my Boo are a small manufacturer of bikes and e-bikes with bamboo frames. They were founded in Germany and have a HQ and assembly plant there, but the main frame manufacturing takes place in Ghana, where the bamboo is also sourced. my Boo also contribute 15% of the purchase price of each bike to building a school in Yonso, the Ghanaian village where the frames are made.
Before getting into the specifics of the particular review bike, the question on most readers’ minds will simply be... why bamboo? It’s an attractive material to make a bike frame from for several reasons...
Firstly, Bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio and, of course, these are two prized qualities. It’s got a tensile strength comparable to steel and a compressive strength comparable to concrete. my Boo say, depending on the exact frame design: "on average we are between the values of steel and aluminium."
Bamboo is also known for having good ‘compliance’, or damping qualities in other words, so it should help soak up vibrations from the road.
What’s more, it also claims to be greener than steel or aluminium; although both metals can be endlessly recycled, this all takes resources and energy. In theory bamboo frames can be much greener - with a much smaller carbon footprint than steel or aluminium frames - if recycled or composted down and new oxygen-producing bamboo is planted in place of the old frame. In my Boo’s case there is also the social and economic advantage of contributing to the progress of a developing country.
The frame design on my test my Volta e-bike was the version with a lowered top tube, but both this frame and the classic diamond frame option consist of seven bamboo frame members joined together by very sizeable sisal and resin lugs, making for a very distinctive appearance.
The manufacture consists of careful selection and harvesting of the right size and quality of bamboo for frame members followed by careful drying in the right conditions for several months. The bamboo frame members are then fixed to aluminium joining pieces around the headtube, bottom bracket and derailleur area by means of a jig before the final stages of finishing the joints with sisal and resin and polishing and varnishing. The frames are then exported to Kiel in Germany for final assembly.
The end result is a unique and very striking frame but with all the familiar high quality components of an e-bike; in my case an E-6000 Shimano drive from Shimano’s city and trekking range, rack mounted 418 Wh battery, Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub gears, M315 hydraulic disc brakes, RST Vivair air suspension forks, angle adjustable Ergotec handlebar stem and Schwalbe Marathon tyres.
It’s nicely finished off with practical features like high quality and very compact Busch & Muller Avy LED lighting, adjustable Hebie kickstand and attractive, strong looking wooden mudguards. The strong looking Racktime-compatible pannier rack adds to its practical credentials too.
On the road
Closing my eyes and riding along a quiet tarmac road this feels like a very comfortable steel-framed bike to me and in all respects it performs like you would expect a high quality mid-drive e-bike too. There are three power settings for motor power and the highest tackled my local mile-long hill climb test on a par with other decent mid-drives, showing it has plenty of torque up the hills and can maintain good speed even on steeper slopes.
While the motor itself is not as quiet and a little heavier than the very latest mid-drives (the E6000 is one of the earlier models), it isn’t as difficult to pedal as some other mid-drives with the power switched off. my Boo say they will shortly be launching models with more modern Shimano mid-drives, if you feel the need for something sportier or lighter.
The central display is removable; there's a nice anti-theft / anti-vandalism feature and the info clearly displayed. You can easily toggle through a useful range of data displays (trip time and length, average and max speeds, odometer and range estimates based on current battery capacity) using the large, tactile buttons by the left handlebar grip, and you can use it to alter the power level. Another nice feature of the display is that it shows battery capacity in percentage terms, rather than the cruder battery ‘blocks’ icon shown on many other systems, which helps you to judge the remaining battery range more accurately. There's also a clock displaying the current time and an icon to confirm when your lights are on, controlled by a separate button on the central display. All in all, it's one of the most straightforward and useful control and display systems I've seen.
The steering geometry makes for quick, responsive manoeuvrability and if you lower the adjustable stem to its fully forward position you can have quite a sporty riding position. If you want a more comfortable, upright but less aerodynamic position it also adjusts back towards the rider and upwards.
Braking is sharp but progressive thanks to the hydraulic disc brakes, and the hub gear changes quick and easy with the rotary handlebar shifter. Like all hub gears you can adjust through any number of gears whilst stationary; which is especially useful for stop-start city riding. Gear changing is non-Di2 (non-electronic) and means you may occasionally need to index the gears manually to keep shifting smooth and gear changing quiet.
There is some 60mm of front air suspension too; this is adjustable according to rider weight and riding conditions, and can be locked out for riding on smooth tarmac. It provides a very smooth ride on rough tarmac or better quality off-road tracks.
It’s quite a weighty bike, some 26.5kg on my medical grade weighing scales, but in riding terms this doesn’t really have any great effect unless you turn the power off and ride up a steep hill. It doesn't seem to affect range at all either; I came up with an estimate of 40-50 miles over pretty hilly Pennine terrain, which makes this an extremely efficient e-bike. Still, it would be nice if my Boo were able to reduce the weight a little in future.
The future for bamboo bikes
Is bamboo going to last as long as metal? As my Boo have only been making the frames for around five years the simple answer seems to be: ‘so far so good’. my Boo told me they had a very high degree of confidence in the material:
"All our frames have been tested by a renowned German test institute according to EN standards and ISO standards. We follow a very serious approach and therefore give a five year guarantee on our frames, although we believe they last much longer. We are aware that our bike frames made of bamboo are our USP and therefore, of course, should there be problems (there have been none of note yet), we would be very accommodating."
Indeed, my Boo do appear to be going from strength-to-strength with five new e-bike variants planned for the 2020 season, including a new entry-level model with Shimano Steps E 5000, two models as an upgrade to the current 'my Volta' and 'my Volta Gates' with E 6100 and two new premium models with E8000 mid-drives, one a touring e-bike and one an e-mtb... so watch this space!
In summary it's a stylish, practical and comfortable e-bike that would be great around the city or on a longer tour. Starting at £3,699 it’s clearly a premium priced e-bike, but you are getting a hand-made frame from a unique material and the price premium reflects this.
If you want an e-bike that marries solid performance with a fascinating design made from sustainable materials that also contributes to a developing economy, then look no further!