Boo Bicycles R Model
What began as a class project at Princeton University for mechanical and aerospace engineering student Nick Frey turned into much more than the one-off frame project he and a few classmates created. With Calfee’s bamboo bike as an inspiration, Nick built a bamboo frame that turned out to be not only rideable, but after using it in a collegiate race, he proved it was also race worthy. Going from class project to actually producing a frame for sale had its own set of challenges. After getting in touch with James Wolf, an American who has been living in Vietnam for the past 15 years as a bamboo craftsman, the two men worked together, refined the building process and launched Boo Bicycles in June of ’09.
The Boo’s tubing comes from dendrocalamus strictus (aka iron bamboo). Iron bamboo is the strongest of all bamboo species and is commonly used for building applications throughout Asia. Boo harvests their iron bamboo from one specific farm in Vietnam, where James has a workshop devoted just to bamboo workings. James carefully selects then cuts the bamboo. Once cut, it is dried in a specially sealed room for two months, ensuring all the moisture is out of the tubes. Once they are dried, the tubes are stressed through bending, resulting in a natural selection of usable tubes. Nearly 50 percent of the tubes are thrown out because of splitting. The tubes that make it through the stress test are then drilled out to a specific wall thickness depending on the ride characteristics the customer is looking for. A bigger rider would opt for a thicker tube wall to give the frame more stiffness, whereas a lighter rider, or someone looking for a softer ride, could go with a thinner wall.
After the tubes are drilled to the correct inside diameter, they are mitered on the ends to create a flush transition from the bamboo to the carbon-wrapped lugs. The bamboo tubes, along with CNC-machined aluminum dropouts, are epoxied together in a frame jig before being removed and having a carbon wrap added to reinforce the joints. The whole process-from harvesting the bamboo to the finished frame-takes around 50 man-hours and is one that Boo has had to figure out on their own.
‘What we’re doing hasn’t been done before; it’s not like an aluminum frame- or even carbon-where there is a clearcut recipe how to create a frame. Boo has had to create its own process-from the bamboo curing to the carbon joint wrapping-it’s all new’, says Nick.
The stock geometry of our 56cm test bike had a 100cm wheelbase, 73-degree head tube, 72.5-degree seat tube and 54cm top tube. As a stock geometry this would work well for someone looking for a race bike with quick handling. Anyone else will want to opt for custom geometry, which according to Nick, is what most Boo customers are going for.
When ordering a Boo, you’re sent a spreadsheet listing all the component options available-and there are a lot of them. Boo offers every SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo group, in addition to just about any other component and wheel options you might want.
Our Boo came with a moderate build, keeping the boutique frame at a price point well below the refinance-yourhouse realm. SRAM Force shifters, derailleurs, brakes and 50/34 compact cranks make for a capable group that comes in about $1000 less than SRAM’s high-end RED group. Keeping with the bikes’ moderate build are the alloy versions of Ritchey’s WCS handlebar, stem and seatpost. Stan’s 1200-gram 340 ZTR tubeless wheels with Hutchinson Fusion tires were a pick that we don’t see very often, but gave a smooth ride while keeping the rotating weight down.
In a bike world that has gone to internal headsets, a Chris King headset is a jewel we don’t often see anymore. What used to grace the front of every high-end bike in the peloton has been relegated to the internal headset holdout frame companies (Boo does offer the option for a Chris King InSet headset, which is similar to an internal headset).
Complete, the Boo weighed in at 16.6 pounds. Not bad, but it’s approximately 1 pound heavier than a similarly priced carbon bike.
With this being the first bamboo/carbon bike through the RBA offices (we tested the pioneering Calfee bamboo bike last year), we weren’t sure what to expect in the ride. We tried to cast aside any preconceived notions of what we expected the Boo to ride like and hit the pavement with open minds. Even so, we still didn’t expect the Boo to be as incredibly stiff as it was. In fact, if the tubes were covered over so we couldn’t see the bamboo, we would have sworn it was a full carbon frame.
We would order a frame with a slightly more relaxed geometry and bamboo tubes that have more material removed to provide additional damping. But, that’s what’s great about a custom frame: it can be built for each person’s individual riding style.
There’s no doubt that the Boo stands out in a crowd. This is less of a ‘bamboo bike’ than the Calfee. Boo took what we first conceived as a novelty bike and made it as good as a high-end carbon frame, but with a small weight gain. For the rider looking for something different without having to sacrifice performance, the Boo could be just your style.
With so many options for frame geometry and components, you can build the bike of your dreams, and, chances are, the guy down the street won’t have anything like it. Boo has a limited lifetime warranty, so if it fails from normal use, they’ll take care of it. If you decide you want a Boo, you’re going to have to wait between 6 to 8 weeks, since every bike is made to order.
? One of the most eye-catching bikes on the market
? Up to a two-month wait time could be hard to stand
? Lots of build options to get exactly what you want
Price: $2765 frame ($200 more for custom geometry); $5170 (as tested)
Weight: 16.6 pounds
Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 60, 62
NICK FREY & THE BIRTH OF BOO
RBA: What was the inspiration of using bamboo as a building material for
Nick: Craig Calfee’s bamboo bike was surely the biggest inspiration. In seeing what was possible from the material, my good friend at Princeton, Will Watts, and I realized bamboo could be the perfect material for high-performance bicycle frames: stiff, light, durable and vibration damping.
RBA: Where did materials come from for the first bike you built?
Nick: While struggling to source bamboo from a professor in Brazil, I was out on a training ride in New Jersey along the Delaware River, when a patch of bright green caught my eye. It was a giant bamboo grove!
We came back that night and hacked a bunch down and took it back to the Princeton machine shop. But not before we stopped at Home Depot and bought a couple of butane torches and some Tung oil.
RBA: What’s your history in the sport, and how does that help you in making frames?
Nick: I began racing when I was 14 years old and raced in Europe as a junior. When I was accepted at Princeton University, I figured that would be the end of my racing career. Although I was pretty focused all four years at Princeton, I managed to race all the collegiate events in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference and went on to win the Under-23 Time Trial National Championships. I was working as an intern for Ball Aerospace in Boulder when I realized I wanted to pursue racing much more than
working in a cube. With just two more summers left, I decided to focus on making it in the professional ranks.
As a professional cyclist with over 10 years of racing under my belt and a mechanical engineering degree fromPrinceton, I can say with the utmost confidence that no other frame builder or bike-company president in the world has the blend of credentials I possess. I use all my skills and experiences on a daily basis to guide the design of Boo Bicycles. We’ve taken bamboo-carbon fiber bikes to a level previously unimagined, with podium performances and wins at the professional level in both road and cyclocross. The bikes perform the way they do because of James Wolf’s incredible craftsmanship and my background inengineering and racing. The two of us work together as partners to build the highest-performance bamboo bikes in the world.
RBA: Has it surprised you how quickly Boo Bicycles has caught on and found a following?
Nick: It’s been a whirlwind experience. When I look at how much we’ve accomplished with the design and construction of the bikes, as well as the incredible response to Boo and the growth of the brand, I’m simply amazed. I would be lying if I said it simply came to us-on the contrary, it’s been more work and ups anddowns than I ever expected-but through even the worst of times we’ve been motivated by the wonderful response.
Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Road Bike Action Magazine