Mike Solomon’s Salsa Las Cruces

Salsa Las Cruces Salsa Las Cruces, 2004.
Mike Solomon’s Do-Everything Cyclocross Bike

A new series in the DRW lineup.

This new series arises out of one of the most often asked questions I get in my discussions with people interested in riding the dirt roads: What kind of bike should I buy? The answer: The bike that excites you and fits your needs the most. The best bike is the bike that gets you riding day after day. Some people like to ride hard, others like to take it easy. Some like an upright position with flat bars, others want a sleek wind slicing position with drop bars. Some ride for hours, others ride far less than that. Some have bulging wallets, others live more modestly. Often the best bike for the summer doesn’t work during the snowy winter months. We’ll try to sort some of that out by exploring the bikes you ride, ask what you like about them and what frustrates you.

Best of all, we live in a golden era of high quality bikes and great selection. There was a time not too long ago when the choices were few and the bikes were often heavy. When I was a kid you bought a Schwinn. There were a few models to choose from, all steel. Other bikes had a European lineage, cost a lot of money, and weren’t available everywhere.

Now there are many bike companies, many frame types. Even in one category there are multiple options from which to choose, with a selection of many component levels. A road bike could be a hybrid, a commuter, a crit racer, a recreation bike, a fixie, a singlespeed, a tri-bike, or a time trial bike, to name a few. The component choices and levels are also daunting: Sram, Shimano, Campagnolo; Apex, Rival, Red, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace, Super Record, Record, Chorus, Athena, Centaur, Veloce. And these are just road components. Mountain bike components are another series all together. If anything, the range of selection is too much for the casual cyclist to keep track of. So, while selection is nearly endless, identifying what you’re looking for is tough.

Hype vs. What’s Right For You
There’s a lot of hype out there. Companies always want you to buy the newest they have to offer. That’s how they stay in business. They push the latest carbon frame, ti frame, steel-is-real frame, aluminum alloy, or a combination of many these materials.  It’s up to us to peel away the hype and figure out the most practical bike for our particular needs. It’s probably beyond the scope of this little series to make sense of it all, but perhaps by introducing you to the myriad interests of cyclists out there, we’ll help you learn more about the kind of bike that interests you now and the kind of bike you aspire to ride in the future. New is not always best, expensive is not necessarily right for you, and you might realize that you already own a gem that will work fine. Then again, within limits, you often do get what you pay for. Quality bikes with quality components can make your rides more comfortable and more exciting.  They aren’t cheap, but they don’t have to break your budget either.

This is the first in a series of articles on the bikes people use when they ride the dirt roads. I recently sat down for a chat with Mike Solomon and Ben Caldwell, two venerable cyclists who’ve been in the bike game for many years. Even with all their expertise and fine-honed opinions on bikes and components, their one, overriding bit of advice is ride the bike you have. Just get out there and enjoy yourself. When the budget allows, upgrade to the best bike you can afford.

Ben’s dirt road bike(s) will be highlighted in an upcoming article, but for now–and since Mike’s bike was available for photos–we’ll focus on the Salsa. He commutes on it, rides the dirt roads, and takes it on long road rides.

The Salsa
Mike’s Salsa, seven years old, is testament to a used bike that is well built and stands the test of time. Things have changed in those seven years in terms of what’s available in this style of bike, but it was and still is a high quality ride. This particular model is no longer made by Salsa, but at the time of production it was a popular bike.

Mike has modified it a bit as well. He’s a skilled bike mechanic–he works at Sic Transit Cycles here in Ann Arbor–with many years of cycling experience.  His interests are fine tuned. He bought this bike new in 2004 and customized it with high end components such as a Dura Ace 7700 gruppo–or group set (shifters, derailleurs, cranks, and chainrings)–which was and still is top notch. The brakes are Avid cantilever. The fork is a True Temper Alpha Q. Though the company has since folded this aspect of its business, this is a very high quality carbon fork, durable and constructed to handle race conditions. He likes the Kenda Small Block 8 tires for all around use. They have enough tread to handle the dirt roads, but not so much that they’re a rough ride on pavement. The wheelset is Mavic Ksyrium, high-quality, light, durable and the go-to wheels for years for various uses.

Strengths & Weaknesses and Enjoying it for What it Offers
Though Mike uses this bike for all kinds of riding, he finds that it is a compromise for long-range road rides. The frame was designed for tight cyclocross courses, with short chainstays and a “quick” feel that’s great for accelerating out of turns and climbing short steep hills. It’s a bit cramped for faster paced road riding and the body feels fatigued after many miles. Mike prefers it for getting around town and for varied-pace dirt road rides. It’s an aluminum framed bike, which some feel is a rougher ride material compared to steel, titanium, or carbon fiber. But Mike likes the ride and finds that it’s not the material itself as much as the quality of the material and the frame maker’s skill that makes the difference. There are good and bad, he says, in all frame materials.

Type of Bike
The cyclocross style bike allows wider tires due to wider fork and frame widths than a standard road bike, a beefier fork, and cantilever brakes, which offer plenty of mud clearance. It also cruises well over the dirt roads and because of its race lineage it’s designed for fast paced dirt riding. It’s still comfortable at a slow pace as well, making it a good all-around choice for varied riding styles.

Photo Gallery
I gave Mike no notice that I’d be shooting pics of his bike, so you see it just as he rides it, grit and all. Even the saddle has a crack in it. This is a well cared for bike, but one that’s also used on a daily basis.

Salsa Sideview
Salsa in Dreamsickle Orange
The bell’s a nice touch
Wheel & Fork
Mavic Ksyrium wheel and Alpha Q fork
Tire & Cantilever Brake
Kenda Super Block Eight tire & Avid cantilever brake
Rear Derailleur
Dura Ace rear derailleur
Crank & Pedal
Time road pedal & Dura Ace crank
Saddle and Tool Kit
Fi’zi:k saddle & tool kit containing multi-tool, tire lever & spare tube

Frame: Salsa scandium
(scandium is an aluminum alloy that is billed as lighter and stronger than standard aluminum alloys)
Fork: True Temper Alpha Q CX fork
Gruppo: Shimano Dura Ace 7700
Brakes: Avid Cantilever
Pedals: Time, road or dirt, depending on where it’s going that day.
Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium
Spokes: Flat Blade
Tires: Kenda Small Block 8, 32mm
Fits up to 700c x 38mm tires
(Mike thinks this is an exaggerated figure. Things would be tight in the chainstay area with much over 32mm.)
135mm rear spacing
Standard 1-1/8″ headtube
Bottom Bracket: Shimano Octalink, outside bearings
Bottom bracket shell: English 68mm
Saddle: Fi’zi:k Arione (this one’s a bit worse for wear with a crack in its midsection)
56cm frame weighs 2.94 pounds
Color: Dreamcicle Orange

Mike’s Dream Bike
We always have the elusive dream bike that will fit some niche in our riding lives, the bike that is currently beyond our reach, but that might become part of the stable when the wallet opens and there are a few spare bills to put toward that wonder machine. What’s Mike’s dream bike? A light, titanium, 29er with a rigid fork.

Titanium, of course, is expensive. Our dream material often is. It was named for the Titans of Greek Mythology because of its strength and resistance to corrosion. It has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is often touted as a frame that will last a lifetime. The only downside to this is that some of us like the idea of dreaming of another bike in the future and owning ti means that this is no longer necessary. I’m not sure if that works in a strong consumer culture, but we have ways around that, don’t we.

29ers are a very popular choice these days due to their ability to handle various conditions and to roll smoothly over rough terrain. With those large wheels, some feel as if you sit in the bike rather than on it. The wheel size is the same as a 700c road bike wheel, only they take a much wider tire.

The rigid fork is a choice of many who want to keep the weight down (all the mechanisms in a front shock add weight, though I once hefted a Cannondale carbon Lefty front shock that was very light). Rigid makes trail riding a bit rougher, but if trails are just an occasional venture, the rigid fork is a nice option, and often less expensive.

That’s it for article #1. If you have any suggestions for this series, please comment. We’d love to hear from you and welcome the input. If you have a bike you’d like to highlight, contact us and we’ll fit you in. All bikes and all bike riding styles are valid and deserve their moment in the sun. Most of all, ride it if you’ve got it!


This all means that there’s a new section called BIKE GRITS about real world bikes for real world riding on the back roads.  Click on the BIKE GRITS tab, or go here to see the full article. As always, thanks for supporting DRW with your presence.


5 thoughts on “Mike Solomon’s Salsa Las Cruces

  1. Perhaps I just overlooked it, or perhaps it’s some attempt at this site to use mysteriousness to sell this book, but the site doesn’t even say who the authors are.

    I ask, because I have this weird feeling that I may know them. But who might they be? 😉 (Looks over shoulder down favorite winding dirt roads in Waterloo area.)

  2. snippet

    Sweet. Sweet. I’ve long been a huge fan of riding the cross bike on the dirt roads North/ Northwest of Milan between the Saline and N. River Raisin. With my absolute fav being the roads just north of 94 in the waterloo area. Some twisted awesome road.

    Above all I just love to head out of Dexter West on Island Lake to Riker.

    You have to look for those signs “Natural Beauty Road”. They basically mean, “ridiculously hilly and awesome dirt.” 🙂

    I wish I could get a map of all the “natural beauty roads”.

    Finally, most awesome series is right through the middle of waterloo. From West to East: Smith, Glen, Maute, Green, McClure. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. 🙂

    But I’ll tell you what. If you really want to have some crazy fun you’ll come joing me riding the tiny little backroads of SW Ohio starting in the Loudonville area. They’re NOT dirt… they’re perfectly paved, their twistier, turnier, longer, bigger, faster and scream to be ridden on road bikes. Regularly do a 50 mile run with 4000 vertical feet. Then there’s the Columbus Fall Challenge. 210 miles, some 16,000 or so veritcal feet. TransIowa is about 17,000 in 350miles. The GDR 170,000 in 2700 miles. I forget how many TransWisconsin ended up eing. Vertical feet is my favorite way to measure my rides. That and turns. It’s almost like measuring a good day of skiing. Certainly they have a lot in common, but skiing doesn’t make your heart pound out of your chest, nor give you the runners high and endorphines. BTW, you missed that one on your “why backroads” list. Best way to produce an addictive runners high while biking.

    Let me drop a bunch of references and then I’ll stop comment spamming you. 🙂

    TransIowa & TransWisconsin, definitely check them out. I’m sure you’re farmilliar with “gravel grinders” you should follow guitar ted of transiowa fame’s blog to the gravel grinder news network. Of course you probably know all this. 🙂

    BTW, there is also a group out of Jackson that rides a lot of dirt. Bumped into one of them on Flickr when we started recognizing photos of each others favorite backroads. Forget the name of the group, shouldn’t be to hard to find. They ride much of the same terrain as I’m sure you cover in the Waterloo area.

    Finally, some visuals:

    Riffing on the “Rough Riders” meme:

    Back Road Bike

    There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

    Am going to get a hold of your book but I’d love to hear your riff/ response on my little thought bomb. 🙂 Favorite roads? Groups? Events? Name dropping events, memes, places. I have a feeling we’ve met if only in passing on the road.


  3. Great info, M. I hope that everyone who clicks into this site goes forth and keeps clicking on your links. They reveal that there’s a great wide community out there exploring all kinds of terrain all over the world. As it should be.

    I’m not sure if we’ve crossed paths. I don’t think so, but I wave to nearly every biker out there, so we probably did at least share a fleeting flick of the arm somewhere along the way.

    I like the Trans Iowa and Wisconsin concepts. Linking the trails and less traveled back roads is part of what I emphasize and enthusiastically endorse in the book. Perhaps, over time, there will be a Trans Michigan, then a Trans Midwest, then a Trans Continent, then a Trans Intercontinental series of recreation opportunities. Maybe there already is and someone just has to map it (them?) out. We’ll see.

    My name is a mystery. I’ve hidden it on the cover of the book. It’s in red, unlike the tan color it rests upon. Pretty sly, huh?

    Keep in touch.

    Rob (whoops! I let that slip.)

  4. Howdy Rob,

    I’ve found your name obviously. 🙂

    Didn’t recognize it I don’t think. Never made it on any of those Dirt Hammer rides last year.

    Don’t know if I asked you this, but what do you ride. I ask because for some odd reason that’s the one thing I always remember of everyone I meet.

    BTW, we really do need a Trans Michigan. Of all the backroads I’ve ridden I think michigan’s are some of the finest and we do have so many of them. One could easily plan a route across the state or several. One could probably even plan a route from South to north and across the UP but for that pesky problem of crossing the bridge. (I assume there’s absolutely no pedestrian or bike traffic.)

    There was some sort of Trans Georgia race this year. Blanking on the proper name.

    What I like best about it is it starts to fill back in the gaps left between car culture and every other form of transportation. It’s a reclmation. I’ve done a tremendous amount of everything from road to mountainbike and enjoy them all, but lately as is the case every fall I get off the windswept pavement and come home to the backroads.

    Right now I’m making final plans to ride from MI over to the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway down to the Natchez Trace in a week or two. The skyline and parkway should be all but abandoned and hopefully not covered in to much snow. It may not be dirt, but sine it’ll largely be closed to car traffic and potentially covered in snow I think it qualifies and indeed it has many of the same charateristics.

    Peace, -Mike

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