The BOREALIS Echo REVIEW
By Andy Oleson
Photos by Sven, Andy & Gomez
I’d like to go on record to report that no small critters were injured during the testing of this bike. Ok false statement, he zigged when I zagged and now mister squirrel has a story for his grand-squirrels, of how he got the Husker Du tail tattoo. Sorry Mister squirrel! Surprisingly that’s the only incident I had while aboard the Echo, seeing as how I rode it like a complete Maniac.This bike made me feel like I was 15 again! It awoke the crazy BMX, racing, kid I used to be….power wheeling out of turns, and speed jumping curbs on my daily commute. I guarantee there were people waiting for their commuter train in the Western Burbs of Chicago that spent the rest of their day trying to figure out what the hell flew by them.
“Yeah Bob, I swear it was a motorcycle! But it had no engine! Just some crazy guy with a big F’n Smile on his face, yelling Braap! Brappp! as he launched halfway across the street”. This is that kinda bike, that just makes you want to ride (at warp speed) and pull power wheelies…plus, launch off anything that looks remotely like a jump.
I had raced the Echo, a couple weeks prior to getting my hands on it again, and during the race, I was primarily focused on riding fast and bringing the bike back to my teammates in one piece. I immediately felt at home on it, and didn’t give too much thought about head tube angle, bar/stem set up, or shifters and gear ratios. I was able hop right on it and blast off into the trails without a thought….and that, in its-self, tells you something about the Echo. The Guys at Borealis really did their homework on this one; this to me is the future of mountain biking. Yep I said it “Mountain Biking”. I wrote a review, last December, on the Squatch Fat-Bike and expressed how it really blurred the line between “Traditional” Fat-bikes and mountain bikes. Well the Echo just obliterates that line, and lands firmly on the mountain bike side with the capacity to run the biggest and fattest tire/rim combination. I was excited to get the bike for a week of riding. I logged over a 100 miles commuting to work, hitting little trail segments whenever I could.
I planned a big Kettle Moraine, singletrack ride for the weekend and the weather looked good. The trail conditions were perfect and I felt like I finally had my leg muscles back after some time off, earlier this year. I got to the trailhead early and parking lot was already pretty full. It looked to be a typically busy day at the trails. I answered questions from a handful of riders that came over to check out the bike. You know, “What do you do with those big tires?” “Is it hard to climb with?” “What do you need a suspension fork for?” “Carbon Fat-Bike?” As I caught and passed multiple riders on the trail that morning, I think all their questions were answered 2 fold. I use those giant tires to shred single track, and the stiff light Carbon frame to hammer up climbs, while the suspension fork lets me bomb down hills like a kamikaze! As I stated earlier, “this bike begs to go fast, up or down hill”! It handles really well in all tested scenarios; even with the slack head angle and shock, it was still really responsive in the tight switchbacks, or picking my way thru rock gardens. The rider cockpit’s shorter stem, combined with short chain stays, allow you to (unweight and scrub/manual) the front wheel thru tight turns to square up your line.
As for the fork……I was moderately skeptical at first….not being a big fan of suspension in the first place. I’ve always been more like the guy who questioned me in the parking lot earlier “Why do you need a suspension fork on a Fat-Bike?” But I knew from the race a couple weeks ago, that a suspension fork on a Fat-Bike does have its place. To put it simply, it allows you to ride faster. You can run a higher psi, which makes for a faster rolling tire. (Typically I run 13 psi in the front, during this ride I was running 17psi) The higher pressure seems to give me a better feel for the trail surface, and I don’t have to worry about the tire side rolling on the rim when cornering hard. I also have less fear of getting a pinch flat, which again allows me to ride faster, over obstacles, with less worry. You can then, rely on the fork to do its job, soaking up the roots, rocks and boulders. The additional weight of the sus-fork was not very noticeable due to the light carbon frame. I ran the Bluto in its wide-open setting taking full advantage of its travel, even during climbs I never locked it out. I think between the shorter stem and really wide bars, it negated any bobbing when climbing out of the saddle. So Suspension fork? Yeah I’m sold, for the type of riding I like to do, I can see one in my future someday (maybe in a couple years when I turn 50)
Ok now to the back end of the bike, this thing is stiff! Power transfer is immediate, you push it GOES! I was scrambling up climbs like they weren’t there. Whether seated, or out of the saddle, this thing just stuck to the ground. I thought for sure I’d get some front-end lift when powering in low gear, but nothing, the front end stayed planted. Well all that stiffness has a flip side; my lower back was feeling it about an hour into the ride, I also think partially due to the more up right seating position. I recently purchased an Erikson Ti seat post for my Fat-Bike and it made a world of difference, soaking up tons of small bumps and vibrations. If I were to build an Echo, I’d opt for a Ti or carbon post to provide a little compliance…..as well a little longer stem.
I typically run my Fatty as a SS, so for me to have gears seems to be cheating, however, I used them quite a lot on this ride, Why? Because this Sram XX1 stuff is the Bomb! XX1 is bullet proof! Late shifting out of a turn and under power? It just never failed. I like the little touch Fixie Dave added to the trigger shifter paddles. He added a bit of grip tape. Smart idea! My only gripe is the blingy Sram XO brake levers. I can’t tell you how many time those things reflected the sun into my eyes. Leave the bling to hip hoppers.
Overall this bike delivers what it promises….sure it may not be cheap…..or everyone’s idea of what a Fat-Bike should be, but for me…. I say “Hell yeah, I want to keep it!”
For more information about Borealis Fat Bikes visit – www.borealisbikes.com