Updating My Salsa Fargo Build, Bikepacking Style

Oh, the places you can go on a bicycle… Somewhere in Portugal!

I’ve ridden my Salsa Fargo 10,000 miles over hundreds of hours across the U.S. and Europe. I STILL love it. To make it even better for our April/May bike tour in Spain and Portugal, I added a few hacks from the bikepacking world.

Since over 3,000 people per month still read my post about the Salso Fargo, I figured a quick update will help some folks out. In that initial post, I talked about how comfortable the Salsa Fargo is. That hasn’t changed! The Fargo isn’t racy, but hot diggity is it a solid long-distance bike for gravel and pavement. I’d still buy a Fargo versus a Salsa Vaya for the versatility and riding position.

During our tour from Valencia, Spain to Porto, Portugal, we logged many miles on gravel and dirt roads. Other than a couple days where bigger tires or front suspension might have saved some wrist damage, the bike worked great!

Salsa Fargo ready to rip!

Things I Still Like About the Salsa Fargo:

  • Position on the bike – so comfortable for all-day pedaling
  • Mountain gearing (2×10, 24/42, 11-36) – I can charge (ok, grunt) up 16% grade farm roads.
  • Tons of braise-ons for racks, fenders, and water bottles
  • Steel is real! No worries about carbon breaking under a loaded bike.
  • Wide variety of tire sizes – Newer models accommodate even bigger tires and feature the Firestarter fork, which people rave about.
All the necessities: water and a smoothie from a grocery store. (Other water bottle moved temporarily to my handlebar snack bag.)

Recent Upgrades I’m Digging

Jones Bars with a view of the Atlantic.

New Handle Bars (Jones H-Loop Bars)
Call me a trend follower, but Jones Bars are HAWT in the bikepacking world. I hemmed and hawed and finally ordered some. So glad I did.

It took a little work in my garage and cost ($150) for new brakes, mtb shifters, and recabling. Whatever – I’m SO happy with the change. So nice when stuff works out. Now my Salsa Fargo looks like a REAL bikepacking bike!

I loved them so much that I bought a pair for Chelsea’s new Co-Motion Pangea too! (For both pairs, I bought the SG Loop bars vs lighter aluminum or carbon bars.)

One downside to wide bars… Oh well, just four flights of these stairs to navigate. See you next time sans bike, Lisbon!

Three Major Things I Like About Jones Bars:

Comfortable body position
Frequent mountain biking has heavily biased me against drop bars. Even relative to the Fargo’s relaxed Woodchipper bars, the Jones Bars are more comfortable and upright.

It’s not like a beach cruiser waddling along a boardwalk either. I can still put down power. The bars are swept back at 45 degrees and I mounted them at the recommended 17 degree tilt. The end result puts less pressure on my hands and feels natural.

MTB shifters and brakes
On bumpy terrain (or in general), I prefer my hands wrapped solidly around handlebars, not resting on STI/brifter hoods. I’m loving the trigger shifters coupled with my SRAM 2×10 setup: fast, easy to adjust, and cheap. Brifter is a dumb word anyway.

The Salsa wishing it were a real mountain bike.

More mounting space for gear
The bar design creates space for lights, GPS, a bell, a framed picture of my mom, and a diorama of my favorite Oregon wildlife. (Kidding. I don’t have pictures on my bike. Sorry, mom.)

New Saddle (Brooks Cambium)
For past tours, I used a Selle Anatomica. It worked fine, but I never looooved it. However, for commuting around Bend sans chamois, the slot in the saddle was uncomfortable (no further details).

To address that, I bought a Brooks Cambium saddle. Not only is it comfortable, it’s synthetic, i.e. no need to worry about rain and it aligns with my vegan values. BOOM.

Bikepacking Bags

Cheap real estate in rural Spain…

I added the following to my setup:

Frame Bag (Salsa EXP HT)
Designed for the Fargo’s geometry and perfect for infrequently used gear (spare tubes, bike repair kit, med kit, front light, and rain gear). As a bonus, I don’t have to haul it around when I take my panniers off the bike. A must have in my opinion!

Note: Since the frame bag covers the bottle mounts, I moved those to the front fork. I considered using the Salsa Anything Cages, but didn’t need the capacity for this trip.

Another random ride in an elevator with a bike…

Handlebar bag (Surly Personal Affects)
Instead of the cavernous Ortlieb I’ve used before, I picked up this sweet number. It mounts neatly in the loop of the Jones Bars and holds a small camera, snacks and other assorted stuff. The elastic webbing on top is perfect for holding a light jacket in on/off weather.

Note: Jones makes a bag specific for the bars. It screams JONES in bright white lettering, costs 1.5x more, and lacks the jacket-holding webbing, so I opted for the Surly bag.

Back roads and byways on the Fargo. Bikepacking bags are so less rattly than my old Ortlieb handlebar bag!

Bedrock Feed Bags (the Tapeats)
Mounted on either side of the stem and perfect for for carrying quick-access snacks, a small charger pack for my phone, a bottle of OJ or coconut water, or stashing any small item of gear.

Top-Tube Bag (Dakota Tank)
Perfect for frequently accessed stuff like sunscreen, chamois butter, wallet, and so on. Easy access! Plus it’s named the Dakota Tank, so, yeah, had to have it.

Rear view fully loaded. The Dakota Tank is the red/black bag on the top tube.

Panniers (Ortlieb Backrollers)
Faded and dirty, these babies were with us for both big tours we’ve done. For the U.S., I had two rear and two smaller front panniers; for Europe in 2015, I only had the two rear. Panniers are great, but on bumpy dirt roads, they flap around like pissed off seagulls.

Setting up my Fargo bikepacking-style makes sense and I considered using just a seatpost bag. Buuuut I work remotely on these trips and need a bag big enough for a laptop and so I rocked panniers again, though not as loaded down. As a plus, I can fit a solid chunk of Chelsea’s gear to even out our pace a bit when we’re riding. I can still take her on the hills 🙂

Sometimes we let the bikes sleep inside, but not here.

Small duffel bag (16L Matador duffel)
We love this hack. Rather than loading up panniers with food, which creates an unbalanced load (and probably scoliosis), we put food in a duffel bag on top of the rear rack. When we hit a lunch spot or grocery store for a refill, we grab the duffel and presto, we’ve got all our food. The Matador is light and waterproof, but not super durable.

Bigger Tires (50mm Schwalbe Marathons)
I’ve run a variety of tire sizes on the Fargo. I considered going with some 2.2” mtb tires, but decided on on 50mm (2”) Schwalbe Marathons (with tubes). Yeah yeah, they’re heavy, but changing flats sucks and we aren’t throwing down intervals on loaded bikes! Rotational inertia just makes you stronger, ya weight weenie. ZERO flats during this last trip and we rode some rough terrain. Booyah.

Portugal, you wily creature. Gonna need bigger tires for this terrain!

iPhone Mount on Bike (Quadlock Kit)
I’ve mastered the dangerous art of looking at phone maps while riding my bike. It’s easy on quiet roads and rather stupid in cities. As a (small) sign that I’m maturing, I bought a Quadlock case for my iPhone plus a mounting bracket for my bike stem.

The phone mounts in both portrait and landscape mode and the release sleeve on the bracket is bomber and ingenious. The matching case is slim, so I can leave it on the phone long-term. SO easy to navigate using Komoot with both hands on the bars. Highly recommended/mandatory!

View from the driver’s seat. Top to bottom: Surly bag in the bar loop (perfect for camera), two Bedrock bags for snacks, my phone with Quadlock case, and the Bedrock “Dakota Tank” bag at the bottom.

There you have it. I think this iteration of my gravel/road touring setup is more comfortable for long days, robust on rough roads, better balanced, and provides a safer, easily accessed front cockpit relative to my past approach. I loved it for this recent tour!

Want to read about our trip? Here’s the first ten days from Valencia to Granada and then tales from Granada to Porto.

Always give your bike a nice view on the ferry.
One more shot… Side view fully loaded.
18 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yessir! Bikepacking bags for the win. Except for tours like this with Chelsea, I won’t be using panniers at all in the future. Seatpost bag, rollbag under the handlebars, and all the other bags I mentioned.

      Reply
  1. Dan Montgomery
    Dan Montgomery says:

    Largely as a result of your original Fargo article, I checked it out – loved the upright riding position and off-road touring abilities – and bought a 2019 steel frame/built it up – and LOVE the bike! I’m currently running flared drop bars, but must confess to Jonesin’ for some H-Bars… Thanks for your very informative and upbeat articles – I look forward to them! Enjoy your adventure!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Heck yeah, Dan! Glad to hear you’re digging your Fargo. Awesome to hear that. Treat yourself to some H-Bars, you won’t regret it! Thanks for the kudos and cheers.

      Reply
  2. John Bravard
    John Bravard says:

    I had a version of H-bars on my SS MTB years ago. Ditched ’em for normal MTB bars, but I can see how they would be great for bikepacking. Have you considered front panniers for packing? I use front only for my e-bike commute and I’ve heard folks talk about how they help balance bikes for touring.

    See you two soon!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yo! I’ve tried front panniers but don’t like the way the bike feels on rough terrain. I like popping my front wheel up, ya know? With weight in the frame bag, my bike felt great except when I took all of C’s gear when her knees hurt AND I had 2 days worth of food. That was a bit unwieldy, though still not terrible.

      Reply
  3. Forrest
    Forrest says:

    I learned a handy trick for mounting phones/GPS units/anything you can dream of. Order a handful of VHB-adhered mounty things (best I can do to describe these) and use with normal Wahoo/Garmin mounts. This gives plenty of options for when and where you put electronics and comes in under $20.

    Mounty things: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Bike-Bicycle-Phone-Sticker-Mount-Computer-Mount-GPS-Bracket-Cycling-for-GARMIN-Edge-1000-800-500/32857557793.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.32ae4c4dlQpGIE

    Stem cap mount: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Bike-Computer-Holder-Stem-Top-Cap-Stopwatch-Mount-Bracket-for-Garmin-1000-820-810-800-520/32904063306.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.32ae4c4dlQpGIE

    Out front mount: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/2019New-Arrival-A-Set-Practical-Bicycle-Computer-Extension-Handle-Mounting-Bracket-Extension-Bracket-for-Garmin-Edge/32968984840.html?spm=a2g0s.11045068.rcmd404.4.556456a43ketHe&gps-id=detail404&scm=1007.16891.96945.0&scm_id=1007.16891.96945.0&scm-url=1007.16891.96945.0&pvid=c6d46c20-1516-4800-8599-3c84e8611cbf

    This way you can shuffle things around and stick mounty things on just about anything (for example, a kindle when extreme reading is warranted).

    Reply
  4. Charles R.
    Charles R. says:

    Hey, Which fenders are you running? I’m trying to choose fenders right now for my ’17 Fargo temp touring conversion. Great documentary, thanks for posting up!

    Reply
  5. Mark
    Mark says:

    Thanks for the reviews on the Fargo. Looking at one in the shop this week and I totally agree on the comfortable riding position. The rest of your points just helped confirm my choice!
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    Reply
  6. Henri
    Henri says:

    Hi
    i been REALLY intrested world touring cycling style, and really really hard thinking right bike for that, there is two main options here, salsa fargo vs Marrakesh, do you have opinion about that, and/ or wich other bikes you recommended for that?

    Bike need to be handle normal routs, hard uphills and downhills, gravel, had sand…. One guy has been also highly recommended this bike so there is tough choice to make….

    I been looking lot of videos and blogs, and everyone have other own opinion wich is best solutions travel with bike 😀

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hey Henri, I’d absolutely still go with the Fargo for its ability to handle bigger tires and more aggressive terrain. Set up bikepacking-style, it’ll be a great around the world bike. Enjoy your adventure!

      Reply
  7. Henri
    Henri says:

    How about maintenance on the road?
    If you are middle of nowhere and something bad happens/ broke, how easily you can fix the bike, like brakes, sifters etc…

    And wich kind cycling position are compared marrakesh?
    More comfortable, better, i perfer quite uppe postion it is most relaxed way to cycling i think, and then you can also see more than just your front wheel 😉😂😂

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hey Bill, I did a pro bike fit and wound up keeping the same length stem. However, most people lengthen the stem 10-20mm from what my bike fitter told me.

      Reply
      • Bill
        Bill says:

        Excellent, thank you. I kind of wondered if that might be the norm. (Adding stem length) I have a pair of Jones coming for my Fargo; am anxious to try them out.

        Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      For sure! I run tubeless on all my MTBs for bikepacking with my other bikes. With the Fargo, I haven’t had issues with flats while running tubes on pavement given the Schwalbe Marathon tires and their toughness, so I’ve just kept that setup. Plenty of people go tubeless with Fargos though!

      Reply

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