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Boardman SLR 9.4 - BikesETC

ABOUT THE BIKE

An aero frame, a stiffness designed to propel you at speed with minimal losses, the same high-mod carbon construction as its almost £6K cousin, a paint scheme that screams ‘RAPID’, and an electronic groupset to hold it all together. For just over £2,500. Boardman reckons it’s good to go for any type of riding. We’ll level with you; we’re keen to see if that claim holds up.

THE RIDE

First impression: Riding this bike a day after the Ribble came as quite a shock. Not only does the SLR’s near 1500g weight difference become obvious very early on, but also its rate of turn is quick enough to almost catch us out within 15 minutes of leaving the house. Brains recalibrated, expectations adjusted, we prepare to get our heads down for a few hours of high voltage hilarity.

On the road: OK, we’re not the biggest fans of shouty paint jobs on road bikes, but if a bike is going to stand out this much, it better have the performance to back it up. Rest assured; the Boardman SLR 9.4 has it. The way in which it combines a comparatively lightweight with a stiffness unsurpassed by any other bike in this test makes for a ride that’s typified by rapid progress. So often, a bike of this nature can leave you feeling like you’ve been in a washing machine after you climb off it, but the SLR combines its eager performance with a degree of comfort which ensures you’re not overly fatigued when you get home. The compact 50/34 chainset works in harmony with an 11-30 Ultegra cassette to offer an easier spread of gears than the Ribble, but they’re selected with a similarly fuss-free electronic actuation which makes for an engaging ride. It has the beating of the Ribble on hillier terrain, too, where even the double-shifts under load are responded to with instant cog engagement and silky progress. The stiff carbon frame has no discernible flex, even when throwing it from side to side, struggling up steep inclines in the big chainring. Braking is as assured as the Ultegra callipers we enjoyed on the Ribble.

Handling: As you might expect, this is where the Boardman really shines, with a rate of turn that can’t fail to excite. A 73.5-degree head angle gives a much steeper front end than Endurance 725, encouraging a later tip-in to corners, wider lines of approach, and some serious liberties to be taken with speed. The compact rear frame triangle allows you to get the power down quickly, demonstrated amply when exiting each of a series of downhill switchbacks in the big ring, then rapidly getting back on the power, out of the saddle, to speed towards the next. A mesmerising cornering rhythm can be developed in no time, making this bike just the sort of thing we’d take away for a long weekend on Mallorca’s challenging passes, as it performs as well uphill as it does downhill. Wearing the same tyres as the Ribble (although with different colour sidewalls), the levels of comfort and grip are clearly on par. Although the on-brand wheels aren’t quite as light, nor as quick to spin up as even the mid-range Mavics on the Ribble, they’re a decent match for the price of this build. However, a later upgrade to lightweight deep-section carbon wheels will give you a bike that should show anyone a clean set of cleats, whether on a Sunday ride or high-paced sportive.

THE SPEC

Frameset: The Boardman’s high-mod carbon-fibre frame declares its intent even before the ride. A square-section, sloping, flat top tube and oversize aero profile downtube speak of this bikes stiffness and need for speed. At the rear end, its compact frame triangle allows effective power transfer with minimal flex. Interestingly, this is not at the expense on comfort, as the SLR’s rear end allows little in the way of intrusive road vibration to reach the rider’s chamois. The cable for the rear brake and Di2 mechs is run internally through the frame. In terms of geometry, its 73.5-degree head angle and sub-1000mm wheelbase provide a quick-steering, compact package to encourage rocket-fast riding. We would expect 28mm tyres to present no problem in terms of frame clearance, although the 25mm Vittoria rubber fitted to our test bike is already particularly complementary to the overall set up.

Groupset: The SLR wears a wholly Ultegra Di2 groupset, from the 50/34 chainset to the 11-speed chain. Its braking performance is just as good as the Ribble’s, thanks to well set-up rim brakes at either end. The shifters fire ratio changes into the battery-operated gear system with sure-fire efficiency, while the brake hoods – as with all three of our bikes – are satisfyingly compact, when compared to those of the hydraulic brake-equipped bikes we ride more and more these days. An 11-30 spread across the cassette is slightly more compact than the 11-32 on the Ribble, narrowing the jumps between cogs when changing up and down the block.

Finishing kit: With the exception of the comfortable, light and perfectly flexible Fizik Antares saddle that sits proudly atop the bike, the finishing kit is a mixture of Boardman’s own in-house alloy and carbon. The aero profile seat post’s height is adjustable by way of a recessed bolt in the top tube., while its offset is also adjustable in three increments. At the front end of the SLR, we find a 400mm diameter alloy handlebar with a compact drop, bolted to the steerer by a 100mm alloy stem — a perfect fit for the size of the frame.

Wheels: Although the brand names aren’t identical, the rotational mass of the Boardman has a similar look and feel to that of the Ribble’s. The 25c tyres are, like the Endurance 725, graphene-infused Vittoria Corsa rubber, while the rims are Boardman’s own SLR Elite Seven alloy hoops. They’re a little heavier than the Mavic Ksyrium Elites on the Ribble, but don’t suffer too much as a result. They’re stable all-rounders, but they’d be the only thing worth swapping for lighter and more aero efficient items.

VERDICT

BikesETC 8.6/10 August 2019