“It's a funny thing how the world turns. As I sat here in my kitchen nook interviewing Nick Frey, I was reminded that it was almost three years ago that I was sitting in the same spot making a cold call to some college kid I'd heard about who was starting new bike company based on bikes built with bamboo tubes. Imagine, a college grad from Princeton who was an aspiring Pro racer and struggling through the formative days of starting his own bike company. Just as I have been so fortunate so many other times when interviewing young upstarts, I recall being swept away by his youthful enthusiasm and vision.”
THE KITCHEN CHRONICLES
Regular readers of RBA might recollect that intro as it was the one used in my feature story on Boo Bicycles
founder Nick Frey in the Nov. ’12 issue. Funny thing, but today, about ten months after I originally wrote those words, it happened again. It wasn’t planned or preordained. It just happened that the RBA office was closed in observance of President’s Day so I was once again at home typing away, when the opportunity to get some Q&A with Nick came up. And once again, for the third time, I found myself at the same stoop in my kitchen wholly inspired, enthused and excited about what I was hearing on the other end of the line.
From the likes of Bob Roll to Craig Calfee, Nick is one of the many people in the industry who I continue to find thoroughly entertaining. Just a punk kid - oh sure, a graduate from Princeton, Cat I racer and world changing entrepreneur, but Nick never leaves me not shaking my head in wonder after we talk bikes and his vision of the role that bamboo can play in building a better bike.
Heading into this weekend's North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Denver, CO., Nick and his mates at Boo Bicycles have a lot on their plates with the introduction of three new bikes. Before getting too bike specific, I asked Nick about how his bike brand had evolved since the last time we spoke.
“We’ve really drilled down on the construction process of the frames. Mating bamboo to carbon isn’t easy and we’ve done our best to stay on top of even the smallest issues in building the frames. I have to say that all the ‘cross bikes we’ve been building and racing has taught us a lot because they get so beat up we’ve been able to use each bike as lab bike of sorts. The fact that our cyclocross frames are basically just our road frames means that the road frames are also very durable.
"At our factory in Vietnam we’ve created two different plastic wrapped rooms (one that stores bamboo and one that stores carbon) with giant humidifiers inside them that suck all the dampness out of the atmosphere. Just like how it took time for all the bike brands to figure out how to build bikes from titanium and carbon, we’re continuing to evolve our own frame building process. Since bamboo is at the heart of what we do we don’t have an option but to sweat all the details."
BIG TOPIC #1
From the two press releases I had recently received from Boo Bikes, it was apparent that Nick and his conclave of bike fanatics were hard at it in anticipation of this weeks’ always fabulous North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Denver, Colorado. Yeah, there was the wild looking steel/bamboo “Boolossal” fat tire bike, but that was up to my siblings at Mountain Bike Action to report on. No, what caught my attention was a CAD drawing for Boo’s latest & greatest – the Glassindo. No, not a new hardcore road bike, and no, actually not a bike shape I had never seen before (cue the mid-90’s Merlin Newsboy), but with its use of titanium and bamboo, it was a first-time effort from Boo and fully aware of their rich history of design and innovation, I figured it had to be something special. After talking to Nick, I realized my presumptions were correct.
“The idea for the Glassindo was born last summer, when Cory Collier approached me with the idea of building more of a design-oriented bike to compliment the Boo lineup of performance bikes. Glissando was inspired by the simple elegance of the 1940’s molded plywood chair designed by American architect Charles Eames. The concept of Glissando is part preservation of tradition and part innovation, craftsmanship and function. Unlike our other bikes, the Glassindo will be built in Colorado with the bamboo still sourced from our private farm in Vietnam.
name actually came from my dad. It’s Italian for a particular movement of playing the piano where you a graceful, yet striking and powerful movement from one end of the keys to the other. And that’s what I think best describes this bike. As with all of our bikes, the bamboo is utilized, first and foremost, for the function of the bike, not just its form. The design of each of our bikes is important, but with each bike too comes the explicit message that the bamboo is not just ornamental. Nor do we use bamboo to be part of a larger “green” or environmental message. I mean, I like that Boo bikes fall into that category, but we use bamboo specifically to benefit the ride quality of the bike.
“In building the Glassindo, our goal wasn’t just to build a hi-end commuter/touring bike, but also one that had a distinctly comfortable ride so to do that we have a pin running through the seat tube with a hard elastomer wrapped around it to help isolate, or dampen, the road vibrations. Unlike the Trek Domane that does its best to hide the IsoSpeed system (and make the bike look like any other carbon bike), this compliance system will be obvious. The idea is to design a bike that not just cyclists, but people who read Dwell magazine will also find interesting.”
BIG TOPIC # 2
When I was interviewing Nick last year for the story that appeared in the November issue, he spoke with future glances about a new bike line that he was overseeing – the AluBoo
. Although the production bikes are still a few months away (more on that later), Nick was happy to spill the latest on the line of aluminum/bamboo framed bikes.
“Yeah, it’s been crazy getting the bikes up and running. And old friend and Princeton grad Drew Haugen is running the AluBoo business and we’re focusing on a separate demographic and price point from Boo. The goal is to reach a new group of cyclists who have traditionally eyed bikes like Salsas and other steel bikes as their main bike. These bikes all have great functionality and are not so expensive, but being mostly steel, I’d argue that an AluBoo can provide similar value and durability, but with a better ride quality – plus – a far more unique and compelling story.”
In typical Nick Frey/Boo style however, it doesn’t end there.
“One of the cool parts about the bike is that with a single frame, you can run either a fixie drivetrain, a traditional road gear with front and rear derailleurs, or even a disc braked ‘cross bike with 135mmm rear wheel spacing. We accomplish all those options by using special slider dropouts that we developed specifically for this bike. The idea behind it is not just the cool technology, but since we’re a small company, we don’t really have the capital to grow our market like the big brands by offering a bunch of different models in the attempt to attract a wide market share. These dropouts allow us to offer three different types of cyclists (or one who can’t decided what type of riding they prefer) a cool bike without having to produce a handful of different models like the bike brands do.
"The issue is that to get the bikes going we need to order 400 frames (which will be delivered to Boo’s Vietnam based bamboo bike factory where they get “bamboozled”) and we don’t have that kind of money. The plan right now is to show a bike at the Sea Otter Classic where we will also be kicking off a Kickstarter campaign where a customer can order their bike at a deeply discounted price. Once the bikes get the bamboo treatment, they get shipped to our shop in Fort Collins where they get painted and assembled.”
FROM THE BOO ARCHIVES
Who'd ever thunk it....carbon fiber and bamboo bikes that can be raced, ridden and just enjoyable to look at.
Nick credits cyclocross racing for providing real world durability testing.
As you would expect from an authentic bike enthusiast like Nick and his partners, they never stop experimenting. Thus, Boo bikes come in all shapes and sizes.
Simply put, one of the most beautiful bike racks ever made.
No, maybe not the most elegant solution to a one-piece bar/stem combo, but certainly one of the most unique!
Talk about "keepin' it real", for the last year, Boo's U.S. bike factory was located in a basement apartment. Nick has now hired on more help and moved to a real shop...although the apartment is still is use.
Whether it's the frame jig at Colnago, or the Boo work bench in Vietnam, this is the stuff of remarkable ingenuity and handmade passion.