The Legendary Salsa Fargo: 5700 Mile Bikepacking Review

At a Glance

  • The Salsa Fargo is a cult-classic rigid drop bar mountain bike with 29″ wheels and steel or titanium frame.
  • The Fargo is incredibly versatile, perfect for dirt and gravel roads with some singletrack and pavement mixed in.
  • etupTons of room for modification means the Fargo can grow with you instead of languishing in your garage.
  • It’s purpose-built for bikepacking but also fun to ride unloaded.
  • I’ve ridden over 5700 miles on my Fargo and still love it.
  • The 2024 Apex 1 Fargo model is unchanged except for a new orange frame color.

It’s no exaggeration to say the Salsa Fargo unleashed my bikepacking obsession. Before my Fargo I was riding the crap out of a road touring bike stuffed with 2.1″ tires that barely squeezed between rim brake pads, tubes popping left and right on thorn-strewn dirt roads of Central Oregon.

It’s a long story, but those popped tubes are what brought my Fargo into my life. The bike shop that replenished my patch kit in Prineville later sold me a used Fargo (tubeless!) from their rental fleet. At that point my bike touring journey took an abrupt turn off pavement and onto rough dirt backroads. I was itching to develop my bikepacking passion, and my Fargo was the perfect tool for the job.

I named her Shadowfax, after Galdalf’s white horse. We rode gravel and singletrack in Idaho and Oregon, rough desert roads in New Mexico and southern Utah and northern Nevada, suburban overnighters near my home in California, and the entirety of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. We had a blast.

With Shadowfax the Fargo in Colorado while touring the GDMBR

As my bikepacking obsession grew to include more singletrack, I eventually acquired another bike. A rather nice one, in fact. I absolutely adore Stella’s titanium frame, hydraulic brakes, and higher-tier components. For a brief moment I wondered if, dare I say it, I had outgrown my Fargo.

Not so fast! After a few thousand miles with Stella, I recently found myself spiffying up the Fargo for a two-month mixed-terrain trip in Morocco and Portugal. The updates I made, mostly to bring my older model up to par with the newer Fargo spec, worked wonderfully and I fell in love with this bike all over again.

Bikepacking on the Fargo again, with a few updated parts, in Morocco in 2023.

After that tour I replaced the knobby rubber with gravel tires and am currently riding the Fargo in “gravel bike mode” on the rural roads around my home. This bike is a true shapeshifter.

This post is my detailed review of the Salsa Fargo after riding over 5700 loaded miles on this legendary bike. I’ll share my experience with my 2018 model, the updates I’ve made along the way, and my thoughts on the latest 2024 model for those currently shopping.

The Fargo is confident and comfortable over a surprisingly wide range of terrain.

About the Salsa Fargo

In a nutshell, the Salsa Fargo is a rigid 29er drop bar mountain bike that excels on unpaved roads and smooth trails, and is especially popular as a bikepacking bike.

Today the iconic Fargo has some worthy competitors, but you could say that’s because it was instrumental in growing the whole category of adventure bike travel. When the Fargo first launched in 2009 — it’s the longest-running model in Salsa’s lineup — it was unique, innovative, and rather odd.

To be sure, the Fargo has changed a lot since 2009 as Salsa keeps abreast of bike industry trends. But its spirit remains the same: a bike that seeks fun and adventure on rough backroads but is happy to ride pretty much anything, and wants you to be happy riding it too.

Salsa generally releases one or two complete builds and a steel and titanium frameset each year. The colors change each year and the build kits are tweaked over time. Salsa didn’t release a new Fargo in 2022 or 2023, but for 2024 they’ve released an unchanged Apex 1 model in a new orange color.

Latest Fargo Build

Here’s an overview of where the Salsa Fargo stands today, based on the 2024 Salsa Fargo Apex 1 listed most recently on Salsa’s website. This build is the same as the previous 2021 Apex 1 except for the color.

Latest model: 2024 Salsa Fargo Apex 1
Price: $2599 MSRP
Material: steel frame, carbon fiber fork
Drivetrain: SRAM Apex 1 (1×11)
Wheel and tire size: 29 x 2.2″
Brakes: TRP Spyre-C (mechanical disc)
Handlebars: Salsa Cowchipper (flared drop bar)
For complete specs see Salsa’s website

Check Fargo price and availability: Campfire Cycling, REI, Jenson USA

Summary: The Salsa Fargo is a versatile drop bar mountain bike perfect for adventure riding on dirt and gravel roads and smooth-ish trails. Its steel frame and carbon fork are loaded with cargo-hauling features. Sturdy 29″ wheels and adjustable wheelbase provide a stable yet fun ride with or without load. A solid and affordable build kit with 1×11 drivetrain hits the sweet spot for bikepacking. The Fargo has been a fixture in the bikepacking world since its release in 2009! If there ever was a go-anywhere do-everything bike, the Fargo is it.

Pros and Cons

While I love my Fargo and recommend it to many bikepackers, no bike is perfect in every way. Here are the biggest pros and cons of the Salsa Fargo in my experience.

Reasons to buy a Fargo:

  • Highly versatile over wide range of terrain with excellent blend of comfort, stability, and fun
  • Alternator dropouts give options for upgrades and drivetrain changes
  • Drop bars offer range of hand positions and postures for all-day riding comfort, and may feel most familiar to riders from a road or gravel background
  • Lots of mount points and Salsa’s line of compatible bags and racks make it easy to outfit for bikepacking
  • It’s a classic! You’ll be joining a long line of Fargo fans and can feel confident in your choice.

Reasons to not buy a Fargo:

  • Commitment to drop bars: many riders like the drop bars, but if you don’t it’s a complex project to switch to flat bars and the bike’s geometry isn’t designed for them (though people do it)
  • Steel version is relatively heavy compared to higher-end options like the Cutthroat (but not bad for a steel bike)
  • The 1×11 drivetrain, though totally workable, won’t be loved by everyone
  • Underbiked for technical singletrack
  • Entry-level or mid-range components (but that’s why it’s affordable)
  • Mechanical disc brakes and 160mm rotors might be underpowered for some, especially heavier riders and/or cargo loads on mountainous rides.

A note on framesets: In addition to each year’s complete build(s) Salsa sells standalone framesets, carbon fork included, in steel and titanium. If you like the idea of the Fargo’s geometry and versatility but want more control over components, you could work with a bike shop to build up your dream Fargo configuration. For example, you could choose a 1×12 drivetrain for larger range or even a 2x (I believe… check with a bike shop to verify compatibility).

This is especially appealing for folks interested in higher-end bikes. Though the Fargo is commonly seen as a mid-range option, don’t underestimate the potential (or the cost…) of a titanium Fargo frame custom-built with higher-tier components.

The Fargo is perfect for adventuring, exploring, and cruising dirt roads.

Common Questions about the Fargo

Is the Salsa Fargo a gravel bike?

No, though the Fargo works well for riding on gravel, it is not truly a gravel bike. Compared to most gravel bikes the Fargo has clearance for wider tires and a geometry closer to that of a mountain bike. The Fargo is heavier and burlier than many gravel bikes, especially those designed for speed, and more capable on rough roads and trails.

Is the Salsa Fargo a mountain bike?

Sort of. The Fargo is in the “drop bar mountain bike” subcategory. Its drop bars and rigid fork are unusual for a mountain bike and make it very capable and efficient on gravel and dirt roads, but less capable on rough trails. If you want a mountain bike for riding lots of technical singletrack, the Fargo isn’t it. But if you want a mountain bike for exploring unpaved roads and a bit of easy singletrack, the Fargo is ideal.

Is the Salsa Fargo a good bikepacking bike?

Yes, unequivocally, the Salsa Fargo was born for bikepacking. Its balanced and comfortable geometry, good handling over a wide variety of terrain, and abundance of cargo-carrying mount points make the Fargo one of the most popular bikepacking bikes available.

Does Salsa still make the Fargo?

The Fargo is Salsa’s longest-running bike model and has been in production since 2009. Though Salsa listed the 2021 model as the latest on their website through 2023, the new 2024 Apex 1 model is finally here. The geometry and build spec are unchanged, but the steel frame color is a spiffy new orange.

Is the Fargo suspension-corrected?

Yes. Much older versions of the Fargo had non-suspension-corrected forks, but the modern version is designed around a rigid fork with the appropriate specs (mainly a long axle-to-crown distance) to be replaced by a suspension fork if you choose.

Key Features and Components

Let’s get into some of the design decisions that make a Fargo a Fargo. If you buy the latest build (or in many cases the older builds too) here’s what you’ll be getting, and why it matters.

Wheels and Tires

The latest Fargo build includes an extremely solid middle-of-the-(dirt)-road wheel and tire size: 29″ wheels with 25mm internal width rims and 29 x 2.2″ tires. Don’t let those drop bars fool you – this is no gravel bike.

Stability and efficiency are among the benefits of 29″ wheels. Once they start rolling they don’t want to stop, so they’re a good choice for cruising gravel and dirt roads. A 2.2″ tire width hits the sweet spot of comfort and traction without excessive rubber. With the i25 rims you could easily run narrower or wider, roughly speaking from around 1.8″ to 2.5″, and the frame (except size XS) supports up to 29 x 3″ if you need to ride some really rough or sandy stuff.

Note that tire and rim size do change from year to year. In 2019 the Fargo Tiagra came with beefy 29×2.6″ tires! It looks like Salsa’s spec choices ebb and flow with the tide of the overall bike industry, but you can be sure they’re always aiming for a blend of comfort and efficiency on dirt and gravel.

In keeping with the Fargo’s versatility, you can even switch to a 27.5″ wheelset. This would give a more nimble feel for singletrack, and potentially better geometry for short riders.

Finally, the rims are tubeless-ready. Going tubeless is a game changer, especially if you enjoy bikepacking in the desert.

Firestarter 110 Carbon Fork

All Fargo models in recent years (with the exception of mine from 2018, unfortunately) include Salsa’s carbon fiber Firestarter 110 fork, a rigid mountain bike fork with a great reputation. In my opinion this is a great upgrade over steel for its smoother feel and lighter weight. I recently upgraded my steel fork to a carbon Firestarter 110 and will never go back.

You can tell the Firestarter carbon fork is made for bikepacking by the two sets of three-pack mounts on each fork blade. This means you can technically mount two cages per side. Whether it’s lots of water or a dry bag full of clothes, this makes it a breeze to load up the Fargo with extra gear.

Finally, the Fargo’s rigid fork is suspension corrected, which is a way of saying the bike’s geometry works with a suspension fork and you can add one if you want. Salsa tried this from 2015 to 2016 and promptly discontinued it, presumably because there isn’t much demand for such a quirky hybrid of drop bars and suspension fork. Most people prefer flat bars on terrain suited for suspension forks because they offer better control and stability, but it’s always nice to know you have options.

Is the Fargo suspension-corrected? Yes. Much older versions of the Fargo had non-suspension-corrected forks, but the modern version is designed around a rigid fork with the appropriate specs (mainly long axle-to-crown distance) to be replaced by a suspension fork if you choose.

Cowchipper Drop Handlebars

Handlebars are one of the biggest differentiating factors between the Fargo and flat-bar rigid MTBs that also excel at bikepacking. If you’re going to ride a Fargo, you need to be at least a little into drop bars.

I’ve written at length about the pros and cons of drop bars, especially for mountain bikes and bikepacking. If you’re not clear on your personal opinion, read these before committing to a Fargo:

The current Fargo comes with Cowchipper drop bars, a favorite of mine for their comfort and generous flare. Prior to 2021 Salsa spec’ed the Fargo with more radical trail-oriented Woodchipper bars, which says a lot about the Fargo’s trail capabilities. I can only speculate about why they switched, but I do think the Cowchipper is a more broadly appealing bar for a wider range of riders, and it’s still awesome for gravel and light trails.

To learn more about these handlebars, read Cowbell, Cowchipper, Woodchipper: Comparing Salsa’s Flared Drop Bars.

Bike with Woodchipper handlebars leans against national forest sign
For many years the Fargo rocked the wide and funky flared Woodchipper handlebars, designed specifically for rough off-road riding. The newest models have more moderate Cowchippers.

Alternator Dropouts

This nifty feature is probably underutilized by most Fargo riders. At a minimum, every rider can experiment with changing the wheelbase length by swinging the dropouts forward or back. Going gravel touring? Lengthen for stability. Playing around on singletrack? Shorten for more nimble handling.

The dropouts also leave room for future drivetrain fantasies. Right now you might think the Fargo’s 1×11 drivetrain is all you need, but a year from now you may find yourself asking a riding buddy a few too many questions about their singlespeed setup, or googling “belt drive Rohloff.” These things happen. Fortunately the Fargo is compatible with all of them.

The alternator system also helps us keep up with the ever-changing world of components and compatibility. By allowing for varied hub spacing and either a thru axle or QR skewer, the Fargo’s plates increase the chances that a new wheelset or your scrappy upgrade project will actually work out.

Lastly, if you’re ever unlucky enough to wreck your rear derailleur and need to do a singlespeed conversion in the middle of nowhere, this system can tension your chain and save your butt (don’t ask me how I know).

In this unfortunately situation, the Fargo’s alternator dropouts can be used to help tension the chain of an emergency singlespeed conversion. They can also do a lot of other cool things (see above).

1×11 Drivetrain

It appears the Fargo is fully on the 1x train, as Salsa hasn’t offered a 2x version since 2019. While some people still want the wider gearing made possible by a 2x setup, many of us (myself included) have made the switch to 1x and love the simplicity. To learn more, see 1x Drivetrains for Bikepacking: Explanation and Experience.

The last couple Fargo models are built around an Apex 1 drivetrain, which is SRAM’s entry level 1×11 road drivetrain. Why road and not MTB? Remember, the Fargo uses drop bars which need road brake and shift controls, so compatibility is more straightforward when using a full road drivetrain (though mullet drivetrains are a thing).

The 11-42t cassette paired with a single 32 tooth chainring offers a respectable range for the type of riding Fargo enthusiasts tend to do. You’re not going to win any races on the flats or gradual downhills with that high gear, and with a full bikepacking load you might wish for a slightly lower climbing gear. But at this price and for the simplicity of a 1x, it’s perfectly acceptable. I’ve bikepacked a few thousand miles with equivalent low and high gears (each on a different bike, to be fair, so the Fargo’s overall range would be narrower) and never felt it held me back.

Cargo Hauling

The Fargo was designed from the beginning to carry cargo. While it’s possible to load up just about any bike with the right blend of bags and gizmos (or, if you’re just getting started, a backpack), the Fargo makes it easy.

If you’re not sure where to start, Salsa sells their own line of Fargo-compatible racks and bikepacking bags. They’re not the cheapest or the prettiest (hopefully you like the color black), but they take the guesswork out of determining compatibility and they’re certainly cheaper than custom bags.

The Fargo frame itself has plenty of bottle mounts, and the carbon Firestarter 110 Deluxe fork has two pairs of 3-pack mounts on each side for loads of gear capacity.

The Fargo is built to be loaded up and ridden a few hundred or a few thousand miles. (New Mexico on the GDMBR)

Titanium Fargo Frame

In addition to their steel frameset and complete build, Salsa sells a titanium version of the Fargo frame with a carbon fork. Titanium is known for its magic blend of stiffness, compliance, strength, and relative lightness. In other words, it makes an amazing bike frame.

If you have the extra $2000(!) to spare this is, in my opinion, a worthwhile upgrade. I have not ridden a titanium Fargo myself, but I know two bikepacking buddies who are very happy with theirs. I do ride a titanium Chumba Stella and understand why people love the feel of titanium. It’s hard to put into words, but the ride feel is really lovely.

Though the stock Fargo models are in the more affordable range of bikepacking-specific bikes, a ti Fargo frame and custom high-end build kit could be quite a swanky ride! In fact, here’s an example.

The Fargo’s Favorite Terrain

The Fargo squarely occupies the niche of rigid mountain bike: more capable than a gravel bike on rough terrain but less capable than a front-suspension mountain bike. If you’re newer to bikepacking and aren’t quite sure what type of riding piques your interest, take a look at The Best Bikes for Bikepacking Based on YOUR Riding Goals.

Here’s a quick overview of how the Fargo fares on various types of terrain. Overall it’s a surprisingly flexible bike with a huge range, but it also has a clear sweet spot.

Dirt and gravel backroads: Fire roads, doubletrack, forest service roads, rural backroads… This is what the Fargo eats for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner). Whether it’s smooth gravel, rocky and rutted dirt, or anything in between, the Fargo is an excellent choice for unpaved backroads. Here are some pics of the Fargo in its favorite natural habitat:

Light singletrack: If the Fargo gobbles dirt roads for lunch and dinner, it savors non-technical singletrack for dessert. As long as the bumps aren’t too big for the fully rigid setup and drop handlebars, the Fargo is a blast to ride on singletrack.

The Fargo is happy to ride smooth-ish singletrack (Idaho Smoke ‘n Fire)

Technical singletrack: Here’s where the Fargo gets in a bit over its head. I’ve seen skilled mountain bikers totally rip on drop bar mountain bikes, but it’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not confidence-inspiring if you’re new to technical riding. That said, I’ve dragged my Fargo through more technical singletrack than she would have preferred, and we always get it done somehow.

Somewhere around here is where my Fargo (or maybe her rider) starts to complain (Idaho Smoke ‘n Fire)

Pavement: Considering the Fargo’s prowess on trails, it does surprisingly well on smooth paved roads. The riding position feels comfortable and powerful, especially in the drops, and the miles fly by. With the right tire choice, and possibly a second lighter wheelset, I could imagine using my Fargo for a long-distance pavement tour or around-town riding.

Loaded bike leans against cattle sign full of bullet holes in New Mexico
The Fargo does not mind pavement as much as you might expect.
With the right tires (not those pictured here) the Fargo could easily be a capable all-road touring bike.

Fargo-Friendly Bikepacking Routes

Wondering where you can take a Fargo? Well, pretty much anywhere you want, that’s kind of the point. But given its sweet spot of dirt and gravel and light trails, here are some routes I personally think the Fargo is perfect for:

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: The biggie, the classic, the route that this style of bikepacking bike was basically designed for. The Fargo’s versatility is important on such an epic route, since the 2700 miles include many long sections of fast-rolling gravel but also significant stretches of pavement and a few short rough spots.

Oregon Outback: For a much shorter ride have a look at the Oregon Outback, a mostly gravel and dirt road adventure from the north to south of central Oregon.

Carretera Austral: I’m mixing it up by throwing an international route in here, but this stunning ride through the far-south of Chile and Argentina includes a mix of pavement, rough gravel, and a smidge of trail — perfect for a Fargo.

Grand Staircase Loop: This one gets a little rougher in sections, but that makes it a great test of the Fargo’s versatility. The southern Utah scenery is truly out of this world.

Of course that’s just a tiny sample! With a Fargo the possibilities are nearly endless.

My Experience With the Salsa Fargo

As mentioned above, I’m the proud owner of a 2018 Fargo Rival GX 29 named Shadowfax. I bought her used in late 2019 and we’ve bikepacked and toured about 5700 miles together. The Great Divide made up just under half that distance, and the other half was covered in shorter chunks all over the western US and more recently in Morocco and Portugal.

When I’m home my Fargo is set up in “gravel mode” with 50 x 700 WTB Venture tires and carbon fork. I choose it for day rides on the rough paved mountain roads around my house, occasional light trail riding, and any multiday trip involving significant amounts of pavement (even if there’s also plenty of dirt).

It seems like just yesterday I heard myself say “this IS my mountain bike” when riding my Fargo on some local trails, and now I’m saying “this IS my road bike” when I ride my local pavement. Obviously it’s neither a singletrack shredder nor a racy speed machine, but as a casual rider the Fargo feels good to me (if not fast) on pavement, light trails, and everything in between.

My Current Fargo Build

I’ve made a few changes to my 2018 model, mostly to align it with the newer Fargo models and lighten the weight a little. Here are the notable improvements:

  • Carbon Firestarter Deluxe 110 fork, “borrowed” from my husband’s old bike for now until I can find a good deal on another one
  • Front wheel: for multiday riding I swap in my Astral Outback alloy rim with SON dynamo hub from Stella. For local rides I’ve switched to a lighter DT Swiss M 1700 Spline (great deal on eBay)
  • 180mm front brake rotor: helps with braking power on steep loaded descents
  • TRP Spyre brakes to replace the Avid BB7’s: better braking feel, less noisy, easier to keep aligned
  • PNW Coast handlebars: been riding with these for awhile, really like the stable wide width and comfy shallow drop
  • Titanium seatpost borrowed from Stella when I bought her dropper post
My Fargo in Morocco in her newest incarnation, complete with mismatched carbon fork

Why I Love My Fargo

My anything bike: As much as I would love to have ALL the bikes, I’m not willing to spend money on a dedicated road bike, gravel bike, hardtail, etc. My Fargo is my bikepacking bike, my gravel bike, and for a while it was also my mountain bike. Heck, it’s even my road bike these days, set up with gravel tires for the rough potholed pavement on the rural roads around my home. On long routes I ride it on everything, sometimes all in the same day. It isn’t always the perfect bike, but it’s never a bad bike.

Feels good loaded or unloaded: My first real bike and my current “road bike,” a Surly Long Haul Trucker, was born to carry a heavy load across continents. With only my 120 pound body as cargo it feels stiff and clunky. Thankfully I’ve noticed no such issue with the Fargo, which feels stable and secure with a heavy load and is also fun for day rides on local trails.

Versatility and compatibility for the future: I’m appreciating this aspect more now that I’ve stepped away from the Fargo and come back. As I try to figure out her next incarnation, it’s clear I’ve got a quality frame with plenty of options for upgrades and experimentation. Carbon fork, new brakes, lighter wheels, different drivetrain… A gal can dream right?

Bikepacking bike leans against trail sign in the snow
Fargo on a chilly October morning in Central Oregon

A Few Limitations of My Fargo

It took around 4000 miles, but eventually I started to feel a bit limited on my Fargo in certain circumstances. Here are the main reasons I eventually acquired my Chumba Stella and why I choose that bike for my most rugged and/or ambitious bike trips.

Relatively heavy: I’m a fairly lightweight person and I like to dabble in bikepack “racing,” so every pound matters to me. Though the Fargo isn’t the heaviest, at 28 pounds it’s not light either (and mine is at least a pound heavier thanks to its steel fork). With money, of course, this can be improved. A ti Fargo frame, lighter components, and a light wheelset would go a long way.

It’s a rigid drop bar bike: As I felt drawn to more rugged routes I really started feeling the limitations of the drop bars and rigid fork. I know it’s possible for skilled riders to totally rip on a Fargo, but I’m not a skilled technical rider and this setup was not helping me build confidence. This is why I ended up buying a hardtail / flat bar rigid MTB (depending on the fork) and I’m loving the new options it opens up for me.

Minor annoyances with my older build: I wish I could wave a magic wand and swap the steel fork for carbon, the Avid BB7 brakes for TRP Spyres, and the QR skewer for a thru axle. Turns out the latest Fargo build already has all that! Most of the parts I don’t love about my Fargo are addressed in newer versions, and can be upgraded on mine with a little time and money.

Update: I did actually wave that magic wand (read: bought the parts and installed them) and now my Fargo has a lot more in common with the latest stock build. Wish I had made these changes sooner!

My Fargo’s steel fork with QR skewer feels a bit dated. Fortunately for newer Fargo owners, recent models come with carbon fork and thru axle.

Salsa Fargo Alternatives

As much as I love and recommend the Fargo, buying a bike is a big deal and you probably want to consider a few options.

When looking at alternatives to the Fargo, one big question to ask yourself is: what do you plan to use the bike for most often? Sure, the Fargo is an “everything bike” and most drop bar mountain bikes are marketed as such. But there’s no magic shapeshifting bike (at least not yet) that can be truly perfect for everything. Some drop bar mountain bikes lean more toward gravel and dirt touring with their geometry and build spec, while others lean more toward mountain biking on technical trails. Here’s a sampling of drop bar bikes across that spectrum:

Drop Bar Mountain Bikes

Bombtrack Beyond 1

As the most affordable dirt touring bike from a company with a strong focus on bike travel, the Beyond 1 makes a good entry level bikepacking bike. Its 2×10 drivetrain and fully steel frame are simple and functional, and 27.5″ wheels on size S and XS aim to offer better geometry for smaller riders. The geometry leans more toward dirt roads than singletrack and it only clears up to 2.1″ tires, so this is more of a dirt road touring bike than a mountain bike.

See also the Beyond+ line for higher-tier components, trail-friendly geometry, and more bells and whistles.

You might prefer the Beyond 1 if: you want a simple sturdy bike at a reasonable price; you’re not especially interested in singletrack; you’re a small rider who wants 27.5″ wheels.

Kona Sutra LTD
Price: $2699

This is Kona’s well-loved adventure touring bike reimagined with mountain bike geometry, 29×2.25″ tires, SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and a dropper post for dirt-focused adventures. Despite being part of Kona’s touring line this bike gets surprisingly good reviews for its singletrack handling.

You might prefer the Sutra LTD if: you want some extra bells and whistles, such as hydraulic brakes and a dropper post, for a very reasonable price

Read more: Salsa Fargo vs. Kona Sutra LTD

Salsa Cutthroat
Price: from $3599

Sometimes called a “carbon Fargo,” the Cutthroat is an excellent alternative for folks with a higher budget and/or more performance-oriented goals. It ranges from 4 – 6 pounds lighter than the Fargo thanks to a carbon frame and higher-tier components. It’s available in both 1x and 2x, and the more expensive models include 1×12 drivetrain and hydraulic brakes. It’s got ALL the mount points for gear and bottle cages and a huge frame triangle.

You might prefer the Cutthroat if: you want to ride fast and light, you can take good care of your bike (maybe not the best choice for a long international tour), and you have expensive taste in components and the budget to match.

Read more: Salsa Cutthroat vs. Salsa Fargo

Surly Grappler
Price: $1949

New in 2022, the Grappler finally adds a drop bar mountain bike to Surly’s lineup of durable and affordable steel bikes. It’s designed with trail riding in mind, from the geometry to the 27.5″ wheels to the dropper seatpost, and reviewers seem pleased with its handling. The 1×10 drivetrain might be a little limited for some riders, but Surly’s “Gnot Boost” dropouts allow for drivetrain creativity (including singlespeed and internally geared hubs) and a variety of wheelsets. It also has tons of mount points for hauling gear.

Note for indecisive folks: Thanks to a suspension corrected fork and the Microshift Advent X system (which simplifies swapping from drop to flat bars) the Grappler may be the easiest drop bar mountain bike out there to transform into a flat bar hardtail.

You might prefer the Grappler if: You want a trail-oriented bike with tons of flexibility for upgrades and conversions, including the possibility of converting to a flat bar hardtail; you want a reliable bike at a very affordable price.

Read more: Surly Grappler vs. Salsa Fargo

Chumba Yaupon
Price: varies, but likely $4000 and up for full build

The Yaupon is a boutique option from small Texas-based company Chumba. It has a very trail-focused geometry that’s also designed to be comfortable for long days and gravel roads. It’s extremely versatile and can be built with drop or flat bars and rigid or suspension fork. Chumba offers the frame by itself (either steel or titanium, and many customization options), or partial and complete custom builds with help from Chumba on component choices. My other bikepacking bike is a Chumba Stella and I like the company a lot; read my review for more detail.

You might prefer the Yaupon if: you’re looking for a high-end custom build.

Here are a few other options in the $3000+ range that are popular in the bikepacking community, though I’m less familiar with them:

If that’s still not enough, you can peruse a very long list of drop bar mountain bikes at

Flat Bar Mountain Bikes

If you’re considering the Fargo, you might also be considering rigid flat bar mountain bikes. They can serve a similar purpose and excel at similar types of terrain, especially when it comes to bikepacking. To learn more about this closely related bike category and see some examples, read Rigid Mountain Bikes.

Handlebar choice comes down to personal preference, but generally drop bars are a good choice if you want to ride a lot of gravel and dirt roads and a little bit of singletrack. Flat bars are a more natural choice for riding lots of singletrack but can feel sluggish on smooth roads. There are exceptions: some people love the challenge of shredding technical singletrack on drop bars, and some people like flat bars for gravel riding.

It can be expensive and complex to convert a drop bar bike to flat bars and vice versa. So do think carefully about your handlebar preference, and ideally try a few options on test rides before making your choice.

Related: Salsa Fargo vs. Surly Ogre

Where to Buy a Salsa Fargo

If you’re set on getting yourself a Salsa Fargo, the next challenge is figuring out where to buy one. Recent parts shortages have made this harder than it used to be, but you still have a few options.

Local bike shop: Always a good place to start when looking for a new bike. Contact some local shops to ask if they sell Fargos and have any in stock. A test ride is extremely helpful!

Salsa’s website: Salsa doesn’t sell bikes directly through their website, but the Fargo page has a search feature to help you find dealers in your area.

Facebook groups: Buying used is a great way to save money, but it does require a bit more effort. Look for Facebook groups, local or otherwise, where people buy and sell used bikes. Two especially relevant ones: Bikepacking Swap Meet and Salsa and Surly Trader. listings: The Buy / Sell section has a large selection of used and new bikes.

eBay and Craigslist: The old standbys. You never know, the perfect bike might come along eventually.

Bikepacking Gear Setup Examples

To wrap things up and inspire your adventures, here are a few examples of bikepacking bag and rack setups on Salsa Fargos.

Salsa Fargo loaded bike leaning against wooden building
My long-haul bikepacking setup for the GDMBR, with room for 3-4 days of food and up to 8 liters of water when (rarely) needed.
My Fargo with Old Man Mountain Divide Rack and REI Link Panniers on a bikepacking trip in Morocco
My lightweight setup for The Big Lonely. This is a size small frame and the October nights are sub-freezing, so it feels more minimalist than it looks. 🙂
A friend’s luxury touring setup from a week-long pavement and gravel tour in Central California.
My Western Wildlands riding partner’s scrappy and low-cost touring / bikepacking hybrid setup.

Those are just a few of many options for gearing up a Fargo. (Fargo owners: want to share your setup? Send me a picture!)

Related: 6 Types of Bikepacking Setups: Which Suits You Best?

In Conclusion

The Salsa Fargo makes an amazing bikepacking rig, and it’s fun for day rides too. If there ever was an everything bike, the Fargo is it. With such a wide range of terrain and so many options for experimentation, it’s very hard to get bored with a Fargo.

That’s how you know a bike is good: when you can ride a few thousand miles on a new and more expensive bike you totally love, and still miss the old bike enough to come back and reinvent it. So it is with my old friend Shadowfax the Fargo, and may it be with your future Fargo too.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 19,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    2 thoughts on “The Legendary Salsa Fargo: 5700 Mile Bikepacking Review”

    1. Hi Alissa, thanks for this review! What size Fargo do you ride and how tall are you? I’m interested in buying a used Fargo but won’t have the option to test it first (and none in stock locally). Also if you ride a small frame – do the 29” wheels feel too cumbersome and/or do you get toe overlap?

      • Hi Cara, I do ride a small and I’m 5’5″ tall. It fits me well. I’ve never been bothered by toe overlap and the 29″ wheels feel fine to me once I got used to them (I was coming from 26″ wheels on my previous bike). Only issue for me is clearance between tires and saddle / handlebars for bikepacking bags. I find that most standard bags fit but the larger ones are close, so I need to keep an eye on straps and how things are packed. Not a big limitation though overall. I hope you enjoy your new-to-you Fargo, if you get it!


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