This review was originally published in our sister magazine, Bicycle Times
Testers: Justin Steiner and Emily Walley
Salsa first began prototyping tandems back in 2010 when former Salsa Engineer Tim Krueger and his wife Odia saw other couples racing the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival’s Short and Fat Race on tandems. Now, many prototype miles later, including a trip down the Tour Divide,the production Powderkeg is here.
While the Powderkeg is inspired by Salsa’s El Mariachi 29er mountain bike, the construction is much burlier. Salsa utilizes downright huge Cobra Kai tubes custom drawn for this project on the frame and fork to minimize flex. Despite the heavy-duty construction, the complete bike weighs just 42 pounds.
Three frame sizes are available; medium/small, large/small and large/medium. According to Salsa, those offerings will fit captains from five feet, eight inches to six feet, three inches. Stokers from five feet, five inches to six feet even. It’s worth noting we’re both one inch shorter than the minimum stated fit range but had no issues fitting on the bike. Emily ran the standard stoker stem and Justin swapped to a 60 mm stem.
Salsa bills the Powderkeg as a mountain, gravel and touring bike. Big brakes and aggressive knobby tires hold up the mountain bike end of the bargain so long as you’re willing. On the touring side, a plethora of rack, water bottle and three-pack mounts provide ample options for hauling stuff and mounting fenders. Salsa’s Alternator rear dropout system works incredibly well with the company’s Alternator Rack, but doesn’t play as nicely with other racks.
The rest of the Powderkeg’s spec is well thought out and reliable without being overly pricey. The Shimano SLX 3×10 drivetrain worked flawlessly and provided all the gearing range we needed. Avid BB7 cable-actuated brakes with 200 mm rotors provided ample stopping power and resisted fading throughout our testing.
It’s clear Salsa invested and lot of time and energy in this project and their hard work has paid off. The Powderkeg is a cohesive, rough and ready package. I’m so impressed with the ride quality and stiffness of this frame. Fully loaded for camping or on technical singletrack we never perceived a bit of fork or frame flex, which is incredible considering the length of the bike and the force two people can apply.
The Powderkeg’s handling is similarly impressive. Of course, riding a tandem requires some adjustment, this bike’s 70-degree headtube angle and long wheelbase blend low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability very well, regardless of whether bombing singletrack or cruising dirt roads. At tandem-friendly-speeds off road, I never felt much need for a suspension fork, but a 100 mm tandem-rated suspension fork may be used. Unlike a single bike, each person is only really dealing with the impacts from one wheel. The other wheel is so far away the bump forces are much smaller.
The Powderkeg is one of just a few off-the-shelf mountain tandems available. Cannondale offers the Tandem 29er for $3,125 with some compelling component spec, but it doesn’t offer comparable touring versatility and has a strangely steep 72.5-degree headtube angle.
Aside from that, nearly every other tandem in this category hails from a smaller company and commands a premium. For instance, Co-Motion’s Java 29er starts at $5,595. Ventana offers a handful of tandems; the full suspension El Conquistador de Montañas 29er starts at $6,000 and the rigid, fat-wheel El Gran Jefe ranges from $3,200 to $6,500. All of these make the adventure-ready Powderkeg seem like a pretty good deal at $3,999.
To see action photos and learn more about this bike, check out the multi-day bikepacking adventure that begat this review by reading “Allegheny National Forest touring tandemonium” from the same issue of Bicycle Times.
Each year, Quality Bicycle Products, the parent company of Salsa (as well as Surly, All-City and others) hosts a dealer show at is Minnesota headquarters. Salsa took the opportunity to announce it would be officially offering a production version of the Powderkeg tandem that has been floating around in prototype form for years.
Not just an extended version of the El Mariachi 29er, the Powderkeg is built from Salsa’s new 4130 Cobra Kai tubing, a riff on the Kung Fu tubing in the El Mariachi. The fork is new as well, with a tapered, steel steerer and massive legs—as big as some steel bikes’ down tubes. It’s naturally equipped with a thru axle, or can be swapped with a 100mm suspension fork, if you’re brave enough to tackle singletrack. The timing chain is tensioned with a classic pinch-bolt eccentric bottom bracket.
While it’s stout enough for off-road, Salsa says it sees many of its customers using the Powderkeg for gravel riding/racing and adventure touring. A prototype was put to the test in the Tour Divide race in 2012. As such it’s equipped with rack mounts, and the fork uses the three-bolt bosses for Salsa’s Anything Cages. It also sets a record for Salsa with no less than nine water bottle mount positions.
The Powderkeg will go on sale this summer for $3,999 complete or $1,999 as a frameset. It will be available in three sizes: medium captain/small stoker, large captain/small stoker, and large captain/medium stoker.
Salsa is proud to state that it “owns gravel”, and the brand has supported the growing gravel ride/race scene since it began to gain popularity in the past five or six years. From events like the Dirty Kanza 200 to shorter ultracross races across the country, the Warbird separates itself from cyclocross bikes with a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket and larger tire clearance.
The second generation of Warbird bikes retain much of the same geometry of the first, but with a slightly lower stack height for a more aggressive position. The biggest visual difference is the bowed seatstays, which Salsa calls Class 5 Vibration Reduction System—class 5 referring to the gauge of gravel used on roads. The stays have a thin, flat profile that allows them to offer a small amount of give over impacts, a small amount that can add up quick over long rides. By mounting the disc brake caliper on the chainstay Salsa is able to allow both stays to function this way without having to support braking forces.
Offered in both aluminum and carbon fiber versions, both models use the carbon Warbird fork with 15mm thru axle and tapered, carbon steerer tube. Salsa claims the carbon frame and fork reduce vibrations nine percent over the previous generation titanium model, and six percent for the aluminum frame and carbon fork.
All that space in the stays means the Warbird can pack a big tire: 44c in the carbon model and 42c for the aluminum. Both models use PF30 bottom bracket shells and internal cable routing for mechanical or electronic drivetrains. Because gravel rides are often pretty long, it also has a third water bottle cage under the down tube.
The carbon Warbird will be available this summer for $1,999 for the frameset or $3,499 with a SRAM Rival 22 build and hydraulic brakes. The aluminum models are in stock now for $999 for the frame set and $2,499 for a Shimano 105 11-speed build or $1,999 for a 10-speed Tiagra build.Tweet Print