Last winter, I frequently drove to get out of the drizzle in Seattle, and then past the snow in the Cascades, to the drier area around Vantage and Ancient Lakes. This winter, I hope to ride in the snow instead, saving a lot on gas and time. A new bike wasn’t really in my budget, but the prices at bikesdirect.com are pretty darn good, and so an order was placed for a Boris X9 back in mid-April. The long-anticipated purchase finally arrived a couple days ago. First, the Christmas-like opening of the box:
Here it is out of the box. Looks like only the handlebar, pedals and seatpost need to be attached.
After removing all the protective tape and putting the parts on, the Boris is shining blackly.
One point of curiosity for me was the tire clearance. After reading a bit more about it now on the Salsa website, it’s obvious that the rear hub and chain line is the limiting factor. Since this bike comes with 170 mm rear drop-out spacing, at most a 4″ tire can go in the rear. A Dillinger 5 does not fit, which is 4.2″ wide at the knobs and about 1″ taller. Shifting the chain to the lowest gears confirms that the VeeRubber Mission 26×4.0 is nearly the biggest that will fit in the rear.
The frame itself has about 1/2″ clearance around the 4″ tires.
The bike comes with a pretty decent drivetrain and tires.
A quick first ride around the neighborhood and .. frown on my face. The steering is weird! After increasing the tire pressure from 6 psi to 11 psi, it rides more like a bike should. But, it’s still tough to hold a straight line on uneven terrain. Also, going around a corner requires counter-steering, it’s a really odd sensation. Reading up a bit more about this on the Salsa website, reveals that this auto-steer sensation is due to the way you shift your weight over the wide rim – which introduces a new torque. Increasing the tire pressure helps to reduce this, but this is what happens when you square off the tire into a rectangle, instead of a circle, with these wide rims.
How does it fit? I am about 5’10” or 5’11” and bikesdirect recommends the 17″ frame up to 6′. The bike’s a bit on the small side, but not by much. A longer seat post is needed and I will tweak the geometry with different stems.
Next, I tried myself at setting up the rear tubeless. I first tried to follow these instructions, but in the end the sidewall was not well supported by the rim and it was too easy to let air out by merely pressing on the sidewall. That was at around 2 to 4 psi. Maybe it would be fine at higher pressure, but that doesn’t seem like a solid solution for winter riding. I may try the ghetto-tubeless next, where you split a tube down the center and lay it over the rim surface. For now though, the 4″ tubes (390 g, each) are filled with 4 oz of Stans and I am hoping that I won’t have to fix flats on the trail.
I took the Boris over to the Roslyn RatPac trails for a couple hours today. Dropped the rear’s air pressure to around 10 psi and rode up everything. The sensation of big tires without suspension was odd. At slow speeds, it’s almost like a 1″ full suspension bike. Even 2″ rocks are barely noticeable. But at high speed, fast bumps make it shutter badly and it feels more like a rigid bike than a full-suspension bike.
The Teanaway gets snow, so I am thinking that this will be a good place to ride in winter. Even big loops should be possible there by combining dirt roads and trails. I am not sure how much snowmobile use the area gets – I’ll see soon enough.
The verdict: It’s not going to be my new favorite single-track bike. But, I am looking forward to putting this thing on snow. I suspect it will need more serious tires for that. Update: First snow ride with new tires.
Good: Great bike for the money ($800 delivered). Nice drivetrain and saddle (WTB V). Stand-over clearance is huge.
Neutral: Handling is taking some getting-used to, for sure. I am surprised people on even bigger (100 mm) rims don’t complain about the self-steer sensation. The weight of around 35 lbs doesn’t really bother me.
Bad: Avid BB7 brakes are not easy to setup the first time and squeal when wet (but they are very powerful). The wheels were not tensioned correctly. Rims cannot easily be converted to tubeless.