First Impressions – Borealis Echo

by Brian Mullin on January 27, 2015

 Borealis Echo

The
Borealis Echo is a carbon framed fat tire bike that was designed
specifically around the 100mm RockShox Bluto suspension fork. Based in
Colorado Springs, which is also the research and development home for
RockShox aided in their partnership, facilitating the testing and
designing of the Bluto. I even saw one of the Bluto prototype’s while at
a trailhead in the Springs, but I was sworn to secrecy until the
official Sea Otter product launching.

 Borealis Echo tire clearance

The
frame can accommodate 4.8 inch tires on 100mm wide rims, has internal
routing and weighs in at 1370 grams (3 lbs.) It has a 100mm threaded
bottom bracket and 197mm rear spacing that uses a 12mm Maxle thru axle.
The frame retails for $1949, a frame and Bluto fork for $2649, and kits
range from the X0X9 at $3,999, the X01 at $5,099 and the top of the line XX1
at $5,999. I was fortunate enough to get to test the tricked out XX1
model.  The component highlights were the SRAM XX1 drivetrain, SRAM
Guide brakes, Turnagain FR100 FTD rims, Race Face Next SL cranks, and
the 4.8 Surly Bud (front) and Lou (rear) tires. It comes in either
Electric Blue or Stealth Black color schemes depending on your
preference.

Measured Weight (no pedals): 29.56 lbs or 13.4 kg 

 Borealis Echo Bluto fork

First Impressions

The first ride I got on the Echo was just after a decent snowstorm, so the trails were covered with anywhere from 4 to 12 inches of snow, much of it unconsolidated. On the packed trails or those that were chewed up with crud, the bike easily breezed along the trails without any traction loss or steering washouts. I enjoyed the ability just to pedal along and not have to worry about being thrashed around by the crud or wallowing while trying to gain traction. When I got to some deep snow, which had the consistency of sugar, things didn’t go so well, and I kept sliding around and lost traction, especially on rocks or side slopes. Not that my normal bike would have done much better in those conditions, but I did end up doing some hike-a-bikes to get past the worst sections. When the snow wasn’t quite as deep, the bike was a real hoot, and I found myself driving back and forth through a meadow to get fresh tracks. Long sections of singletrack that had just the right amount of powder were extremely entertaining, and I tried to locate as much of that as possible. There were several deep windblown drifts that were too difficult to ford. The tires made a 5 inches wide slot all the way to the ground, so it was tough plowing my way along.

Several days later after some warm temperatures, the trails had mostly melted off, and there were large expanses of slush, mud, crud and even some dry spots. The big tires shined in these conditions, especially in the crud and mud. It was a pleasant surprise how nice it was to ride along the tracked up crud and slush without the usual loss of control, and the tires stayed up high in the mud, even when it got soupy. I did ride a bit slower since I didn’t want the big tires flinging up everything though the rear fender I added did help alleviate some of the splatters. On steeper climbs you did need to watch your weighting of the rear end, else it could slip when you were grinding away. I got some time in the rocks and rock gardens, and the big tires and Bluto fork gave a decently plush ride. The addition of a titanium seatpost might be nice to help soften some of the blows from the very stiff rear end. I’d like a dropper post for the steeper sections of the trails since it’s a lot of bikes to handle with the saddle in the way. It took me some time to get the hang of the slower steering of the big tires since things don’t happen in an instant. Just give yourself more room to steer the front end around and let the big tires take up some of the brunt of the obstacles, allowing momentum do its job. Overall I found myself riding for a longer period in the less the friendly trail conditions, and I certainly enjoyed it.

 Borealis Echo XX1 Drivetrain

I forgot how snappy quick and feathery light the shifting was on the XX1, and I would sometimes shift and it was so clean I didn’t think anything had happened. The rear end of the frame is extremely stiff and along with the Race Face SL cranks it was amazing how much power you could send into the drivetrain while pedaling. The ultra meaty 4.8″ Lou and Bud tires tore into the terrain, giving immense amounts of traction and control, and I felt like I was riding a tractor. The amount of torque you can apply to the terrain was incredible, facilitated by the big and fat and gooey Surly Lou/Bud tires. I was running with anywhere from 4-6psi in them for the terrain and conditions that I was using them on. Their new Turnagain FR100 FTD rims are tubeless compatible and provided a nice wide platform and helped increase the tire’s footprint to the ground. The Turnagain hubs hummed along without any issues and made a nice buzzing sound when I was flying down the trail. It was my first time using the SRAM Guide brakes, and I was surprised how well they worked, and they didn’t have any of the typical squawking noises of their older brakes, and performed admirably.

Side note: You could save quite a bit of weight by going with lighter tires, the usual default 45Nrth Husker Du tire would be a 600g savings over the Surly Lou/Bud pair.

 Borealis Echo FR100 Tubeless Rims

Conclusions

I was surprised how much fun I had on this bike. “Fun, Fun, Fun.” This thing thrives in the crud, mud, slush and packed snow trails but isn’t at its top form in unconsolidated powder and deep drifts. I was able to ride on trails that would normally be unfriendly to ride on, places that a normal bike would lose traction and just wallow, sucking the energy out of each pedal stroke. The big tires provided ample sums of traction and control, making for an enjoyable beast in ugly conditions. A side benefit to using this bike during the off season is that it saves your normal bike from the wear and tear of winter riding, since the big tires and massive clearance greatly aid in not chewing things up.

I am looking forward to some more time with this bike on a variety of trails and conditions, especially on drier trails and more technical terrain.

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