New Bike Decision-Making: Salsa Journeyman

I’ve been toying with the idea of a new bike for awhile, but never really found “the one” that pushed all my buttons. It’s been a long, drawn-out process of looking up and comparing bike specs, and imagining how they might actually affect real-life experience. Add in budget constraints, context with the rest of my bike stable, color choices, and what’s available through the local bike shop, and it can get complex. Analysis paralysis is a real thing, is what I’m saying.

Some people, or so I’ve been told, simply purchase the first likely-looking bike they come across, and either it works for them or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, they try again. That approach would certainly save some time up-front. But, alas, that’s not how I do it. I’ll spare you the detailed spec comparisons (spreadsheets!) of all the bikes I considered, and skip straight ahead to the end result…

I chose the Salsa Journeyman, which is available in eight different versions, including both 700c and 650b wheel sizes, flat or drop handlebars, and several gearing choices. I ended up with the Claris 650:

Salsa Journeyman Claris 650 (stock image)

Specs on the bike are here, but these are the highlights:

  • Aluminum frame and fork
  • 650b (AKA 27.5″) wheels, with tubeless-ready 23mm rims, and non-tubeless-ready WTB Nano Comp 27.5×2.1 tires (can go up to 57mm max width)
  • 700c (29″er) wheels can also be used (51mm max width tires)
  • 46/30 crankset, 11-34 cassette, 8-speed Shimano Claris road groupset
  • Mechanical disc brakes
  • 3 water bottle mounts, 3-pack mounts on the fork, rear rack mount, fender mounts, top tube mount
  • Salsa Cowbell handlebar
  • Internal cable routing
  • WTB Volt Sport saddle

I’ve ridden mostly steel road and touring bikes, so the aluminum frame and (especially) fork is a big question mark. But Salsa’s aluminum bikes have good reputations, and cushy tires can cover a multitude of sins. Going with AL probably saves a bit of weight, though this is by no means a lightweight build.

The 8-speed Claris drivetrain is another concern. I’m not worried about the 8-speed, particularly, but I’m suspicious of the brifters (shifters built into the brake levers). I know, the vast majority of bikes use this technology now, so obviously it works, but I’ve not used it before. So I’ll give it a try. I can always swap over to good old friction-mode bar-end shifters if the indexed brifters suck. If I do that, then I could step up to 9-, 10-, or 11-speed gearing with only a cassette and chain swap (maybe brake levers, too).

Gearing on the stock bike is pretty sensible, at about 24 to 114 gear-inches (it’s surprising how many gravel/bikepacking bikes have insanely high gearing!). That’s decent for road, gravel, and lightweight touring. I can swap in an 11-40 cassette if needed, which would drop the bottom end to about 20 inches.

I’m interested in trying out the slightly-flared Cowbell handlebars, and the internal cable routing sounds good in theory. I expect the disc brakes to be marginal, but I can upgrade later if they prove lacking. I’ll give the saddle a chance, but expect to swap that over to my preferred saddle (Forté Softail) sooner rather than later.

It’ll be interesting to see how well the stock tires work. I’ve heard both good and bad about the Nano’s. I may even try setting them up tubeless (I’ve read that it’ll work). I’m also interested in getting some “Road Plus” tires (e.g. WTB Byways 650×47) and seeing what that’s like.

I’m visualizing the Journeyman as my new gravel bike, and as a platform for experimenting with Road Plus and bikepacking gear. I’m not anticipating this as a full-on loaded tourer, but I may throw on a rear rack and front rack and see how that works, too.

Salsa calls the color “Dark Olive”, and in photos I’ve seen online, it’s sort of greenish, brownish, or grayish, depending on the light. I think it’s rather striking. It seems right for my purposes.

I think the Journeyman is an extremely flexible bike for a very compelling price ($950 for this version). Next up: New Bike Day!


DirtBum Written by:

I enjoy riding bicycles all over -- city streets, suburbia, rural roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, rail-trails, and singletrack. I love exploring the countryside and finding the interesting and historical treasures hidden in plain sight. You can follow my rides on Strava.