El Desafio (or El Mariachi Week 1, Initial Impressions Ride Report)

El Desafio. The Challenge. On my iGoogle page, I have a “Spanish Word of the Day” gadget and this word “desafio”, which means challenge, just happened to come up the day after my second ride on the new bike. That ride in particular was indeed El Desafio. The new bike, a Salsa El Mariachi with Fargo fork, performed awesome.
You can read my first blog post about it, see all of the pictures I took of it and why I chose it here.

Ride #1 – A quick jaunt through Balboa Park before work.

The first ride was in downtown San Diego, at Balboa Park’s Florida Canyon. Click here to see the route’s GPS data displayed on STRAVA
I ride here often since I work downtown and can convince myself to pack all my work clothes and lunch as well as lay out all my cycling gear the night before. Getting myself up before 5am tends to be the greater Challenge though. That Desafio on Monday, the first of August couldn’t hold me in bed though, I had a new bike to try out! A new bike with three things that were somewhat foreign to me which I couldn’t wait to try in the dirt. 29er wheels, a rigid fork and single speed. Its like 3 new presents in one wrapped box, that box being the new El Mariachi bike of course.
The first ride went well. I have to admit, before taking it in the dirt, I thought, “Well, yeah, the wheels are bigger, but I expected to be stretched out more, and it feels like a bike…hmm”. I thought it didn’t feel much different. When I worked at a bike shop back in 2005-2006, we would ride the new bikes as soon as they arrived and got built up to see how they performed (in the parking lot). When we all were trying to describe how the new bike(s) felt different, he would always say “It rides like a bike.” At first, I thought he was dissing whatever the new technology/hype that made the bike it was, but after a while, I got to realizing that yeah, it does ride like a bike. Its just a bike. Its not a flying carpet, genie in a bottle, magic bean stalk, or any other mythical creature. That’s a good thing. I like riding BIKES. If it was too different, especially on the parking lot test, it would mean that you wouldn’t be enjoying bike riding, but having to adapt to something completely foreign.
All that to say that when I threw my leg over this El Mariachi, I didn’t notice much difference right away, but even before leaving the pavement, I noticed it felt different than my 26er gearie bikes. I could feel the gyroscopic increase in the larger wheels. Right away I thought of the first challenge…I mean…DESAFIO that would face me and I got excited about how the bike and I atop it would perform.
LAUREL ST HILL (between I-5 and First St)
One of the steepest paved (concrete) hills near downtown San Diego

View of the sidewalk up Laurel St...STEEP!

First impressions…AWESOME. Made it up Laurel St with no problem. Picked the right gearing, although I couldn’t sustain that grade, or even too many others immediately following it…not YET anyway, but I am hoping to change that more with every ride. There is no way that riding this bike regularly wouldn’t make me stronger. It has to happen if I ride it regularly.
Once on the dirt, I might have enjoyed some of the 29er hype about rolling over obstacles more easily, but truthfully, with going from a suspension fork to the rigid fork, I didn’t actually notice much of that “29er rolls over everything as if its a smooth trail” type of hype. Sorry. Just being honest. The momentum gained from a 29er wheel, well…I was on a single speed again and hadn’t been on one for a few years (although I tried to pretend with my 1991 Stumpjumper that I left in 32×18 for the better part of the last few rides I had on it). So momentum was probably helping me out, but there was a lot to take in and get familiar with, so momentum of bigger wheels/mass kind of dropped to the back of my mind as negligible as far as obvious, noticeable differences.
What I did definitely notice, since I rode these trails often, was the increased contact patch from a 29er. It seemed like I could lean, lean, lean, and then lean some more into corners and not have any rear wheel sliding. Like riding on rails man, riding on rails. Some of this was probably the tires…that Nobby Nic 2.35 is a beefy, heavily knobbed tire for sure, but the amount I could lean was insane. I didn’t even lean far enough to slide, except once and I may have slid an inch at most. Probably some gyroscopic physics helping there too. That was another part of this. I NEEDED to steer with my hips, not the bars as much. Gotta lean the 29er and rail it through the turns. This is great because I was really getting this technique down with the Titus recently. The Titus Motolite has big, boxy, beefy chain stays that allow you to lay it on its side through corners and it rails them, but the tires start to give earlier than what I am experiencing on the 29er. You can be quicker on the 26er when you are leaning it on one side, then the trail gets twisty and you have to lean left, lean right, lean left really quickly, but on the 29er my biggest desafio was TRUSTING the bike in the corners by leaning further instead of prematurely braking and slowing down.

So that was ride numero uno on El Mariachi with the Fargo Fork. You are still with me? Great! Thanks for bearing with all my babble about 29ers. It wasn’t as much El Mariachi that I was getting used to specifically, but more just the size of the wheels I think. Which is why I waited to post this initial impressions review until I had some more time on El Mariachi.
Here is a picture from that first morning ride with the Coronado Bridge in the background. Classic.
El Mariachi with Fargo Fork.  Coronado Bridge in background.

Ride #2. Sweetwater Reservoir and Rockhouse Climb.

This was EL DESAFIO.
Downtown San Diego, right next to the harbor was warm when I got out of work around 3:30pm, but 10 miles east, where we live and where there are actually long sections of good trails to ride (in Balboa Park, the trails are good, I just need to create interesting loops, otherwise I get bored after about an hour), my wife was telling me how miserable she was in the heat and it was super humid with thunderhead clouds looming just a little further east.

The night before, on the Fargo fork, I mounted up the two extra King Cage stainless steel water bottle cages I had purchased at the same time as the frame/fork, because I was hoping to get out for a 20-30 mile, 3-4 hour ride on the next day. I remembered the four water bottles that were to go in all the cages, but foolishly forgot the endurolytes and gels I would no doubt need on an extended ride. I guess there was just too much new bike stoke clouding my judgement and stealing my focus away from nutrition! As I spoke with my wife on the phone, I said, “Well, I should probably head over to 7-11 to get an extra salty snack and something with lots of calories to take with me on my long ride.” She asked if that would actually be sufficient, warning me again of the high heat and humidity that awaited me inland.  I said I thought it should, but again, judgement was obviously clouded from the stoke of a new bike and promise of multiple hours of singletrack that would provide the environment necessary to get better acquainted with it. So I picked out a 50 cent pack of salt & lime peanuts and a clif bar. Yeah, maybe that would work.
On the ride, I was looking to provide the bike and I a memorable adventure and see just what kind of “Adventure By Bike” awaited me that day. I parked further away than usual from the trailhead after doing satellite photo reconnaissance through bing, google maps and google earth, realizing I could connect a few more miles of trails. I put on sun screen and put my 4 ice & water filled bottles in their cages, started my GPS track and headed out.

Right away I could tell this was not going to be the regular hot weather ride. 15 minutes in and shoulders/upper arms, exposed by my sleveless jersey, were getting pink even though I had already hit them with sunscreen. Whoa. That’s not going to be good. I was riding in an area that had been completely burnt by the 2007 wildfires that lit up half of San Diego County. No shade cover whatsoever. I stopped by the Sweetwater Park’s ranger booth at the entrance to the park to ask if I could use some sunscreen to add another coat to the arms, neck, and legs. They had some 50 SPF spray, PTL!

The switchbacks I had climbed to get up to Sweetwater Park were easy to climb aboard El Mariachi.  The stays on this bike never feel like they are flexy at all when climbing and I was a little surprised that navigating the switchbacks seemed no harder than on the Titus Motolite.  Granted, they are wider, horsetrail (not quite double track, but wider than singletrack for sure) switchback trails.  Still, I thought aboard a 29er I would need to change my style for navigating switchbacks a little more.  This part came very naturally and I was very pleased at how well this bike from Salsa climbed and tracked through these trails. This was my best effort section according to Strava.  I can see why after remembering the rest of the ride.

Sweetwater Park.  A view from the campgrounds looking northwest.
Sweetwater campground view of northwest, where switchback climb is.

After adding my second coat, I headed out quickly, hoping I could get far pretty fast since one of the bigger flat sections of the ride awaited me in the beginning. Along this flatter section, I really got my spinning down and was pretty comfortable on this bike by now.

The 18 inch frame with its ETT at about 23.6 seemed to fit my 5’9.75″ body really well.  I have a 110mm Thomson stem on there and though at first it felt a little short for some reason when charging out of the saddle, now it felt a little too long.  My arms were extended a little more than I wanted them and my seat rails were clamped to the post on the back half of the rails (positioning it forward toward the stem somewhat).  A  new stem is on the list of things to buy in the future, but its not too big of a deal yet, just something to keep in mind for when I have some coin again. While I am fitting the bike to myself, which I don’t think will take much, I will definitely be taking advice for bike fitting off of Steve Hogg’s website

I don’t have a computer mounted on my handlebars, but I wish I did this week. It felt like I was keeping my speed up, maybe due to the famed extra momentum from 29″ wheels, but I had no way of quantifying this and knowing for sure. On the flat section, there are areas where it gets pretty sandy and the wide tires and 29″ wheels really seemed to float over the sand a little better. Not a night and day difference, but maybe something closer to a night and dawn difference…if that makes any sense. Noticeable, but barely. While trying to figure out how much I was floating over the sand, a roadrunner hopped off the fence and decided to race with me. He ran along side of me for a few hundred yards, then hopped back up on the fence. I wondered if he was out because it was so hot that all the lizards were easy pickin or if he was out because no one else was crazy enough to ride while it was this hot and humid.

I rode down to a pond that has a good climb back up from it. Loose over hard with tight turns were taken too cautiously on the way down. I could have come into them with much more speed! I was really enjoying this bike. Coming up from the pond, the climb is a good one that you can stand up and hammer, but has a few slightly steeper sections. I attacked and then had to walk a little. It was so hot that I didn’t want to over exert myself a half hour into the ride. After this climb, I came up to a steel power pole that was 4 feet or so in diameter. I took 5 in its shade and drank more water. I never tend to seek out shade, nor rest a half hour into my ride. I am glad I did though.
After this medium climb, the Rockhouse Climb awaited me. This is one of my favorite climbs in the western half of San Diego County. Great single track with a few dozen switchbacks (I lose count every time. Not really sure how many there are, but it feels like a ton!) at good grades for most of them. Very clearable with gearie bikes. On the single speed 32x20x29, I could clear many, but only a few consecutively. Lots of walking up that hill. Again, I tried to keep a reasonable approach by purposefully not over exerting myself in the hot sun. The saving grace here wasn’t an electrical pole providing shade, but a good, albeit hot, breeze. Getting toward the top, the trail wraps around the south and then east side. Part of this area must not have burned, or quickly came back because there was a nice Laurel Sumac up there that I decided to take advantage of the shade it provided.
Laurel Sumac

After my break in the shade, I reached the top and snapped this picture.
El Desafio.  View from the Rock House toward Otay Lakes and Olympic Training Center
I decided to try to lower the air pressure in the tires I had setup ghetto (gorilla tape) tubeless, thanks to mtnbiker72 for help with this, for the downhill on the northeast side to see how it would ride.
It rode AWESOME with less psi! Along with the compliance on the Fargo fork, the 2.4 inch Ardent, lowered to probably just under 20 psi, rode like I had an inch or two of travel up front…sort of like having travel anyway. No brake dive, very controlled in turns, lots of traction and small bump compliance. I love it.

Once off the singletrack switchbacks that took me down the northeast side, I hooked up with the utility access fire roads at the saddle between the two hills.
I kept up my speed when I turned around this one corner that led to an uphill stretch that I was pretty sure I would be walking. I took it as far on the inside of the turn as possible and hit a big, deep patch of loose, powdery dirt and BOOM I went down. Weird, I hadn’t expected that at all. First crash on El Mariachi out of the way! No damage to me or the bike…a perfect first crash!

Shortly thereafter I saw yet another roadrunner! I hardly ever see these guys anymore, though I used to see them once every 6 months or so when I was a teenager. Seeing two in one day was awesome. I don’t know when that will happen again.

Riding continued on and I ran into some brothers from another mother, named Mike, Yoshi, and Ezra. We took some pics, two of them tried out my new bike and were super impressed. One of them is even inspired to build a SS rigid 29er!

I departed from them and rode back to the Sweetwater Park. I was DRAGGING HARD. The lack of electrolytes were really catching up to me and I dreaded any small climb where I would have to get out of the saddle. Part of this is that I was still too weak to single speed like I would want to on the trails I am used to riding my FS gearie bike on. I definitely walked some of the trail sections on the last 5 miles that I could have other wise climbed out of the saddle. This bike likes to go fast and I was dragging, I felt like it was telling me, “Give me the gas, no one rides for free.” Some of this may be the knobby tires, especially the Nobby Nic on the back, but it seems like this bike just is meant to shine at the 7+ mph range. A good single speed bike indeed.

One thing I definitely noticed after the 20 miles was that my legs AND arms were already getting sore before the ride was done. I knew I was going to be sore the next day, but a lot stronger in the months to come. I didn’t expect my arms to be so sore, but I am glad they are. Upper body strength is always a good thing.

Here is the link for the Strava route from El Mariachi Test Ride #2 that I just discussed.

Ride #3. Balboa Park’s Florida Canyon 24 miler to wrap up week 1 on El Mariachi.

The third and final ride for the first week aboard the new bike was another winding through inventive serpentine routing of fire roads and single track throughout Florida Canyon in downtown San Diego’s Balboa Park. I noticed much of what I saw before, especially the lack of tires breaking loose in the corners. In fact, I kept kicking myself for hitting the brakes into this one turn of fire road that turned sharply where there was loose over hard pack. I kept routing myself back to it, trying to trust the bike more and more. A couple times I got really close to not touching the brakes and leaning more, but I couldn’t help it. Never did the tires break loose into a slide. This trusting the bike in corners is definitely the toughest change to get used to, but its a really good problem to have. I can really rail the corners with speed and that is something I saw riders doing in the endurance race I competed in on June 4th. Many of the riders were on 29ers and I can’t help but wonder if they had this railing corners, trusting the big wheel contact patch thing down and if that is what I saw that distinguished the really fast racers from the rest of us who were fit and fast, but not the fastest in the corners.

The only other things that really stuck out from this third ride were a) spinning in bursts for the flats or slight downhills, and b) this frame and fork really want you to ride them fast.

a)Spinning in bursts
I thought that I could only ride so fast, the spin out speed being the fastest speed possible on the single speed. Makes sense, right. Well it is true, but you can also get a little burst here and there. What I did was spin out, then coast, then SUPER SPIN for a three second or less “burst”. I definitely was able to go faster than spinning as fast as possible continuously. There is a slightly downhill section of fireroad that I always try to get up in the 25 mph range with my gearie FS bike and I can feel every dip/bump zap some of my momentum on that bike. On El Mariachi, I couldn’t get up to the same speed, but after riding this section numerous times that day, I tried spinning as fast as possible as well as this burst technique. The spinning as fast as possible never was a constant pressure thing. At one moment of spinning as fast as possible, I was pushing myself forward, at another, I was spinning out, just spinning the pedals as fast as I could without any resistance pushing back, which meant I was not pushing myself forward any faster than coasting. With the bursts, after all the laps on this section, I could tell the speed at which I would spin out and be ineffective by pedaling any more so I would stop pedaling. As soon as I got close to that threshold speed of being effective again while coasting, I would try the bursts of SUPER FAST RPMs. This would push me at a faster rate than spinning at the constant highest rate possible for a moment, then I would be coasting above the threshold speed, then back to the threshold speed, then another burst and repeat. I was stoked by learning this because it really encourages me. It gives me an excuse to rest and gives me a technique to be faster than other single speeders with similar gearing who are just spinning their legs off on the flats. Plus on the semi bumpy stuff that I would experience on my gearie FS bike, the bursts allow me to get out of the saddle for the coasting moments, thereby allowing me to limit a little abuse to my body by sitting to spin over all the bumps.

b)The frame and fork really want you to ride them fast.
Like the aforementioned, slightly downhill/flat section, there is a rougher downhill section that I love to fly down on the FS (full suspension) gearie (bike with gears). I wanted to find/hone some new techniques on how to ride rough downhills faster, so I rode this route a few times as well. I used the old “use loose grips and pinch the seat with your knees, letting the bars rattle around in your loose hands” technique I learned in the 1990’s when everything was rigid. I was able to ride that section faster and faster, then I tried the “control” for this experiment and held on tight to the grips. The fork was flexing fore and aft really well! It was feeling really compliant! The faster I rode, the better the compliance got!! The rear end of the frame would flex more at speed too! Ride El Mariachi and the Salsa Fargo fork as fast as you can! It loves it!

Picture of El Mariachi in front of a Redwood in Balboa Park.
El Mariachi Ride #3. 24 miles  in Balboa Park.

Third ride on El Mariachi is posted here on Strava.

The first week, I learned a lot. I suffered, I rode easy, I rode fast, I rode steep uphills, downhills and flats, I railed corners, I tackled switchbacks.
I was encouraged. I like my new bike. Thank you Salsa. Good job on creating my vehicle for adventuring. “Adventure By Bike”!

*****P.S. let me know if you want an invite to join Strava. I get 3 months of premium benefits for free with every new signup that is done under the link I send to you. When I send you the link, your strava membership is free by the way. I really like how strava works. Its by cyclists, for cyclists and has user-defined segments, cat climbs that are automatically generated based on your route’s rate of climbing, and you can use any gps recording device to upload your tracks to their site. I use my android phone to track my routes.

Thanks for reading. Ask me any questions you might have.

About Nick

A servant and worshiper of Christ, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a gecko breeder, a guitarist, a mountain biker, a GIS specialist.
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6 Responses to El Desafio (or El Mariachi Week 1, Initial Impressions Ride Report)

  1. Well, i just clicked over to see if you got the el mar built up! appearantly you have! Now i’ll have to grab a beer and read the full report! Have all the parts to go 1×9 but i just cant do it yet! That bike is meant to be ss! what fork did you end up getting – cant tell. I like the extra bottle cages.


    • forgivenick says:

      Yep, grab your beverage of choice and check out my previous post. I’ve listed all the specs and why I built it the way I did. I really love it. If a bike can ever feel as comfortable as coming home, this one does, although I would love to try a slightly shorter (90mm) stem on it to see how that changes things.
      Its the Fargo fork and has the same rake and axle to crown as the Cromoto Grande fork.
      Its a great setup on El Mar. Thanks for the comment Kev.

  2. sdm says:


    Given that you have now been riding the El Mariachi for a while; if you just had this one bike, for this type of hilly terrain, would you like it to have gears, or is a single speed just fine?


    • forgivenick says:

      Thanks for the question sdm.
      The short answer is yes, this bike as singlespeed is fine for the hilly terrain now.
      The longer answer goes like this, if I can’t clear it on the ss, its either too steep for my previous geared bikes, its a longer/striper climb than I an used to and I need to ride more to get stronger, or I used to not be able to clear it on the singlespeed, but walking up that section really made me furious and I came back until I could clear it and now no one I ride with can catch me! 🙂
      Singlespeed all the way!

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