was an avid road racer who was attending Princeton University when he decided to build a race bike using bamboo as the main frame material. The engineering student eventually worked the project into a graduate study program. Frey raced the prototype, and while he freely admits that the prototype was a flexible pile of good looking bicycle, the concept was encouraging enough that Frey continued to improve upon bamboo building techniques until he was satisfied he had a competitive race bike. When pressed by interested customers, Frey began making custom bamboo frames for sale.
Boo Bicycles founder and owner Nick Frey poses with his aluminum and bamboo fat-bike prototype.
Frey says that the challenge for him is to convince customers that bamboo is a valid structural material for bicycle construction. Frey will be driving around the country in Boo's converted bus, giving demo rides to show hard-core riders that bamboo is not simply a greenie alternative material, whose primary purpose is to raise awareness of one's personal commitment to the planet at Whole Foods or Starbucks when your Prius is in the shop. "Bamboo," says Frey, "can grow up to a hundred feet tall, and yet it can support itself against a strong wind. Its fibers are very dense at the surface where stress is carried and then the material becomes lighter weight and less dense towards the inside. It is a near-perfect composite structure."
Frey's bamboo construction techniques are intended to provide maximum performance, so he uses a variety of metals and carbon fiber applications where they make more engineering sense than bamboo, yet he is careful to design his frames to showcase the natural damping qualities and strength of the natural tubes. Frey was content to custom build one-offs using his own skills and co-opting with local frame makers builders, until he was contacted by a US expatriate in Vietnam, who made custom fishing rods and utilitarian structures from bamboo.
The aluminum lug-type design begins as a complete aluminum frame, which is cut back and fitted with bamboo. Each piece is meticulously hand fitted and then bonded into place in a fixture.
The man's name is James Wolf, and after reading a small article about Frey's bikes, he offered to build them in Vietnam. The partnership was launched over the internet - the two did not meet face to face until much later - but the business was a perfect match and Boo Bicycles is now producing a modest number of bikes and frames that can be purchased on line
and through a growing dealer network. Boo offers mountain bike frames only in 29-inch or 27.5 and also has a bike-builder page
that offers complete bikes with a number of frame, fork and accessory options. Frames sell for about $3000, which isn't cheap by most standards, but their customer base is growing quickly, which tells us that their bikes perform as promised.
Boo racing hardtails are fitted together and assembled from bamboo and then reinforced at each junction by wraps of carbon fiber. The technique is similar to the original Calfee bamboo frames - and is still used to construct 'tube-to-tube' style carbon fiber racing frames for road and mountain uses.
|Bamboo can grow up to a hundred feet tall, and yet it can support itself against a strong wind. Its fibers are very dense at the surface where stress is carried and then the material becomes lighter weight and less dense towards the inside. It is a near-perfect composite structure. - Nick Frey|
Boo makes a variety of designs, all with rigid frames, from road racing, to townies, to mountain bike hardtails and offers custom sizing and geometry for those who need such things. The road racing frames are made to accept larger cyclocross tires, as many Boo customers are gravel road riders and CX racers who rave about the comfortable ride of the bamboo composite chassis. The Boo website boasts a number of victories in various cycling disciplines.
The head tube is a bamboo tube inserted with a slim carbon tube insert that forms the headset interface. The seat tube is all carbon to correctly fit and support the seat post. The brake torque brace near the left dropout is a slim bamboo strut that is wrapped completely with carbon. Frey says that the dropouts are bonded for a significant distance into the bamboo stays and the wrap extends past the tube and onto the aluminum.
Materials range from aluminum 'lugged' designs that begin life as a basic aluminum or titanium frame, which is then cut apart. Bamboo is carefully measured and fitted to the frame segments and then bonded in place using epoxy-based adhesives. The result is a lug-type design that reportedly delivers a smooth ride without feeling flexible under power. Racing frames are built by fabricating a bamboo frame, bonding the tubes together, and then wrapping the junctions with pre-impregnated carbon fiber. Dropouts and brake caliper fittings are made from aluminum and inserted into the bamboo before getting wrapped with carbon, and places where bearings must be inserted, like the head tube and bottom bracket, are built around carbon tubes or inserts. The carbon junctions are wrapped with special plastic, a vacuum is applied to compress the fibers and the assembly is then cured in a heated oven. The result is quite beautiful. Boo Bicycles