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Boardman SLR 9.6 Disc - Road.cc


Boardman has dropped the 'Endurance' tag, presumably to emphasise the fact that this is a quick bike that's been aero-optimised, but it's still a good choice for longer rides too.

Excellent bike for fast riding that can cope with everything from racing to endurance.

Pros: Engaging ride, versatile enough for all-year riding, excellent value
Cons: A bit of rotor rub from the fork under load

THE FRAME: MORE AERO, MORE LIGHTWEIGHT

We looked at the whole of the SLR 9 series a while back. Boardman's SLR bikes have been winning plenty of accolades, and bringing a new version to market always carries a bit of risk if the outgoing bike is well liked. One of the areas that Boardman has concentrated on with the new bike is its aerodynamic performance. Boardman has a shiny new wind tunnel of its own now, of course, so plenty of opportunity to refine the design.

"The obvious flaw with the [previous] SLR Endurance was its aerodynamic attributes," Boardman told us. "The frame was great for long, steep climbs where its low weight played to its advantage, but we knew it was giving something away when it came to fast flat sections. So that was our challenge for the new SLR platform: how could we capture the award-winning ride characteristics of the outgoing SLR Endurance and make it even faster?"

Boardman already has the AIR series of aero road bikes so the idea wasn't to make the SLR into that, but just to move it a bit closer in terms of aerodynamic performance. Boardman says it's dependent on the size of bike and rider, but it's effectively halved the gap: at 40km/h the difference between the AIR and the outgoing SLR design was 20W; now it's 10W. The frame design isn't over-heavy on the aero touches. There's a lot of squared-off tube profiles, a flat-topped top tube, an aero-profile seatpost and a recessed seat clamp. The seatstays are dropped, and the bike's bottom bracket area is sculpted to allow smooth airflow.

There's a new fork design that uses a thinner leg profile, and both the frame and the fork of the SLR Disc bikes are designed to take up to a 30mm tyre. Boardman uses the same mould for all the SLR Disc bikes, but the 9 series bikes get the most expensive carbon layup. The 8 series bikes are made from C7 carbon, which is mostly Toray T700, and the lower end 9 series models use C8, which is a mixture of T700 and T800. This bike, along with the rest of the 9 series models, uses C10, which is a mix of T800 and T1000. The higher modulus carbon allows for a lower weight while keeping a similar level of stiffness; Boardman claims a raw frame weight (in Medium) of 790g and 360g for the fork, which is 80g lighter than the outgoing model. The SLR 9 series bikes start at £1,500 (currently reduced to £1,249) for a rim-braked SLR 9.0 with a C8 frame. The SLR 9.6 Disc I rode is only out-specced by the 9.8 and 9.8 Disc, which get Zipp wheels and a SRAM Red eTap groupset.

THE RIDE: COMPOSED, FAST, COMFORTABLE

If there's one word that sums up the ride experience of the SLR 9.6 Disc it's probably composed. Right from the off the Boardman feels like a bike that's been well considered. It's not a bike that looks especially flashy, but everything about it is high quality, and the ride kind of reflects that. It's a very well-behaved bike to the point where often it doesn't even feel especially fast. There's very little of the seat-of-your-pants feel that you get from some road bikes, especially skittish super-light ones. At a whisker under 8kg the Boardman is comfortably light, but you can certainly go lighter for a similar spend, not least by opting for the rim-brake version of this bike, which is £500 cheaper and a claimed half-kilo under what the disc version weighs. Some of that extra weight is in the groupset itself, and some in the heavier build of the disc wheelset to cope with the braking forces from the callipers.

The position on the XL bike I tested is 'comfortably quick' but not especially aggressive. With a stack-to-reach ratio of 1.49 in XL it's definitely endurance rather than full-on race; the smaller bikes get a bit lower at the front in relation to their reach. The SLR bikes are available in sizes down to XXS (this is the same frame size as the women's XS) to accommodate riders down to 1.55m. There's a 20mm stack of spacers at the front to adjust your bar height, and the seatpost has a three-position adjustable layback for further tinkering. I didn't find it hard to get comfortable, and the drops position felt purposeful enough for going quickly.

Wind the Boardman up along the flat and it's happy to cruise along with minimal input. It responds well to sprint efforts too: stamp on the pedals and there's no sense that the switch to a threaded bottom bracket and narrower BB shell has had a noticeable effect on the frame's stiffness. It's possible to eke out a bit of rotor rub at the front wheel under heavy loads, suggesting that maybe the comfort requirements at the front have taken precedence over out-and-out stiffness there. It doesn't affect the handling: this is a bike that very much goes where you point it, with a planted feel when you lean it into the corners and neutral steering. The excellent Shimano hydraulic disc brakes give you masses of confidence that you can slow yourself up if you need to.

The SLR is a pretty comfortable bike for a fast machine. Partly, that's down to the fact that Boardman has specced the 9.6 Disc with Vittoria's excellent (if slightly fragile) Corsa G+ tyres in a 28mm width, which I was happy to run at 80/85psi for general riding. They're great all-rounders, offering a big air chamber for comfort and lots of grip when you lean the bike over or get out of the saddle on a greasy climb.

Even with the tyres pumped up as hard as they suggest is sensible, the Boardman is no boneshaker. There's a bit of suppleness in the ride that makes it easy to pilot even on dubious back-road tarmac. It's no sofa, and is still a firmer ride than more out-and-out endurance bikes, but I've completed 100km+ rides on this bike with ease, in spite of it having a Fizik Arione saddle fitted as standard, which is a long way from being my favourite. The 9.6 Disc uses Boardman's Elite Alloy handlebar, which is a perfectly serviceable standard compact design, and own-brand tape that's decent enough too.

The Knight Composites 35TLA wheels are excellent; 35mm is ideal for an all-round wheel and they performed very well even in some very gusty conditions. We've tested the wheels on road.cc before and they did very well; these wheels made for Boardman don't have quite the same build quality – DT Swiss hubs are swapped out for Knight-branded units – but they're very well built and they feel like a quality addition to the bike's spec. They're tubeless-compatible too, if you want to embrace the world of sealant and compressors. The Vittoria tyres aren't, though, which is a shame. However, they're not the longest-lived of tyres, so it won't be long before you can lob some tubeless tyres on in their place.

Shimano's Ultegra Di2 groupset probably needs no introduction: it's the best value electronic groupset out there, and offers exceptional shifting performance for the money. Boardman has located the junction box on the stem which isn't the neatest solution or the most aero, but it is easy enough to get to there. My only bugbear with the Di2 system is that it's too easy to forget which button does what as they're not a different action like the mechanical shifters are. Left to my own devices I generally reprogram the shifters so they work more like paddle shifters, with the top buttons doing the front and the bottom doing the rear.

So who's the bike for? Well, you could show up to a local race on the Boardman fresh out of the box and not feel like you were giving anything away, but realistically most people aren't racing; a rung below that, it's a great bike to chuck at a sportive, the local club chaingang, rides with your friends... more or less anything that's quick, really.

The Di2 groupset and hydraulic disc brakes are superb in all conditions, and Boardman has sensibly added hidden mudguard mounts on both the frame and fork so you can winterise the SLR if you don't want to swap to another bike when it gets cold and wet, or you just don't have another bike.

If you're looking for a proper endurance bike for longer events then the position will be good for that and it's reasonably comfortable, but it's firmer of ride than an out-and-out endurance bike. The option to fit a 30mm tyre goes a long way to mitigating that, and if you went tubeless with a set of Schwalbe G-One Speed tyres the Boardman would certainly be all-day comfortable.

NOT CHEAP, BUT A LOT OF BIKE FOR THE MONEY

This bike has an RRP of £3,900, but it's £3,499 on Boardman's own site, and everywhere else, so that's realistically what you're going to be laying out. You might consider Boardman to be a value-led brand, and if you do you might be thinking that three and a half grand is a lot to be paying for one of its bikes. But let's unpack that.

A Ribble SL Disc with Di2 and Cosmics would cost £3,800, and the Knight wheels are more costly than a pair of Cosmics; okay the Knights on the Boardman aren't quite the £2,000 aftermarket build with DT Swiss 240S hubs, but they're still very nice wheels. A similar Canyon Ultimate CF SL build is over £4,000, and a Giant TCR Advanced is £4,500. So you're getting an awful lot of bike for your money. All that's to naught, of course, if the Boardman doesn't perform. But it does: it's a fast and efficient bike that's comfortable and easy to live with. It doesn't have any obvious foibles, and the level of spec for the money is top drawer. You can have the same spec without the posh wheels as the 9.4 Disc for £600 less, but the Knights are excellent and it'll cost you plenty more than that to upgrade later, so if you don't have nice wheels already and you want some then you might as well go the whole hog.

CONCLUSION

I've been very impressed with the SLR 9.6 Disc and I can thoroughly recommend it as a bike that's well equipped for fast riding. If you're after a do-it-all bike that's good for everything up to the odd race, then it has a lot going for it. If it's just a race bike you're after, then the lighter, cheaper rim-braked version would be the one to go for in my opinion.

VERDICT

Excellent bike for fast riding that can cope with everything from racing to endurance

Road.cc May 2019 - Full Review Here