The Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebars were one of the things i was really looking forward to trying out on this bike. The traditional drop bars aren't exactly comfortable over the course of a couple hundred miles, and having the drops flare out so there's more room for your forearms is a bonus. I like the extra width and stability, and being a gravel/backroad bike it isn't a concern like it may be for cross or road racing. I also like the way the levers mount up and feel on these bars, overall i'm very happy with the comfort and control they afford.
The SRAM rival groupset was something i was curious to see in person. To be honest, i would have expected Force on a "top level" bike, but i was quickly convinced after a few rides that it would be an unnecessary expense to add. The 2x11 groupset has all the good trickle down technology that once only came on Red and Force level parts; front derailleur with Yaw, zero loss shifters, hydro disc brakes with centerline rotors, wi-fli rear derailleurs, well you get the point. Something i take into consideration too is the cost of replacement for the parts and relative benefit of upgrading to the next level group. For this bike, my main concern is to have a reliable drivetrain and braking for the most grueling of terrain and race courses, and the Rival delivers on that front. I'd much rather replace a Rival rear derailleur than a Red one, and i feel that the Rival is a more robust design with the use of alloy over carbon. The one change i made was to go to a 1x front setup on my ride. If i head out to the mountains, i'll throw the 2x back on, but for the majority of what i do i don;t find it necessary. Overall, i like the feel of the Rival setup, the Hydro brakes feel great, the shifting is crisp and after a bout with a gravel road wipeout the front shifters are solid!
DT Swiss wheels come as standard equipment on this model, and they're a nice robust build to handle the rigor they're intended for. I personally ride Velocity USA Ailerons laced to Industry 9 hubs, so i swapped to those fairly early on, but i like having the DT Swiss wheels setup with a different tire option so i can switch between narrow (32-35C) and wider (40-44C) tires if conditions or terrain call for it. I setup the stock wheels tubeless with WTB Nano 40c tires, and i run Kenda Small block 8 32c tires tubeless on my Ailerons.
As far as the frameset goes, i like the pop of color that the white offers to my stable, and the green/black/gray banding gives some additional color to tie bottle cages, handlebar tape and other accessories into. Having dual thru axles is a great call on a bike like this, and i very much like the DT Swiss style thru axles with the ratcheting adjustment for the handles, i feel like they have less moving parts than their other thru axle brethren and do the job quite nicely. A big bonus on this frameset is the ample tire and mud clearance! At DK200 this year i very much wish i had the room for mud and wider tires that this frame affords. With the 40c tires there's still more clearance than there is on my cross bike with 32c tires! The compliance built into the flattened chainstays is a very welcome design element on those long days in the saddle. The tube shapes are clean and are easy to strap light batteries, framebags and other accessories to. Having the ability to carry three water bottles is nice as well, and not a feature you find on many bikes. I was skeptical when gravel specific bikes first came out, and figured my cross bike wasn't far off, but i have found that this is far from the truth. The geometry of this bike is far more stable and confidence inspiring than my cross bike on harrowing descents and long stretches of loose gravel. I suppose if you only find yourself riding gravel from time to time then a cross bike will do the trick, but for as often as i find myself riding two-tracks, fire-roads, gravel and the ilk i find it very nice to have a steed built for the task!