Salsa Cutthroat MkII
At its 2015 debut, the Salsa Cutthroat was dubbed the ultimate Tour Divide racing machine, a bold claim indeed. The all-carbon construction promised to blend speed with comfort, an essential to riders hoping to maximise 18 hour days in the saddle. Despite appearing to be a sure-fire hit, getting hold of one was an endurance event in itself. At that time Salsa availability in the UK could at best be described as erratic. But fast forward to the present day, and with Lyon Equipment now handling distribution, laying your hands on a Salsa has become immeasurably easier. For me, Christmas 2019 will go down as one of the all time best. Santa, putting his best performance yet, delivered a newly released MY2020 Cutthroat V2 bike. Luckily, as a fan of 1x drivetrains he opted to get me the Apex 1 spec. This had the additional bonus of being finished in a stunning Atomic pink paint. The new year was spent excitedly tweaking the Cutty’s setup and arranging a custom frame bag from Straight cut design.
Let’s look at what it offers…
Frame & Forks
The frameset is the heart of a bike and sets out the stall for its overall performance. The original Cutthroat won over many riders and for the Cutty V2 it’s clearly a case of evolution, rather than revolution being required. Making the frame compatible with electronic gear sets, dropper posts and boost axles brings it bang up to date. Mud clearances on the Cutthroat are without a doubt generous, a product of using the boost spacing and VRS (Vibration reduction system) bridge-less rear triangle to maximise space.
At the front, the 100mm suspension-corrected forks feature steel plates designed to prevent abrasion from mud. Even with 2.4″ tyres it seems hard to imagine the conditions that could lead to that being a problem! While you might usually choose a smaller framesize for your mountain bike than your roadbike the Cutty slightly bucks that trend. On salsa’s advice I selected a 58cm frame, the sizing based on the effective top tube rather than the seat tube. The designers had an eye on practicality as well as speed. The front triangle is arranged to accommodate as large a frame bag as possible using built in mountings to negate the need for velcro straps. Frame bag capacity can sometimes disappoint but the storage offered by a bag filling every scrap of space offered is a game changer.
The Salsa Cutthroat is designed around what Salsa call Roadboost. Luckily this isn’t a new standard per se, but a means to combine Road and MTB drivetrains using boost hub spacing. As the SRAM Apex 1 chainset is restricted to a minimum 40t chainring, Salsa have turned to Race Face and spec’d Ride cranks with Cinch Direct Mount rings. This means more choice in chainring sizes than Apex 1 or GRX chainsets in addition to a weight saving! I’d be lying if I said that I was thrilled with the BB92 PF bottom bracket, but you have to reserve judgement until you’ve put some miles on them!
As a 1x drivetrain, all shifting duties are down to the rear mech and cassette. For an entry level Road groupset Apex is remarkably well suited to off-road adventures. Featuring a clutch to tame bouncing chains, a handy cage lock to make wheel removal easier, and a wide-ratio 11-42 cassette there’s not much more you could ask for. Rumours abound that Apex will also handle an 11-46 cassette.
For the Cutty 2.0 Salsa have spec’d their Cowchipper bars instead of the usual Woodchippers. As the name suggests, the Cowchippers split the difference between the lightly flared Cowbell CX bars and heavily flared Woodchippers. As a race bike, perhaps Salsa see the Cutthroat running lighter than a Fargo. With a full touring load the Fargo is designed for, the wide flare Woodchippers no doubt help manhandling the bike through the rough stuff.
Kudos to Salsa for their choice of tyres for the Cutthroat. Speccing parts from another QBP sub-brand isn’t the cop-out it might at first seem. Teravail label the Sparwood as an unashamed hardpack specialist. Resembling an oversized Cannonball gravel tyre, it’s designed to hook-up in the rough stuff without being a drag over smoother surfaces. The variant fitted is both tubeless-ready and features durable nylon-reinforced sidewalls. Paired with WTB’s Serra wheelset (with ST i23 TCS rims) tubeless set-up just required a wrap of tape, valves and glug of sealant. Not a single bubble emerged past the sidewall or rim, and I popped the beads with a regular track-pump! The Sparwoods aren’t designed with a UK winter in mind, but they are more sure footed than the tread pattern would suggest. As an added bonus as soon as you hit a firmer surface the mud is quickly shed.
Salsa have opted to pair up the Apex cable levers with TRP’s Spyre calipers. Like the press-fit BB this could be another divisive choice and deal-breaker for some. While they’re undoubtedly softer than hydraulics they don’t lack power. It could also be argued that when in the backend of beyond cable brakes pose less of an un-fixable risk.
On the trail
Before hitting the dirt on the Cutty I made a few tweaks for my personal preferences. The stock WTB Volt Sport 135mm saddle and Salsa Guide seat-post are both decent items. But having used many WTB saddles over the years, I prefer their 142mm width models so switch between the SL8 & Pure V models depending on the pace, or distance, of the ride.
Throwing a leg over the Cutty and it’s immediately obvious that the 58cm is a large size Large! Once in the saddle though, and as a veteran Fargo rider, it’s like throwing on your favourite slippers. Like the Fargo It’s not hard to settle into a position that you’d feel happy to crank out the miles. Different though is the sense of get up and go. Whereas the Fargo seems to dictate the pace, the Cutty rewards your efforts. Pushing on feels like the effort expended is being directly translated into forward motion, with nary a hint wasted. Naturally the fast rolling tyres help in this respect.
For the riding that makes up the vast majority of the Tour Divide the Cutty is perfect. The position, low weight and efficiency make tarmac bearable for a serious offroad machine. If I’m ever lucky enough to tackle the TD again there is no doubt that I’d take a Cutthroat. On my local trails the Cutty also excels. On the rare occasions we have dry weather the sandy soils can be hard going on gravel tyres and the 2.2 Sparwoods can just about float through.
Tough testing regime
In February, before you know what, I headed out to Marrakesh to compete in the PedalEd Atlas Mountain Race. With 1,145km of broken tarmac, rubble strewn trails, and everything in between, the Salsa Cutthroat should be in its element. The trail from Marrakesh to Sidi Rabat while shorter than the Tour Divide is every bit as arduous. Would the Cutthroat still shine, or was it too focussed on heading down to Antelope Wells? For the most part the Cutty took Morocco in its stride. It did however meet its match on the roughest trails. While the carbon frame does a remarkable job of killing trail buzz there’s only so much a rigid bike can do when faced with long stretches covered with large hunks of rock. In this instance, with trail shrapnel flying in every direction, wide flat bars, or suspension forks would have been preferable. Any misgivings you might have about the suitability of a road groupset for rough trails are unfounded. Despite experiencing extended rough descents in Morocco, and closer to home in Wales, the Apex gears shifted precisely, if a little clunkily. The cable operated TRP Spyre brakes will no doubt have their detractors but they have proven reliable, sufficiently powerful and quiet in use. The WTB Serra Wheelset stayed true despite a hammering and paired with the durable Teravail treads just got on with the job in hand. Only after a 1000km in Morocco did I suffer my one and only puncture after riding over a stray line of barbed-wire. The sealant did its job and sealed the hole before I could even locate it!
They say that you should never meet your heroes but the Cutthroat bucks that trend. If you want to get your head down and ride off into the sunset it’s an excellent choice. Salsa have taken their cult-classic and made select changes that broaden the appeal of the Cutthroat without spoiling what makes it such an effective TD racer. It only loses out to flat-bar mountain bikes on the very roughest of terrain. Once circumstances change I won’t hesitate to load up the Salsa Cutthroat and head off into the sunset.