by David Kirkpatrick, Features Editor
Nick Frey is a man of many talents. He recently graduated from Princeton, taking a Collegiate National Road Race win along the way. A bamboo bike built for a class engineering project led to the development of Nick’s company, Boo Bicycles. Proving that bamboo bikes are no gimmick, he recently rode one to a win in the Pro field at the Vuelta a Miami. To top it off, Nick has signed for 2010 with NRC powerhouse Jamis/Sutter Home presented by Colavita.
(GamJams) 1. A fresh pro contract in hand must be a pretty nice way to start the off season. What are you doing differently from previous years to prepare for your first season in the pro ranks?
(Nick Frey) I cannot wait to race with Jamis/Sutter Home presented by Colavita. It's a team I've raced against for years and have always admired, especially as they came over the top of our Time Pro leadout train at some of the biggest races on the calendar in 2008! At Air Force, Nature Valley, Somerville, and USPRO Crit, they did the same thing every time and their skill, speed, and teamwork was incredible. Colavita and Sutter Home have been incredible sponsors for a long time, and it's what I like to call a "Long-Term Team" since they are the second longest running professional cycling team in the US. The sponsors love the team, and I've already been in touch with the president of Jamis, their head product manager, and Sutter Home's public relations specialist.
At this point, the biggest changes for me are 1) more time and less stress without Princeton, 2) training in the mountains at altitude in Colorado, and 3) one more season of racing, training, and experience in my legs. I'm only 22, so although I have raced nine seasons on the road, I'm still developing as a rider and figuring out my strengths and weaknesses. This winter I'm doing lots of climbing at sub-threshold intensity, really building my climbing strength and getting leaner. The climbing really helps the time trial as well, I want to develop into a TT-oriented stage racer and leadout guy. I'm going to be working with Chris Wherry, and he was exactly that kind of rider (same height and weight, too) so I think it will be a great season.
I'll be doing some skiing and trail running to mix it up, but now that I have the freedom to travel I'll be going to warmer climes for sure. Gotta keep that tan going!
(GJ) 2. What have you found out about your racing program for next year? As a TT specialist, are they going to give you a shot at some GCs?
(NF) I just spoke with my director, Sebastian Alexander, this afternoon. Seba told me he has a lot of faith in me, and there are going to be opportunities for me in the shorter stage races that are heavily dependent on TT results (San Dimas, Redlands, Joe Martin, Nature Valley). I'm going to focus on being a team player and ripping the time trials, but being a team player doesn't just mean getting bottles--it means helping the leaders win the race. Being there in the tough moments of the race, bridging gaps, riding the breaks, and just being a valuable rider at the end is my goal. Colavita is an incredible team, very tight-knit, and they don't generally have one huge leader and a bunch of guys just helping out--rather, they like to have as many cards to play as they can. I'm really looking forward to just getting more experience in the top races and being a full-time player in the "traveling circus" of NRC racing.
(GJ) 3. For a young guy, you've been getting results on the road for a long while. What's kept you motivated and focused through the transitions from juniors to college and espoir/U23 and now into the pros?
(NF) I've got many motivations. It's been a tough road through school, especially Freshman year at Princeton in mechanical engineering, but I owe everything in my life to the bicycle. I honestly cannot think of a single thing that has not at least been facilitated by my cycling career--I wrote almost all of my college application essays about teamwork and perseverance that I learned while racing for Toby Stanton on Hottubes, and most of my good friends are all riding buddies, former teammates, or others connected to the cycling industry. It's the most beautiful sport in the world, and while it's a tough job (no security, not great pay, lots of sacrifice) the beauty is in just how unbelievably humbling it is. It will break you down unlike anything else in life, but when everything clicks and you or your team succeeds, it is sweeter than anything I've ever felt.
I don't feel that anything worth doing is easy, from Princeton to pro cycling to starting a company, but the beauty is in the process, not the final outcome. That's why I believe that enjoying training is key: the race win is obviously the reason for the training, but the training is the process and you have to really focus on it. Riding with buddies, dropping each other on climbs, spinning along easier and stopping for coffee, drilling it in a crosswind, and bashing through the woods on the MTB . . . the riding never gets old if you have good friends and a good attitude (and good roads/weather!).
(GJ) 4. Your resume and general presentation seems pretty polished for an up and comer. How much do you suppose that's helped you make your way into your first pro contract?
(NF) I attribute my first pro contract with Time Pro Cycling to my excellent connections in the cycling world. I know that I have to walk through the door, but it really takes someone to open it in the first place. I obviously put myself on the radar of directors by winning the U23 National TT in 2007, but that says nothing to them about my ability to help function as a teammate or generate wins for the leaders, just that I know how to ride really fast by myself in a specific discipline.
Having friends like Toby Stanton (Hottubes), Shawn and Karl Heidgen (Pactimo clothing), Tyler Wren (Colavita) and Derek Bouchard-Hall (of Mercury Pro fame) helping me out by spreading the word and being references is crucial. I present a polished image because I understand that if you want to be a professional, you must act like one, but it also comes from running my own business since I was 10 with mowing lawns. I had to present myself as capable and responsible to get customers, and I was building invoices when I was just 13. Getting into Princeton and then making it through really taught me what it means to have high expectations of myself, but I'm also just naturally one of those guys that uses correct punctuation even in text messages!
I've had incredible teachers and role models over the years, and I give them the credit for kicking me in the butt and forcing me to raise the bar myself.
(NF) Calfee Design was my inspiration. It began as a project for Mechanical Design at Princeton, and Will Watts (best friend and classmate in mechanical engineering) said we should try to build a bamboo-carbon bike for our semester project. I was skeptical (Calfee has been around for so long and is the master, how could we possibly do it ourselves with NO experience??) but we got the green light from our Nigerian-born, Oxford-PhD professor Soboyejo, and Will, Doug Wolf, Tom Yersak and I built one and I raced it at the first collegiate race of the season in 2008.
As engineers, we heard about bamboo's natural composite structure and its greater strength-to-weight than steel, but as a cyclist I had heard of its ability to smooth a road surface by absorbing vibration. Besides the geeky benefits, they are just plain sexy and eye-catching! The school project bike was quite successful, but to get to the point I'm at now with Boo Bicycles has been an incredible process, all while graduating Princeton, moving across the country to live on my own, and getting a professional contract with the top team in the nation. I have worked very hard, but I'm also incredibly lucky and thankful for what I have.
(GJ) 6. All of the bamboo comes from Vietnam, where the frames are assembled. How did you make the connection with Vietnamese production? Is Vietnam a hot spot for bamboo production?
(NF) Our bamboo is "dendrocalamus strictus", one of the stiffest and most resilient bamboos in the world. James Wolf makes then just outside of Saigon in a dedicated workshop with four other craftsmen underneath him. He got in touch with me after a blurb in Velonews about the school project bicycle, and we've been working together through email and Skype ever since. It's been an incredible amount of R&D, prototyping, and investment to arrive at bicycles fully worthy of their $3450 frameset price tag.
Our bamboo selection is simply amazing, and we hand select and cut every tube ourselves, green, and then age and treat it in-house. It's important to have strict control over each aspect of production so that our bamboo is very stiff, light, and durable. James has over 15 years of experience with bamboo (building custom furniture as James Wolf Designs) so he's the "bamboo master", while I have experience with carbon fiber, composite theory, and of course the bicycle industry. We make an excellent team!
(GJ) 7. Obviously, bamboo is a natural material and subject to tremendous variability. How do you select the material in order to get a consistent and reliable tube set, and how do you treat the raw bamboo to protect it from the horrors of life in the real world?
(NF) Bamboo is surprisingly homogeneous. We select every tube by hand, and have such a huge supply that cost is not really an issue--we just use the best. Every tube is bored out to a specific wall thickness based on what tube of the bike and what size frame it will be, and the process actually rips apart some tubes--the weak ones--so that we know any imperfect tubes don't make it into the Boo frames. They are then aged for four to six months in a climate-controlled drying room, turned every week. The inside is coated with a very thin layer of epoxy (same used in the carbon composite layup) to prevent any splitting from the inside, and the outside is lacquered with a very hard German clearcoat. They are completely impervious to the elements and should be treated just like any carbon frame. The tubing is actually much more impact-resistant than carbon because it's strong in directions other than those designed into a bicycle frame, so they don't easily crack if you crash, one reason they come with a 10-year warranty and discounted crash-replacement program.
(GJ) 8. There are a handful of companies now producing bamboo bikes. How mainstream of a thing do you suppose this could become?
(NF) I agree with Craig Calfee: this is the next big thing. Just like Ti supplanted Al, and then carbon took over, I think bamboo's incredible stiffness coupled with a smooth, supple, lively ride is going to make it the bike of choice for all high-end riders. The issue is matching a rider's needs with the proper bicycle--currently, people that get the top-end are riding what 2% body fat ProTour riders race on. It would be analogous to my dad commuting to work in a Formula One car. Yes, it will suck your eyeballs out of their sockets, but it will also rattle your fillings out and pull a 180 in drizzle. Boo Bicycles are more like a BMW M5--incredibly fast, but able to drive for hundreds of miles in comfort. Boo Bicycles are race bikes that can win at the professional level (took my first win on Boo at the $7k Vuelta Miami RR on November 8th) but they are more than that--they are tailored for smoothness and amazing ride quality, a lively road feel that is light underfoot and confidence-inspiring. The dealers I've had ride my personal Boo have come back speechless, with a giant grin on their face, telling me "I've never ridden anything like it!" I take great pride in my bikes, and having ridden some of the top bikes in the world from BMC, Time, and Cervelo, I know where the bar is.
(GJ) 9. A bike company owner racing for a team sponsored by another brand. When are we going to see you getting a chance to race on your own bikes?
(NF) As long as I race for a professional team, I will always race and promote my sponsor's bikes. If that sponsor ever becomes Boo Bicycles, well then my job would be a little simpler, and that is definitely something I can see down the road. For now, I am a professional and represent my sponsors, just as I would expect any rider on a future team sponsored by Boo Bicycles to do. I love riding Boo, but I cannot wait to get my Jamis and start racking up the miles.
(GJ) 10. Finish the following sentence: "In 12 months I'd like to..."
(NF) ... contribute to an overall NRC victory for Jamis/Sutter Home, grow Boo into a great company in the vein of Serotta and Parlee, and pay off my parents for their "Small Business Loans"!