Salsa Cycles Fargo: Getting Fit On Drop Bars For Off Roading

Good news! Salsa Cycles Fargo bikes and frames are starting to be delivered. With that in mind, and due to all of the questions I get about off road drop bar set ups, I thought it would be a good time to post my thoughts on fitting a bike with drop bars with the purpose of off roading in mind. Keep in mind that there are not many ,(or any) other production off road drop bar specific rigs available, so this is new territory for most 29″er freaks.

First of all, there are some things about drop bars for off road that need to be understood. Drop bars off road are not used like drop bars for road going bikes. Not at all! The positioning for your road biker is almost always “hood-centric’. Meaning that the primary position for riding is set up on how well the rider fits on the bike with his/her hands on the brake hoods. Not so with off road drop bar set up. In fact, the hoods are not even really a consideration here. When using drops for mountain biking, the primary posistion is based upon the hands being in the drops. Not on the hoods.

So, is the drop bar a waste of time? Why use one if you can not use the hoods? This is a question born out modern day thinking in terms of drop bars. In the early 20th century, drop bar users never dreamed of riding primarily ‘on the hoods’. Especially since they really didn’t have any hoods! Just bare brake perches usually. These riders understood that dropbars were easier to use on rough tracks and aligned their wrists, forearms and shoulders in the most relaxed, comfortable way without giving anything away to control on a rough road.

Drop bars for off road today reflect this same philosophy, but since most drop bar users are coming from today’s smooth tarmac type set ups, they have a hard time figuring this out. The tall stems, the odd frame angles. What is up with all of that? Actually, this is a great question, and worth looking into. Let’s take a look.

Comparison between drop and flat bar set ups.
In a comparison, the drop bars put your hands in a very similar place in space as they would be on the flat bar bike.

Since the ideal off road position for drops is to be “in the drops” or “in the hooks”, the bars need to be positioned higher than they would need to be with a flat bar set up. There are two main design features that can be employed to achieve this. One way is to use a “sky scraper stem”. A stem with a ton of rise that gets the drop bars up to a height where the drops are usable off road. The other way is to utilize a severely sloping top tube/longer head tube. This automatically gets the handle bars set in a higher plane, and unusual stems are not necessary. Another variation on the top tube/head tube theme is to also use a very long fork.

Custom drop bar bike
Here is an example of a long fork/tall head tube/severely sloping top tube design. It uses a standard Thomson 100mm stem.

These designs get the drop section up to a height where it becomes useable all the time. Your saddle to bar height should be determined at the point where your hand grasps the drop section. I usually go with about three inches from the nose of the saddle to where my hands rest. Take a look at this photo to get an idea.

Saddle to bar drop
The saddle to bar drop is determined at the point where your hands rest in the drops.

Notice that the bar top is higher than my saddle is. This is normal for an offroad drop bar set up. The bar tops are rarely used while riding. In regards to the proper saddle to bar drop, this is a function of the stem at this point. In addition to spacers, you should be able to achieve a great riding position with “normal” stems. Especially with the Fargo. You can see how the longer head tube and sloping top tube work to allow you to achieve this.

Side view
No goofy stems needed here!

Another thing that you can notice here is that by the time I put my hands in the drops to ride, the centerline of the grip section ends up being right about the same distance as the stem clamp on the steer tube is from the stem’s handle bar clamp. In other words, no need to sweat your reach to the bars because of the drop bar thing. If I were to ride on the hoods all the time, then it would be a concern. But as I have shown, that isn’t what the off road drop bar set up is about anyway.

Of course, if drops just don’t make sense to you off road, then none of this will either. That said, there are a couple of things to consider with off road drop bars. In the design of the Fargo, standover clearance is comprmised. If max standover is an issue, than the Fargo isn’t your rig. Also, the drop bars available that work well with off roading are not available in different widths. So if the width of an On One Midge, for example, doesn’t trip your trigger, then you are out of luck with that model. Choices in bars are limited. Finally, the shifting choices are limited as well due to the fact that drop bars do not accomodate mountain shifters. Some make do with road shifters or bar end shifters, but it is a limiting factor for some.

In conclusion, fitting a Fargo is as much understanding drop bars for off road as anything. Once you get a handle on that part, fitting Salsa Cycles latest 29″er will be a snap.

No Responses to “Salsa Cycles Fargo: Getting Fit On Drop Bars For Off Roading”

  1. MG Says:

    Great post Guitar Ted. I think that’ll get a lot of people thinking along the right lines for setting up their own personal Fargo, or custom frame, or whatever they’re settin’ up for a drop-bar off-road big-wheel roller. One critical factor in my opinion, and you and I have talked about this, is not buying a frame that’s too small. I came really close to doing that with my Fargo, and fortunately at the last moment I saw the light and went up one frame size, from my “typical” large/20-inch frame to an x-large/22-inch model on the Fargo. That made a big difference in my ability to set my in-the-drop position up to be nearly identical to the flat-bar position on my Big Mama and El Mariachis. Awesome.

    It’s one of those things where you have to remember — this isn’t a ‘cross bike. It’s not even a “monster ‘crosser.” It’s a true drop-bar mountain bike. It needs the grips to be in full-on mountain bike position, with the levers rotated far enough down to be able to be reachable easily. That means the hoods are virtually useless, even on a bar like the Salsa Bell Lap, that keeps the hoods in a viable “grabbing angle.” They’ll still be rotated too far down to be very comfortable if they’re right to ride off-road in the drops.

  2. milto Says:

    Hi Guys

    So what sort of bars are there available out there for a setup like this. How much drop do they have and what widths do they make? What about other options for shifters?

  3. Guitar Ted Says:

    MG: Right on! Good tips and insight there. πŸ™‚

    milto: Well, you could put on any bars, even flat bars. However; the “ideal” bars for off roading would be the WTB dirt drop, the On One Midge Bar, and the Origin 8 Gary Bar. The Salsa comes with Bell Lap bars (Fargo complete) and those are all right, but have a bit too much drop. All of the “true” off road bars only come in one width. That’s a bummer. As for drop, the Gary and Midge are within reason, but the WTB is a bit too deep. (In my opinion)

    Shifting, as I state in the article, is relegated to STI, or equivelent, and bar end shifters. (Note: There are some other esoteric solutions, but these are not common or workable in all cases.)

    There are rumors of new off road drop bars in the pipeline, (more than one bar) and rumor has it that these will be available in different widths with shallower drop than the Midge has. We will see.

  4. XchokeX Says:

    I’ve my Karate Monkey set up with a Midge and Dura Ace bar end shifters and I’ve been digging it for two years. I read up on drop bar fit before setting it up and with the drops three inches below the saddle it rides perfect. I ended up using 5 spacers under the stem but other than that no changes from what I’d do with a flat bar. I ride in the drops almost exclusively and only ride on the hoods or top once every couple of hours. Also, if you are using v-brakes, you are better off with the new Tektro or Cane Creek linear pull levers than with the old Dia-Compes.

  5. Bill Says:

    I wanted thank GT again for all his drop bar and 29er help. I added drops to my Mono9 largley because I couldn’t get a good low postion with a flat bar, forget about even using a riser. It seems one of the inherent design flaws/features of most 29ers is a tall front end. I added an On-One carbon fork, so I had a new steerer tube with infinite heighth possibilities. I’m also running Gary’s. A word of caution, the Gary’s were not designed to accept Shimano bar-end shifters. I didn’t realize this until I got the bars and emailed Origin8. The response was that they were intended for SS use and they hadn’t planned on people running gears. They did however provide ample material that can be quickly removed by a competent machinist. The drops are way more comfortable than any other bars I’ve used and it puts me in a “fast attack” position. This lower postion combined with the big wheel stability and momemtum gobbles up asphalt and singletrack.

  6. Cloxxki Says:

    So, the hoods are not used as those are a bad fit, and the tops are not used either.

    Then what is it, that defines the purpose of dirt drop bar setups? Isn’t the drops hand position bang on identical to a not-wide big sweep handlebar such as millions of city bikes in Europe, or even the Misfit PsyclesFU Bar?
    But to make that inpractical drop bar wok, one needs a dedicated frame, adjust fork, and if all that doesn’t work out, a special stem.
    I’ve had my plain XC style 29″ers setup with big sweep bars, up to 50 degree or so, mated to regular but longer stems. It worked fine. Will the drops of the dirt drop give me a similar expereince, apart from the overcome complications?
    I was way fast and way comfortable on suh setups. A slightly higher stem position for longer rides, and I’d have one out of millions of European trekking bikes.

    I love the idea of a Fargo in my stable, but I do demand a bike to make sense (to me). I tried making my Karate Monkey bike work with Midge bars, but I never quite managed. Drop position didn’t give my size 12 hands any room, and although I like low and far bars, it was always too low and too far out.

  7. Velociphile Says:

    Great post Ted, but just get some Marys – best of both worlds.


  8. glenn olsen Says:

    Ted, what bars are on the fargo pictured above and where i might get them?

  9. Guitar Ted Says:

    Cloxxki: The thing is, none of the bars you mention that I am familiar with are swept to the degree that a Midge Bar is. In addition, the extra length of the tubing does afford some shock absorpstion, but as I state in the piece, it has the most to do with how it lines up your wrists, forearms, and shoulders. This allows freer breathing, and more relaxed upper body muscles, along with a more powrful climbing position. Finally, as I also say, drop bars are not for everybody. πŸ˜‰

    Tim; Mary’s are nice, but see my response to Cloxxki. Same applies here.

    glenn olsen: The bars on my Fargo are On One Midge bars. You can get them through On One direct.

  10. Velociphile Says:

    Drops aren’t for me, they look d@mn cool tho’!

    What’s the solution for hydraulics?


  11. Guitar Ted Says:

    Velociphile: Nothing as of yet. Supposedly SRAM is working on something for hydraulic brakes and drop bars. I do know that it is being worked on, I just don’t know for sure if it is SRAM or not.

  12. jonnyb Says:

    I just want to echo MG’s comment about not getting a bike too small. I’m a leggy 5’8 and I ride off-road drops on a bike with a 24″ top tube — the reason being that I didn’t want a giant stack of spaces so I went with a high rise stem. As a result, the effective reach of the stem is very short, and thus I needed a bike with a longer than normal top tube if I want to be in the same position as on a “normal” set up. I raced this set-up all last year and never once had sore wrists or a sore lower back (on a straight bar I can’t ride around the block without wrist pain).

    Also, while you won’t often need to ride on the hoods or the drops (because the drops are so damn comfy), you still can. Riding on the hoods really stretches you out, which can be nice some times, and riding on the tops makes for a very upright position perfect for eating (the wider top on the Midge bar vs the Gary is especially nice here).

    Drops — not for everyone, but definitely for me!

  13. MG Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts jonnyb. You and I are totally on the same page as far as where our fit needs to be for a mountain bike setup.

    Cloxxi, I think that’s the point that perhaps isn’t fully seating in here. We’re talking about how to set up a drop-bar mountain bike, not a trekking bike or a touring bike, or a cyclocross bike, or even a monster-crosser. We’re talking about how to set up a drop-bar mountain bike. This is not designed for pavement use. So we need to take every thought of pavement/speed, aerodynamics and all that, and just set it aside. What we’re interested in is traction, balance, comfort and the ability to safely navigate highly technical terrain at as high a rate of speed as our sphincters will allow. Yeah, we ride gravel roads on these bikes too, but where this is going is onto SINGLETRACK! OK, rant off. Please don’t take that as an attack… I just want to get you onto the same page. I think you’d like a Fargo, and I think you’d like rippin’ off-road on one, provided you bought a large enough frame size as to be able to ride it like a true mountain bike. (if I set my El Mariachi next to my Fargo, the grips on the El M are exactly in-line with the middle of the drops on my Fargo — that’s how you’d want to set yours up too — trust me)

    Cheers friends,

  14. jonnyb Says:

    Oops — forgot one thing.

    Just a warning — on an off-road drop bar your knuckles are actually the widest part. As a result, if you clip a tree it’s not just your handlebar hitting it. I’m looking into those carbon fibre knuckle freeride gloves this year as I think I cracked both pinky finger knuckles last year.

  15. Butcher Says:

    Gang, good conversation.

    I just want to point out something that has been hinted at, but not stated directly.

    The Fargo can be a lot of different bikes.

    GT’s commentary on set up is one way and it does work very well in a multitude of conditions, including working very well off road. Just remember, it’s not the only way the Fargo can and will be used.

    I’ve got one bike set up for off road much like GT has called out. I’ve also got one set up more like a true monster cross, gravel, & pavement bike. I like that it feels more like my cyclocross bike.

    I’ve seen GT’s set up and he rides his off road set up on his gravel adventures. Personally, my set up for these on these same adventures is a bit differetn because I spend A LOT of time on the hoods.

    My point is, think about how you intend to use this bike and THEN consider how you want it to size and fit.

    Here’s my take as I’ve gotten about 6 emails this morning asking about Fargo fit.

    I ride medium Salsa Mtn Frames – I’ve tried larges twice and have gone back to mediums. That’s my preference.

    I have two Fargos, one Medium, one Large.

    Medium – Fits great with drops. I’m close to GT’s set up on this one. I ride this one when I want to ride off road. It’s also the bike I’ve been using for my over night trips with racks, panniers, etc. Lots and lots of miles on this one. This bike give me the greatest flexibility to do whatever I want with it.

    Large – I have this set up very similar to the Medium. Fit is the same thanks to a shorter stem on the Large. This bike is set up more cross like and for slogging miles on gravel and pavement. I’ve ridden it off road, but prefer the medium and the bar set up I have on the medium.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Hope it doesn’t confuse this discussion even more.

    For a detailed build spec and photos of my Large – Go here and scroll down.

  16. jimmythefly Says:

    Anyhows, I love my dirt-drops, especially because they’re a bit longer
    I love the original WTB/Nitto, mostly because the drops are longer and fit my fat hands better.

    Someone did a nice side-by-side photo comparison of various MTB drop bars here:

    I think he’s missing the stock bars from the Masi Speciale Commuter(which I don’t think they sell separate), and the newer WTB drops that are available in 31.8 (and a different shape than the originals -more β€œergo-y”).

    Cloxxki, I find that when I’m in the drops, I’m really in there solid. My hands stay put with much less muscle fatigue from having to keep an extra tight grip over rough trail sections. On a standard bar, your momentum carries you forward, and when the bike momentarily gets held up on a bump your hands want to continue forward off the grips. On dirt-drops that motion actually makes your hands more secure. On road sections or gravel climbs it’s easy to sue the tops or hoods to sit up or stretch out, you just want to be in the drops for anything technical or where sudden braking might be needed.

    I’m sure they’re not for everyone, I still prefer the Mary or space bar for certain riding. Haven’t tried h-bars yet.

  17. Kid Riemer Says:

    I had to skim through all this but wanted to point out that all the positions of the drop bar are still of use when riding off-road. Drops, tops, flats, extensions. You just have to choose the appropriate time to use them, based on what the terrain is presenting you at that time, and what your body is calling for.

  18. Guitar Ted Says:

    Gnat: Thanks for chiming in. I would only add that if you are not “primarily” going to do off road, then I would not advise following my set up. If; however, your off roading is going to be most of the what you use a Fargo for, then I would venture a guess and say my advise is going to work out better. There are exceptions to the rule, of course.

    Since I concentrate mostly off road, the pavement aspect of my riding/writing is sorely lacking! That said, there are a bunch of different ways to set up one of these bikes. I offer this post as the way to set up a Fargo for off road riding with drop bars, but that in no way should inhibit the exploration of other ways to use a Fargo. πŸ™‚

  19. sinnerspinner Says:

    I like the monsters. But… why not use standard drop-bars to achieve a flat position on the hoods AND a usable drop position? Am I missing something?

  20. Guitar Ted Says:

    sinnerspinner: Try hanging on to the hoods in rough terrain. Not a great grip there! (see “jimmythefly’s” response above, especially his second to last paragraph, for more on the grip thing)

    Standard drops, since they have no flair, leave little room for your wrists/forearms in side to side leanings of the bike while in the drops. That’s why “dirt drops” are flared, so you have total freedom of movement while in the drops.

    Finally, if the hoods were low enough to make use of in rough terrain- barring the poor grip thing- the drops would be virtually useless for any meaningful mountain biking.

    Again, it is all dependent upon your intentions for the Fargo. Using it as a commuter, heavy on road tourer, or anything primarily road oriented, your idea would make more sense. πŸ™‚

  21. Guitar Ted Says:

    I also wanted to respond to jonnyb above and his noting the knuckle thing. I actually smashed my knuckles badly on a couple of trees last fall using H-bars on my single speed 29″er at Murphy-Hanrahan up near the Twin Cities last fall. So, a drop bar off road is no worse or no better in that regard, I think.

  22. Gooogle Says:

    So how do bars like the On-One Mary Bars fit into this? They have the sweep back without the drop so would seem to have most of the advantages without the setup challenges.

  23. Guitar Ted Says:

    Gooogle: Sure, there are folks setting up Fargo’s with risers, H-Bars, and all sorts of bars. The only thing here is that you will be somewhat limited on how low you can set up your front end due to the extended head tube. Otherwise, have at it! πŸ™‚

  24. umarth Says:

    I got bored, so I didn’t finish reading the comments, but I like the idea of a drop bar specific mountain bike, and I’d love to try one out. Good write up. I think there needs to be a piece about the Fargo on a multi day journey. Just for thought…

  25. Rob in Ottawa Says:

    I know it’s probably been debated before, but would some kind of “drop” bar with no drop solve the stem height problem? Like some kind of super wide mustache bar?

  26. Guitar Ted Says:

    umarth: Yes, I agree. And hopefully that will happen this spring or early summer. Stay tuned!

    Rob in Ottawa: Well, in a way you are right, but the design of the Fargo was done to accommodate drop bars, so that would maybe work for some, (mustache bar- and we’ll see that done, I am sure), but one of the main ideas behind the bike is that you can run drop bars without a goofy stem. I am glad to report that Salsa was successful at this. πŸ™‚

  27. Rob in Ottawa Says:

    GT – yeah, I definitely really like the design of fargo, I think it’s really neat. I was just thinking, off road specific mustache bars might be the way to go for going “drop” bar on a normal MTB frame.

  28. jimmythefly Says:

    Rob -only sort of, at least for me:

    Lets pretend that we have 2 bars with exactly the same hand position. One is a dirt-drop type, and one is a more moustache type. Both have the grip area at the same sweep angle, etc.

    They’re still gonna fit different because on the dirt-drop you’re using road levers, and you reach your fingers in a different direction and squeeze in a different direction to sue them. Consider where your hands are and then the relationship to the part of the lever that you grab and the direction that lever swings.

    A moustache type bar with road levers or mountain levers isn’t the same. A dirt-drop bar with mountain levers isn’t the same, but getting closer.

    I’m completely splitting hairs, and I can imagine some wacky bar shapes that could work. But, none of my imagined bar shapes is as simple or strong as just getting a high-rise stem and a set of dirt-drops in the first place.

  29. jimmythefly Says:

    Damn it. “use” not “sue”.

  30. Guitar Ted Says:

    Rob, jimmy: You know, at one time there were Nitto mustache bars that fit mountain bike controls. Bridgestone spec’ed them back in the early 90’s. I was able to borrow these bars from a collector friend and ride them. I used Avid SD-1 levers on BB-7 mtn. brakes. To your point jimmy, I used the mountain levers in a downward pointed position and they ride was fantastic.

    Nobody does mustache bars now to fit mountain controls, but if they did, I’d be all over it. It would be a great way to set up a Fargo too.

    And before anybody says “H-Bar”, let me just say it isn’t even close to the same feeling. πŸ˜‰

  31. jimmythefly Says:

    Thanks G-ted, that’s one more thing I need to hunt out out on eBay!

  32. Darren Says:

    Can I get a review of the Fargo from a road prespective? I’m thinking of buy for mostly road and/or fireroad type of rides. How does it ride with a pair of 700 semi-sticks on it?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: