Borealis Crestone fat bike review (29+ update)

Split personality big wheeler can excel in winter or summer

Fat Bike Winter Guide
Testing ground for our monster truck set-up was Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado.

Testing ground for our monster truck summer set-up was Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado.

Update: May 31, 2016

Honestly, I was all done with the Borealis Crestone. At least for this year. The well-appointed carbon fiber fat bike had shown well in Mtbr’s 2016 Winter Guide fat bike round-up. (You can read the full review below.)

But with the snow line quickly receding, it was time to load it on the roof of my car for the return trip to Borealis HQ in Colorado Springs. Then I got a call from the company’s PR man asking if I wanted to try it with a 29+ wheels. “Think of it as the summertime set-up,” he explained. “You’ll get an idea of the bike’s versatility.”

The Maxxis Chronicle 29x3.0 is billed as an adventure tire that's best for loose and loose-over-hard conditions. We ran our set-up at around 15psi.

The Maxxis Chronicle 29×3.0 is billed as an adventure tire that’s best for loose and loose-over-hard conditions. We ran our set-up at around 15psi.

Sounded interesting enough, so we arranged pick-up of that “summer” wheelset and started test session No. 2. The wheels in question were Velocity Dually 29+ with Borealis house brand hubs. These shiny aluminum wheels have an internal rim width of 39mm, external of 45mm, and come in a variety of hub spacings with Shimano or SRAM XD driver body. Price is $600 and you can add a set of Maxxis Chronicle 29×3.0 tires for another $150. The wheels also come in 27.5 plus, and either way they’ll accommodate tires from 2.8 up to 4.0. Other features include double wall construction, and tubeless ready set-up with rim tape and valves.

Those Maxxis all-arounder 3.0 Chronicle tires were spec’d tubeless on our test wheels. After making the swap, total bike weight was 25.7 pounds, or 4.8 pounds less than the winter set-up detailed in the full review below.

Talk about mud clearance.

Talk about mud clearance.

The ensuing test session consisted of about 10 hours spread over four rides on the amazing trail network that is Hartman Rocks near Gunnison, Colorado. If you haven’t ridden there, put in on the to-do list. Gunnison Trails boss (and Leadville 100 legend) Dave Wiens and his crew of builders have created a true gem. Trails are primarily fast, flowy and smooth with the occasional outcrop of techy, grippy granite mixed in to keep you honest. It’s a fair test for any rider or bike, doling out a mix of steady climbs, short punchy lifts and grunts, smooth fast descents, chunky rock gardens, and the occasional ledgy drop.

Initially, I found riding the Borealis Crestone 29+ to be like driving grandpa’s old boat-length Cadillac (if it had giant wheels). The ride was smooth and predictable, and thanks to the big hoops and copious traction, I felt like I could roll up and/or over anything. My riding friends and I quickly dubbed it monster trucking. And despite being on a hardtail with just 100mm of front suspension, I managed to negotiate a few of the area’s steepest drop-ins without incident. I don’t have exact measures, but BB height definitely came up a skosh, lessening the chance of pedal strikes.

The switch from winter to summer set-up shaved almost five pounds off the bike's bottom line.

The switch from winter to summer set-up shaved almost five pounds off the bike’s bottom line.

But these oversized hoops paired with the Crestone’s lengthy 459mm chainstays made negotiating tight, twisty terrain akin to attempting a K-turn in a Wall-Mart parking lot on Black Friday. And I cant say that feeling ever totally diminished. This bike is what it is: long and tall, more rock mauler than rock hopper. Don’t expect a super poppy ride.

I also struggled with the performance of the RockShox Bluto, which isn’t the most plush fork in the world, nor is it particularly stiff. That was no big deal on snow, where I’d argue you’d be better off with a rigid set-up to shave weight. But in summer some suspension is necessary, at least for my riding tastes. Either way, suffice to say, this set-up will not be replacing my 27.5 trail bike with 160mm of buttery suspension.

The wheels come stock with Borealis house brand hubs with a claimed weight of 224g (front) and 336g (rear).

The wheels come stock with Borealis house brand hubs with a claimed weight of 224g (front) and 336g (rear), and the rear hub has three pawls and 30 points of engagement.

But that doesn’t mean the Borealis Crestone set up 29+ is without merit. As someone who lives in a place where the trails are covered in snow for roughly five months a year, owning a fat bike is a must. And the idea that for an extra $600 I can turn that fat bike into a dry trail conquering, all-terrain vehicle is definitely appealing.

The way I see it, even the best trail bike in the world can get boring from time to time. So why not have an extra bullet in the summer fun arsenal. You can take this bike out and try to clear that chunky, loose stair-step climb you’ve never cleaned before, or simply work on your hardtail handling precision without the normal risks associated with riding short-travel bikes. Nothing wrong with that.

For more info on these wheels, visit www.fatbike.com.

Keep scrolling down to read our full review of the Borealis Crestone fat bike.

Swapping on the Borealis Elite wheels helped lower bike weight to a raceable 26.9 pounds (size large with dropper post).

Swapping on the Borealis Elite wheels helped lower bike weight to a raceable 26.9 pounds (size large with dropper post).

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. 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, lights and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.

Lowdown: Borealis Crestone Fat Bike Review

No matter what you think of the 2016 Borealis Crestone fat bike and its associated parts spec, there is no denying the company’s passion for this big wheeled sport. Officially known as The Fat Bike Company (with the requisite www.fatbike.com URL), the small Colorado Springs-based operation is solely focused on fat bikes and fat bike gear. They’re also a major supporter of this snowbound cycling sub-set, lending sponsorship backing to events such as Breckenridge, Colorado’s Ullr Bike Festival, the Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, and the USA Cycling National Fat Bike Championships in Ogden, Utah. But while all those events are decidedly snow-focused, the configuration of the Crestone we tested had a decidedly dual personality, with capabilities (and liabilities) for both winter and summer applications. Read our full review below to find out if that’s good, bad, or both.

The Crestone has been a loyal companion on many wintertime backcountry adventures.

The Crestone has been a loyal companion on many wintertime backcountry adventures (click to enlarge).

Stat Box
Frame: Borealis Crestone carbon Grips: Ergon GA2
Fork: RockShox Bluto 100mm Saddle: Ergon SME30
Shifters: SRAM XX1 Seatpost: RockShox Reverb (not stock option)
Rear derailleur: SRAM XX1 Rims: Turnagain FR 80 FTD Tubeless
Front derailleur: Not applicable Hubs: Turnagain (15×150 front, 12×197 rear)
Cassette: SRAM 10-42 Tires: 26×4.8″ Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR EXO TR
Cranks: Race Face Next SL 30t 175mm Headtube angle: 70 degrees
Chain: KMC X11 Chainstay length: 459mm
Brakes: SRAM Guide RS Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Rotors: Centerline 180mm f/160mm r Weight: 30.5 pounds (size large with dropper post)
Bars: 740mm Race Face Next SL 35 Price as tested: $6050 (plus cost of dropper post)
Stem: 70mm RaceFace Turbine Rating: 4 Flamin' Chili Peppers 4 out of 5 (with Elite wheels)
Headset: Cane Creek 40

Pluses
Minuses
  • Stability at any speed
  • Lack of soft snow traction
  • Superb mixed terrain traction
  • Heavy tires
  • All-around tire performance
  • Long’ish rear end
  • Good frame bag clearance
  • Suspension adds weight
  • Wide bars/short stem
  • Tall standover height
  • Comparatively narrow Q factor
  • Tubeless failure due to cold
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • Tubeless set-up tricky
  • Guided internal cable routing
  • Extremely tight tire/rim fit
  • Crisp shifting
  • So-so hub engagement
  • Good braking performance
  • Suspension adds versatility
  • Ample tire clearance

Review: Borealis Crestone Fat Bike

In reviewing the new-for-this-season Borealis Crestone, there is the stock version of the bike (which we tested), and there is souped-up version (which we also rode). That stock version comes with house brand Turnagain alloy rims laced to Borealis hubs (15×150 /12×197 spacing) and 26×4.8″ Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR tires. The hot rod set-up trades a standard seatpost for a RockShox Reverb dropper, and swaps on a set of lightweight Borealis Elite carbon fiber wheels wrapped with 26×4.0”45NFTH Hüsker Dü tires. Both set-ups included a RockShox Bluto suspension fork. Not surprisingly these variations make an overwhelming difference in the overall experience, bike weight, and final price. They also helped us distill some of the key choices you’ll need to make when buying a fat bike, Borealis or otherwise.

Chainstays are a lengthy 459mm, which is long by current standards, but deliver superb straight-line stability.

Chainstays are a lengthy 459mm, which is long by current standards, but deliver superb straight-line stability (click to enlarge).

But before delving into that decision matrix, we must start with the Crestone’s full carbon fiber frame. Building on the success of last year’s Echo, Borealis looked to up the ante, shaving about 150 grams (claimed frame weight is 1220 grams), while also stiffening things up. On that front they delivered. It has the look — and feel — of a high-performance composite snow-ready hardtail that can do double duty during the fairer seasons.

Cable routing is internal, headtube angle is a smart 70 degrees, and chainstays measure a stability enhancing 459mm. Collectively you get a bike that’s equally at home racing (we toed the start line twice during the Fat Bike World Championships, albeit with lighter tires and wheels), or heading out for a snowy backcountry adventure, which I did often in and around our Crested Butte, Colorado, test headquarters.

Internal cable routing creates a clean look front to rear.

Internal cable routing creates a clean look front to rear (click to enlarge).

On bike position strikes a reasonable balance between aggressive precision and confident stability. Whether picking our way along narrow snow singletrack, or bombing steep, hard packed double track descents, the Crestone kept us in a comfortable neutral position. Yes, I occasionally wished for shorter chainstays, particularly on slick climbs when keeping weight on the rear wheel is critical, or in really tight situations when the bike simply felt long. But the light weight, solid hard snow traction, and a little body English usually kept us moving in the right direction.

Continue to page 2 for more of our Borealis Crestone fat bike review »

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 Tour de France, the Olympics, 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 daughter Cora in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • Mark says:

    I recently converted my aluminum hard-tail Trek Farley Fatbike with Bluto fork into a 29er Plusbike. I used i30mm (i = inner-width) aluminum rims with ~900gm 29×3.0in tires. When mounted to this rim the tire is 2.75in wide Wow! This bike rips! It is easily the best hardtail I have ever ridden. On anything technical this bike is way more capable than my full-suspension 29er. I’m guessing this bike would be even better if it was designed specifically to be a Plusbike. I want my next bike to be a full-suspension Plusbike with this wheelset. I think the Crestone would have been better with this narrower setup. I’m splitting Plusbike wheels into 2 categories. The first I’ll call the Plus-Husky wheel: i40-45-50mm rims mounted to 29+ tires that weigh more than 900gm. The other I’ll call the Plus-Slim wheel: i30-35mm rims mounted to 29+ tires that weigh less than 900gm. The Plus-Husky bike is a narrow tire Fatbike great for soft, loose conditions. The Plus-Slim bike is a wide tire Trailbike great on everything else. A light Plus-Slim aluminum wheel/tire can weigh 1.5lbs less than a heavy Plus-Husky aluminum wheel/tire. That’s 3lbs difference for the entire bike. Weight matters and outer wheel weight matters the most! The Plus-Slim bike has 95% of the traction and flotation of a Plus-Husky bike with a lot less rolling resistance and weight. A Plus-Slim bike is lively and goes where you point it. A Plus-Husky bike is slow, sluggish, plodding and difficult to steer. The Plus-Husky is too much wheel for normal trail use. The Plus-Slim wheel weighs just a few ounces more than a typical Trailbike wheel. I think that everyone will be riding Plusbikes when the Plus-Slim wheel becomes the standard. Of course, everything I described would also apply to 27.5 Plusbikes. Thanks for reading my diatribe.

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