Salsa’s Powderkeg 29er Tandem…

This past Saturday our long-time friend and bona fide bicycle geek David H. sent me a message via Facebook with a photo of the new off-road tandem offering that Salsa Cycles debuted at Frostbike 2o15 in Minneapolis, MN: the Powderkeg.

salsa_kegRegular readers may recall that another long time tandem / bike geek friend from Oregon, Henry A., had clued me in to the creation of a Salsa 29er tandem prototype back in October 2010 that I covered in a blog entry, replete with links to Salsa’s blog where they shared photos and details regarding the project.  The prototype (below) and production model (above) show that a lot of development went into the project, with frame layout & fork changes being the most obvious differences.

At first I had thought I recalled where Salsa experimented with a few full-suspension tandems made for employees back in 2006; however, digging back through the archives at corrected my memory, as what I recalled incorrectly were two Santa Cruz full-suspension tandems.

However, of special note is that both of the Santa Cruz prototype tandems showed up in a one-off, very entertaining video about the first and perhaps only Tandem Freeride Invitational held back in 2009.  You can read about the event and find a link to the video in this May 2010 blog entry; hilarious stuff. Or, you can skip my blog entry and go right to the video using THIS LINK.

Anyway, getting back to the Salsa Powderkeg, you can find all of the information on the new offering at their Website:

The really important stuff is at the new Powderkeg information page:

Other useful info:

Powderkeg Complete Bike – U.S. MSRP $3999
Powderkeg Frameset – U.S. MSRP $1999
Summer 2015

More to follow, I’m sure.   However, it’s interesting to see another brand giving tandems a go. I’m not sure how they’ll impact market share, other than providing some inspiration to current Salsa owners or brand name shoppers to give tandems a try because Salsa is a name they recognize. Not too thrilled about it being yet another designed in the US but most likely produced in Taiwan tandem.  And, my apologies to Salsa if they’re actually making the Powderkeg’s frame here in the US; that would be really cool and might even justify the premium price.  If that’s the case I will immediately redact any false assumptions.

It’s no secret to regular readers that I’m not fond of imported tandem frames or tandems given there are plenty of great tandems being made here. If it’s made by Kenisis or another mass-producer who has experience making tandems it will be a good frame. But, because it’s made off-shore I have no more interest in it than I do in the Cannondales which are now also off-shore imports.

In terms of what you can buy that’s made in the US, as a couple examples there’s the Co-Motion Periscope Scout for $500 less which is far more adaptable and made in Bend, Oregon using the same care and talent as their $8k tandems. Or, if you really need an off-road tandem, the Fandango frame with a Tio build from Alex Nutt at MTB Tandems — including an excellent suspension fork — is $400 less than the Powderkeg.  And, for the same money, you can get a Co-Motion Mocha.  The Co-Motions and the Fandango are all made one at a time in Eugene, WA, and Rancho Cordova, CA, not batch-produced in Taiwan.  Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me.

But, marketing being what it is, Salsa has a brand that people recognize and now that pretty much everything with two wheels that’s not hand-made is coming across the Pacific Ocean on a container ship from Taiwan or other Southeast Asian factories, no body really seems to be too concerned about US content.

Just my .02.


Edit: I was asked for some thoughts about the Salsa on a discussion forum after I weighed-in and threw a few rocks at Salsa for the Powderkeg’s frame most likely being an import.  Since the dialog is germane to this blog entry I figured I’d go ahead and incorporate it:

Quote Originally Posted by CW View Post
There’s a lot more to a bike than which country the frame is manufactured in. In fact, that characteristic has no direct effect on the bike’s performance or other characteristics, and should possibly be ignored entirely. Just saying.


We all have our biases; my preference for tandem as well as bicycle frames that are made here in the US is hardly something I’ve been bashful about. Bear in mind, I’ve spent 30 years in the US engineering and manufacturing industry so I’m glad you chose to include a US-made Co-Motion in your stable of otherwise asian-made framed bicycles: Co-Motion is a wonderful business with a wonderful, small and talented workforce in Eugene, Oregon. So, yes, I choose not to ignore where certain things are made and tandem frames are high on that list given that I know most of the people who have built our tandem and bicycle frames.

And, my apologies to Salsa if they’re actually making the Powderkeg’s frame here in the US; that would be really cool and might even justify the premium price. If that’s the case I will immediately redact any false assumptions.

Quote Originally Posted by WFR View Post
Hey TG,
Do you have some ideas of where Salsa is trying to position this tandem, given the cost differences as you point out. I recall very favorable reviews of the Ventana with suspension fork. What is your thought on how the Salsa is to compete, is the Salsa name enough of an incentive to inspire people to pay the extra money?


I’m not sure how they’ve positioned the Salsa other than for current Salsa owners in the US who are brand-loyal and looking for a gravel grinder / trail bike and similar buyers in the international market (off-road tandeming is far more popular overseas); it’s certainly not spec’d right for serious single track with a 32h wheelset and 30″ stand over for the captain despite what they’ve written in their overview. 29er tandems eat hubs for lunch; I think the only hub that hasn’t been blown apart by a 29er that was ridden under demanding conditions is the Chris King and 32 spokes; really? Long-term, I just don’t see that wheelset holding up even if it survives the early demo rides and light duty unless it leads a life devoid of big torque. As for the stand over height, at 68″ in height with a 29.5″ inseam let me just say Yikes; that’s going wreak havoc with the boys during an unplanned dismount on uneven terrain… and that’s with the stock, rigid fork!  Adding a suspension fork would likely increase that stand over height by an inch or more.  Of course, I have the same tight quarters with Co-Motion’s Java, so at least for me 26″ or 650c wheeled tandems are preferable for off-road adventures. But, I digress…

Intuitively, even though it’s a steel framed tandem I would have expected it to go head-to-head with the updated for 2015, $3,250 Taiwan-made aluminum Cannondale 29er tandem ($2,799 in 2014). However, looking at the specs and components, the Cannondale has what I think is a better build using a mix of SLX/XT/SRAM components with 40h DT hubs and rims, Magura hydraulic brakes, etc. vs. an almost all SLX build on the Salsa and 32h SLX hubset/rim: good luck with that on a 29er tandem. So, I’m not sure why they priced it at $3,999. I can’t see that the $749 buys you much more than some Salsa decals and the Salsa team color paint job. So, head-to-head, the Cannondale is a no-brainer if you’re shopping for best value and don’t care where it’s made.

If the aluminum Fandango was the benchmark, again… they missed that mark given that the TIO is as previously mentioned less expensive but uses a frame that was hand-made by Ventana for MTB Tandems, comes with a suspension fork and an overall superior build kit. IMHO, the Fandango is actually THE best value in a true off-road tandem, bar none. So, again, Salsa has name recognition and owner loyalty, but otherwise misses the mark by a huge margin.

On the plus side for the Salsa design that came out of Minneapolis, it was nice to see they decided to offer three sizes vs. Cannondales 2 size offerings. That said, the way the Cannondale’s are designed they’ll still fit a wider range of riders and make dismounting on rugged terrain potentially less traumatic for the inseam challenged captain. With a nod to Ventana who has always used a very generous stoker compartment on its tandems and Cannondale as well, it was nice to see the Salsa using generously sized stoker compartments at 29.1″ on the Med/Sm & Lg/Sm and 30″ on the Lg/Md, such that the Med/Sm & Lg/Sm could use the 29″ Gates timing belt that Cannondale had developed for it’s Jumbo-sized road frame if someone was so inclined and wanted to drop even more $$ into the rigid bike.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
This entry was posted in Events, Industry News, News items from the web, Off-Road Tandems, Technology & Equip.. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Salsa’s Powderkeg 29er Tandem…

  1. David says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful write up! I’m starting to look at 29er tandems, and the Powderkeg hits a lot of marks right for me. I appreciate the critiques you’ve made as well, and agree with them. The problem with the Ventana/Fandango/C’Dale is that they’re all aluminum. If I want steel (which I do) then it’s the PK or a Java. And the Java is a chunk of change more than the PK and still not the best set up for off-road. I wish the PK was $1k cheaper, then it would be a no-brainer. But at the price, it has some issues. Luckily just starting this process, so able to be patient and see what comes along!

  2. Eric C. says:

    Bicycle Times seems to like it. Have you seen the review?

    • TG says:

      Looks like the usual flowery praise that you’d expect from someone who earns their living writing and editing product reviews for publications like Bicycle Times, Dirt Rag, etc…

      I’m sure the Powderkeg is a good bike, no doubt about it. But, as noted, I still believe it has some limitations (wheel spec) and the cost seems a bit high for an off-shore, batch-built bike.

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