How Far & How Fast? Salsa Warbird vs. Salsa Cutthroat

July 13 2023 – Brixton Cycles

How Far & How Fast? Salsa Warbird vs. Salsa Cutthroat
How Far & How Fast? Salsa Warbird vs. Salsa Cutthroat

Salsa Cycles are a byword for gravel cycling, with good reason: they were there at the genesis of the discipline, back in 2008. At this point, the patchwork quilt of gravel roads across the USA were ridden by people on rigid mountain bikes, touring bikes, or cyclocross bikes. Sure, they all did the job – but none were ideal. They were heavy, or unforgiving, or lacking in agility. These early races sparked the Salsa design team into thinking: which features were most valuable, and how could they be combined into one bike? And so, the first Salsa Warbird was born. Comfortable and light, room for larger tyres but still nimble: while it may have been designed for the newfound gravel race circuit, the versatility of the format won a lot of fans. Some riders used it as a road bike with skills above its silhouette, others crammed in the biggest possible tyres and set off into the distance fully loaded. 

A few frame material experiments later, and this do-it-all bike split into three - Warbird, Warroad, Cutthroat - all featuring Class 5 VRS (vibration reduction system) chainstay design. This feature allows a significant amount of flex in the seatstays, to not only reduce rider fatigue across rough surfaces, but also help maintain traction like a really basic, light suspension system.


Taking the lead of riders who were loading up the early Warbirds, as well as a dose of inspiration from another Salsa stablemate, the Cutthroat was unveiled. Designed specifically for the rigours of The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (commonly referred to by its race event name the Tour Divide), the Cutthroat prioritised stability first: taking elements of the Fargo off-road touring bike but with the race credentials of the Warbird.

Today, both the Warbird and the Cutthroat are still category-leading bikes. Every year, the Tour Divide start line sees more Cutthroat’s than any other bike, in a kaleidoscope of configurations. Likewise the Warbird takes podiums and prizes at the now-established gravel races across the world.

The Bikes

Salsa Warbird

Salsa Cutthroat

Developed in tandem with the scene of what became gravel racing in the US, the Warbird is synonymous with the discipline. Versailtility is the key here, while it’s designed primarily as an off-road machine it can more than hold its own on the tarmac, and has proven to be a popular choice for the rider that wants a do-it-all machine.

This drop bar machine is purpose built for America’s longest MTB race, The Tour Divide. Yep, a drop bar bike for an MTB race! It might sound strange, but since its introduction the Cutthroat has been hands down the most popular choice for this event and many others like it.


Frame Design/Geometry



Designed for speed, it only makes sense that the Warbird is crafted from carbon fibre. The perfect blend of low weight, high performance and comfort, it also allows Salsa to do cool things such as their Class 5 VRS. Outwardly bowed seatstays and vertically compliant chainstays absorb road vibrations for comfort while simultaneously enhancing power transfer – it’s a win-win!

The silhouette of the Warbird is much more reminiscent of an endurance road bike, but opts for a lower bottom bracket and stable wheelbase to help keep the tyres planted on the rough stuff. Paired with a long top tube and short stem, stability at high speed and on rough descents is second to none.

It might be intended for a slightly different discipline, but the Cutthroat is still a race machine, hence opting for their carbon construction. The Cutthroat also features Salsa’s Class 5 VRS to take the edge off the lumps and bumps on those big off-road rides.

Stability is at the forefront of its design, borrowing touring elements from its steel/Ti cousin, the Fargo, but combining it with the race credentials of the Warbird. With long days in the saddle fully-loaded with bikepacking kit in mind, the Cutthroat adopts a longer wheelbase for stability and improved rollover, more relaxed angles with an overall more upright position and plenty of ground clearance.


Tyre Clearance



The Warbird offers plenty of versatility with tyre options too. Maybe you’ve got one wheelset for the rough stuff, and another for the road? With room for 700c or 650b wheels and widths ranging from 45mm to 51mm respectively, your setup can be switched up with ease depending on the terrain. 

As a dedicated off-road machine, the Cutthroat is made to cover the roughest of terrain. With that in mind, Salsa has opted to make it 29er only with a max tyre size of 29 x 2.4” – the bigger wheel size creates greater ground clearance to eliminate the risk of pedal strikes on gnarlier tracks and trails.





A versatile bike needs a versatile range gears. Luckily, the Warbird is more than happy with a 2x or 1x setup so you can choose the setup that’ll match your preference or terrain. There are advantages to both setups, but with modern drivetrain technology you can’t really go wrong either way!

Compared to the Cutthroat, you’ll find slightly larger chainrings up front for faster paced riding on hard-packed gravel or even tarmac.

The Cutthroat's gearing is selected more for tougher terrain and hauling luggage. Putting a smaller chainring up front offers spinnier gears to handle any kind of steep, rocky inclines that you might come across – especially important when you’ve got the kitchen sink strapped to your bike too!

Naturally, the Cutthroat is also compatible with 2x or 1x setups.





While is might be dubbed their ‘gravel racing bike’, the Warbird isn’t short on utility features. With a top tube bag mount, three bottle mounts in the main triangle, accessory mounts on the underside of the downtube, Three-Pack fork mounts for bottle cages, dynamo hub routing in the Waxwing carbon fork and mudguards, you’re prepared for pretty much anything!

Of course, the Warbird is also compatible with the Salsa 'Anything Cage' or 'Down Under Low Rider Rack' for panniers.

The Cutthroat is designed to maximise frame bag volume, making it ideal for long adventures. You’ll find all the same utility features found on the Warbird: direct-mount frame pack, three bottle mounts in the main triangle, two accessory mounts on the underside of the downtube, a top tube bag mount, Three-Pack mounts on the fork, dynamo hub routing.

However, the Cutthroat also features impact-resistant plates on the frame and fork, and it is compatible with the Salsa Wanderlust rack for additional carrying capacity.

Our Verdict

Both the Salsa Warbird and Cutthroat are exceptional gravel bikes, but their strengths lie in different areas. For riders seeking maximum speed over varied terrain, the Warbird is the bike for you. Tipping the scales at less than 10kg for even the most basic build, the Warbird holds its own on the asphalt too. With mudguard mounts and sure-footed handling, it could even be put into service as a winter road bike! The Warbird is ideally suited to events like the (Salsa sponsored) Frontier 300, that offer a 50/50 split between road and dirt along with plenty of climbing.


On the other hand, with mountain bike-size clearances, the multiple hand positions of a drop-bar setup and a lightweight carbon frameset, the Cutthroat is ready to carry you as far as you can go, day after day. The frame has been designed to offer maximum bag space, and the fork is compliant enough to eliminate trail buzz while still being resilient enough for proper singletrack riding. When it comes to ultra-distance, all-terrain racing there are few bikes that can hold a candle to the Cutthroat. Thinking of pushing for the Fastest Known Time on the South Downs Way Double, or racing the GB Duro? This is the bike to do it on.

Stock of the Warbird and Cutthroat can be limited, however, if you're interested in acquiring one of these stunning Salsas then you can make a special order through our site. For more information on availability and to discuss the options that best suit your needs, reach out to us. Visit us in-store, give us a call (020 7733 6055), or submit a Contact Us form.


Want to explore our range of adventure bikes? Discover them out here.