By David Rowe
Even though road bikes have been in greater demand in recent years, there has been surprisingly little advancement among manufacturers to build what many call the “all-rounder.” Bikes that can go anywhere and do anything are functional, not flashy. As a result, they don’t sell in great numbers. They are rarely advertised in magazines and unlikely to be front and center on the showroom floor at your local bike store.
So what options are available to the road cyclist that wants one bike that is as capable of day-long cruises in the country and brisk paceline riding with the club on Saturday morning? What’s out there for a roadie who needs a second bike for those days when it’s just too nasty to ride the featherweight carbon?
You could log on to eBay or search Craig’s List until you find that pristine, 1970’s era, steel-frame Bridgestone, Trek or Raleigh. Of course, you will have to tear it down and build it again with modern components to ensure it won’t fail when you’re miles from nowhere.
Or you could visit the Salsa website, locate an authorized dealer in your neighborhood, and ask about taking a Casseroll Triple for a test ride.
I had the pleasure of riding a Casseroll last winter in Oregon, logging more than 400 miles in all sorts of terrain and weather. I used it for training rides in Willamette Valley farmlands and on the Columbia River Plateau. I used it for GPS-mapping rides in the Oregon Coast Range, where chip-seal, potholes and gravel rule the day.
As time went on I personalized the bike. I installed my Terry Fly saddle after finding WTB’s Silverado Race seat too uncomfortable. I put on MKS touring pedals with Power Grips, a Velo Orange Croissant saddle bag and an Ortlieb handlebar bag. With these adjustments the test bike felt like my own. I rode it on 3 winter brevets in the Northwest and registered a personal best on the Wine Country Populaire, finishing the 100K in 3:26 minutes with a payload of raingear and food.
You may not be able to duplicate the test rides I did, but you will immediately notice the benefits of the geometry on this steel-frame road machine. Its relaxed head- and seat-tube angles make the Casseroll comfortable on long rides. Its relatively low bottom bracket makes it stable when loaded, even when diving into a series of twisting, downhill turns.
The factory build includes a combination of midrange components around a capable Shimano 105 drivetrain. The triple crankset and long-cage rear derailleur is the setup preferred by many touring and long-event cyclists for hilly terrain and mountain passes. Tektro long-reach caliper brakes provide all the stopping power you need coming down the other side. They also allow fenders and tires as wide as 32 mm, making this bike a functional alternative to pedaling inside on the trainer when the weather turns wet.
At the core of a good all-rounder is frame design. The critical considerations include geometry, materials and construction. The Casseroll is reminiscent of racing geometries of the mid 1970s. My test bike measured 53 cm from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the sloping top tube (3 cm less than if the top tube were horizontal). It featured a 72.5-degree head tube angle, 73.5-degree seat tube angle, 42.5-cm chainstays and a 101-mm wheelbase. Despite these classic numbers, a Casseroll’s sloping top tube makes it look quite modern.
The Rivendell Bleriot (about $1,900) and the Surly Long Haul Trucker (about $1,000) are two viable alternatives in the all-rounder category. In contrast to the Casseroll they appear stockier and more closely related to touring frames.
The Casseroll has dropout eyelets front and rear, a tip of the hat to randonneurs and credit card tourists, who are likely to require fenders from time to time but not likely to travel with panniers. Seatstay braze-ons make it easy to mount a rear rack for a trunk bag. I didn’t feel I needed a trunk after finding the Casseroll surprisingly stable with a load in my handlebar bag.
The Casseroll’s chromoly steel frame is TIG welded, saving weight and cost associated with lugs. The frame is finished in sparkling champagne (“ginger beer” in Salsa parlance), a paint job that drew a steady stream of compliments on club rides.
Test riding a bicycle may sound like a cool thing to do. But if you take the work seriously, you have to give up riding your own bike for a fairly long period. This is especially true if you are testing for RoadBikeRider.com, which wants you to log at least 24 hours of road time. If you are testing in winter, as I did, when rides are typically shorter, it means the test bike will become your main bike so you can accumulate the necessary hours and impressions.
Fortunately, the Casseroll did not disappoint. I enjoyed riding it. In fact, if there were more room in my garage, I would add it to my stable. And I can recommend you add it yours. Whether it’s your only bike for all-round riding, or your go-to bike for days when there’s toomuch crap on the road to risk a random pebble fracturing your carbon down tube, you will be stoked you are riding a Casseroll.
David Rowe is a randonneur living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. His eBook, available in the RBR Bookstore, is titled A Rider’s Guide to Building the Long Distance Bicycle.