ADV stands for adventure, and this is exactly what Boardman has aimed the 8.8 at, a little bit of everything. As Boardman points out, we don't have thousands of miles of unsurfaced gravel roads so the company hasn't gone down that route specifically, instead of taking the fast-rolling features of a road bike with slightly more forgiving geometry for multi-terrain use. Compared with its SLR Endurance Disc model, for instance, the ADV has a much more relaxed head angle at 70.5 degrees compared to 73 degrees, and a slightly bigger bottom bracket drop of 70mm to lower the centre of gravity and aid stability.
The slacker front end means the ADV 8.8 never feels twitchy on loose surfaces, with similar steering and handling off-road to the SLR Endurance on tarmac, which is confidence-inspiring, especially if you dart between the two terrains mid-ride. On the road the ADV loses some of its steering sharpness but it never really feels ponderous through the bends. If you commute in all weathers this slower steering benefits in dodgy weather conditions like heavy rain or greasy, salt-covered winter roads. With a tapered head tube up front and full carbon fork, stiffness is impressive which also helps in the bends.
The gravel tracks I have near me are mainly wide and flowing, covering hundreds of miles as they criss-cross Salisbury Plain, and the Boardman really was fun to ride in this type of surroundings. It was being tested at the same time as the Canyon Grail, which is a much faster, more aggressive gravel machine, but I never thought of the Boardman as the softer option; a more relaxed ride maybe, but never dull.
Fast, rocky descents took a little more concentration to get the perfect line, and away from the Plain where the gravel tracks and twisty hardpack trails are a little more technical a more methodical and calculated approach was required, but ride the ADV 8.8 in isolation and you'll find it a fun and solid performer. As standard, the Boardman comes with Schwalbe's G-One Allround tyres and they are very good, both on and off-road. If you are going to spend a lot of time on the tarmac, though, as a commuter for instance, then a switch to some slicks will make for a better ride. I tried the 8.8 with both a set of 28mm road tyres I had knocking about and the 30mm-wide inverse treaded Ritchey Alpine JBs, and that really made for a fun cruising machine for the likes of commuting or day trips. The bike rolls well, so you can cover some decent distance, and its all-in weight of 10.57kg never really feels like a hindrance under acceleration or when climbing. Boardman has specced a 48/32t chainset option plus an 11-32t cassette so you have plenty of low gears to get you up the steep stuff anyway.
Like a lot of other bikes at this price point, the ADV 8.8 is fitted with a set of mechanical TRP Spyre-C brake callipers and while they are one of the better ones, braking performance can be... how can I put it?... challenging. You really need to pull them on hard if you need to stop from speed and there can be a few heart-stopping moments if you aren't planning ahead. There isn't a huge amount of feel or modulation and in the dry, you aren't really benefiting over a good set of dual pivot rim brakes, though you are obviously reaping the benefits in the wet. You're also experiencing less wheel wear if you ride and commute year-round: it's much cheaper to replace a rotor than a wheel rim.
FRAME AND FORK
Boardman has created the frame from 7005 aluminium alloy and it looks and feels to be well made, with a smooth finish to the welds and a tough paintjob. The graphics look pretty cool, too, to my mind making the 8.8 look a more expensive bike than it actually is. As I mentioned above, the head tube is tapered, which is standard fare these days but still good to see at the lower end of the market. It goes from 1 1/8in at the top to 1 1/2in at the bottom for maximum stiffness under braking and steering. It also allows for a larger crown diameter on the full carbon fork fitted to complete the package. All the tubing is on the larger side when it comes to diameters, although very few of them are actually round. It offers a firm ride, but like a lot of alloy bikes these days, it isn't harsh. The top tube tapers down as it gets near to the seatpost for added comfort, and the larger diameter seat tube (it takes a 31.6mm seatpost) paired with the down tube and chunky chainstays work in the opposite direction, to create a stiff bottom end for power transfer. Those who aren't fans of creaks will be glad to see that Boardman has gone down the threaded bottom bracket route.
One thing we have seen trickling down through the price range is the adoption of thru-axles front and rear, but Boardman has stuck with traditional quick releases here for both the rear dropouts and the fork. Thru-axles, if you don't know, are tubes that pass through the frame and fork one side and are screwed into a threaded part on the opposing side, locking them into the bike. It adds a level of security over QR skewers, as in the wheels can't drop out even if the thru-axle was to loosen, plus there are some benefits at the fork as it helps resist twisting forces under braking on account of the rotor only being attached to one side of the wheel. Quick releases aren't redundant, though, and they worked fine throughout the test period, especially as the brakes here don't have the amount of power that a hydraulic setup has. The frame and fork are set up for flat mount callipers for a smoother look than post mount options.
I mentioned earlier about using the ADV 8.8 for commuting, and to make this more pleasurable it comes with a full complement of mounting eyes for mudguards and a rear pannier rack. You also get two sets of bottle cage mounts. It's getting quite rare to see a frame that still has external cable routing but the 8.8 does use various guides to keep everything looking neat and tidy as it passes underneath the down tube.
WHEELS AND TYRES
Speccing Schwalbe's awesome G-Ones as standard is a bit of a masterstroke by Boardman, as they are great all-rounders perfect for the 'bit of everything' style of the ADV. They are fast on the road and grippy too, and take most things in their stride away from it; they're especially suited to hardpacked gravel and firm, dry forest trails. The trade-off is that they can be a little fragile, which I have found through testing them on various other bikes, but I had no issues here. Boardman provides its own wheelset, made up of ADV tubeless ready rims mated to Formula hubs. It's not a massively exciting package but it works well and the wheels feel very solid, taking plenty of abuse on the trails. Both the front and rear use 32 spokes set up in a two-cross pattern for strength. The bearings feel smooth and the pick-up from the freehub pawls is quick enough so I'd be happy to leave these fitted to the ADV without worrying about an upgrade – not something I often say when it comes to bikes below a grand.
Shimano provides the majority of the drivetrain by way of its 9-speed Sora groupset. It's great kit and good to see here as the shifting is positive and the gear/brake STI levers are a joy to use. As they mimic the design of the 105 5800 shifters and those of the next level up Tiagra model, there is very little to separate them other than the fact that those two get an extra sprocket or two. The cassette we have here ranges from 11 to 32 teeth (11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32), which as you can see has pretty close jumps at the bottom of the sprockets but they get larger towards the bigger ones. A jump of four teeth is quite noticeable but as they are predominantly for the bailout gears, I could live with it. FSA has supplied the chainset, primarily because Shimano doesn't offer a 48/32t chainset option in Sora. The FSA shifts across chainrings fine, and even though it looks a little dated with its cartridge bottom bracket setup, there is no need to rush out and upgrade. TRP Spyre-C mechanical brakes are starting to become the norm on bikes of this price, but as I said above they aren't the most powerful, even when paired with the 160mm diameter rotors. I ride a lot of disc-equipped bikes and most of them have hydraulics so I probably notice the difference between them and the Spyres more so than someone coming from cable-operated rim brakes, but just don't be expecting anything amazing in terms of a performance upgrade. Unlike a lot of mechanical disc options, the Spyre-Cs do move both pads onto the rotor so you get equal pressure applied. A lot of others on the market have just the one side that moves, pushing the rotor across to the stationary pad, so the Spyres do have a benefit there.
The rest of the finishing kit comes from Boardman's own box of bits. The aluminium alloy stem does the job, and like most adventure bikes you get a shorter length fitted than you would to the equivalent road machine: just 80mm here on the ADV 8.8. I'm a big fan of a flared handlebar on bikes designed for off-road use, as it gives a bit more stability when you are flying along in the drops. At the hoods it measures 440mm across but that increases by quite a bit by the time you get to the bottom. The bar is again an alloy offering but it is stiff enough for hauling up hills or when you load it up when cornering hard or braking. On all its bikes, Boardman seems to favour a 31.6mm seatpost over a narrower 27.2mm option. It is a minimal difference but going for the smaller option promotes a little more flex for comfort, especially if you swap out the standard alloy one for a carbon fibre post.
One thing that I wasn't totally enamoured with was the Boardman Road by Velo saddle; I just didn't really get on with the shape or its firmness. It's a personal thing, though, and swapping to a trusted favourite isn't a major hassle.
We've had quite a few of this style of bike in lately and at first glance the ADV 8.8 is one of the cheapest at £750, and it comes in a women's version too. If you want hydraulic braking there is an 8.9 model with 10-speed Tiagra hydraulic shifters, mechs and an upgraded FSA chainset for £1,000. The closest in price to the 8.8 is Raleigh's Mustang Sport, a similar beast with an alloy frame and carbon fork, but it only gets 8-speed Claris and it weighs 11.38kg compared to the Boardman's 10.57kg. A bike that I really enjoyed riding was the Kona Rove DL, which comes with a very similar setup for its £899 but it does get a Sora chainset. It has an aluminium fork instead of carbon and weighs a heady 12.17kg, although as I said in my review, it never felt heavy when being ridden.Then there is the Bianchi Via Nirone All Road – not quite as off-road inspired as the Boardman, and it costs £1,000 for very similar kit and weight.
On paper, it's hard to discount the ADV 8.8. It's relatively light against the opposition, and quite a bit cheaper. In the real world that doesn't change either: it's a fun bike to ride, has loads of versatility and really is a bargain.
Boardman's adventure bike has an impressive ride on and off the road, at a very competitive price
Road.cc June 2018 - Full Review Here