One-Year Review: Salsa Vaya Frameset

Last spring, I was spreading my saddle-time among a couple of different bikes: a full-suspension MTB, and a loaded tourer doing double-duty as commuter and roadie.  The mountain bike, while fun on rough, technical terrain, was less-than-enjoyable on pavement.  The tourer worked well in its beast-of-burden role, but it didn’t really inspire me to ride longer than necessary.  I found myself wanting one bike that could handle commuting, un-loaded paved rides, and non-technical dirt and gravel.

A bit of research led me to the Salsa Vaya.  Billed as a “road adventure bike,” it sounded like a perfect match for my one-bike-fits-all quest.  I studied the geometry/fit chart on Salsa’s website, and decided on the 57cm size in the charcoal color.  A few days later, brown santa delivered my much-anticipated frameset.  Ample padding and sturdy packaging had kept the frame and fork free of scratches, dings, or dents.  Props to Salsa for doing the right thing to insure damage-free transit.

I built up the Vaya with a mix of my favorite road and MTB components.  My local shop installed the headset, but I completed the rest of the build myself.  Everything went together easily, and there were no unexpected surprises or gotchas.  A trouble-free build such as this tells me that the company put a lot of though into details such as braze-on placement and component compatibility (the frame utilizes a threaded, 68mm BB shell, 27.2mm seatpost, threadless 1-1/8″ steerer, and 135mm rear hub spacing). gravel grinder salsa vaya ritchey classic cane creek vittoria randonneur hyper carradice nelson shimano campagnolo sun ringle
Seat cluster & Lip-Lock collar.

Writing an objective review of a bicycle–or in this case, a frameset–can be a real challenge.  Every rider has their own unique set of idiosyncrasies and preferences, and it’s often difficult to ignore those factors when evaluating a bike’s performance.  In the case of Salsa’s Vaya, however, it was my own fit requirements and preferences that drew me to this particular bike in the first place.

From the very first ride, I felt a “balance” that had eluded me on other bikes.  The frame’s geometry was spot-on, and I didn’t have to make any component changes to compensate for out-of-spec dimensions or angles.  The initial shakedown rides revealed a bike that was stable and predictable without being a total snooze-fest when you wanted–or needed to–put the hammer down.  On dirt and gravel, the Vaya really came into its element.  With the appropriate tires (there’s clearance for 700×43 rubber), the bike would float over ruts and rocks, but could still be pedaled efficiently on smoother terrain.  Interestingly enough, the more I rode the Salsa off-road, the more I found myself gravitating to a more aggressive climbing style, and within a couple of months, I switched from a triple- to a compact-double crankset. gravel grinder salsa vaya ritchey classic cane creek vittoria randonneur hyper carradice nelson shimano campagnolo sun ringle
Ample clearance with 32mm (actual width) tire.

Salsa wisely spec’d the Vaya with braze-ons for front and rear racks, fenders, and three bottle cages.  Chances are, if you want to carry it, there’s a way to mount it to the frame.  The disc brakes are set up for full-length housing, which means less maintenance and compatibility with (future) drop-bar hydraulic setups.  In addition to threaded bosses on the seatstay and chainstay bridges, both dropouts feature two sets of (threaded) eyelets.  I would have preferred threaded cable adjusters over the downtube shifter bosses, but adapters are easily available for those using bar-end or integrated shifters (aka, brifters). gravel grinder salsa vaya ritchey classic cane creek vittoria randonneur hyper carradice nelson shimano campagnolo sun ringle
Disc mount & custom dropout (replaceable hanger).

Over the past twelve months, I’ve logged many happy miles aboard the Vaya.  It’s been my go-to bike for commuting, off-road exploring, and unencumbered road riding.  The bike has performed so well, in fact, that it’s replaced the aforementioned MTB and tourer in my stable.  It’s taken everything I’ve dished out, and always left me with a smile on my face.  As a do-it-all adventure bike, the Vaya definitely delivers.  If you want one bike that can tackle a century, gravel grinder, off-road exploring, or commuting, look no further.  Salsa has come up with a bike that’ll inspire you to ditch the roof rack and start all your two-wheeled adventures from your own front door. gravel grinder salsa vaya ritchey classic cane creek vittoria randonneur hyper carradice nelson shimano campagnolo sun ringle
In commuter mode with slicks & Carradice Nelson saddlebag.

35 thoughts on “One-Year Review: Salsa Vaya Frameset

  1. Couldn’t agree more about the freedom afforded by the Vaya to ride… well, wherever I want.

    I have managed to fit Vee Rubber X-C-X 45 mm tires on mine with no clearance issues (without fenders, of course). They are cush!

    Click on the “Salsa Vaya” or “gravel” tags on the homepage of my blog to see innumerable gleeful ride reports and proud owner’s photos.

  2. What kind of tires are you running in these photos? Also, about your saddle bag… looks like it drags on your rear wheel! Just the angle of the photo, or is there something that keeps it off the rubber?

    1. The tires in the photos are Vittoria Randonneur Hypers. They’re really nice tires–durable, puncture resistant, and quick rolling. Maybe not as nice of a ride as, say, a Panaracer Pasela, but more durable, in my experience.

      To keep the saddlebag off of the rear wheel, I use a Carradice Bagman support. The photos make it look like the bag is hitting the rear tire, but there’s approximately two inches between the tire and bag.

  3. Yes, I bought a Salsa Vaya Ti about 8 months ago, put 700×38 tires on it, and the favorite of my six bikes. When I start a ride I never know where I’m going to end up – single track? jeep trail? dirt county road? pavement? I’ve come full circle, instead of a highly specialized bike for each discipline, one bike that kinda does it all.

  4. great looking bike! I had an factory-built orange Vaya with the Sram Apex and while it was a nice bike I always felt it was a bit of a pig… I did change out the Tour Ride tires to Ritchey speedmax in 35mm, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the Vaya… I gotta ask what your Vaya is weighing at? I had the chance to pre-ride the Vaya before I bought it in Portland last summer and really liked the ride/fit on the initial test ride, just not so much after I got it home and was able to compare it to my 2011 Casseroll (the two had a lot of overlap for my riding)…

    1. To be honest, I never weighed it. I have, however, experimented with a lot of different tires, and “the right” ones make a huge difference in how the bike rides.

  5. How does this bike do weighted down? How much weight were in your bags? Very interested in this bike or the Fargo. Trying to find a bike that will do well on asphalt, gravel, and light trails for an extended day trips for about a month. Thanks!

    1. I rarely carry more than 10-12 pounds (including the bag and support). Handling is fine with the saddlebag. I commute approximately 120 miles/week (pavement, dirt, gravel), and am really pleased with the bike’s performance. In fact, I’m considering building up another one, but with lighter parts and 650B wheels.

    2. It feels very planted with a pair of classic Ortlieb rollers on the rear loaded to the brim (i.e. un-rolled, tops 8″ above the top of the rack) with books back to the library and groceries. Even while wearing a messenger bag with the laptop and assorted notebooks. You do of course get the additional feedback when leaning with all this weight but I feel in control unlike with the Masi Special CX, on 28 or even 32mm tires, where I feel like I’m struggling to keep it off it’s side in every turn. I haven’t had the need to expand to the front so I can’t comment there.

      I got the Vaya 3 build and while I love it, there are a few things I’m considering changing. Note that they’re not significant enough to me to have done anything in a year of riding it.
      -The 3 comes with MicroShifters that are index only (sorry, not sure which model they are) and neither I nor the shop I got the bike from have been able to get them totally dialed in; there’s always a few gears on the rear cassette that seem on the edge of their indexed positions and thus I end up with an automatic transmission on bumpy path some times. Every time I threaten to replace them but after another few hours of trouble free riding I forget about it.
      -The front fork is so solid that I find myself airing down the front tire and have broken down to looking at a Surley Disc Trucker fork to smooth out the tree root-ed asphalt and cobble streets.
      -BB5s work just fine but every time I have to adjust them I wish BB7s.

    3. I road my Vaya down the west coast, from Victoria BC, to TJ Mexico. Mostly roads on the route, but we found a few trails that saved us time and trouble with traffic. Trails had anything from mud, to dirt and gravel. The Vaya was always stable, even when fully loaded with front, rear, and handlebar bag. No troubles outside of ordinary things like the occasional flat, brake adjustments, shifter adjustments, lube, etc.

      1. BDC, I am super interested in the route you took from Vic to TJ Mexico. Would you mind a contact for me to learn a bit about your experience? I am in North Van and just bought a Vaya

  6. Great review. Since you have spent time with the Vaya, what would be the maximum tire width that would fit in the frame. They seem to have loads of room even for a 45mm wide tire.

  7. Hello, great review, thanks! I am considering this bike as a commuter and I’m trying to figure out what size to get. I’d probably be a 57 or 58 cm. I know that bike sizing is personal and not one-size-fits-all, but could you please tell me your height? I’m 6’2″ with 34″ inseam. Thanks.

    1. Hello. I’m 5′-10″ tall, and my saddle height is 73cm (center of BB to top saddle, parallel to seat tube). Mine is 57cm, but I could comfortably ride a 56cm, too.

    2. Since I still get emailed any time this post gets a comment, I thought I’d throw in my sizes:

      I am 5′ 9″ with a 31″ inseam, and I ride 54″ 2012 Vaya 2, which I picked up in April ’13 for both commuting and rough road/ gravel adventuring. It’s been great for all those things. My only criticism is that the stock bike is overbuilt for my purposes. It’s probably spec’d to take a 300lb. guy with 100lb. of gear down the Continental Divide trail. I’m 135. My model came with rims that are spec’d on actual 29″ MTBs. The upside is I’ve taken it on technical trails a drop bar “road” bike had no business being on, with out any concerns for its ruggedness. But if you *only* commute on it, it’ll be great, but you’ll be toting around a bunch of unnecessary strength/weight.

  8. I am 5’11” with a PBH of 85cm (inseam 32″ or so), and I am comfortable on my 57cm Vaya. My bars have spacers on the stem, as well as a stem length, similar to those in the photo on this page.

  9. I’ve had my Vaya for almost a year and have put 2K miles on it. I basically like the bike a lot, it’s very stable and comfortable… in fact, the most comfy bike I’ve owned. Never again will I own an aluminum road bike!

    I do agree with the comments that it is a bit overbuilt for general riding around. It feels quite heavy duty, which no doubt contributes to its stability on bumpy roads, paved or not. The Salsa-specced Apex road bike gearing is a bit ridiculous– it’s geared way too high for a bike like this. I swapped out my crank and chainring for a SRAM X05 mountain crank with 42-28 gearing. (Got the idea from The Path Less Pedaled website). The swap cost $160, but it brought my low-end down from 29.0 gear inches to 23.9 on my 38 tires. That’s much more sensible, and I still have a high end of 104.3 gear inches… maybe I should have chosen the 39-26 chainrings!

    Speaking of tires, I swapped my 42c TourRides for 38c Schwalbe Marathon Racers. The Racers seem to roll faster and smoother. Compass Bicycle just announced several new 700c tires with supple casings in wider widths like 32 and 38c, which I would advise anyone with a Vaya to check out if you are interested in a pavement-oriented tire. Compass has some cool equipment for touring and rando biking.

    For winter, I’m riding with Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 studded snows. I tried to install fenders on the 45c tires, but they wouldn’t fit, so I swapped for the 35c option. In a snow tread, 35c looks wider than you might imagine, and I’ve had a number of nice winter rides on them. They are stable and the studs are very reassuring when you ride over ice! I have to say, though, that despite my best efforts, winter riding is slow. Whether it’s the tires, the denser air, or just me, I don’t know, but my average speed riding around souther NH’s rolling countryside drops to about 11 mph. But the bottom line is, so what? It’s just nice to get outside and get some riding in!

    I can’t help but fantasize about another bike, tho. Thinking of a Rawland Nordavinden, a Velo Orange Pass Hunter or maybe a Soma Smoothie with 32c tires…

  10. Thanks for doing this review!
    Are you using brifters with discs?
    If so can I ask which brand and model you use?
    Thinking about building one of my own, but I’ve never owned a bike with discs before, so I have little experience with them.
    Also did you have to do anything to install the BB? I mean like grinding the shell plane to get rid of excess paint?

    Cheers and thanks!

    1. I’ve used Campagnolo and Shimano shifters with cable-operated disks (Hayes CX and Avid BB7 Road models). Both worked fine. If I was going to build up a drop-bar bike with discs I’d opt for the TRP Spyre calipers.

      When I assembled the Vaya, I did zero prep work on the BB shell (or head/seat tubes).

  11. I purchased a new shiny green 2014 Vaya3 in May this year. There are a few comments I would make after 800km of riding. It came with 700c40 Schwalbe Silentos and I was able to install fenders.
    A road bike it is not. It will ride on pavement all day and you won’t feel beat up but it feels as heavy as it is (31.5lbs with rack,spares,garmin,etc.) I recently went on an organized tour and found my average speed to be around 25kph. I’m sure different tires would help here.
    That said, it excels at everything else you throw at it. Very stable and quick on trails and back roads. The BB7S-road brakes are great, the Inferno23 wheels look and feel nice. The Sora Integrated shifters could be slicker, but they do the job and keep the cost down.
    Overall a smooth confident bike that handles and rides better than most I tried in this genre.

  12. Thanks for the write up! I have a Green Vaya 3. So far I have swapped out the tires to Clement LAS, the seat post to a Thomson Masterpiece, the saddle to a Phenom, the cranks to 105 triple with a 28t small ring. I just love this bike so far. I have ridden it on some fairly gnarly trails as well as some serious paved climbing and back road adventures in the Santa Cruz mountains. I’m thinking about getting the Ti version so I can lighten it up. I would have gone for Ti originally, if I knew I would enjoy the geometry so much. Any suggestions on a lighter wheelset? I have the Sun SR 25s with Salsa hubs. Cheers!

      1. I’d like to stay around $700. Tires, who knows. I love these Clements. They are 33s. Today I rode my vaya 34+ miles with 31 of them off pavement and the Clements only broke free two times while climbing. I was thinking about some Stan’s wheels but I’m open to suggestions. Thanks!

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