ABOUT THE BIKE
The good people at Boardman tell us that this bike ‘combines our most aerodynamically efficient road frame with Shimano’s Ultegra R8000 groupset and Vision Team Comp 35 wheels, making it equally at home on the open road, a tight crit circuit or powering out of transition after a rapid swim leg.’ A triathlon? Steady on…
First impression: There is absolutely no doubt in our minds within only 10 minutes of riding the Air 9.2 that it’s a punchy thing. Its gearing is spot-on for level roads early in our test loop, allowing rapid progress to be made out into the countryside, turning out-of-the-saddle accelerations to crest small rises almost a pleasurable experience.
On the road: We hear a lot about lateral stiffness and vertical compliance. Fifty per cent of the time, it’s marketing bumpf, but sometimes a bike comes along that exemplifies this approach to frame building. The carbon seat stays of the Boardman contribute to comfort at the rear end by adding a little flex to the set-up to nullify hits from the rough tarmac. The girder-like chainstays, however, give this bike proper race- or group training ride-winning potential. There is minimal delay between stamping on the 52-tooth big ring and the delivery of power at the rear wheel. The Vision wheelset plays its part in this arrangement to the best of its ability, but the thought of putting some carbon clinchers on the Air 9.2 make us very, very excitable. The gear ratios on offer reflect the racy nature of this bike, with a 52-11 supplying serious acceleration downhill. But that’s not at the expense of an easier life uphill. The stiff frameset, not one jot if you want to get out of the saddle on a climb, and the expected rub from the rear brake caliper just never materialised (its arms have a longer drop than an Ultegra unit, allowing wider rims and wider tyres). Factor in that the Air 9.2 is by far the lightest bike here, and you’ve got a bike that’s an accomplished all-day ride and a sharp tool.
Handling: If you can accept the fact that you’ll be leaning on the front brake a lot for your speed arrestment duties, the Boardman is as engaging as it gets – certainly for less than £2,000! The rear brake doesn’t have the stopping force of a standard set-up, but it’s certainly better than the weak bottom bracket-mounted stoppers of yesteryear. Pin that front caliper hard with a squeeze of the Ultegra lever, and the bike slows; aim it at the apex of a corner, and it tips in with confidence. The 72.5° head angle ensures it doesn’t flop into corners. Instead, what you get is a progressive sensation which promotes the utmost confidence in the Vittoria rubber beneath you. We ran these 25c tyres at 95psi, which provides more than enough feel, and an acceptable cushioning from the worst of the road surface. In all, the handling is better than you’d expect of a mid-range tyre/wheel, and would only improve with an upgrade in this department. That said, this is clearly the best bike straight out of the box, satisfying the urge for speed, cornering confidence, and even comfort. Even at the full retail price of £2,150 – £400 more than its current offer price – it would still shade the win.
Frameset: Boardman’s own Performance Centre – a one-stop shop for aerodynamic efficiency – is where the Air 9.2 was born. Consequently, its frame tube profiles maximise its ability to slice through the air. With a top tube very similar in shape to the Giant’s (although we’d wager Boardman actually pioneered this when the Evo version of the Air range was launched several years ago), while the downtube is the only one here to boast the profile of a very thin slice of bread! The seat tube curves around the rear wheel, contributing to a very squat wheelbase of 978mm on our size S model. While we’re blown away by the work that’s gone into the design of this bike, we were less than charmed by the rough and ready mouldings in the top tube where the cables enter the frame. The overall appearance of the Boardman frame is almost organic; all sloping lines, curving tubes and stays. It’s not the prettiest of bikes, but does that matter when it’s getting you where you need to be with the least fatigue and the biggest grin? Its 72.5° head angle and 74° seat angle are not only the exact same angles the makers claim them to be, but also an ideal set-up to facilitate aggressive riding in comfort when the need takes you.
Groupset: When you consider the price of this bike, it’s extremely gratifying to know you’re getting a full house of Shimano Ultegra gear. Well, with the exception of the rear brake, tucked behind the bottom bracket, out of the airflow, is a TRP caliper, which might not be the strongest stopper, but certainly isn’t creating any drag. Beyond this, you’re looking at a 52/36 Ultegra chainset, 11-28 cassett e, Ultegra front and rear mechs and a front brake also from Shimano’s almost-top-of-the-range mechanical groupset.
Finishing kit: While some manufacturers opt to festoon their bikes with alloy bits and bobs, mainly to keep the price down, Boardman has gone the extra mile. Although the 400mm handlebars and associated stem are from the company’s own range of alloy finishing kit, the seat post is a clever, aero-profiled carbon unit whose angle can be adjusted between 73° and 75°, depending on whether you’re competing in a time trial, triathlon, or simply putt ing in the miles. Whichever discipline you’re partaking in, the accompanying Fizik Antares saddle is an absolute belter.
Wheels: Vision’s alloy Team Comp 35 wheels are handbuilt, feature bladed aero spokes, and sealed bearings. We’ve a lot of time for these durable, dependable, though moderately hefty hoops. Swap them out for a lightweight carbon wheelset, and this bike would wallop everyone on the club run. The 25c tyres are Vittoria’s Rubino Pro G+. The ‘G’ means they contain graphene, a tough wonder ingredient now found in everything from trainer soles to body armour. Although we had no cause to test their grip in the wet (where they’re said to shine), the dry roads of our test loop presented no barrier to rapid cornering, while the rubber’s suppleness contributed greatly to overall comfort.
BikesETC 9.4/10 April 2019