Colorado-based fat bike specialist Borealis proudly touted its Echo model as the first frame to purpose-build around the RockShox Bluto suspension fork. The new Crestone faithfully carries on that lineage with a virtually unchanged geometry but a sleeker shape and a little less weight. Especially with the newly aggressive tire spec, this beast will take you just about anywhere – but in this particular guise, you’re going to have to be a little patient in getting there.
Virtually unstoppable in wintertime conditions
I fully expected the new Crestone to feel much like the Echo I tested last year. After all, it features nearly identical geometry, fit, and features but with about 150g less weight, making the frame an impressively light 1,220g or so based on claimed figures. This particular sample sported a slightly lesser spec than the Echo but all in all, it should have been quite familiar.
The Crestone bears a strong family resemblance to the previous Echo model
However, instead of the fast, fun, and flickable beast I remembered, this Crestone felt distinctly slow, lumbering, and cumbersome on the trail. What gives?
As is often the case when it comes to bikes, it’s all about the tires.
Last year’s Echo came with 4in-wide 45NRTH Hüsker Düs front and rear – a comparatively light fat bike option with a fast-rolling, low-profile tread that works decently well on packed snow and in dry conditions but quickly bogs down on less civil terrain. This time around, Borealis specs Maxxis’s truly beastly Minion FBF/FBR combo, which are not only wider at 4.8in across but also wear an incredibly aggressive knob pattern that wouldn’t look out of place on a four-stroke supercross moto.
The new Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR fat bike tires offer astounding levels of grip but also similarly high levels of weight and rolling resistance
Not surprisingly, this transforms the feel of the Crestone, turning it into a true do-anything, go-anywhere machine that just as readily gobbles up chewed-up snowshoe trails as well as fresh powder (within reasonable limits, of course). Especially when set up tubeless on Borealis’s new Turnagain FR80 FTD rims and running 3-4psi, traction is flat-out incredible and easily the best of any fat bike tire I’ve used.
Basically, if you can’t ride it on these tires, it’s because you ran out of power, not grip.
That traction comes with a big downside, however – namely speed. Each tire is about 400g heavier than the Hüsker Dü and the insanely chunky tread rolls about as well as you’d imagine. Grip may be prodigious but it also feels like the brakes are on all the time.
The 460mm chainstays are fairly long by current standards but the stability afforded by the longer wheelbase is nice to have on slippery terrain
The tire choice even affects the Crestone’s handling. Whereas the Echo felt comparatively light and nimble through the bars, the Minion FBF’s tenacious hold and monstrous footprint make the front end slower to initiate turns, particularly at lower speeds and pressures. Things feel more natural as the speeds pick up but at least in this configuration, the ‘auto steer’ characteristics you so often hear about with fat bikes is definitely exaggerated here.
Keep in mind that the Minion FBF/FBRs’ extra weight and resistance don’t automatically have to translate into slower moving speeds. After all, even riding slowly is still faster than postholing or not moving at all – but it’s only in the most demanding conditions that those prove to be an advantage.
Threaded bottom bracket shells – yay!
Otherwise, the Crestone feels a lot like its Echo predecessor. As before, the long chainstays hamper maneuverability somewhat but lend extra stability on slippery terrain. Likewise, the tall front end hinders aggressive riding positions but the upright posture provides more room to shift your weight fore and aft to selectively boost traction as needed on sketchy ground.
The sleek carbon frame also feels pleasantly efficient and there’s heaps of tire clearance – certainly enough for the wheel-and-tire package used here and possibly enough for even bigger 5in tires mounted on 100mm rims. A fat bike built for racing the Crestone is not (at least not in this trim) but if your goal is simply getting there, period, this thing will ably do the job.
A less booming Echo
The reduced weight relative to the Echo is for sure one big part of the Crestone story but Borealis says the new model is substantially stronger both in impact strength and fatigue resistance, too. The kinked top tube of the Echo has been replaced by a straight section so there’s also more standover clearance– albeit just a touch – and in general, the new frame has a somewhat cleaner and more purposeful appearance.
As before, Borealis uses a 197mm-wide rear dropout spacing and thru-axles at both ends but manages to keep the 100mm-wide bottom bracket shell for a more natural-feeling pedaling action as compared to the wider 120mm format. Either way, the shell is still threaded for easy servicing and less chance of creaking – hallelujah.
Pictures don’t adequately show just how much room there is for big tires
Other niceties include fully guided internal cable routing for ultra-easy setup and maintenance (not to mention quiet running), front derailleur compatibility, mounts for up to three water bottles, and adhesive guards for the down tube, bottom bracket shell, and driveside chainstay.
Solid drivetrain and brakes, but more mediocre wheels
Borealis provided for this test its second-tier build kit, which included a SRAM X01 1×11 drivetrain and Guide RS disc brakes, a house brand 35mm-diameter carbon riser bar and rigid seatpost, an Ergon SME30 EVO saddle and GA2 grips, and an 80mm-wide tubeless aluminum wheelset from the company’s Turnagain component arm wrapped in the aforementioned Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR tires. Also included was the optional 100mm-travel RockShox Bluto RL suspension fork.
Actual weight without pedals was 13.39kg (29.52lb, medium size) – quite respectable considering the tires alone account for more than 3kg of that.
The Race Face Turbine Cinch crankset is virtually indestructible
Much has been said in the past already about the drivetrain, brakes, and fork so I’ll just recap a few key highlights. The mid-range 1×11 drivetrain shifts as well as SRAM’s top-end XX1 setup (and at nearly the same weight), the Guide RS brakes are supremely powerful with outstanding control (and are legitimately reliable!), and while the 32mm-diameter Bluto RL chassis is still a little flexy, it nevertheless remains the best option for squishy fat bike fun.
Race Face’s Turbine Cinch crankset makes yet another appearance for good reason: it’s highly versatile with its interchangeable 30mm-diameter axles, the narrow/wide direct-mount chainring provides excellent chain security and saves a few grams over a traditional four-bolt spider, and the solid forged aluminum arms are remarkably tough. I didn’t abuse this particular sample that badly but one older set in my personal fleet has seen a ludicrous amount of direct rock impacts on Colorado granite with nothing but cosmetic damage to show for it. Previous experience among BikeRadar staff – the UK crew included – has proven the bearings to be surprisingly durable, too.
Seriously, the SRAM Guide RS brakes are outstanding – and reliable
As for the cockpit and seating arrangements, everything did its job without any fuss. That’s about all you can ask in this area but kudos to Borealis for the rock-solid 35mm-diameter handlebar bandwagon.
Borealis has thankfully upgraded the stock wheelset, moving away from the decidedly old-school single-wall profile of last year’s Echo to a much more modern shape. This new FR80 FTD model is tubeless ready by design and seals well, holding tight all the way down to just 3psi.
Getting there is a challenge, though, as the center of the rim is still too deep to create an initial seal and the tires are stubborn to seat even when using a compressor. On both wheels, I had to get one bead seated with a conventional inner tube first, then remove the tube and seat the other side – a messy and arduous process to say the least.
As long as you’ve got reasonably good fitness, the SRAM X01 1×11 drivetrain offers sufficient range for backcountry exploring
Unfortunately, the bead seats so securely that it’s utterly impossible to do a trailside repair. Borealis says initial production samples of the Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR tires are tighter than they should be; Maxxis, on the other hand, says many manufacturers are making their rims slightly bigger than typical for a more reliable seal.
Either way, this combo is potentially dangerous given the possibility of a slashed tire and the weather realities of wintertime riding. I had to resort to a pair of woodworking clamps at home (since the old “lay the wheel on the ground and step on the tire” trick didn’t work) and Borealis’s recommendation was to clamp the tire in a bench vise. Neither fits in my hydration pack very well.
The new Turnagain FR80 FTD rims seal very well when set up tubeless but are virtually impossible to service trailside
Making matters worse, the wheels aren’t particularly well built, either. Measured spoke tension was within reasonable limits but there were big out-of-round hops front and rear.
Turnagain has at least fixed the front hub – its end caps no longer fall out every time you remove the wheel – but the rear hub is still fitted with a slow-engaging freehub body that hampers restarts on tricky climbs and occasionally thwarts effort to clear technical obstacles.
Conclusion: once again, good but could be better
Borealis has created a worthy evolution of the Echo in the Crestone, carrying over the predecessor’s good handling and low chassis weight along with an impressive feature set that should stand the test of time. The tires will be overkill for many, however, and the wheels once again disappoint for their so-so rim design, slow-engaging rear hub, and mediocre build quality.
For more information, visit www.fatbike.com.
Full bike specifications:
- Frame: Borealis Crestone
- Fork: RockShox Bluto RL, 100mm travel
- Headset: Cane Creek 40, 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in tapered
- Stem: Race Face Turbine, 70mm
- Handlebar: Borealis Carbon 35 riser, 740mm
- Grips: Ergon GA2
- Front brake: SRAM Guide RS w/ 180mm Centerline rotor
- Rear brake: SRAM Guide RS w/ 160mm Centerline rotor
- Brake levers: SRAM Guide RS
- Rear derailleur: SRAM XO1
- Shift lever: SRAM XO1 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM XG-1195, 10-42T
- Chain: KMC X11
- Crankset: Race Face Turbine Cinch w/ 30T chainring
- Bottom bracket: Race Face
- Rims: Turnagain FR80 FTD
- Hubs: Turnagain
- Front tire: Maxxis Minion FBF EXO TR, 26×4.8in
- Rear tire: Maxxis Minion FBR EXO TR, 26×4.8in
- Saddle: Ergon SME30 EVO
- Seatpost: Borealis Carbon
- Pedals: n/a
- Weight: 13.39kg (29.52lb, medium size, without pedals)
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|Available Sizes||S M L XL|
|Rear Tyre||Maxxis Minion FBR EXO TR|
|Brake Levers||SRAM Guide RS|
|Chainring Size (No of Teeth)||30|
|Stem||Race Face Turbine|
|Saddle||Ergon SME30 EVO|
|Rims||Turnagain FR80 FTD|
|Bottom Bracket||Race Face Cinch|
|Rear Derailleur||SRAM XO1|
|Handlebar||Borealis Carbon 35|
|Front Tyre||Maxxis Minion FBF EXO TR|
|Fork||RockShox Bluto RL|
|Cranks||Race Face Turbine Cinch|
|Brakes||SRAM Guide RS|
|Frame size tested||M|