Road Test: Salsa Journeyer

This article first appeared in the October/November 2022 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. 

Nothing gets me ramped up to ride my bike like those surprisingly warm, sunny days mid-spring when the flowers all seem to come out at once and the trails, despite all the rain, are dry. Here in Missoula, the buttercups and alpine sunflowers and shrubby cinquefoil all burst from the ground like yellow hives, especially on nearby Mount Jumbo where we love to take our test bikes for their first rides. The Journeyer GRX 600 650b, in its bright yellow best (the website calls it lime, but it’s closer to lemon-lime), fits right in among the wild things shivering in the breeze. As we have remarked in other reviews, there is something to be said for a bike that makes you want to ride it, and that starts with pulling it out of your stable as it catches your eye. The Journeyer is fly. The color borders on safety-yellow but with a tint all its own, bright and welcoming as that first perfect spring day. Among the bikes in my garage, it’s the Journeyer that always calls my attention first.

On my first ride, I had miscalculated the start of my route, entered the forest through the wrong trailhead, and found myself mountain-goating up the hiking trails rather than the doubletrack I’d expected. This bike, at barely 23 pounds despite its alloy frame, dutifully churned up, up, up the singletrack until I finally decided that yes, I did take a wrong turn. Coming down, I was pleasantly surprised at the bike’s handling over the rocks and loose topsoil as we flew down the narrow trail. When I first got into mountain biking back in 2007, I ran into a friend on the trail I was struggling on and he rode joyfully in front of me on his cyclocross bike, bopping over rocks and roots, powering up and around the tight stump-pocked trail. It has since been a goal of mine to achieve handling skills proficient enough to ride a dropbar bike with narrow-ish tires on mountain bike trails, and the Journeyer just about got me there. By the time I found my way to the area I had intended to ride, I had found my comfort zone with this bike, and it handled nimbly over the dirt trails without feeling twitchy. This bike takes some aspects of mountain bikes, specifically the somewhat raked-out fork compared to other dropbar bikes, and a shorter stem. These dimensions help keep your weight a bit farther back when you’re riding in the hoods than one may expect. While it comes with a standard seatpost, it’s compatible with an internally routed dropper post so you can play around even more with your positioning if desired.

The tires are 650b x 47mm, so they aren’t too narrow, but they offer a great balance between enough cushion to handle bumps and impact (the Waxwing carbon fork and Cowbell bars with cork bar wrap also help) while still being high volume enough to maintain both grip and roll on a variety of surfaces. The stock tires are Teravail Washburns, which strike the balance between traction but not too much. For someone like me who can’t make up her mind about anything, these are a good option. I can see other personalities wishing for something a bit more distinctive that can do a better job on a certain type of ride, whether that’s something knobby for gravel roads and occasional singletrack, or something a bit smoother for a better roll on tarmac. The Washburns are fine tires, but I like them more for their comfort than for their grip. If you’d rather utilize a larger diameter wheel size, the Journeyer is compatible with 700c wheels as well, so you can purchase the bike with the size you prefer or keep a second wheelset at home (fancy!) for when you feel like changing up your ride style. In honesty, I would probably upgrade the stock wheels anyway, though I do love the 650b sizing; the Shimano Tiagra/WTB wheels that come stock feel heavy on an otherwise paper-light bike, and it’s an easy upgrade that would likely make a big difference.

Despite being a fairly consistent 51cm frame rider, this 51cm fits me quite snug, and the seatpost is extended to the highest possible point. Salsa does have a sizing guide, so I recommend comparing their frame sizes to the sizing chart of the bike that fits you best, to see if you need a different size than typical. That said, I have a very short torso by bike fitting standards and the 51cm felt great in terms of reach, which is often an obstacle for me. Being compact on the frame helped me maneuver over some technical terrain without feeling like the bike was getting away from me and kept the bike feeling stiff with its small triangles. Plus, having the additional space with my seatpost meant I could fit more in my seatbag for an overnight without it rubbing on my rear tire. My exceptionally long inseam (32in. for my 5-ft. 5.5in. stature) is what makes this fitting a bit odd for me, but I was glad to have the snug cockpit particularly on later rides when I challenged myself more on this bike.

In terms of components, I loved the gravel-designed Shimano GRX group. It shifted so smoothly that I had to check myself more than once to confirm that no, this wasn’t the electronic version of this group. All my other dropbar bikes have cable brakes, and the hydraulic GRX 400 brakes felt so smooth and in control right off the bat. Just like e-shifting, I am a bit wary of hydraulic brakes when it comes to multiday trips that go way into the backcountry. A cable can be easily adjusted or replaced on the trail with a bit of planning, but if a ride goes awry and a rock throws a rider into brush that then pulls out the brake housing of a hydraulic brake, I worry that fluid would be lost, taking with it all braking power. That is the only reasonable downside I can see in this group or in these brakes. Maybe it’s the skeptic in me saying, “what’s the catch?” but it still feels worth mentioning for anyone considering this bike for, say, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I would for sure recommend it for a mixed-surface tour or for a tour that is mainly on gravel roads but never gets too rambunctious or far from a town. Also, if you have no mechanical knowledge, it doesn’t really matter why your shifting or braking is malfunctioning, you’ll need to reach a bike shop (or UPS drop box) before riding on anyway.

The GRX group continues with the shifting to an 11-speed, 11–34T cassette, and a 46/30T crankset. 1x drivetrains are all the rave these days, but for long, multiday rides and rides that have a lot of climbing and descending, especially over mixed terrain, I personally love having a double chainring so I can kick it into high (or low) gear to get me where I want to go with as much power as I can muster. The shifting, despite my sometimes lack of finesse, was consistent and reliable, even when I waited too late in a climb to shift into an easy gear. I took this bike for a weekend camping trip with a couple of friends on mainly dirt roads with some singletracking (we got lost) and a decent amount of climbing and descending. This bike has ample storage capacity with its three-pack mounts (one on the downtube and on each fork leg on smaller frames, an additional mount on the seat tube for frames 55–60cm). I used the mounts on the fork for my Everything Cages, plus a seatbag in the back with the clearance from the smaller wheel size and higher seatpost. The Cowbell bars on the 51cm frame felt narrow (400mm) for carrying anything significant up front so I used a smaller handlebar bag, which was fine for what I brought with me. This bike handles cargo weight well and didn’t feel too front-loaded though it did feel just slightly sluggish even if it handled fine.

I’m always grappling with the age-old debate: is it n+1 because every bike is made for a very specific form of cycling I ought to embrace, or is it one bike to rule them all because in 2022 those bikes are being designed and designed so well. It’s a very personal choice, and I think this bike has an argument for either position. It’s a fun, lightweight bike perfect for multisurface rides and exploring routes that may take you off the beaten path, with enough cargo options to keep yourself prepared for anything. Equally, this bike can go just about anywhere you are willing to take it, especially with an upgraded dropper seatpost and an alternative wheelset/tires. At $2,449, it isn’t cheap, but for how nice this bike rides, it feels more expensive than it is.

Salsa Journeyer GRX 600 650b

Price: $2449

Sizes available: 49cm, 51cm, 53cm, 55cm, 57cm, 60cm

Size tested: 51cm

Weight: 22.5 lbs. (without pedals)

Test Bike Measurements

Stack: 528mm

Reach: 368mm

Head tube length: 105mm

Head tube angle: 69.5°

Seat tube length: 380mm

Seat tube angle: 75°

Top tube: 510mm (effective)

Chainstays: 440mm

Bottom bracket drop: 70mm

Fork offset: 50mm

Wheelbase: 1028mm

Standover height: 652mm

Specifications (as tested)

Frame: 6061-T6 aluminum frame heat-treated to T6 alloy standards, rack and fender mounts, three bottle mounts

Fork: Waxwing carbon fork, triple mounts, rack and fender mounts

Handlebar: Salsa Cowbell 3, 31.8mm, alloy

Stem: Salsa Guide, 6° rise

Rear derailer: Shimano GRX 810, 11spd

Front derailer: Shimano GRX 810

Brake levers/shifters: Shimano GRX 600

Brakes: Shimano GRX 400 hydraulic disc

Rotors: Shimano RT10 Center Lock, 160mm

Bottom bracket: 68mm, threaded

Crankset: Shimano GRX 600, 46/30T, 165mm

Cassette: Shimano HG700, 11–34T, 11spd

Headset: FSA No.42

Seatpost: Salsa Guide 27.2mm, alloy

Saddle: WTB Volt

Hubs: Shimano Tiagra RS470, 142 x 12mm rear, 100 x 12mm front, thru-axles

Rims: WTB ST i23, 28h, tubeless compatible

Tires: Teravail Washburn, 650b x 47mm, tubeless ready

Gearing Range

                46    30

11    110.9    72.4

13    93.9    61.3

15    81.5    46.7

17    71.9    46.7

19    64.2    41.9

21    58.1    37.9

23    53.1    34.5

25    48.3    31.8

27    45.1    29.5

30    40.6    26.5

34    35.8    23.4

Contact: Salsa Cycles, 6400 West 105th St., Bloomington, MN 55438, salsacycles.com
 

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