A Bike for All Seasons – the Borealis Crestone
As much as we wish it could be true, there isn’t one, do-it-all bike. But, there are bikes that can be ridden in all seasons, even in the dead of winter, even when Ullr blankets the land with his white, fluffy bounty. Surly may have started the fat bike genre, which is admittedly a young segment of the industry, but Borealis brought the 14th element into the formula.
We’ve been riding their newest frame, the Borealis Crestone, for three months. In that time, we’ve seen everything from 24″ snow dumps to 90° burners. We’ve ridden it on snow, slush, mud, and the occasional dry trail. So we think we have a pretty good feel for the frame. We’ve yet to find conditions in which the Crestone is less than a blast.
Who is Borealis?
We went down to Borealis HQ to pick up our Crestone. They were nice enough to show us around the warehouse and introduce us to the crew. We got to see their wheel-building machine and stacks on stacks of frames, wheels, and components. While manufacturing happens in China, each Borealis is assembled and boxed in Colorado Springs before it is shipped to an LBS or customer.
Borealis was founded in 2013. That’s pretty young for a bike company, but in that short time, Borealis pretty much created the carbon fat bike market. Although Salsa announced the Beargrease first, Borealis was actually first to market with their original Yampa frame. When Rock Shox introduced the Bluto later in 2013, Borealis responded with the Bluto-compatible Echo frame. The Crestone is their third frame – the result of learning from their imperfections on the Yampa and Echo. Borealis also offers the aluminum framed Flume, well equipped with SRAM GX, for under $2500. Borealis’s goal is to be the best-equipped, best value fat bikes available. We do a comparison of the Crestone and the competition below.
In addition to developing carbon frames, Borealis manufactures fat bike components. You may have seen their hubs and wheelsets on the trail – the Turnagain brand is now being absorbed back into Borealis. With the introduction of their new 27.5+ Carbondale rims, Borealis has truly become a four-season bike company.
Right now, Borealis is pushing about 1500 bikes out the door per year. When you buy directly from them, you can select wheedirectlycolors or opt for whatever stem, bar, components you want. Otherwise, you can choose from their standard build kits, which offer Cane Creek headsets, Ergon contact points, and SRAM components. Though the Crestones you encounter on the trail and in shops probably come with Raceface cockpits, seatposts and cranks right now, Borealis is in the process of transitioning to house-brand bars and seatposts (made in the same factory as the Raceface pieces, but tweaked a bit) and SRAM cranks for a full SRAM build.
Want a Bluto? Just add $200 to the price of your build. And, don’t forget to add in Borealis’s cold-weather seal kit for the Bluto. They’re the only ones that make it. We learned that Blutos have a tendency to collapse in frigid temps. Borealis fixed it.
Our tester was set up with a 1×11 Sram XO1 drivetrain, Guide RSC brakes, and a Raceface Next SL cockpit and Turbine cranks. Wheels were Borealis’s own Carbondale rims with 4″ Dillingers from 45NRTH. We also got one ride on Borealis’s brand new 27.5+ Carbondale wheels (mounted with 3″ Nobby Nics) with Steve Kaczmerik, the founder. Our tester was not one of the standard builds – rather, it was a hodgepodge of components from both the Pro and Elite builds.
With the fat wheels and some leftover mud, our medium Crestone weighed in at 23 lbs, 15 oz. Let’s just take a moment for that to sink in… We rode both flats in the snow and Crank Brothers Eggbeaters on trails.
The Pro build kit features SRAM XO1 components, Guide RS brakes and alloy rims from HED. In standard form, Pro MSRP is $4,950. The Elite build upgrades you to XX1, Guide Ultimate brakes, and Borealis’s Elite carbon wheels. It will set you back $5,850. But, don’t expect to pay MSRP – we’ve seen Bluto-equipped Echos in shops for $2,650 (MSRP $3,199+). Borealis’s goal to be the best-equipped, best-value carbon fat bikes out there seems to be playing out well.
You can see that there’s still a bit more room in the frame, both front and rear, for a larger tire. 45North claims a 3.89″ actual width on the Dillinger 4 on an 80mm rim. With Bud and Lou weighing in just about 9/10″ wider overall (on a 100mm rim) we think you should be able to fit them without issue. You may start packing mud in the chainstay yoke, though.
In the snow, the Crestone is absolutely brilliant. While float is very tire-dependent, stability is all in the geometry. Borealis nailed it. A 70° head angle makes for quick, but not too quick steering. 459mm chainstays push the rear wheel far enough back to balance traction with nimbleness. We dropped the pressure in the tires to about 4psi and owned the trails when everyone else was staying home or hiking in snowshoes or microspikes. Even though 4″ Dillingers aren’t the best snow tires, we cruised through 6″ of powder with very few issues.
On dry trails, the Crestone is loads of fun. It’s light enough that it’s easy to toss around, bank into turns, and hop over obstacles. This is especially true with the new 27.5+ Carbondale wheels. We road lower Captain Jacks in Colorado Springs – a trail we haven’t been on in probably 15 years – with these new wheels. They were phenomenal, transforming the bike from a somewhat subdued fat bike to a riotous 27.5+ stormer.
One of the distinguishing features of the Crestone’s geometry, we think, is the 60mm bottom bracket drop. It lowers the center of gravity of the bike, and rider, which helps keep everything in line in slippery conditions. There is a downside to having the bottom bracket so low, however – pedal strike. An unfortunate combination of bottom bracket width, q-factor, and pedals had us smacking rocks more than usual. This isn’t an issue in snow and was probably more a result of us being used to normal pedal positions on bikes than anything wrong with the Crestone’s design.
We’re generally hardtail riders around here. That’s not a knock on full-squish bikes. We just like to keep things simple. Riding time is precious and fewer moving parts mean more time pedaling! So, as a starting point, we don’t miss rear suspension. Of course, your mileage may vary.
What we really like about the Crestone is that it truly is an all-season bike. Even if you don’t roll on summer and winter wheelsets, Borealis’s 80mm carbon rims offer enough versatility that you can mount 5″ tires for winter and 4″ tires for summer and never have to ride another bike again. Toss in a set of their new 27.5+ Carbondale wheels and the bike lights up on dry trails.
We can imagine the Crestone being half of a two-bike quiver along with something like a Niner RLT or Cannondale Slate for all-season road duty. Now that manufacturers are no longer married to narrow, shallow 26″ and 700c rims, creativity is ruling the day, and it’s glorious.
Borealis is the only fat bike company that offers two great, in-house wheelsets for their bikes. We rode both the original, 80mm Carbondale and the new 27.5+ Carbondale. In fact, Borealis graced us with the very first ride on the very first pair of production 27.5+ wheels.
These new 27.5+ Carbondale wheels sport 44mm internal width and 50mm external width and double-wall construction.
The Carbondale fat rims we spent most of the time on have been replaced by the Elite Carbon wheels. Made in the USA by Reynolds, the Elites are available as rims only or as complete wheelsets. Fronts come with 135 or 150×15 spacing and rears are available in 197 thru-axle or 190 QR and SRAM XD Driver or standard Shimano cassette body. While you can get some cheaper carbon rims direct from China, you really don’t end up saving all that much – a pair of built Nexties, for example, would run you about $1,300.
There are a few bikes that we imagine compete with the Crestone – Salsa’s Beargrease and Pivot’s LES Fat come to mind.
Starting with the Beargrease – Salsa’s XO1 build with Bluto comes with components similar to the XO1 Crestone. Major difference is the wheels – the Beargrease comes with Mulefut rims while the Crestone has HED alloys. MSRP on the Beargrease is $4,300 – $850 less than the Crestone. But, Salsa lists the weight of a medium Beargrease at 29 lbs, 4 oz. Even accounting for adding a Bluto to our tester – a difference of 2.7 lbs – the Beargrease weighs two pounds more than the Crestone. That difference does not account for the fact that the Beargrease comes tubeless and the Crestone does not. Though our tester was tubeless, removing tubes can save over two pounds. Whether the better wheels and weight savings of the Crestone is worth $850 is up to you.
Next, the Pivot. We’ve ridden the LES Fat. It’s a fun bike with some innovative gizmos to account for various wheel and tire sizes. Unfortunately, Pivot doesn’t make very many of them and they’re tough to find right now. if you were to find one, an XO1 build like our tester would run you about $4,700 MSRP with a rigid fork. That’s $250 less than a rigid Crestone. Pivot steps down to Guide R brakes instead of RS, so you lose SRAM’s Swinglink. We think that’s a pretty big loss. You’re also on Mulefut rims with the Pivot and you take a step down on the rear cassette from a XG1195 to an XG1150, which is a quarter-pound difference. Speaking of weight, Pivot lists theirs as 27.7 lbs. So you’re lugging another four pounds up the hill with the LES Fat. That said, we felt the LES Fat had a stiffer bottom bracket and better power transfer than the Crestone.
Why do we like the HED alloy rims better than the Mulefut? For one – 200g of weight savings per rim, which is almost a pound per set. For two – no holes drilled in the HEDs and centered spokes mean easier tubeless, no rim strips, less bull. There’s nothing wrong with the Mulefut – we ride them – but the HEDs are better.
Did Borealis meet their goal of being the best-equipped, best value bikes around? The Crestone is astonishingly light and well equipped, but it does cost a bit more than the competition. That said, we’ve seen Borealis bikes on sale for amazing bargains – priced lower than competitors while sporting better components. You definitely can’t go wrong by buying a Crestone over something else.
Once you buy, you’ll be rewarded with a supremely fun bike that you can ride on trails 365 days a year. Add Borealis’s new 27.5+ wheels to the mix and you’re equipped for any trail, under any conditions. No other company can set you up with a great bike and two great wheelsets, in-house.