Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Salsa El Mariachi 3: A Revue

Hey folks (not that anyone is listening), I'm here to review the 2015 Salsa El Mariachi 3. The bike that no one else reviews because it seems Salsa never sends anything other than carbon-ti-graphene-fused-silica bikes to their repertoire of reviewers. And I think Guitar Ted either gets lucky or buys the bike himself. Normal bikes that normal people can afford get reviewed by their owners on terrible internet bicycle forums. And that doesn't just apply to Salsa, of course.

On with the review.

I wanted to get into mountain biking, didn't have a ton of money to spend, and was tired of getting beat up by my Salsa Vaya on everything but smooth fire-road and Olympic luge-quality singletrack.

I needed a suspended front fork.

There are too many choices right now. Too many for someone who is trying to get into mountain biking for the first time. I read many internet bicycle forum posts. XC32, shit from Fox with their CTDs, Rebas, PIIIIIIKES!!!!

So now the internet has programmed me to hate Fox. I guess it's not a big deal. Time will tell. I did like their motocross gear before it became trendy and stopped having neon colors. Ah, the '90s.

I started to narrow down on the Recon and Reba. Reba equipped bikes seemed to be placed just out of my price range, because bike companies would usually also place higher end drive train components on the same bike, bringing the price range a bit too high. Or, as in other cases, instead of a Reba there'd be some Fox bullshit on there. Couldn't have that!

Fine, so a Recon it would be. The higher-end Recon Gold with some letters after it, like TK or whatever. Didn't matter at that point. Remote-lockout? Not a common option it seemed. But a lockout on the fork was good to have. Just gotta reach down while coasting and not wad myself up.

A quick aside on used bikes: San Diego is garbage for used bikes. We think our used bikes are worth much more than anyone else on the earth. Because we don't ride them? Because there's no good riding? Probably. But, it's hard to tell in the end. Ultimately, I gave up on Pinkbike, CL, etc and decided to go new.

I came close to getting a new Norco full-sus at the lower end of things. A really nice frame, but 9-speed shit all over it. Yeah, I like triples, too, but give me a damn break. Plus, a measily XC32 pogo stick? Daaaamn....

I popped over to another LBS (record scratch: Yes, I was going with an LBS. I learned my lesson in ordering bikes online. In-store testing seems dishonest/shitty/takes too much of my time for minimal gains in the end). Okay, so they have here a wide selection of Salsa bikes. Despite Salsa's somewhat premium pricing for Taiwan frames, they do kit it out pretty thoroughly. No FSA, Truvativ, Alexrims to be seem here.

Well, the wheels were some WTB whatevers. At least WTB has SOME street cred, right? Ya'll remember the Velociraptor? Is that still around?

Hubs were standard Deore fair. Not terrible, and cup/cone can at least carry some side loads. Better that cheap radial bearings crammed into a bore. Blah!

Alright, so, we've finally reached the actual bike itself. Fit and finish is nice. It's a genuine Salsa. Heavy, though. As much as my Vaya I think. And this is a size small. I do envy your fancy carbon/aluminum models. But actually, my friend's AL bike, because of its shitty components, is actually about the same weight. I'll deal with it.

And what's this? I got a blemish model. Lucky me?! There are some weird scuffs on the bottom bracket and the finish was chipping on the brake levers. Bizarre but inconsequential. And ultimately, the discount I got factors directly into my review take-away, as we'll see later.

Now that I've put a few rides on the bike, I can say that overall, I'm happy with its performance. Of course, I have zero experience with nicer mountain bikes so there's really only my Salsa Vaya 2 to compare against. It pedals, turns, coasts just fine. I think the Alternator drop outs need to be pulled all the way back or something. When I pedal up steep hills I feel like a wheelie machine. I think the chainstays are just a tad too short compared to the ideal effective setback of the seat. So my weight is super far back in the grand scheme of things. As I said, I hope I can just pull the dropouts back a centimeter or two and get some more uphill stability.

The Mariachi is definitely a bit more lumbering. The bars are very wide, perhaps too wide for the small people that ride a small frame. One would perhaps want to cut them down a bit if romping single-track is not in the game. As I understand, this bike isn't really for blasting singletrack rather than for taking the edge off of harsh, slower trails while still being burly enough to bulldoze across a mountain range.

Plenty of cheaper "mountain bikes" exist that would be just as comfortable as the Mariachi but at the same time I wouldn't trust them to not get me stranded in the middle of nowhere. So perhaps you could think of this bike like a Toyota Land Cruiser? I dunno. Something like that. Good comfort, not a speed demon, but you'll get where you're going no matter what.

So you're paying some premium for that very reason. 

But recall that I got a blemish-model discount. Rad.

Worth full price? If you're literally going to bike-pack, endurance race, or just ride super far, yes. If you're trying to go-fast-on-a-hardtail, maybe look at something else. But I don't know might have aluminum or carbon in it, though.

All things considered, it was a reasonable choice for my brand new mountain bike.

A few more points to be made:

1. The rims are really narrow given current wide-rim intents. Why not the WTB i25? It's no more expensive. I get that you only want 2.4" wide tires max, but would the i25 not help even with narrow 2.25" tires that the bike comes with?

2. Resin pads and resin-only 160mm rotors. Diameter is maybe fine, but why resin? I feel like fast downhill fireroads that this bike will see require something more robust. I can feel the fade and I'm definitely not booking it. XT brakes might come later, but maybe I'll just save up for a new bike in a few years.

3. One bottle cage. For the size small frame, does the top tube really need to effectively sit at a 45 degree angle? There's only room for one bottle cage, and forget getting a trendy frame pack from Porcelain Rocket/JPacc/my grandma in there. This bike specifically calls out BIKEPACKING as a main feature. I thought I absolutely had to have a framepack in order to succeed at bikepacking.

4. The fork. Its performance is okay. It works well enough. However, you gave it a damn quick-release version! And don't bullshit me about how QRs are faster than thru-axles. The lawyer tabs on this fork are so goddamn tall that I have to basically unscrew the QR as much as I would have to for a thru-axle. So, don't do that again! Lazy!

5. The blue paint is not very exciting. It's kind of muted. Thanks for trying to jazz it up with orange anodized bits. And what is the deal with a triple-ring version and sky blue paint being created specifically for the ladies? The way I hear it (from my LBS), ladies who came to buy a Mariachi 3 didn't get a shit about triples or sky blue paint. They wanted a double and wanted to shred harder than anyone out there. Consolidate your models so I can get a cheaper product. That said, triples have their place, but maybe not on a bikepacking bike?

Okay, points out of the way, you'd think that with so many lively complaints I would not be happy with this machine. But I am. It's simple, straightforward, does what I want, and got me into mountain biking on a reasonable budget. Plus, I reckon it will last a long time.

Pictures? Alright, here...

I saw this frog in a stream crossing while riding the bike

I drank this cider after riding the bike

The bike is inside that van (it's my van, I bought it with my own money)

As an homage to Guitar Ted: STW bought this bicycle and is not being paid nor bribed for this review by Salsa, or any of the component manufacturers represented on the build. I will strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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