challenging for me. I need to spend more time working on that type of riding, but lately I’ve been having too much fun on my gravel bike. Despite the challenges it was a fun ride, and we got to help a friend christen his new fat bike.

Trying out bike packing

Last week my friend Mike pinged me and asked what I was doing on Saturday night. He picked up a bike a few months ago and has been hankering to try out bike packing. We’ve gone on camping trips before, so he knew it’s something I was curious to try as well. Neither of us had tried to deal with the logistics of camping and biking, so he thought a quick, local, one-night trip would be a great idea.

As it so happened, I knew of exactly the place we should go. Carver Lake Park is right at the end of the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail, down in Victoria, MN. It’s a trail that I’m very familiar with, as I run my Fall 50 Mile bike ride event on it every year. It’s also a park that is very close to a town, which means we can depend on shops for food, instead of carrying all of it ourselves. Since this was our first outing, we wanted to keep it as simple as possible.

img_0061The Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail is crushed limestone, which although being an unpaved surface, it’s very smooth and easy to ride on. It also drains really well, so our recent weather didn’t cause any major flooding. Now that we had a route in mind, we just needed to pack.

I decided to put everything I could into my trunk bag and panniers. I have a Bontrager trunk bag that folds out on the sides with two panniers, that are pretty large. In fact, I was able to fit everything I needed except for clothes into this. The one awkward part though was the tent, as the poles are 20″ long. I have some other ideas on how to deal with this that I’ll talk about later, but for the time being I just packed it all in the pannier and let it stick out the top. I did also pick up a Salsa Anything Cage to strap my dry bag of clothes to.

Saturday afternoon we parked my car in Hopkins, and hit the dirt. You could certainly tell that we were loaded down. Because I put everything on the back of the bike, there was a certain amount of imbalance to how the bike cruised. I certainly wasn’t able to get going quickly from a stop, and turning wasn’t quite as smooth. Where I really noticed it though was when the bike was stopped, and when I was trying to mount/dismount. The weight on the sides just pulled the bike downward, and there was more than one comical moment of trying to get it to lift back up, which not falling down completely.

The ride out to the park is relatively short, only 90 minutes or so. We got our campsite, and set up our tents, as best as we could given the winds. We had timed it so that we’d miss the rain that was earlier in the day, but ended up with a freak shower for about 10 minutes… right when we were setting up the tents. Thankfully, I managed to keep everything mostly dry, and soon we had our shelters buttoned up.

img_0067We had brought a little bit of cold food with us, which we munched in our tents, and then headed back out on the bikes to Victoria and Enki Brewing. There we got to sit back and relax for a bit with food and beer and enjoy a quiet evening of hanging out. Our other option would have been to make a fire, but with the high winds, simply going in to town was a better option.

The night passed uneventfully, also I never sleep well my first night away from home. I got a fair amount of rest, but soon enough it was time to get up and start packing up for our return trip. We once again headed into Victoria to have breakfast at School of the Wise and then hit the trail.

Sunday was a completely different day from Saturday with bright sunshine and moderate temps. We cruised back to Hopkins faster than the journey out, and were back home by lunch time. All in all, a great little adventure, and one where I learned a lot.

img_0042So what did I learn? Most of all, I learned what I need for bike packing bags. When I had a chance to reevaluate my packing, I realized I could have strapped the tent poles to my down tube (though I need to move my bottle cage). That would have allowed me to put the tent itself fully into the pannier, and close it up. I also realized that I need to distribute weight better, and I want to get a nice cradle setup for my handlebars. That, along with another Salsa Anything Cage, should allow me to balance where I put things.

One option I am also considering is to get a full frame bag that would be big enough to carry the poles along the down tube side of the bag. I would then need to get a bottle holder for up on my handlebars, but that could be a good option for even longer and more extensive trips. Oh, and one final thing I want… a top tube bag for snacks. That might be a purchase sooner rather than later.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the adventure worked. We had plenty of supplies, and were able to sleep comfortably, just as if we had hiked in to a site. The Vaya performed great under load, and got me from point A to point B in relative comfort. I’m thinking of a couple more small trips like this next year, as it’s a different way to experience camping than I’ve done before.

img_0076

 

Movie Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon

Last week my wife suggested a date night where we actually do something normal couples do, namely go to dinner and a movie. She had her heart set on the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon, and I was curious to see how a movie like this portrays the general trajectory of someone who wants to undertake running. Unfortunately, the release of this film seems to be somewhat limited, so we had to first find a theater that was showing the movie. We found it at the White Bear Lake theater and found a nice place to get dinner along the way.

Dinner turned out to be a bit of an adventure, but that’s a different story. We grabbed some popcorn and our seats in time for the previews to wrap up. The basic outline of Brittany Runs a Marathon is the story of a woman who isn’t having a lot of success in life.  Very early in the film she’s confronted with a doctor who wants her to lose some weight and start eating better. She has a neighbor in her building that is a runner, and one day,  she decides to go for a run. Her goal is to run one block, and I have to say, they captured her initial foray into running (from a sedentary life) pretty darn well. She was a complete wreck after just a few minutes.

I won’t spoil the plot of the rest of the film, but I wanted to touch on the reality of the film. It’s loosely based on a person that the director knew, and so it did a decent job of adhering to a typical runner’s journey. She has to learn how to run, and experience all the little trials and setbacks that come with that journey. She makes friends along the way, and learns that running is more than just one foot in front of the other, but a lifestyle. Many of the running elements of the movie are well portrayed, but I did have a nitpick in one scene. At one point it shows that she’s running an 8:30/min mile, but the effort being displayed on screen is very much less than this. It’s a small nitpick, but as my wife pointed out, it’s probably due to the person the story is based on in real life.

Despite being a movie about running a marathon, it really ends up being a movie about self-discovery, acceptance, and growth. You don’t need to be a runner to enjoy the message of the movie, and that’s really what makes this film special. For those of us in the running world, the life surrounding our running often plays a vital role in why we run. That’s certainly the case in Brittany Runs a Marathon, and it’s why the film works so well. She’s a flawed person, who finds stability in challenging herself. It’s a message that all of us, runner or not, can relate to.

Fitness week recap – 9/30/2019

Week Starting 9/30/2019
Running:
 30.9 miles
Biking:
 49.1 miles
Steps: 107,545
 (53.5 miles –  22.6 walking)

Impression: This week was back at it. I managed 4 runs over the week, including a 14 mile run in cold rain on Saturday. I’m going to taper things down for a couple weeks through to recover a bit more, so this will probably be my highest mileage week for a couple of weeks.

Biking was bigger than expected this week due to an impromptu bike packing trip with Mike. He pinged me on Thursday night, and we were on the trail Saturday afternoon. It added a nice 35-40 mile boost to my weekly biking totals, and gave me an opportunity to try out bike packing. I’ll post a longer blog about it, but I have a lot of thoughts on what worked, and what didn’t.