Salsa El Caballo de Carga


Or, The Salsa El Mariachi "Packhorse"

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Orange mountain bike against a backdrop of Australian Coastal scrub
The Salsa El Caballo de Carga resting in the scrub

This week I had the pleasure of putting together another bike based around an old Salsa El Mariachi frame. I call this one The Salsa “El Caballo de Carga” (The Salsa Packhorse). “Packhorse”, because its purpose is a gravel-y, touring-y, bikepacking-y, off-the-beaten-path, do-it-all kind of bike, and also because Salsa “El Mula” (the Mule) sounded pretty boring.

I’ve had a build like this in mind ever since completing a 4-day tour of the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburg Pennsylvania, to Cumberland Maryland (240 kms/150 miles) in 2017. For that ride I used one of my two bikes (only two, HA!) outfitted with a handlebar bag and seat bag to stow clothes and food. It was a taste of the good life, riding long and mostly beautiful paths for days on end, and even stumbling upon one of Architecture’s most famous houses, Falling Water:

Black and White photo of falling Water building by architect Frank Lloyd Wright
This is My photo of Falling Water. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

But I digress…

The generally accepted spirit of bikepacking is “run what you brung”, i.e., use the bike you have and hack it to carry stuff, but the spirit of n+1 is sometimes stronger and I saw the need for a dedicated touring/bikepacking bike in my future. And here we are 🙃.

I have honoured the “run what you brung” philosophy to some degree; I bought only a handful of components to complete this build, the vast majority came from my spare parts bin. Everything you see here except the Salsa carbon Firestarter fork purchased in 2017 for my second MS150 ride, and the Shimano m8000 XT drivetrain bought a few weeks ago.

All parts for a mountain bike laid out on a garage floor
Exploded Caballo de Carga.
Orange mountain bike against a plain white wall
Freshly built bike, like a newborn baby :) #baaw

I already had the steel 2015 Salsa El Mariachi frame kicking around from when I chanced upon the titanium version of this frame1 mere months after purchasing this steel version. As such it has been garaged in basically new condition since 2015.

Run what you brung.
N+1.

When buying the drivetrain (cranks and gears) I decided to break tradition and go up from 1×10 to 1×11. This is my first 11-speed bike and my first time with 30×11–46 gnarly gearing. 46 teeth in the back is nuts; possibly too much! It’s definitely too much for bombing ‘round my neck of the woods this week, even with all the hills! I spent 30kms of a 35km route spinning out in the 11-tooth cog. Was great fun though! Feels like a neat little bike, and whippy. It currently weighs in at 10.6kg but feels quite a bit nimbler than my purpose-built commuter. There could be a few reasons for this but the most likely reason is the colour — it’s red! Well, almost red, and red is the fastest colour. Everyone knows this.

The El Caballo de Carga was probably my most fun build to date, and just in time for Gravel Camp!

I’m looking forward to a future with The El Caballo de Carga loaded with a bunch of camping gear, out on the open roads of Victoria Australia (and hopefully beyond!).

  1. Bought used for cheap (under US$500) from Craigslist in Houston. God bless Texas.