It’s hard to believe that I’ve put 1,000 miles on my 2013 Salsa Vaya 3 in a little over 6 months. I picked this bike up on July 3rd at Topanga Creek Bicycles shop in Topanga. One of the only bicycle shops that specializes in touring bikes as well as mountain bikes. My initial intent was to buy a Surly Long Haul Trucker (LHT) but the pretty ruby-red shine of the Salsa caught my eye when Ryan pointed out that they had one available in my size. Unfortunately for me, they also had the LHT available in my size, too.
At that moment, it was a difficult decision as I had my heart set on picking up a LHT, but then I remember reading from The Path Less Pedaled about how they love their Vayas and remembered their own favorable 1,000 mile review. I stood in the showroom for about 10 minutes debating the finer points of owning something I came for or something that was love at first sight. The only way was to take the Vaya out for a test ride as I’ve already ridden Sang’s LHT and knew what to expect with that bike.
Smiles All Around
I took down the side road which let me cruise around the quiet local residential neighborhood in Topanga Canyon. The bar end shifters took a little getting use to, but I have since mastered them. What was impressive was the tremendous braking power of this bike. This would be the first and only bike I’ve ever ridden with disc brakes. I actually didn’t want a bike with disc brakes because I had never had any experience working on a bike with them, but after the test ride (or test stop) this completely changed my mind. I rode back to the shop and asked them to put a Tubus Logo Classic rear rack and Salsa Down Under front rack on this beauty and paid for my brand new steed.
Paving My Path
For the next 6 months, the bike joined me on 2 bicycle tours: one to Lake Cachuma and another recently to Point Mugu. I had loaded it up with rear Ortlieb panniers for the first trip and both rear and front panniers for the last trip. The bike handled like a champ! I probably loaded about 30 to 40 lbs of gear, but the handling was fantastic. Even with heavy front panniers, I was able to maneuver the Vaya easily. I just needed to make sure I had to plan the turn ahead of time because the weight made reaction time slower. I suppose that’s normal for any touring bike. The front rack was low enough so that wiggle was negligible.
This bike became my best friend on my commute into work. The fat 26” x 1.75” tires ate up the road bumps better than any of the bikes I’ve owned (except maybe my Xtracycle which also had beefier tires as well). It was a very comfortable all-day bike to ride in. Even after being on the saddle for 8+ hours I always felt I could have ridden more without feeling worse. The only negative part is that my shoulder and neck cramp up, but I think it’s just because of how the stem is angled higher than the stock one. I forgot to mention that I changed that out as well.
The seat is surprisingly comfortable. Initially, I was thinking about swapping that out with a Brooks B-17 honey colored saddle, but after riding with the stock Velo Salsa saddle, I’ve found that it has been remarkably comfortable. I think I’m going to keep that on there for now.
The handlebar is also one of my favorite things. You can actually buy this as a separate item from Salsa. I believe the handlebar is called the Cowbell 3. What makes it different is that the drop bars flares out on the side. This makes a very comfortable position when I am down on my drops screaming down a descent.
Aesthetics isn’t priority, but the color scheme on this bike is fantastic. There’s nothing out there with the great combination of red and gold. There’s a high-quality finish to it that I’m growing fond of every time I look at my Vaya.
Love and Hate
For me, this is a near perfect bicycle, but one improvement that would make it better is changing out the disc brake system to something that doesn’t squeal so much. I don’t like that sound coming from my car, so I most certainly do not like it coming from this bike. I also notice some vibration when there’s slight moisture on the brake disc. Another annoying thing is that there would be mysterious clicking sounds whenever I hit a bump on the road. This was easily remedied by quickly squeezing the brakes and letting go. Don’t get me wrong, having disc brakes has been great during my descent on Refugio Road during our Lake Cachuma trip. I am certainly a convert, but this system can be improved.
The Salsa Vaya is very rare here in Southern California. Besides Russ and Laura’s 2 Vayas of the Path Less Pedaled, I have not run into anybody else riding a Vaya. Most people default to a Surly LHT. I would have been one of them until, the Vaya caught my eye, and I am glad that it did. I hope to continue to ride this bike for a while and hopefully, it will take me to all the places I want to go to and then some. I’ll have another review when I reach the 5,000 mile goal! Until then, continue to read about my adventures and see what we experience on the way to 5,000.
12/18/14: Read the 2013 Salsa Vaya 2013 – 5000 Mile Review now!