Alubooyah Review: by Steve Meurett
“Iron bamboo”-tam vong, as it’s known in Viet Nam where it’s sourced-perfectly suited and strong enough to yield excellent bike frames. Who’d have thought? Bamboo? Apparently bamboo has been used for many years as a frame material, but for myself, it’s a totally new beast. More durable than carbon fiber, and featuring high frequency damping for that smooth as silk ride. In my spotlight for the Alubooyah earlier this winter, I mentioned that “this was the bike I’d been waiting for”-and after tearing it up on snow and now dirt, I couldn’t have been more right. Boo Bicycles Adam Blake, who set the rig up for me, describes the booyah as a “a cross country trail bike that is a fatbike.” I so totally agree. The Fort Collins Colorado Boo brand of bikes fall into designs that are “efficient and quick hardtails”, exactly what the Alubooyah exudes.
The down and dirty “14k” build tested included mostly the Shimano SLX group, which I could find no fault with-clean, crisp 2 X 10 shifts (in snow and mud) and sure stopping power with the hydro disk brakes. The AluBoo came shod with excellent 45N Husker Dus, 65mm Turnagain rims and a Race Face crank. Salsa Enabler hubs, Ritchey saddle and a mix of Pro Koryak and Boo’s own components round out this primary build. (Boo offers higher end builds as well). The frame was naked…more or less, with a warm, begging to touch me gold bamboo main frame. The tubes stand out in contrast to the raw brushed burly welded aluminum lugs and rear triangle. Boo offers to paint ’em, but why? She’s a beauty in her natural state in my opinion and shouldn’t be covered.
The tam vong bamboo tubeset is impeccably milled for a perfect bonded fit into the robust lugs-this frame oozes strength. The rear is all aluminum on the Alubooyah while Boo’s other rigs sport bamboo for the stays and carbon lugs. Although the frameset may not be as light as carbon, I’d trust its moxie over the long haul in comparison. Boo claims no frame has ever been broken-that says a lot. Bamboo is also more rigid than aluminum and has progressive stiffness-plush at first, then firmer as power is applied. The front end is equipped with Boo’s own light off-set tapered alloy fork-finished to match the bike’s no-nonsense clean look. A small but nice touch are the bamboo headset spacers, matching and finishing out the frame perfectly.
While Boo describes the bike as the “monster truck of bicycles” I’m not sure I’d agree. To me that term brings a vision of slowness and needing an arena to maneuver-something that was opposite of what I felt. Perhaps the Baja racer or rally car of the fatbike world? Maybe it was me, but on snow and dirt, that’s what it felt like riding this bike. Adam nailed it when describing the design as a XC trail bike vs. an all-mountain rig that seems all the rage now a days. The geometry is shorter and not as relaxed and the longer stem harkens back to a “normal” mountain bike. (70′ head angle, 73 seat angle 620mm VTT length) I just know I loved it.
Having the bike arrive during Wisconsin’s winter that wasn’t but was (low snow, very cold, no melt) gave me lot’s of opportunity to ride firm snowpack-something the booyah excelled at-she wants to run fast and free. Personally, this is what I want in a fatbike. I ride ’em all year, so a bike designed just around deep snow isn’t for me-I need more versatility and I like the comfortableness of having a fatbike handle like my 29er-no matter what’s under the tires. True, the frame materials biggest benefits in ride quality doesn’t come through on a squishy tire fatty like Boos other bikes, the stiffness and strength are still apparent. The bike was handed off from one rider to another this season and it even took a few laps on the Sweaty Yeti race course. Praise was universal. Perhaps curiosity of the bamboo drew them to hop on the saddle, but the ride kept them there. Yes-this bike is that good.
With winters swift exit from the upper Midwest, the Booyah was able to roll on dirt a scant 2 weeks after snow season-a blessing for me-I really don’t want to give this back. After riding on snow all winter at low pressure, one forgets how fast a fatbike really can be. Pumping a couple more pounds of air in the treads and rolling on soil makes the “fatness” in fatbike almost completely disappear. An early opening day at Levis Mound let me really test the limits by climbing steep singletrack and reversing course to fly down rock strewn sketchy descents. The bike was very good at keeping me out of trouble (ie: not hitting rocks or dropping off ledges).
Although I’m not a climber, It’s appreciated how this bike goes uphill-standing to pound out a punchy pitch, the rear end stays down and maintains traction. Again-this feels like a “regular” bike. (At this point for me, fat bikes are regular bikes I guess.) Levis has some tricky, pick-your-way-through-sharp-pointy-rocks as well, and having neutral handling geometry kept dabs to a minimum. If memory serves me, it seems those first generation fattys lugged themselves around the trail-so unlike this nimble machine.
Sidewinder, at Levis, has been described as the most “visually intimidating trail” in the state. It climbs three layers on top of itself and then unwinds on the decent. A mistake or miscalculation almost anywhere along this trail sends you off an outcropping or bridge for an abrupt landing in trees below. It’s my favorite trail, of course, and I had to get the Boo on it. With left over crunchy snow on the north side and sunny dry sand and rock on the south, it was the perfect place to assess the rig. I’ll not claim the bike made me a better rider, but I do know this singletrack seemed much easier to negotiate. Sidewinder requires precise handling and quick response to pedal input and body language, qualities I can attribute to the booyah. I had so much fun here, I went back for seconds before peeling off onto a snow covered high speed bomber ski trail-leaving me grinning and breathless at the bottom.
Inflating the tires to 20# I even managed a road ride ( I know, sacrilege) while visiting the rolling unglaciated countryside in central Wisconsin. Nothing is flat, just constant undulating hills and here I felt all my pedal power feeding itself, not harshly-through the frame to the road. I can see why Boo’s cross and road bikes are such a hit.
I cannot find anything I dislike about the Alubooyah. (Note that one does have to select the correct length seatpost-there’s not a lot of leeway up or down on height-a long post will contact the bamboo inside of the lug). If you want even more summer speed-toss on a pair of 29+ wheels (yes, they fit!)-having the versatility to run both wheelsets is a killer option for the Alubooyah frame. While bamboo is a rare frame building material for most of us-after riding it extensively it’s not a novelty. Boo has taken its best qualities, gone their own direction with frame design and produces a hand built frame that rivals anything out there. As Boo says: “With a stiff, lively ride that is also supple and compliant, bamboo allows the rider to have their cake and eat it too.” I think it was worth trying a piece!