First Impression: Salsa Powderkeg Tandem

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My girlfriend Emily and I have always viewed tandems with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. The former inspired by the ability to intimately share a cooperative experience with someone special, and the latter a result of the seemingly patriarchal examples we often see out in the world. With this in mind, Emily and I jumped at the opportunity to review Salsa’s Powderkeg for the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times, and to write a story about our experience touring dirt roads in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest.

Our relationship with any test bike begins when each bike arrives at the doorstep of the Bicycle Times World Headquarters. This giant bike  arrived with more than the usual cursing from our friendly UPS driver due to the sheer size of the box.

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Once assembled, we were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable 42 pound weight of the Powderkeg, despite the burly Cobra Kai CroMoly tubing Salsa custom-drawn for the Powderkeg’s frame and fork. This weight allowed us to utilize any of the portable repair stands we have here at the office without any tipovers.

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The second feature that impressed us is the number of braze-ons for water bottle mounts and Salsa’s slick Three-Pack mounts for its Anything Cages. We also really appreciated the robust simplicity of Salsa’s Alternator Rack 135, which mounts directly to the upper bolt of the Alternator swinging dropout. This genius system utilizes the upper brake adapter bolt to secure both the dropout and the rear rack.

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The Powderkeg is a true workhorse with more than enough mounting options for an extended tour. If you max out gear storage on the Powderkeg, you should probably consider paring down.

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With the bike assembled, the next challenge was transportation. Fortunately, the Powderkeg fit inside our Honda Element with the front wheel off, handlebars turned 180 degrees and the rear wheel rolled almost all the way up to the center console. But, if your tandem doesn’t fit inside your vehicle, there are quite a few car-mounted tandem racks options on the market.

From our very limited previous experience aboard tandems—a few minutes here and there—we knew we needed to work together to get the most out of this experience. Fortunately, the Powderkeg made getting in the groove extremely easy. From the very first ride, we clicked with this bike and our excitement swelled as we look forward to our touring adventure.

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Look for out touring story and the complete review of the Powderkeg in issue #37 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by August 17 to have the issue delivered to your door. To read more about the development of the Powderkeg, check out the Salsa blog here.



Salsa unveils new Powderkeg tandem 29er and refreshed Warbird gravel race bike

Salsa's Mike Riemer introduces the new bikes to the audience at FrostBike.

Salsa’s Mike Riemer introduces the new bikes to the audience at FrostBike.

Each year, Quality Bicycle Products, the parent company of Salsa (as well as Surly, All-City and others) hosts a dealer show at is Minnesota headquarters. Salsa took the opportunity to announce it would be officially offering a production version of the Powderkeg tandem that has been floating around in prototype form for years.



bt-salsa-powderkeg-warbird-frostbike-12Not just an extended version of the El Mariachi 29er, the Powderkeg is built from Salsa’s new 4130 Cobra Kai tubing, a riff on the Kung Fu tubing in the El Mariachi. The fork is new as well, with a tapered, steel steerer and massive legs—as big as some steel bikes’ down tubes. It’s naturally equipped with a thru axle, or can be swapped with a 100mm suspension fork, if you’re brave enough to tackle singletrack. The timing chain is tensioned with a classic pinch-bolt eccentric bottom bracket.

While it’s stout enough for off-road, Salsa says it sees many of its customers using the Powderkeg for gravel riding/racing and adventure touring. A prototype was put to the test in the Tour Divide race in 2012. As such it’s equipped with rack mounts, and the fork uses the three-bolt bosses for Salsa’s Anything Cages. It also sets a record for Salsa with no less than nine water bottle mount positions.


The Powderkeg will go on sale this summer for $3,999 complete or $1,999 as a frameset. It will be available in three sizes: medium captain/small stoker, large captain/small stoker, and large captain/medium stoker.



Salsa is proud to state that it “owns gravel”, and the brand has supported the growing gravel ride/race scene since it began to gain popularity in the past five or six years. From events like the Dirty Kanza 200 to shorter ultracross races across the country, the Warbird separates itself from cyclocross bikes with a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket and larger tire clearance.

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The second generation of Warbird bikes retain much of the same geometry of the first, but with a slightly lower stack height for a more aggressive position. The biggest visual difference is the bowed seatstays, which Salsa calls Class 5 Vibration Reduction System—class 5 referring to the gauge of gravel used on roads. The stays have a thin, flat profile that allows them to offer a small amount of give over impacts, a small amount that can add up quick over long rides. By mounting the disc brake caliper on the chainstay Salsa is able to allow both stays to function this way without having to support braking forces.


Offered in both aluminum and carbon fiber versions, both models use the carbon Warbird fork with 15mm thru axle and tapered, carbon steerer tube. Salsa claims the carbon frame and fork reduce vibrations nine percent over the previous generation titanium model, and six percent for the aluminum frame and carbon fork.


All that space in the stays means the Warbird can pack a big tire: 44c in the carbon model and 42c for the aluminum. Both models use PF30 bottom bracket shells and internal cable routing for mechanical or electronic drivetrains. Because gravel rides are often pretty long, it also has a third water bottle cage under the down tube.


The carbon Warbird will be available this summer for $1,999 for the frameset or $3,499 with a SRAM Rival 22 build and hydraulic brakes. The aluminum models are in stock now for $999 for the frame set and $2,499 for a Shimano 105 11-speed build or $1,999 for a 10-speed Tiagra build.

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