10 things you need to know about fat bike maker Borealis

Colorado Springs-based company all in on business of big wheeled bikes

Company Spotlight Fat Bike Winter Guide
Like a lot of U.S.-based bike businesses, HQ resembles a shipping center more than anything else.

Like a lot of U.S.-based bike businesses, HQ resembles a shipping center more than anything else (click to enlarge).

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel and trainers. In the first two months of 2016, we are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.

Though better known as Borealis, the entity occupying an old print shop on North Sierra Madre Street near downtown Colorado Springs is officially called The Fat Bike Company. Same goes for the website, www.fatbike.com. This specificity in moniker is indicative of the operation’s mandate. While most bike makers cast about in a variety of two wheeled niches, Borealis is focused solely on fat bikes and fat bike gear.

On this cool, but sunny early Rocky Mountain winter day, that focus is specifically on the several hundred boxes containing frames shipped direct from Asia that need to be unpacked, inspected, then repackaged with parts for shipping to dealers across the country. It’s not a particular sexy operation, and the heat is actually on the fritz during our visit, so it’s downright cold. But perhaps that is appropriate for a business built primarily on the idea that just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean your bikes have to collect dust while you lounge on the couch.

We spent a day at Borealis HQ in Colorado Springs, touring the facility, talking to the people behind the brand, and of course riding fat bikes. Here are 10 of our most interesting takeaways.

Our test Borealis Crestone got a little extra TLC before we headed out the door. That included getting set-up tubeless and the addition of a dropper post, which for our money is absolutely key to winter riding.

Our test Borealis Crestone got a little extra TLC before we headed out the door. That included getting set-up tubeless and the addition of a dropper post, which for our money is absolutely key to winter riding (click to enlarge).

1. Their product line-up expanded a ton this year

Maintaining its rapid upward growth trajectory, Borealis has added two new bikes and a high-zoot carbon fiber fat bike wheel to its product line-up. The Crestone is the company’s self-proclaimed “state-of-the-art” carbon fiber fat bike frame aimed at giving riders the best possible riding experience thanks to fun-inspired geometry tweaks and lower overall weight. Borealis says it challenged staffers to utilize an entirely new computer generated design process, which helped reduce waste in manufacturing along with reduction of the frame’s heft.

During the last two months, we’ve been testing an size XL Crestone spec’d with SRAM XO1, and RockShox Bluto fork, and Reverb dropper post (which is not a stock offering). And while not all that light at 30.5 pounds, the bike has still managed to deliver consistent winter fun thanks to its snappy handling and playful ride feel. Borealis is also now offering a more budget-friendly alloy frame (the Flume), as well as the 80mm internal width Elite carbon wheel that was co-developed with Reynolds.

Like most cycling industry companies, Borealis doesn't make its own bikes. But after the fact QC is extensive.

Like most cycling industry companies, Borealis doesn’t make its own bikes. But after-the-fact QC is extensive (click to enlarge).

2. Quality control is extensive

Like all but the smallest of bike makers these days, Borealis’ bikes are made in Asia. Obviously that can be problematic when a company resides so far from where its products come to life. But Borealis stresses vigilance at every step of the production process, as witnessed by this extensive quality control checklist that guides the staff at its Colorado Springs workshop.

“We pull the frames out of the boxes and make sure there is nothing wonky, scratches, that kind of thing,” explained Scott Kraeger, who heads up Borealis sales and business development and was our tour guide. “If we find something minor, cosmetic blemishes, etc., then we’ll use those for employee purchases or demo bikes. After that’s done, the guys put the frames back in boxes along with all the necessary parts and ship them to dealers.”

We have about a month of testing aboard the new Borealis Crestone. Love the snappy handling, but on days such as this we'd prefer a little more standover.

We have about a month of testing aboard the new Borealis Crestone. Love the snappy handling, but on days such as this we’d prefer a little more standover (click to enlarge).

3. There’s a reason the Crestone has a high standover height

Admittedly we’d like to see a lower standover height on what is designed to be a performance (not touring) frame. Easier to get on and off. Safer when you post hole in deep snow. But Borealis CEO Steve Kaczmarek says the bike’s geometry closely mirrored its predecessor, the Echo, “because we surveyed our dealers and they didn’t want to change the inner triangle too much because of the limits it would put on frame bags.” Fair point. Hydration packs just don’t work very well when riding in winter, while a frame bag can be a great way to carry spare clothes and repair tools.

The current Borealis staff numbers 11 employees, most if not all of them passionate fat bikers.

The current Borealis staff numbers 11 employees, most if not all of them passionate fat bikers (click to enlarge).

4. They are big proponents of “the right” fat biking experience

Go back a few years and fat biking might as well have been a euphemism for utilitarian transportation. The bikes (most of them heavy and long in the rear end) were designed to get from point A to point B, but not much else. Fun factor was not a primary design driver. But Borealis and many other bike makers are doing their best to change that sluggish perception. By shortening the chainstays (459mm for the Crestone) and lowering weight, these bikes are more Bugatti than bus. “I honestly believe we are still in an age of discovery with this segment,” said Kaczmarek. “But by getting people on good handling, light bikes, their getting the true fat biking experience. And when that happens we’re convinced they’ll be hooked because they’ll see you can do so much more than they might have thought.”

If you didnt know any better, you might think wheels were this company's primary business.

If you didnt know any better, you might think wheels were this company’s primary business (click to enlarge).

5. They sell a lot of wheels

Judging by the stacks and stack and stacks of rims, fat bike wheels are a significant portion of the Borealis business plan. Indeed, the Fat Bike Company sells both house brand carbon and alloy wheels, along with HED’s high-end Big Deal wheelset. Good wheels, of course, are integral to the fat biking experience, both providing adequate width to allow these wide tires to realize full traction enhancing girth, and keeping weight down. The difference between a carbon wheel set up tubeless and a budget alloy rim plus tube is huge. Tubes alone can weigh a pound apiece.

Continue to page 2 for more from our Borealis HQ tour »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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