Salsa has created a winner with their Journeyman Apex gravel bike. This affordable aluminum-framed bike is the least expensive model we tested with respectable all-around performance and versatility that earned it our Best Buy Award. We feel this is a great entry-level option for riders interested in trying out gravel grinding for the first time and who don't want to be limited in how they can use their bike. The Journeyman can easily pull double duty as a commuter, road bike, or even a bike-packing rig with its wealth of accessory, rack, and fender mounts. It has a comfortable and somewhat conservative geometry that is well suited to more casual riding styles. Yes, it's the heaviest bike we tested, but we feel this is a great affordable option for everything short of landing yourself on the top step of the podium.
Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700 Review
Cons: Heavier than the competition, budget build
Manufacturer: Salsa Cycles
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
Are you gravel curious? Interested in dipping your toes in the gravel riding pool but not sure if you want to dive in just yet? Or maybe you're looking for a versatile gravel rig for trying your hand at racing and for use commuting and maybe a little bike packing too? Look no further. The Salsa Journeyman Apex is an affordable aluminum-framed gravel bike that is ready to take on any adventure you are.
The Journeyman is the least expensive model we tested, and we were pleasantly surprised by its respectable all-around performance that we feel exceeds the asking price. This bike has a comfortable geometry and a budget-minded but functional component specification. It's not a standout performer on either the climbs or descents, instead, it's consistent in its average-ness which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Journeyman brings a comfortable, easy-going, and reliable performance to the table and it gets a nod for its versatility with its wealth of accessory and rack mounts. It was easy to give the Salsa our Best Buy Award, and we feel this is a great entry-level gravel bike and a versatile option for anyone interested in trying out this whole gravel riding thing.
The Journeyman features a 6061-T6 aluminum frame that is paired with a carbon fiber Fantail Deluxe fork. This fork features a number of mounting options for fenders and bikepacking accessories. The frame also features top tube bag mounts, multiple water bottle mounts, fender mounts, and rack compatibility. It has internal cable routing and tire clearance for up to 700 x 51c or 27.5" x 2.2" tires. It comes in six frame sizes, 50, 52, 54, 55.5, 57, and 59.5cm.
We took the measuring tape to our size 57cm test model and found that it had a 568mm effective top tube length and a 380mm reach. The head tube angle measured out to be 70-degrees with a 73-degree seat tube angle. It had 440mm long chainstays, a 1060mm wheelbase, and the bottom bracket was 279mm high. Our test bike weighed in at 24 lbs and 5 oz with tubes and without pedals.
- Aluminum frame only
- Carbon fork with three-pack mounts
- Internal cable routing
- Front and rear fender mounts
- Compatible with front and rear racks
- Tire clearance up to 51mm with 700c wheels
- Offered with 700c x 37mm wheels and tires (tested) or 650b x 2.1"
The Journeyman is a comfortable and capable bike on the descents but it has a bit of a speed and aggressiveness limit. It prefers a little more of a casual and cruisy approach, and so long as you're not pushing the limits of speed or terrain it feels solid. In this regard, the Journeyman seems a bit less versatile than the competition, at least in the configuration we tested, as attacking the descents or riding singletrack felt a little awkward compared to some of the competition.
The Journeyman definitely has a more laid-back feel than some of the racier bikes in this review. Testers felt like they could suit up in jorts and a flannel shirt and feel right at home on this bike. This is due in part to the somewhat more conservative geometry which includes a shorter effective top tube and reach measurement along with a taller stack height that gives the rider a notably more upright body position. This upright feel makes it more challenging to get into an attack position and charge downhill at speed, instead, sitting up and cruising is the order of the day. The geometry feels more appropriate for bike packing or touring, where long term comfort is prioritized over downhill speed. This is not to say one couldn't "race" on this bike, though we feel people would be hard-pressed to be competitive in a race on the Journeyman.
The Apex build of the Journeyman we tested certainly won't turn many heads, but we had few complaints about the performance of these parts in the field. First, the aluminum frame has a comfortable and relatively forgiving feel with compliance that helps take the edge off vibration and high-frequency chatter. The TRP mechanical disc brakes were a pleasant surprise. They proved to provide a more consistent and powerful feel than some of the hydraulic brakes we tested, plus they are easily adjustable. The WTB Riddler tires are a tester favorite and they perform well in a huge range of conditions. The 37mm width works well enough, although some girthier and higher volume tires would do wonders to enhance the downhill performance of this bike. Our testers also prefer tubeless tires, but at this price point, it's hard to complain about the tubed setup that comes on the Journeyman.
The Journeyman is a comfortable and relatively efficient climber that is held back slightly by its heavier weight and more conservative geometry. Similar to its downhill performance, it prefers a more relaxed approach on the climbs as opposed to an aggressive pilot. This bike would prefer you to sit and spin uphill while you have a conversation with your friends than to sprint up every rise.
At 24 lbs and 5 oz, the Journeyman isn't exactly a heavyweight, but it is 5 lbs heavier than the lightest models we tested. This additional weight is definitely noticeable in comparison and one of the reasons this bike feels a little sluggish on the climbs. People who aren't in a rush to get the top of the hill probably won't care or notice that weight much, but those itching to grab some uphill KOMs or take down their friends at a gravel race will feel those extra pounds for sure. The aluminum frame generally feels stiff enough, though power transfer doesn't feel as direct as it does on the stiffer carbon models in this test. The geometry of the Journeyman also lends itself to a more relaxed approach while climbing. The shorter reach and taller front end put the rider in a very comfortable but quite upright position. It has an almost twitchy feel when attacking climbs out of the saddle, but it feels stable and calm when seated and spinning it out.
The component specification of the Journeyman Apex was solid on the uphills. The 11-speed Apex drivetrain offered plenty of range for our testers on any pitch of climb. The WTB Riddler tires are a solid all-around choice and as a rear tire, it provides good traction on a huge range of surfaces and conditions with minimal rolling resistance. The WTB Volt saddle is also a tester favorite with a comfortable width and slightly cradled shape for settling in on long climbs.
We gave the Journeyman high marks for its versatility. This bike is well suited to a range of cycling activities short of slaying singletrack and landing yourself on top of the podium at gravel races. Obviously, it 's a great starter bike for anyone just trying out gravel grinding for the first time, particularly folks who have more of a casual approach. We also wouldn't hesitate to use it for road rides, or as a commuter bike for riding to and from work or anywhere around town.
As a rule, Salsa doesn't skimp on frame mounts, and the Journeyman is no exception. With three-pack mounts on the fork, frame bag mounts on the top tube and compatibility with front and rear racks and fenders, the Journeyman is ready to take on bike packing or bike touring adventures. It's also available with either 700c or 650b wheels depending on your preference, with massive tire clearance up to 51c or 2.2" depending on the wheel size.
We were not surprised to find that the Journeyman Apex was the heaviest bike in this test at 24 lbs and 5 oz with tubes and without pedals. Considering the price of this bike and the aluminum frame, it stands to reason that it would be heavier than all of the more expensive carbon-framed competition. It is over 5 lbs heavier than our lightest competitor, and you will definitely notice that over the long haul. This certainly wouldn't be our first choice for a race bike, but we also imagine that anyone opting for a less expensive entry-level bike like the Journeyman probably isn't chasing podiums anyway. One could easily reduce the weight of this bike by setting up the tires tubeless and shaving 8-9 ounces in tube weight, though the WTB Riddler Comp tires aren't TCS compatible and this would require an upgrade.
There is really nothing flashy or exciting about the components attached to the Journeyman we tested, but we have to admit that we were pleasantly surprised by the overall performance of this bike. These are budget components to be sure, but our expectations of their performance were easily exceeded out in the field.
The Journeyman Apex 1 comes equipped with, not surprisingly, a SRAM Apex 1x11-speed drivetrain. This includes the cranks, shifters, and rear derailleur. They have paired a 40-tooth front chainring with a wide range 11-42-tooth cassette. The brakes are flat mount TRP Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors front and rear.
Our test bike came with WTB ST i19 TCS 2.0 rims laced to Novatec hubs. These rims are tubeless compatible although it comes setup with tubes inside of the 700 x 37c WTB Riddler Comp tires. These tires have a semi-slick design with a fast-rolling low-profile center tread and slightly taller side knobs.
The cockpit consists of mostly house-brand Salsa parts. This includes a Cowbell handlebar that has been designed with gravel riding in mind with a light 12-degree flare for a more natural riding position. The handlebar is wrapped in Salsa Gel Cork bar tape and clamped to a Salsa Guide stem. It has a 27.2mm aluminum seat post in a 350mm length and a comfortable WTB Volt Sport saddle.
Salsa offers the Journeyman in both 700c and 650b/27.5" wheeled builds. The Apex 1 build we tested is the top of the range. All of the builds listed can be purchased with either wheel size.
The Sora build retails for $1,199 and comes equipped with a Shimano Sora 2 x 9-speed drivetrain and Promax DSK330R mechanical disc brakes. This build is available with either a drop or flat handlebar. The flat bar version retails for $999.
The Claris build goes for $949 and comes with a Shimano Claris 2 x 8-speed drivetrain, Promax disc brakes, and an aluminum fork. It comes with either a drop or flat handlebar, and the flat bar version costs just $799.
The Apex 1 build of the Journeyman is the top of the line version of this budget-friendly gravel bike. Considering the price, there isn't much that we would address on the build of this bike with two exceptions. We would quickly replace the WTB Riddler Comp tires that come on this bike and can't be set up tubeless with a set of tires that are tubeless compatible. We would also replace the thin bar tape with a thicker and more cushioned tape to improve comfort and bar feel. Beyond that, rather than upgrading this bike, we'd expect that riders whose skills or needs outgrow the Journeyman would be better off upgrading their entire bike. Salsa makes a range of other gravel and adventure bikes to suit a huge range of rider's needs and budgets.
With a retail price of only $1,499, it would be hard not to call the Journeyman Apex a great value. This is the least expensive model we tested, yet it exceeded our expectations and we have no hesitation recommending this versatile bike to just about anyone. This is a great entry-level bike that can open the doors to the wonderful world of gravel riding, with a versatile performance that is great for more casual riders and just about anything shy of serious competitive racing.
The Salsa Journeyman Apex is an affordable and versatile gravel bike. If you're interested in getting into gravel riding and don't want to break the bank then we think this is a good entry-level bike that will suit more casual riders well. Bike packing, gravel grinding, commuting, you name it and this bike is well suited for just about any adventure you can dream up.
— Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger