The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2019. Impressively, while the Boardman Road Team Carbon’s spec evolved over the years, the bike’s price never crept over the all-important £1,000 mark in the UK, crucial both psychologically and in making it eligible for the UK’s Cycle to Work scheme’s tax breaks.
Just as impressively, Boardman’s team of designers has replaced the Boardman Road Team Carbon with a more modern-looking all-carbon road bike and a bang-up-to-date spec, happily losing a few features that were starting to show their age. Crucially, the familiar sportive- and distance-friendly geometry are unchanged, as is the £1,000 price of the SLR 8.9c (there’s also an aluminium model at the same price, the cunningly named SLR 8.9a).
To hit that very appealing price, Boardman has gone with a near-complete Shimano Tiagra groupset rather than the predominantly 105 setups on the similarly priced Cannondale CAAD Optimo, Giant Contend SL1 and Specialized Allez Elite – and the full-on 105 setups of Canyon and Rose’s £1,000 online offerings. The wheels have also stepped into the future compared with previous versions. The last few years saw the pretty basic Mavic CX22 rim, though Boardman was a comparatively early adopter of 25mm tyres, which are retained here. The new wheels are Boardman branded and have a modern rounded profile rim. They’re also future-proofed, as they come tubeless-ready, though you will have to swap the non-tubeless-ready tyres. As well as recognising the benefits of wider tyres, Boardman Bikes was also an early adopter of ‘sportive geometry’. Aware that the great majority of us don’t want a super-long top-tube and our nose down on the front wheel, Boardman relaxed the geometry.
If you compare the SLR 8.9c with today’s 54cm Specialized Allez Elite (which has a similar length top-tube to my medium-size Boardman), and which itself has become less aggressive, the Boardman has a marginally taller head-tube, higher stack and lower reach figures – albeit by a matter of just a few millimetres – as well as a compact handlebar. The result is a more upright riding position that’s comfortable, puts no strain on your lower back and is great for dodging through city traffic, as well as on longer, more adventurous days out. And while this makes it a great choice for the leisure, fitness and endurance rider, it’s still not so extreme that you can’t have a competitive outing on it. After all, its predecessor propelled Nicole Cooke to Olympic gold in Beijing. And this being 2019, you’re getting a frame created using ‘computational fluid dynamics’, which has resulted in some drag-beating aerodynamic touches, such as truncated aerofoil profiles in the fork, down tube and seat tube. It’s also as comfortable as anything you’ll find at the price, and you could up the plushness further by going for 28mm tyres, which you can fit along with mudguards.
The new, dropped seatstays will also help with rear-end comfort, as does the 27.2mm diameter seatpost. Yes, Boardman has finally ditched the oversize 31.6mm post it stuck with for a decade, though I’d have preferred a handlebar that kept its wide diameter further out from the stem than the Boardman’s did.
The handling is quick and lively but you always feel in complete control, even descending, while the solid front end, with its tapered steerer, is stiff enough for rapid changes of direction. And while the carbon does cushion the ride, you’re never totally insulated from the road surface, so the feedback is very good.
The step-down from 105 to Tiagra is painless, it works pretty much as efficiently and effectively with the loss of one rear gear. The only deviation from the groupset is the deep-drop Tektro brakes, but even these budget stoppers work pretty well thanks to their cartridge brake blocks, and they’ll allow mudguards and wider tyres. Not up there with 105 brakes, but not bad. One area where I think Boardman did miss a trick was in its cassette. Giant has moved to a 32t bottom sprocket and Specialized 34t on its 2019 bikes, whereas Boardman has stuck with a 28t sprocket for its bailout gear. I’d have gone for the 11-32 or 11-34 cassette, which gives you a little more at both ends of the spectrum. Thankfully the Tiagra mech will cope with a wider cassette, and if you like maximum help on the hills a wider-ranging cassette is well worth considering. Aside from the slightly limited gear range, one of my few other criticisms is that it’s only available in four sizes (and three women’s models) compared with six for the Specialized and eight for the Cannondale, for example.
I’d also have liked to see rear rack mount fittings to go with the very near mudguard fittings on the fork and inside the seatstays, which would have upped the versatility and its commuting credentials.
But limiting the size range is almost certainly one of the ways that Boardman has kept the price so attractive, and this is still pretty much the only £1,000 carbon bike readily available in your high street.
The Boardman Road Team Carbon is dead. Long Live the Boardman SLR 8.9 carbon!
Bikeradar July 2019