By Reese Ruland (@reeseruland)
My childhood home, situated on a large corner lot, had your typical single family four-bedroom, three-bath layout. And, as is the case with most suburban neighborhoods, there were likely ten or more similar houses scattered throughout the neighborhood. But ours had one glaring difference from the rest: the yard.
Off to the side of the house, well-hidden by carefully planted shrubs and trees, lay a massive ditch. It looked as though a previous owner had a large swimming pool there at one point but gave up on maintenance and let nature, mainly grass and weeds, take over. Left in its wake was a hole approximately ten feet deep and thirty feet wide.
I’m not entirely sure of the reason this was in our yard. I believe it served as a drainage ditch that periodically filled to the brim with murky water during storms, but to a fifth grader it was the best playground ever. My parents let my sister and I do literally whatever we wanted to that patch of land. It was a place to crash our bikes. A spot where my plastic animals could roam free in the dense grass. And when it filled with water, it became an ocean–a place for toy boats to set sail.
As I grew older, the ditch slowly lost its appeal for playing in. It became more of an eye sore than anything else. This lack of interest unfortunately coincided with my discovery and eventual obsession with the bamboo plant. Not indigenous to our Pennsylvania suburban region, I found myself wanting something I couldn’t have. Which was the case until I expressed my fondness for this grass to my dad. You see, my parents were all about indulging my sisters and I in any pursuit that would foster a greater love for the outdoors.
Years before my bamboo phase my dad and I built a large home garden, which would bring us a bounty of food and chores each year. Setting out to plant some bamboo in our yard seemed like a fairly logical course of action. And the ditch, having never been factored into the rest of our yard’s landscaping design, was like a blank canvas. The bamboo would surely thrive and flourish there and in no time I would have my very own forest. I imaged ambient rays of light peering through the stalks, warming my face as I made my way through the dense bamboo. The ditch would transform into something new and fun again.
Finding bamboo was surprisingly easy. We simply drove to a nursery and picked up the plant. My dad and I (well, mostly my dad) dug a large hole in the center of the ditch and nestled the cluster of tall stalks of bamboo into it. And like most planting occasions, that was it. Fairly anticlimactic. There was no forest to walk though. Just 15 slender and frankly pathetic-looking shoots of bamboo sticking up from the middle of a weed-infested ditch. The bamboo was already taller than myself when we bought it, so measuring its growth for amusement was out of the question. After several weeks I hadn’t noticed significant changes and because not all plants are as social or playful as the tree from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, I simply lost interest in the bamboo over time.
My family moved a few years after I planted the bamboo, so I wasn’t able to keep track of what became of my once highly-anticipated forest. Though many years after our move, out of curiosity, I drove by the house. As the car slowed I saw what was surely the most out of place landscaping in the neighborhood. Bamboo was shooting up and away from the ditch, as there was no vacant space in the ditch itself. The stalks, which appeared to be as thick as PVC pipes, had completely taken over and were now in the process of spreading out to conquer new territory. My dream of a bamboo forest had now become someone else’s reality or, perhaps more accurately, nightmare. Turns out the resiliency of this grass, not to mention its propensity to grow at an alarming rate, makes it nearly impossible to eradicate. All at once I was both amused and jealous–jealous that I didn’t get to have that forest when I was growing up.
Ten years later I moved away from the East Coast and now live in Colorado, an even more unlikely area to think about or see bamboo. But as luck would have it the town I live in, Fort Collins, is home to Boo Bicycles. The bikes are a hybrid of either aluminum or carbon with bamboo.
At first, to a self-proclaimed bike snob, these bikes seemed like a bit of a joke. I thought they would surely splinter into a million pieces if I took the bike off a curb, let alone took it on a rocky trail. But when my boyfriend Gavin came to town, I needed to procure him a mountain bike to use during his visit. Not only is Fort Collins home to a number of bicycle companies, but also over eighty miles of trails.
Luckily, I was acquainted with Drew, the Boo marketing director, and asked if I could borrow a bike for a few days. He set me up with a demo Boo RS-M 29er, and while I was there I also started eyeing a small RS-X cross bike for myself. Drew noticed and said to take that one as well. And like a greedy child around free candy, I snagged both bikes and quickly stuffed them into my car before Drew could change his mind. A new bike, bamboo or otherwise, is always fun to ride.
Initially the first thing that I noticed about the bikes were, and this is obvious, the construction. The black carbon joints smoothly transition into tan bamboo beams giving the illusion of one continuous piece. The bikes looked more like a piece of art than a bike. I almost didn’t want to ride it around, but then I thought better. I swung my leg over the saddle and pedaled down the street. Despite the knobby gum wall cross tires of the RS-X, the Boo was shockingly fast and unbelievably smooth. I almost didn’t believe it–how could something this pretty have so many redeeming qualities? Seemed nearly too good to be true, but I wasn’t complaining. I was just happy to be out riding a bike.
When Gavin arrived we jumped on the bikes and took them out on the dirt trails behind my house. He on the 29er and I on the cross bike. We proceeded to fly around trails like two kids playing tag on a playground. I’d run these same trails hundreds of times, but I’d never taken a bike out on them. Suddenly they were new again. Rounding turns or pedaling hard to catch up to Gavin, I found myself wanting to make car acceleration noises, like kids do when playing with toys. We were twenty-somethings going on twelve. As the sunlight started to disappear over the mountains, Mother Nature’s curfew, we reluctantly headed back home still trying to squeeze in as much playtime as possible.
I wasn’t ready to give back the bikes after Gavin left. Afraid that Drew would ask for them back at any moment, I started riding both bikes around town–urban adventuring, riding dirt roads and makeshift trails around Fort Collins. Taking turns down unfamiliar paths just to see where they went. Normally when I went out for a ride I was accustomed to something more structured–a planned route with a duration goal.
Now, I was doing something totally new. These bikes enabled, or rather awoken, a sense of childish curiosity I hadn’t felt in far too long. It’s this kind of exploration and novelty that keeps me and likely others from getting burned-out on riding. Keeps us coming back to the bike. Riding doesn’t always have to be about actually riding. We don’t have to stick to the same ten routes or seek to go fast at all times. Sometimes its nice to use a bike as a vehicle for adventure and play, like so many of us did as kids.
And so I’ve come full circle. I’m back to being obsessed with bamboo. This time though I am able to reap the rewards. I’ve managed to hold onto both Boo bikes for a while now, and I don’t plan on returning them until Drew outright demands I give them back. For now I plan to hit the trails and dirt with the bikes until I’ve had my fill, or until the sun sets. And when I’m too exhausted to ride anymore I’ll stow them inside my house, creating the small bamboo forest I always wished I had.