First published in Issue 124 of Singletrack Magazine, this Salsa Blackborow was reviewed as part of our Long Haulers test of bikes with racks. For when you really want to carry everything and the kitchen sink.
Words by Antony de Heveningham. Photos by James Vincent.
- Price: £3,450.00
- From: Lyon Equipment, lyon.co.uk
Have you ever looked at the rack on your bike and thought ‘Wow, I could carry lots more stuff on this, if only it was longer’? You’re in luck – other people have already followed a similar trajectory of thought, and now there’s a whole genre of bikes which are designed to haul more junk in the trunk. The original longtail cargo bike was the Xtracycle, effectively a conversion kit that bolted to the back of your old mountain bike and turned it into a lengthy but practical beast that could carry shopping, children, and even a surfboard. Surly built on this concept with the Big Dummy, a frame built specifically to work with Xtracycle bags and accessories (although it now produces its own range of complementary kit) and, gloriously, the Big Dummy was hot-rodded into the Big Fat Dummy, a 4in-tyred off-road version.
Salsa is Surly’s sister company, and the Blackborow is effectively a junior sibling to the Big Fat Dummy. When the Blackborow was introduced in 2016, the name was attached to a fairly conventional fat bike. For a brand whose line-up already contains two well-respected fat-tyred models though, one more was arguably gilding the lily. So at the end of 2017, the Blackborow was reborn as a stretched-out cargo machine with monster truck capabilities.
However, the Blackborow also introduces some important changes to the longtail template. It has a shorter wheelbase than full-blown longtail bikes, which are more akin to a tandem in length. And unlike Surly’s off-road cargo bike, which is constructed from indestructible 4130 steel, the Blackborow has been lightweighted, with an aluminium frame, carbon forks, and a rack which is designed to take conventional panniers as well as bespoke bags.
The frame uses a fairly conventional front triangle, but wheelbase on a medium is stretched out to 1336mm, with all the increased length added at the back of the bike. This enables the Blackborow to accommodate its specially designed rack, which is a thing of Forth Bridge proportions. You can attach two sets of conventional panniers to this, strap your gear to it, or get custom luggage made.
The rack has a weight limit of 50kg, which should be more than enough for touring. However, the folks at Salsa are very clear that it isn’t designed to take passengers, so use a child seat at your own risk, and gently rebuff all the people who want you to give them a backie. The top of the rack is equipped with eight M6 bolt mounts for a custom-made deck or crate, and a mount at the rear for a light, or perhaps a home-made ‘long vehicle’ sign. The front triangle of the frame is much more conventional, but still has five sets of bottle cage mounts, and full internal cable routing, including plumbing for a dropper post. It even has mudguard fixings. Despite the frame defying conventional geometry in one obvious respect, top tube length and stack height are on the sensible side, although the medium complete bike does come with whopping 800mm handlebars.
The Blackborow is available as a frameset, consisting of frame, fork and rack. We tested the GX Eagle complete build, which comes equipped with 27.5in wheels and 3.8in Maxxis Minion FB tyres. These are supported by SUNRinglé Mulefüt rims with a girthy 80mm internal diameter, spinning on 150mm front and 197mm rear bolt-through hubs. Thanks to this hub spacing, it’ll also accept 26in tyres up to 4.8in in width, or 29in tyres up to 3in, but obviously, trying either of these will also require a new wheelset.
The Blackborow is designed to be suspension compatible, but stock builds come with a rigid Kingpin fork, which has carbon legs and an alloy steerer. This is equipped with a plethora of bottle and kit cage mounts, plus internal routing for dynamo connections – pleasingly, the second fork in this test that’s designed to be wired up in this way.
Earlier versions of the Blackborow featured a double front chainring, but SRAM’s GX Eagle 1×12 groupset paired with a 30T Stylo crankset gives you a low enough bottom gear for fully laden riding. The brakes are slightly less confidence inspiring: Avid Speed Dial levers connected to Hayes MX Comp disc callipers by – shock, horror – a cable. However, there are sound reasons for this – the length of hose needed for the rear disc brake on a longtail bike means that bleeding the system is a stern test of mechanical finesse – and it also fits with the bike’s back-of-beyond aspirations. If you’re planning to buy this bike, a few practicalities might be worrying you. I can confirm that with the front wheel off, it fits in the back of an estate (although a roof rack might be pushing it). Removing the rack also decreases the effective length of the bike by around 40 cm, so while it doesn’t exactly squirrel away, it doesn’t pose the storage dilemmas of bigger cargo bikes.
On the trail, the Blackborow is less of a monster truck and more of a Trojan horse. First off, it’s much easier to ride off-road than its imposing dimensions might suggest. At less than 40lb, it’s very light for a cargo bike and substantial winches uphill are possible thanks to that 50T cassette. You could even portage it over short distances, providing you unloaded it first of course.
That isn’t to say that it rides like a regular hardtail, or even a regular fat bike. Even without a load, you’ll be doing well to lift the front wheel, or bunny-hop an obstacle. Our photographer James did manage to get a decent car park wheelie out of it, although that’s not really within its design remit. But even though the Blackborow is clearly intended for long hauling rather than singletrack shredding, it was surprisingly capable when the trails got interesting. The wheelbase is only a couple of inches longer than most current trail bikes, so although very tight corners require a bit of care, it doesn’t need you to rewire your brain in the same way as, say, riding a tandem off-road. It feels like a big bike, and it is, but there’s no sensation that the wheels are in different time zones, and when the back wheel hits bumps in the trail, they don’t feel like the aftershocks of an earthquake. In fact, thanks to the cushty platform of the tyres, you’ll have to be going pretty quickly over sizeable lumps to register much at all.
On one of my first rides on the Blackborow I loaded it up with tools and snacks, and took it out to give some of the waterlogged local trails a fairly heavy tickle. The low pressure tyres let you crawl over rocks and roots even with a lot of extra weight on board, and I was surprised to find I could spin it up all the climbs, even the horrible thrutchy bits that sometimes have me walking on a regular mountain bike.
The descents are fun too, although the super-long chain makes them a bit of a rattly affair, even with all your luggage securely lashed down. The frame feels stiff in all the right places, and even with the rigid fork it can be coaxed down steep, awkward terrain with minimal drama. The brakes were decent enough, but not as powerful as a good set of hydraulics, and I found myself using two fingers on the levers a lot of the time.
A lot of the bike’s weight is in the wheels and tyres, so it requires some fairly shouty body English to get through twisty singletrack. However the 69° head angle helps to offset the sluggish handling, as do the ginormous handlebars. The fat tyres are predictably great for traction and flotation, although the lack of damping and the rotating weight mean that it can be quite a handful on more technical trails, and at times it feels like it has a mind of its own. None of this will be news to anyone who’s ridden a fat bike before, but I’d still be interested to try it in 29+ mode, to see if it improved the handling and responsiveness without losing its insouciance.
During the test period I didn’t notice any issues other than the chain slap mentioned above, and some slight marring of the lovely sparkly paint where bags had been strapped to it. The handlebars aren’t ideal for all-day riding, and unless you have proper gibbon arms you’ll probably end up cutting them down a touch, or swapping them for some with multiple hand positions. Standard brake and gear cables will work, but you’ll need one and a half chains when the original wears out. And a complete bike is quite an investment, but who cares about that when it’ll let you ride off over the horizon in total self-sufficiency?
The Blackborow is a unique bike, and I can imagine it being utterly perfect for some applications. If you were planning to head off towards the Arctic Circle and wanted to carry a fortnight’s worth of rations along with a lot of light, bulky clothing, this would be the ideal machine. If you wanted to go bikepacking with a family, it could carry all the kids’ kit as well as your own. And if you were aiming to do a spot of backcountry trail maintenance, the Blackborow could haul all your gear to almost anywhere on the mountain.
Just as importantly, even though it has all the usual quirks of fat bikes, the Blackborow is a hoot to ride. The only time I can imagine it not being fun is if you succumbed to the temptation to load it up with everything it could carry. It’s a pack animal that defies appearances to be genuinely capable on the trail.
The Salsa Blackborow has all the usual drawbacks of fat bikes – self-steer, a John Wayne-esque Q factor – and yet I found it completely impossible to dislike. It combines the carrying capacity of a longtail cargo bike with the handling of a much more conventional hardtail, all at a more reasonable weight than you would expect. Someone somewhere is already planning a preposterous expedition involving kite-skiing or packrafting, facilitated by this machine.
Salsa Blackborow Specification
- Frame // Blackborow mid-wheelbase
- Fork // Salsa Bearpaw Carbon
- Hubs // SUNringlé SRC, 150x15mm front & 197x12mm rear
- Rims // SUNringlé Mulefüt//ACCENT// SL 80
- Tyres // Maxxis Minion FBF, 27.5×3.8″
- Chainset // Truvativ Stylo 6K Eagle, 30T X-Sync Direct Mount chainring
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle
- Shifters // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed
- Cassette // SRAM XG-1275, 10-50, 12-speed
- Brakes // Hayes MX Comp Mechanical
- Stem // Salsa Guide Trail, 31.8 mm, 70mm length
- Bars // Salsa Salt Flat, 31.8 mm, 800mm width
- Grips // Salsa File Tread
- Seatpost // Salsa Guide
- Saddle // WTB Volt Sport
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large
- Weight // 17.49kg/38.56lbs
|Tested:||by Antony de Heveningham for|
Use code HELLO54 when you join us as a print or digital member and your membership will be half price for the first year.
The Print+ membership where Singletrack magazine drops through your door, plus full digital access, is normally £45, now only £22.50 with the code. And a digital membership where you can read all the digital magazines is normally £25, and now £12.50 with the code.
Simply use code HELLO54 at checkout.
(New annually renewing membership only. Excludes Gift Memberships, Discount applies to first year. Cannot be used in conjunction with other offers, or when switching memberships)
Search the forum using the power of Google
The topic ‘Salsa Blackborow | Haul More Junk In The Trunk’ is closed to new replies.
Search the forum using the power of Google