Review: Salsa Woodsmoke 29+ GX1

by
August 23, 2017

The Salsa Woodsmoke possesses a unique look, and unique performance. Barney puts it to the test to see how this 29er plusser handles on the trail

Brand: Salsa Cycles
Product: Woodsmoke
From: Raleigh, raleigh.co.uk
Price: £2999
Tested: by Barney Marsh for 3 months

In Issue 111 of Singletrack Magazine, Mr Barney Marsh reviewed three different wagon wheelers as part of a 29+ group test

The Woodsmoke could be a tricky beast to talk about, not least because it’s actually designed to run 27.5+ wheels, 29er wheels, or 29+ wheels, thanks to Salsa’s cute ‘Alternator 2.0’ hinged dropouts. But as this grouptest is all about the 29 chubbies, my task is somewhat simplified.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
The Salsa Woodsmoke is a hugely versatile carbon hardtail with multi-wheelsize capability.

So, here we have a carbon frame which bears similarities to the Trek Stache. It’s very much a modern bike; it’s Boosted, and although the reach is not the very longest, it adheres to a more modern template nevertheless: it ain’t short either. Our large test bike has a 453mm reach, and the top tube couples a 67.8° headtube to a 73.3° seat tube.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Geometry is modern, with each frame size built around a short stem. 50mm in the case of the Large.

The Woodsmoke has a ridiculously short 417mm chainstay length (and that’s with a 29×3.0 tyre, remember – it can drop to a mental 402mm if you run standard 29er tyres), which is enabled by a spectacularly elevated driveside chainstay and a very bent seat tube. This last can take a front mech if you’re so inclined; you’re not just forced to run 1x gears.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Swinging Alternator dropouts allow for different wheels to be squeezed into the tight back end.
salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
It’s 1x only to get a 417mm chainstay length with 29+ tyres. That measurement drops to just 402mm with standard 29in tyres.

Speaking of which, our test Woodsmoke came equipped a full GX 1×11 drivetrain, and lots of other SRAM kit – Level Brakes, and RockShox Yari RC Solo Air fork with 120mm of travel. There were four travel tokens initially in our fork, as well as a further two in the box, which gives you lots of room for adjustment, to put it mildly. It’s well worth fishing a couple out if your dealer hasn’t already and experimenting with the fork set-up.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Wide alloy rims courtesy of Whisky Parts Co.
salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
And chubby Ranger tyres from WTB.

 

Rims are Salsa own-brand hubs laced with 32 spokes into Whisky Parts Co alloy rims shod with WTB Ranger 3.0 tyres. A relatively short (for an XL frame) 350mm non-dropper seatpost and a WTB Volt Comp saddle gaze longingly at a 50mm stem and a 740mm bar they’ll hopefully never meet.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
The Woodsmoke frame is ideally suited to a 120mm travel fork.

The Ride

First impressions? Well, I admit to recoiling a little when I first saw pictures of the Woodsmoke. That elevated, tangential chainstay certainly makes the bike – uh – interesting to look at. But the bike has a number of features which mitigate this initial ‘erk’. Firstly, as is the way with so many bikes with a questionable aesthetic, it’s actually somewhat prettier in the flesh. Secondly, you can’t actually see the chainstay when you’re riding it, unless your riding technique is spectacularly different to mine. And thirdly, it works really rather well.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
You don’t expect the Woodsmoke to be nimble, but it is.

There’s a good amount of room in the cockpit (although personally I’d like to see some slightly wider bars), and the geometry of the bike seems well suited to a variety of applications. No, it’s not a full-on techfest screamer – although it acquits itself really rather well in these circumstances – but it occupies an impressive middle ground, which lends itself to all-day wandering (it can take three water bottles!) and short blasts alike.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
The short rear centre length and chubby high-traction tyres makes for loads of fun through the turns.

Spinning it up, the increased mass of those wheels is initially cumbersome, but once you’re cruising at anything other than a snail’s pace the extra weight seems negligible; the bike feels nimble and, if not quite whippy, then certainly tractable. Take it along some tight, twisty singletrack and it turns with alacrity, accelerates well, and the back end is flickable. It’s more than a little impressive – especially as before riding the Woodsmoke your opinions might veer towards the ‘tractor-tyres bike won’t steer’ school of thought. But oh yes it can.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Is…is that Josh Bender??

And while it’s not exactly a direct competitor to a full-suspension bike, it can ride the rocky stuff impressively briskly – that enormous tyre circumference and the extra squish of the tyres serve to smooth out the nastiest of edges, as long as you don’t forget it’s actually a hardtail, as I did on a couple of occasions. Ahem. It took me a while to get the tyre pressure dialled – there’s a narrow sweet spot between too hard pogoing and too-soft squirminess – but they gripped amazingly well and even cornered acceptably in the glop. I like the Yari fork a lot, and once I’d fettled the fork to my liking (removing a couple of those tokens to yield a more linear rate) it rewarded me with reliably stiff and supple plush travel.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
RockShox Yari RC forks are kickarse.

Downsides? Well, I had to swap the seatpost out for a longer one – the 350mm one supplied really doesn’t cut the mustard if you like your bikes slightly smaller with loads of standover – but honestly the first thing you’ll probably be doing is fitting a dropper post anyway – the Woodsmoke is capable enough that its absence is obvious. I’d like a wider bar, as I’ve mentioned, and although I don’t ride particularly heels in, I noticed a small amount of heel-rub when I was riding with SPDs. When I rode the bike with flats, though, this disappeared.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
No dropper makes Barney sad. But the Woodsmoke is ready to take one.

Overall there have been some compromises in the build to get it to a price – mainly I’d have liked a dropper seatpost – or at least a longer one – but if you can get over the divisive aesthetics, this is an impressively versatile piece of kit.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Into the adventure thing? The Woodsmoke will take a bento box on the top tube, and no less than three water bottles on its frame!
salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Aside from water bottles, the front triangle is also ready to take frame bags.

 

Overall

The Salsa Woodsmoke cleaves to the ‘short back end; long front centre’ paradigm, and how. The back end is insanely short, and is even shorter if you run it (as you can) with 27.5+in or ordinary 29in wheels. But it handles beautifully, corners well, grips like a gecko on sandpaper and is generally a hoot to ride.

salsa woodsmoke hardtail 29 plus antony
Unique looks, and unique performance.

Salsa Woodsmoke 29+ GX1 Specifications

  • Frame // Woodsmoke Carbon Fibre
  • Fork // RockShox Yari RC Solo Air, 120mm
  • Shock // N/A
  • Hubs // Salsa 32h, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // Whiskey Parts Co Alloy, Tubeless Compatible
  • Tyres // WTB Ranger TCS 29×3.0in Front & Rear
  • Chainset // SRAM NX1, 32t X-Sync
  • Rear Mech // SRAM GX1, 11-Speed
  • Shifters // SRAM GX1, 11-Speed
  • Brakes // SRAM Level, 180mm Rotors Front & Rear
  • Stem // Salsa Guide, 50mm Long
  • Bars // Salsa Rustler 3, 750mm Wide
  • Seatpost // Zoom 30.9mm Diameter
  • Saddle // WTB Volt Comp
  • Size Tested // L
  • Size Available // XS, S, M, L, XL
  • Weight // 13.97kg (30.75lbs)

Review Info

Brand: Salsa Cycles
Product: Woodsmoke
From: Raleigh, raleigh.co.uk
Price: £2999
Tested: by Barney Marsh for 3 months

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