Building a Salsa Fargo: Starting from Scratch

Right after I came back from a biking trip across Spain, I started to dream about other biking adventures. Soon, I found myself building a Salsa Fargo. How did I land on this frame choice? Read on!

A lot of the research I did about bike touring led me to information on a “new” breed of bikes. These bikes are comfortable, able to perform well even when loaded with cargo, and are fun to ride. Some people call them “adventure bikes”. I was skeptical of the gimmicky title.

Friend from work:
“What kind of bike do you ride?”

“An ADVENTURE bike”.


I first heard about Salsa bikes a few years ago when perusing around the internet searching for endurance race videos. In particular, I was inspired by this one video about a public school employee who works with behaviorally and emotionally challenged kids training to finish the Dirty Kanza race. I could relate to this guy in the sense that I also have a demanding day job, and I use biking as therapy. But that was it at the time, I didn’t think of anything else about the Salsa brand.

I dug around online forums and magazines and a lot of references lead me to look into the Salsa Fargo. Initially, the Fargo checked a lot of boxes: slack geometry, reliable frame build, fit for carrying a heavy load, and the price tag wasn’t too steep. The only thing I didn’t like right away was the idea of running drop bars on a bike that is supposed to keep me comfortable on multi-day trips. I thought how a regular road bike or even a sturdier cyclocross bike would have never survived the 800km (500 M) I had pedaled in Spain. Never. But I had a preconceived idea of what a drop bar bike should be, an idea that the Fargo does not conform to.

I found out that one of the local shops was a Salsa dealer and had a couple of their bikes in stock. Luckily, I got to take the bike for a spin on a warm -4C (25F) winter day. The biggest size they had in stock was a large and that’s the one I rode. I’m a tall guy and the large frame size wasn’t a great fit, but I could see how that bike would be fun on a dirt trail or fire road. After the test ride (on pavement) I was kinda sold on the whole drop bar mountain bike idea, but not completely convinced.

I wanted to build the bike myself just to see what it is like to build a bike from scratch. I knew I could perform some basic bike maintenance, like swapping out dirty bar tape and fine tuning twitchy gears on my bikes, but would I be able to build a complete bike from scratch? The idea of customizing the components to my specific needs was alluring. Picking a bike off the rack is boring, building one sounds a lot more romantic.

Sourcing the Parts

Buying the frame/fork/handlebar went like this:

“Hey Jon (bike shop guy), I wanna put in an order for a Fargo frameset”

“Cool. Let’s take a look here…. What size?”

“I think the XL. The L seemed smallish”

“OK. Yeah, they have it in stock. It will be here in less than a week”

Wow. That was easy.

Next step was to put together a list of components and start sourcing the parts. That wasn’t as easy. Ordering all the parts from a local shop is probably the most convenient way, but sadly, the most expensive method also. “We don’t have it in stock, but we can order it for you” was a common answer to my questions. “It’s OK. I’ll keep looking” was my default rebuttal.

It turns out that prices can vary greatly between retailers, it also turns out most retailers don’t keep a large number of options in stock and parts can sell out quickly. This means that I had to check availability and prices pretty much on a daily basis.

I took advantage of the long Midwestern winter to take my sweet time to buy the parts. Figuring out if a component will fit in your bike wasn’t as hard as many people claim it to be. The internet has all the answers. It took me a good 3 months to source all the parts, I was making sure all the parts would fit together and waiting for sales.

I ended up buying parts from several online and physical retailers and was even lucky enough to find a great mountain bike store while visiting Germany. I noticed some bike parts in Europe are cheaper than in the United States, specially when you can take advantage of getting sales taxes refunded.

Hibike (Germany) Shoping Bag

Hibike (Germany) Shoping Bag

Here’s the build list, including where I bought the parts.

FRAME2016 Salsa Fargo - XLMotorless Motion (LBS)
FORKSalsa Firestarter (carbon)Motorless Motion (LBS)
HEADSETChris King Inset
STEMTruvativ Stylo T30 - 90mm; 5 degree riseAmazon
HANDLEBARSalsa Woodchipper 2 - 46cm wideMotorless Motion (LBS)
BAR TAPEFi'Zi:k PerformanceAmazon
BRAKESAvid BB7 RoadAmazon
CABLESJagwire Road Pro Racer XL KitTrail This (LBS)
FRONT DERAILLEURSRAM X0 2x10 High Direct MountEbay
CASSETTESRAM 1050 - 11-36THibike (LBS - Germany)
CHAINKMC X10Trail This (LBS)
SEATPOSTTruvativ Stylo T30Ebay
SADDLESpecialized Phenom Expert - Ti RailsErik's Bike Shop (Sorta LBS)
HUBSSRAM X9 (wheelset)
RIMSWTB i23 Frequency (wheelset)
RIM TAPEStan's Yellow TapeMotorless Motion (LBS)
SEALANTStan's NotubesAmazon
FRONT TIRESpecialized S-Works Ground Control 2.3"Hibike (LBS - Germany)
REAR TIRESpecialized S-Works Fast Trak 2.2"Hibike (LBS - Germany)
PEDALSStill to decide

The Build

I took the frame to a LBS to get the headset in place. The 2016 Salsa Fargo frameset comes in matte black with orange graphics. An orange Chris King headset seemed an obvious choice.

Salsa Fargo Frame and Headset
I didn’t really plan it this way, but most of the components are SRAM. It just happened that they matched the specs. SRAM makes it easier to match Road and MTB components though. Mixing Shimano and SRAM pats for gearing is not really possible without workarounds since Shimano and SRAM shifters pull different amounts of cable.

Bike Components
Laying out the components on the workbench made it easy to see what needed to be accomplished. Looks pretty simple from this angle.

Fargo Components

I started the build on a Saturday morning. It was a very slow Saturday morning and It took me a while to get everything organized. By the time I actually started putting things together, it was time to crack a beer open. A nice quadruple ale just made the job even more fun.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

The 29er hoops were ready. Tightening the rotor bolts (all 12 of them) is a bit of a tedious job.

Fargo hoops


How does this work anyway?

I learned a few things on my own that would have been nice to know before I put the frame up on the stand to start the build.

Installing a headset can be a bit of a pain. I built my own tool to press the cups into the frame but they were not going in straight no matter what I tried. I took the frame to my LBS and the mechanic installed the headset in 30 seconds… with a rubber mallet. I guess the 10 bucks I paid him was the price of experience.

You know what else can take some time? Getting your tubeless tires to seat appropriately. One rim I had to use 3 layers of Stan’s yellow tape, the other one only 2 layers. Go figure. At one point, I broke out a sweat while pushing the floor pump as fast as it is humanly possible. Some people use an air compressor…. slackers….

Road-style shifters (brifters) don’t have built in barrel adjusters, nor do mountain bike rear derailleurs. I had a real “oh crap” moment after I routed the cables and tried to fine tune the tension on them. I know I can install inline barrel adjusters but it would have been nice to do that before crimping the ferules to the end of the cables.

Finally Done

Salsa Fargo Complete Build

Tire clearance on the Firestarter carbon fork is pretty massive as you can see here. These are Specialized Ground Control 2.3″ tires and you can see there’s plenty of room to spare.

Salsa Fargo Firestarter Fork

There’s room to grow in the rear triangle also. Specialized Fast Trak 2.2″ and plenty of clearance.

Salsa Fargo Rear Tire Clearance

Woodchipper bar on top of the tall headtube. I still have to mess around with the break/shifter levers to get it to a nice angle. Some work to be done here.

Salsa Fargo Headtube

Woodchiper Bar on a Salsa Fargo

My choice of using mechanical breaks is twofold: 1) Road hydraulic levers are very expensive; 2) Servicing mechanical breaks in the field is a lot easier than dealing with bleeding hydraulic fluids.

SRAM Cassette - Salsa Fargo

I find it nice to have a very low gear when touring on dirt roads. Fire roads, a lot of times, don’t follow a smooth grade like most paved roads; the 24T granny gear will help me on tougher short hills.

GX Crankset - Salsa Fargo

The Conclusion

I can’t wait to take the Fargo places I have never been to before. All in all, building the Salsa Fargo from scratch wasn’t that hard. Yeah, sure.. there are a few things that I missed along the process (like installing barrel adjusters) but now I know these things. I’m sure this experience will come in handy in case I have to perform some maintenance while in the field.

You may also like...

19 Responses

  1. Bill says:

    Stumbled upon your blog while researching The Fargo. You’re bike is exactly how I pictured mine to be. I’m also about to place an order at Motorless Motion (I live in Madsison) for a black Fargo frameset. Did it come with the fork installed or did you have to buy a headset and do it yourself? Like you I plan to build it myself. Any other insider tips since you built it? Thanks!

    • André says:

      Hi Bill, the fork doesn’t come installed. You’ll have to buy and install the headset/crown race yourself or have someone else install it for you. It took me a couple of adjustments to get the woodchipper dialed in for my fit. Keep that in mind. I also mentioned a couple of things in the post, like adding inline barrel adjusters for the gear cables.

  2. Darwin Ponnusamy says:

    Hey Bill, thanks for the post. I am looking to build a Fargo as well. Is the front derailleur top or bottom pull? Thanks.


  3. mr.loren says:


  4. Anders says:

    A beautiful bike – great work.
    I understand you have an XL fram – how tall are you?
    I’m 6ft 6.5in (200 cm) – do you think that XL would fit me or not? Your build with the handlebars, flat pedals etc is exaxtly what I have in mind. Thanks a lot for the inspiration.

    • André says:

      Hi Anders, Thanks! I’m 6ft 2in (188 cm). Bike fit is pretty personal and I tend to like bigger frames. Given that you are quite a bit taller, I’d say the XL frame is the way to go for you.

  5. Taras says:

    Hey! Thanks for the article.
    I am going to build up Salsa Fargo 2019 as well. Currently the frame is on its way.
    While putting the parts together I stumbled upon a front derailleur question.
    In frame compatibility datasheet is is written, that front derailleur is mounted as hight direct mount via Problem Solvers Bracket clamp (FS1326). Since my frame is still on its way the questions is: Whether this clamp is included with the frame or did you buy it separately ?

  6. Ryan says:

    This makes me want to build my own Salsa Fargo instead of buying one. The thing I always struggle with is attaching cables to the bicycle, I can’t ever seem to get the cabling right no matter how many you tube videos I watch. Got any tips and tricks for attaching cables? I have heard nightmares about tubeless tires sliding off while ridding. Is installing tubeless tires difficult? My first major touring trip I want to take with the Fargo is in Argentina, so I want to try and keep the weight around 25 pounds so I can take the bicycle on an airliner, but I don’t want to get parts that are to light and sacrifice durability.

    • André says:

      Hi Ryan, I always have fun planning a bike build. I really like my Fargo, it’s just such a good fit for my riding style.

      As long as your cables are not restricting your steering, you should be good. Probably a good idea to leave your cables a little long if you are not so sure. It’s always possible to shorten your cables later.

      I have to say I have never heard of tires just sliding off the rim. Tubeless tires can burp when you run it on low pressure. This is usually not an issue while touring/bikepacking though. It’s not like you are getting super gnarly out there while bikepacking.

      I don’t know of any airlines that have a 25lb restriction on bikes, seems pretty low for a bike plus cycling equipment. Which airline are planning on using to fly down to AR? Check with them first. Most airlines have a 50lb or 70lb limit on bikes but it does vary airline-by-airline.


  7. Ryan says:

    Good to know, thanks! Would you recommend tubeless tires over tube tires? Is there a big advantage when touring in remote locations? Did you order your frame from Salsa? Did the frame also come with the Salsa Firestarter (carbon)? Did you ever consider using the RockShox Reba RL 120mm travel fork for shock absorbing over the Firestarter?

    I recently bought a refurbished B&W bike box II off Ebay and it weighs ~25 pounds. If I can build a Salsa Fargo that is around 25 pounds I could be under the weight requirements of 50 pounds for an airline such as Delta. Then you’d only have to pay for oversized luggage which I think is 150. It might be easier to ship, if you can find someone to ship items to remote locations. The extra cycling equipment could be brought as a carry on in a hikers backpack.


    • André says:

      Hi Ryan, it’s hard to recommend anything without knowing what kind of riding/traveling you are planning on doing. What you consider remote might not be the same thing someone else considers remote. You can order Salsa framesets (includes the fork) from any local bike shop affiliated with QBP. I never considered putting a suspension fork on my Fargo. For the type of riding that I do, the rigid fork seems like a better option. Re. airline restrictions: Just check with the airline you are planning on using, the policy and price do change quite a bit. Cheers!

  1. July 18, 2016

    […] I am building another bike. I had way too much fun building the Salsa Fargo this past spring and I couldn’t wait to get started building another bike. It just so […]

  2. August 9, 2018

    […] frames in the market. I mainly decided on the Karate Monkey because of its history. Just like the Salsa Fargo, the Surly Karate Monkey has some history in pushing biking into new territories. While the Fargo […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *