Testing Boo's bamboo beauty
One of the most interesting bikes we tested this year? Boo’s hardtail RS-M 29er, which mates bamboo tubing with carbon-wrap lugs. It’s a strange, but beautiful, effect, and the bike—decked in the company’s highest-end parts package including Enve wheels and a SRAM XX1 group set—was very popular with testers.
But the RS-M is about more than just looks. Bamboo is naturally strong, renewable, and imparts a ride feel and compliance that Boo says is impossible to achieve with any other material. The company raises and harvests its own bamboo, a species called dendrocalamus strictus, or iron bamboo, that's said to be the strongest strain available. Once the bamboo is cut, dried—a process that lasts moths—and strength-tested, the tubes are bored out with wall thickness determined by rider weight and desired ride quality. They're then mitered and epoxy bonded into the lugs. It’s a laborious process, which partly explains the bike’s premium price tag ($3,495 for just the frame).
On the whole, the hardtail market is shrinking as full suspension rides get lighter and more efficient. Normally price is part of a hardtail’s advantage, but that’s not the case with the Boo, which was pricier than all but two mountain bikes in the test (the S-works Epic 29er, at $12,000, and the women’s S-Works Era 29er, at $11,000). Hard tails are also a tough sell for Outside reviewers as testing is either in New Mexico or Arizona, where the rugged, rocky terrain lends itself to full suspension. All of which is to say that the odds were stacked against the RS-M.
Yet many testers loved this bike. Unlike most hardtails, the RS-M has a cushiness akin to a softtail. It takes the edge off bedded rock and chunder, yet it still has the pedaling responsiveness and lively manners of a hardtail. It’s a strange and almost disconcerting feeling to get on a hard tail and feel as if it isn’t jangling you around. Testers agreed that it is an ideal ride for endurance racing, where the relatively low weight and soft feel would keep you fast and fresh all day.
Some testers complained about the lateral flex, and it’s true that the bike has the feeling of snaking through corners, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but does take some getting used to. The other recurring critique: while the RS-M is light at 23.2 pounds for our medium tester, it’s not feathery. There are four-inch full-suspension bikes out there that weigh—and cost—less than this $10,500 build.
Still, it’s difficult to argue with the clean looks, sharp handling, and overall aesthetic of the RS-M. Unlike some wood bikes we’ve ridden, which are mostly showpieces, this one took a major amount of abuse during our test and held up just fine. Boo founder and CEO Nick Frey rode the same model at the Leadville 100 two years ago, and his hyper-fast finish time of 7:19:17 speaks volumes about the bike's trail worthiness and credibility. For anyone who appreciates a beautiful and distinctive bicycle but still wants the form to follow the function, it would be hard to find a more worthy machine than the Boo RS-M.