The Salsa Cutthroat has been THE gravel bike for the bikepacking set. If you look at the sport on a spectrum from ‘road +’ to ‘bikepacking’, the 2020 model is squarely on the ‘bikepacking’ side of the spectrum. Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, spoke with Salsa engineer and product managers, Peter Hall and Joe Meiser about everything that went into the Cutthroat.
Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)
Good day everyone and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I’m your host Craig Dalton. This week on the podcast I’ve got two guests from salsa cycles and QBP talking about the 2020 salsa cutthroat. We’ve got Peter Hall and Joe Meiser from the team that have been intimately involved in the design and manufacturing of the salsa cutthroat. It’s a really interesting bike for this podcast as we’ve sort of tended towards middle of the road gravel bikes. In terms of tire width, we’ve touched on some gravel plus, excuse me, some road plus bikes, but we’ve never really danced on the other end of this category, which is where the salsa cutthroat clearly occupies with 29 inch wheels, 2.4 tire inch tire capabilities. It’s a pretty massive departure from sort of the more road-oriented gravel bikes. So I was really excited to talk to them about this bike and the intention behind the design. It was really heavily influenced by the 2,700 mile tore divide route and those ultra distance events that we’ve talked about a little bit on this podcast. So with that, let’s jump right in. Gentlemen, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Absolutely. It’s always a good place for us to get started. To learn a little bit more about your backgrounds as cyclist and since we’re going to be talking about a very specific product, maybe you guys can also talk about what your roles are over there at salsa professionally.
Sure. Yeah. So I’m Pete hall. I’m one of the design engineers here at salsa. Ah, I, I think the best way to describe what kind of cyclists dimes I’m at. At my core, I’m a mountain biker. Certainly don’t discriminate against the like gravel or pavement and absolutely love them. Love both, especially gravel. But you know, I think single track will for me always be the best. I don’t know how many years I’ve been in the bike industry now have, I’ve never held drop outside the bike industry. I know that like shops [inaudible]
Yeah. So my name is Joe Meiser. I’m the senior product manager here at salsa cycles. I was a lead product manager on the new 20, 20 cutthroat. You know, I’ve been at QBP for 15 years. I’ve held roles as an industrial designer. I’ve led product development across our brands and I’ve led product in salsa full time for the last four years. I came into the brand at the time when the first Cutthroat was being launched and had the opportunity to work on the second generation, which has been pretty cool. My background as a cyclist is pretty wide ranging. Like P I would say I’m a mountain biker with a drop bar problem and I think that’s probably reflected in a lot of our drop-bar bikes. I started racing gravel in two and seven. The first gravel race I ever did was Trans Iowa and it sorta quickly careened from there.
You know, the vernacular here is gravel roads and rural roads. And so I was racing events like Ragnar rock 100 in Redwing in the Driftless region in Minnesota. I was racing the on Monzo in 2008 and about that time and decided that I would go out and do the tour divide and we as a brand team had kind of started to see this niche of gravel and started designing bikes, kind of led that direction with big tire fit, just breaks, so on. And so I actually raised the tour divide in 2009 and was able to do that on the Fargo, which was really the predecessor to the cutthroat. And and then got to be part of the team when we launched the first gen cutthroat and now this one.
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I’m actually really excited to talk to you guys because as I mentioned offline, I think on this podcast, you know, we’ve certainly covered road plus bikes and then bikes that are sort of in the sort of sweet spot of gravel of 700 by 40 or six four, six 50 by 47. And the cutthroat and salsa as a brand has always kind of occupied this more extreme and pending towards bike packing and ultra distance events. And you’re really the first company that we’ve had on board to talk about that. When we think about the design of the cutthroat, can you go through some of those key elements that make it sort of more closely related potentially to a mountain bike than a road bike?
Yeah, sure. I think the really the biggest place to start there is it actually uses mountain bike tires. You know, it fits up to a 29 by two four inch tire designed around a hundred mil suspension fork as well. The geometry is definitely more influenced on the 2020 cutthroat from mountain bikes. Slacker head tube angles, a little bit to deeper seat tubes. You know, we slacked this one out to 69 degrees for more of that stability of for mountain biking. When you’re careening down a single track or you know, if two are divided, you’ve got a lot of gravel roads, nasty gravel roads, two tracks, mountain passes, that kind of stuff. So the stability is really prized there. I think part where this thing of the cutthroat is influenced by more of the roadside then would be obviously the drop bars. But the big one I would say would be the drive train we put on this. It’s a boost mountain bike spacing, but we worked with a race facing Easton to put chain rings on it so you can get road gravel chain rings like a 46 thirties, what we spec it with. So you have a two by road your drive train. I’m on a mountain bike platform, so you can really get a really wide range of daring for the really wide range of experiences of the cutthroat can do.
Interesting. And how, you know, you sort of referenced the kind of tore divide type writing that has really kind of infused the design philosophy or this bike. What are the elements of that particular ride that kind of demand this type of bike versus kind of a narrow retired gravel bike?
You know, for us, this goes back to the original Fargo and designing that bike. You know, when, when I started to plan for the tour divide one of the things that I really recognized was that the biggest issue that writers were having was hand and wrist issues and they’re almost all riding XC mountain bikes at the time with flat bars. Some riders had started to put arrow bars on for different positioning, some comfort and maybe a little bit of an Aero advantage. And I looked at that event and I looked at the information that was out at the time in 2005, six, seven, just as blogs were starting to kind of bow out. And I thought, you know, this is really ultimately just the longest gravel race in the world and the road that it’s on while it’s billed as a mountain bike route.
It’s rural gravel roads and it’s stuff that we’re riding these bikes on today. And so we as a team built that Fargo around a dirt drop, right experience. I mean, in a sense influencer, I would say absolutely influenced by, you know, bikes like some of the Cunninghams from, you know, the early nineties and late eighties. I’ve got pictures of, of Cunningham’s on my, still on my board at my desk from that time frame. And so we looked at it, we said give riders multiple hand positions, give them option to be more comfortable and give them that choice. And that’s where Fargo came from. And that’s ultimately where cut throat comes from, is looking at that experience and designing for that experience.
Then on the tour divide route, are you getting into technical single track that sort of puts it a drop bar bike rider in a more challenging position than a straight bar.
You know, there, there are I think roughly 30 to 40 miles of single track on that route. Coming off the backside of the pass after you come out of Breckenridge, there’s an option. And then as you get down into a silver city, New Mexico and you’re in the healing mountains North of there, there’s a section of the continental divide trail that’s open to bikes. It’s used and you know, it is technical, single track. But if you look at the overall mileage, you know, roughly 30 to 40 miles of 2,750 miles is single track. And so the bike is fully capable of riding single track and there are a few die hard there dropped single track riders that they use it that way. But really it’s about riding those rockier rougher mountain passes where you know, you’re just sending through rocks that are, you know, the size of softballs and basketballs and that sort of situation versus you know, the really buff single or a buff gravel that we experienced and gravel races on rural farm roads.
Yeah, I’ve got to imagine also the volume of the tires that you selected for this model play an important role when you’re adding a lot of weight in terms of bags and gear you’re needing for a multi day event.
Ultimately that’s the case. You know, you’re riding those big roads and you might be able to get away with less tire, but less tire means, you know, less load support. It leans a little bit less comfort. It means you got to pay a little bit more attention to tire pressures. You know, you may be more prone to flat on high-speed descents when you’re coming across a water guard or a cattle guard at the descent bottom until most people just tend to trend towards the 2.1 2.2 on that tour divides specific experience.
Yeah, I was getting that feedback. A colleague of mine who actually see it shares the same bike as I do was riding the trans Northern California on six 50 B by 47 and he said to me, you know, nothing I encountered challenged that tire width but the weight on the bike had me laying around with air pressure so much that when it was comfortable I was bottoming out and flatting and if I was pumping it up too hard, it was just super uncomfortable. So it left me thinking like the bike I have, but is by no means really what I’d want for something like the tour divide for exactly the reasons you just described.
I think that’s fair to say
Is speaking of handling, you know, you obviously guys have spent a lot of times thinking about the types of loads and even built features in to help the port bags and different caring configurations that you might have in some of these long distance events. And you talk about some of those elements of the frame and fork design.
Yeah, of course. I think we, you know, we’ve, we consider probably your best place to carry most of your gear is in the frame bag. It’s down low, it’s secure. It’s in line with the center plan of the bike. It’s really stable there. You obviously have your seat bag for a lot of stuff, but most of your weight really should be kept down low for handling and stability. So on the 2020 cutthroat, they actually increased the front triangle space and designed a new bag that has a little thumbscrews that mounted onto them. So there’s a whole bunch of [inaudible] rib nuts on the inside of that front triangle. So it’s, it’s a really clean frame bag integration on not a bunch of Velcro straps to wear at your paint and that kind of stuff. And then on the fork, on both sides of the fork, we have three pack mounts that can take a water bottle or something like or anything. KJ HD and bag she can carry up to, I believe it’s eight pounds per side in the anything cage. The handling was it’s better to put extra weight, let small extra weight on your fork really helps to slow down the steering. And the mechanical trail we designed the bike around really plays nicely with that extra weight on your handlebars from a say like in anything cradle and then the anything cage having things on your fork.
Okay. So your thought about sort of slowing down the steering by the fact that, you know, it’s likely there might be some weight put on there. Yeah. Interesting. And I think I read that the bike is also suspension adjusted so you can put a suspension fork on there as well if that’s your jam.
Yeah, it certainly is. Yeah. We can fit up to like a 29 inch, 29 inch wield a hundred mil travel fork. You know, we see that you lose a mounting point, but you gain a lot of comfort for particularly rough, particularly rugged routes then.
Yeah. Did you find Joe on your own tour divide experience that that comfort was a challenge? Were you on a rigid fork? I assume?
I, I, when I wrote I was on a field bike and you know, the steel bike really did help damp vibration on the route. And I think that’s, you know, something we really saw an opportunity to do with the first gen cutthroat. We added that class five feature into the back end of our frame. So we have that technology in all of our carbon, all road bikes, and that’s really building an inherent damping into the frame as well as tuning the layup of each frame to handle vibration coming the road and really isolate the rider. You know, and that’s not uncommon with, you know, after market accessories now and seed posts and stems and that sort of thing. As well as what other brands are doing. And we did that on a new bike as well with with its fork, we added a feature similar to class five where we added some for AFT flex to that frame and engineered that fork to compliment the frame while you’re riding it.
Now from my perspective, I really like a suspension fork on the cutthroat. I, my current cutthroat bill, my favorite build now is a RockShox RS one on the front of it and a dropper post on that bike. And it’s a lot of fun to ride that way and I hope to see more gravel bikes kind of come in to the ability to handle a suspension and suspension product for gravel in a lot of ways I would say for, you know, shorter events. I had the opportunity to go do grander O Japan as a launch of that. That set up was amazing. It was super fun to ride that course in Japan on the cutthroat for events like the tour divide. I wouldn’t say I’d throw it out, but I would certainly do a lot more evaluation to make sure that my fork was going to hold up to that distance. So it’s, you know, it’s a weight factor, but it’s also a performance, you know, is that forking I need service. Am I going to have bushing issues or seal issues during the event? And there are some recorded examples of time during the tour divide where forks have needed to be rebuilt in Steamboat or silver city before hitting the finish line because of seal issues and heat buildup and that sort of thing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I gotta imagine with the extra weight on the front of your bike, the suspension is taking a little bit more abuse than it might do under your average body weight size.
Certainly that, and I think the higher speeds and the smaller vibration that suspension forks see during that type of activity versus off-road mountain biking where we, we tend to have higher impact
Is speaking of, of, of tuning the carbon. Since you’re, you’ve got a bike that’s potentially used in its home environment with just the rider weight, but you’ve also clearly built a bike that’s going to carry load around it. Are you, are you having to kind of up the stiffness of it thinking that, you know, an average 170 pound rider on a 56 centimeter frame is actually going to be 200 pounds with the additional weight they may be carrying?
We do a little bit the rider gear is a percentage wise, quite as quite a small amount compared to the actual rider weight. So we do tune the stiffness of the bike to be a little stiffer than like say if this was designed specifically to be an unloaded like a single long day, kind of like a Warbird. This is definitely stiffer and pedaling and torsion in the handling for the front end. But honestly about the same, we tuned the VRS to be about the same. The chain stays and and fork flexibility to be pretty close because they undergo relatively similar loads. The weight is generally further forward in the frame and not really affecting say how the seat stays or flexing. If we had one to two specifically designed weight to be used on a rear pannier that something that’s designed to, to bolt around that rear end, then we would definitely need to consider that more. But honestly the, the, the Rider-Waite makes such a larger difference than the gear you’re carrying unless you’re carrying like led spoons or something.
Yeah, I imagine so. It’s interesting to me, you know, as the sport on the racing side of the sport, you’ve obviously got a spectrum of events from the, you know, the ultra distance stuff like tour divide and, and multi-day events, you know, across the Midwest and, and Iowa and different places. But you also have things like dirty Kanza with the DK 200 and I can’t help but think, you know, for the average rider having a little bit of suspension via the bigger tires or even pure suspension on the bike starts to yield a lot of, a lot of benefits. You have the tradeoff of the weight, but you know, being able to stay comfortable all day long I think is going to help a lot of average writers get across those big finish lines.
Absolutely. I mean, we’ve
Talked about this a lot as the tour divide bike, right? So we’re talking about a bike that salsa designed for an event that annually roughly 150 riders start
For some perspective. And that’s, you know, that’s something that we chose to do as a brand because we thought it was important, but that product wouldn’t be around if only 150 riders annually purchased it. But you certainly see it as the primary bicycle at the start of the tour divide. Annually. We very quickly found that riders in gravel events, particularly dirty Kanza did want a bike like the cutthroat and we saw it quickly spill over into those spaces. You talked earlier about the big sugar gravel event that the founders of dirty Kanza and lifetime are starting in Arkansas. Well, Jim commons, a good friend of ours, someone who we’ve been involved with for a number of years with dirty Kanza, he rides a cutthroat in the gravel in Kansas and that
Surface down there, that base chert rock that they have, how rough those roads are. When you get out onto the open range, he really appreciates the big volume tires. And he talks about how he’s been on group rides with other riders in Emporia and they’re on graveling and having to hold that, that line of the two track, and he’ll ride up on the Ridge between the two track because he’s got two on tires and a bike that’s really incredibly stable. So it’s much more capable in that environment. And then the other part is the fit of it. It’s a much more upright bike naturally because of the longer the axle, the crown on the fork, because it is suspension corrected. Your front ends a little bit higher. And so writers who want to be a little bit more upright have that comfort level writers that want those bigger tires for the rough roads, Creek crossings want that.
And so we quickly realized that the bike was seeing that secondary use case. And that was part of our intentionality with this. This current agenda has just launched to the market, particularly around the drive train, the P hall talked to earlier. I’ve worked at booths at dirty Kanza for a number of years during the expo. And I can pretty much tell you that on the hour I’m going to have a cutthroat rider come by from a version one cut throat and say, how do I get more gears on this? Can I put to buy on this? How do I make this bike more capable of gravel? And that’s where that partnership with race, face Easton comes in to play it for salsa and new drive train options like GRX from Shimano. Make it much easier for us to design this bike with big volume tires, 29 inch wheels, and to buy a drive train. And I think that’s pretty fantastic that we’re able to get all that to work together to create a really awesome experience. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, if I can add on that, I [inaudible]
Personally, I used my Warbird at dirty Kanza this year, but the year I picked
A cutthroat from Michigan’s coast to coast gravel race purely because of the comfort of the bike. And then Michigan is just the Sandy place. So those larger volume tires help you float through it. Whereas in Kansas, you’re floating through gravel and chunky gravel. In Michigan, you’re floating through just the sand. The cutthroat while you, you get more comfort out of it, comfort often equals speed for a lot of people. Especially if you maybe aren’t at the pointy end of the race. Trying to win being more comfortable over a 10, 14 plus hour a day makes a big, big difference.
Yeah, absolutely. Could you describe the Warbird a little bit for us?
So Warbird is salsa is gravel race bike. A Warbird was the first gravel race bike to exist in the industry. We started that product from around, I think we had to nail it down. I think we’d say we launched the first one right around 2014. It seems like forever ago for us, but it’s actually, it’s not that long ago. And it’s now on its fourth generation. We launched that last year in 2019 and you’ll see a lot of the same features shared between control and Warbird. And so you’ll see a bike that’s designed for up to a 700 by 45 tire or six 50 by 47, but you’ll see that the shorter axle, the crown, you’ll see to see that lower stack, that ability to get into that more, you know, road or gravel race position.
Okay. So at a, at a simple level, like we’re talking different wheel size and different tire with capabilities up to the cutthroat being sort of maxing out at one 89 by 2.4.
Correct? That’s absolutely correct, yes.
Yeah. Got ya. I, you know, I think it’s interesting in the conversations I have and just anecdotally with the writers I interact with, you know, there’s loads of gravel athletes who are coming from the road side. They’re, the jump to the cutthroat just seems absolutely massive to them when they’re just thinking, Oh, I’m riding a road bike off road. But I do think, and I have seen over the last or years or so that people are embracing more and more mountain bike style bikes and mountain bike technologies on the gravel scene because they’re, they’re just seeing, they can simply go faster and be more comfortable.
I think you guys are ahead of the curve there actually,
And appreciate that. You know, I’m not, I’ll take a second to, you know, we recognize that you talked about road racers road riders coming off of a more traditional road bike where it’s, it’s quick, it’s snappy, it’s death. For salsa, we see an opportunity to really meet riders with how they’re coming into the sport and make a product for them wherever they may be at. So, you know, cut. One of the jokes for us in the cutthroat is it’s the mountain bikers gravel bike, right? It’s not a big leap for someone who’s been riding mountain bikes to go, well, this, sure. Big fat tires. Why wouldn’t I want to do that? Warbirds really kind of that more dead center gravel race bike you know, there’s a lot of competition in that space over the last several years with other brands coming into gravel.
And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have our war road, which is our endurance road bike. But even as a road bike, it’s fits up to a 700 by 35 or six 50 by 47. And that bike, if you look at it in the purest form and the geometry and tire fit and handling switch pretty closely into the endurance road space, but with some additional capability to haul gear, hallowed do an occasional gravel race that’s not incredibly aggressive. And so if you have that rider that is coming off the road and they’re like, man, all these gravel bikes are really kind of slow and they’re really long and I want something snappy, or that war road is kind of that choice for them. And so we have three performance carbon gravel bike for riders across the board.
Yeah, I think that’s super important to note. And I, I’m a, I’m a big fan of a gravel bike and a couple of different sets of wheels and riding that on the road. So I love one, it sounds like in your, in your, in your suite it would probably be the, the Warbird where it would fit my fancy super off-road capable, but slap of a select set of road wheels on there and you’re not really feeling like you’re missing a beat.
Yeah, I would tend to agree with that. It’s that you know, best all around her ultimately for a rider who’s gonna have their gravel bike.
Yeah. And in talking to you guys, I mean listeners know here in Marin County, I feel like I’m squarely in in mountain bike territory in terms of what I consider a gravel riding and I like something aggressive with a big volume tire. I feel like I’m probably a pretty good cut throat customer and maybe even as I think Joe was mentioning, a suspended cut throat would be a hell of a lot of fun here in Marin County.
I think that’s the case. You know, maybe in a lot of places where, and Marines, this kind of place where you have a lot of of back roads. But then you have like those single track cut throughs and that sort of thing. And I think that’s one of the things that make cut, makes cutthroat fun as you can, you know, pop along the Creek for us or pop along the river and ride some single track pop back out, you know, hit the pavement, hit a alley, cut through whatever the case might be. And in a variety of situations. Have a good time.
Joseph is driving his commute home right there, pretty much.
I love it. I love it. Well, yeah, I know it’s an exciting time to be in the industry and an exciting time to be a consumer. I think one of the drivers for me starting this podcast was really my personal journey to figuring out what bike is right for me and every day I don’t think I’m actually getting any closer to it because there’s just so many. And the key is to just find a bike that has the level of versatility that you’re looking for and figure out the right wheelhouse you’re in. So if you’re, you know, a big off-road rider, rabbit cutthroat, it’ll still work fine on the road, but it’s not going to be the fastest thing on your group ride. If being the fastest on your group rides your jam, then it sounds like the Warbird road and get some knobbies to take you on, on gentle off-road trails. Might be the way to go
For sure. I think that’s a good understanding.
Yeah. Well I appreciate the time you guys, I know it’s a Friday afternoon and it sounds like Joe’s got an enviable commute on the way home, so I don’t want to keep you any, any longer. Anything else you want to reveal about 2020 for salsa and where you see this market going?
That’s a big question. I certainly have a crystal ball of where I think the market is going. You know, I think to echo your statement, there’s a myriad of awesome options available to riders out there. And you know, for salsa we wanna like I said, meet that rider where they’re at and how they’re coming into gravel because there are a huge number of riders still coming into gravel as a discipline and as a, as a sport. I think we’ll see a lot more technical advance advancements along the way here without giving too much away. Like I said, I think suspension is going to be interesting and see if we see, you know, forks like the Fox really kind of take-off and come into the sport and influence it more so full suspension, gravel bikes, you know, we’re starting to see little things like that. There’s that intersection of mountain and road-going on that’s interesting and exciting and it’s fun for us to be a part of it as well.
Definitely. I think it’s interesting to see as what will happen in the next couple of years in the gravel scene as American domestic road racing. The traditional road racing, you know, starts to die out, unfortunately. And more and more of that, that group goes to gravel to see how that changes gravel. Look cause I think it’s mostly been a lot of influence from mountain bike so far. But it’ll be interesting to see how gravel evolves in the next couple of years. You know, world tour pros, retiring to win DK.
Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that. I think it’s going to be fascinating to see how gravel race organizers are able to keep it dirty, if you will. Meaning keep it weird, keep it fun. I think evidence has shown that a great world tour pro cannot just know the line and expect to win any one of these races. The terrain dictates a lot of how they’re going to be successful or whether their traditional road tactics will have any advantages whatsoever. I also think it’s going to be interesting as the prize purses and the sponsorship dollars continue to increase in gravel. Will we see some of road pros adopt some of this suspension technology or other things that we’ve already seen the light bulbs come on about because it’s purely gonna make them go faster. To your point about Bentonville, you know there’s only certain number of lines that you can go down comfortably on some of those roads and being able to peek out and slam through some river beds and bigger sized rocks. It could be an advantage in some of these races that have those technical elements in the terrain.
As a gentleman, I really appreciate the time. I love learning more about the cutthroat. It’s a category of bike that’s always intrigued me and I’m a huge fan of the tour divide so I appreciate you guys supporting those athletes and giving that perspective in addition to the other elements of the sport that you guys have been focused on.
Well thank you. We appreciate your time as well and the ability to kind of share our story and our product.
Big thanks to Peter and Joe for joining the podcast this week. It was fun for me geeking out around the tour divide and this type of bike. I don’t know about you guys, but every June I am a. Dot watcher. I love watching the tour divide. I love looking at all the rigs, and it was interesting talking to them about the different kind of performance requirements of riding a bike that distance. I have to say, you walk away from a conversation like that. Really thinking about the fun factor of riding these drop our bikes and the cutthroat with those large tires would likely be a hell of a lot of fun, particularly here in Marin County and quite versatile. When you think about the type of off-road adventures you can do with it, fully loaded kind of expedition-style out there in the woods. So that’s it for this week’s podcast. As always, I welcome your feedback. You can hit me [email protected] or on Instagram or Facebook. As always, it’s a big help if you can rate or review and definitely share this podcast with friends. Helping with discovery is one of our biggest challenges here at the gravel ride. Until next time, here’s defining some dirt under your wheels.