Boardman SLR 9.8 Disc - Cyclist Magazine

The year was 1992. A young man from the Wirral threw his leg over what appeared to be a space-age carbon bicycle, made by a well-known car brand, and promptly won the Individual Pursuit on the track at the Barcelona Olympics.

At the time, the nation was so thankful for a gold medal (Britain managed a meagre five golds at Barcelona, compared to 27 at Rio in 2016) that most people missed the true significance of the moment. Chris Boardman had not only made himself a household name overnight, but his approach to training and aerodynamic testing in the wind-tunnel had arguably laid down the blueprint for Britain’s dominance on the track and road in the modern era, and the subsequent boom in interest in cycling in the UK. So thank you, Chris.

Tunnel Vision

Boardman – the brand, not the man – now has its own wind-tunnel facility, recently opened to the public in Evesham, Worcestershire. It’s something that product manager Matt Dowler tells me has been instrumental in the final developmental stages and validation of its latest range of top-end road bikes: the 9 Series SLR.

That said, the man himself is still very much involved with the design and testing. ‘We’d be foolish not to make use of his experience and knowledge,’ says Dowler. ‘He steers a lot of the aero testing we do, and he still signs off on anything with his name on.’

This is the most significant overhaul the SLR has undergone since it joined the range in 2012. Seven years on, Boardman felt aerodynamic performance was the area in whIch the previous SLR could be improved most.

‘We were happy with where the previous model was with regards to its stiffness and weight, and we’d always received such positive feedback about its handling and ride feel, so the goal for the new 9 Series SLR was to try to optimise it aerodynamically without affecting any of its good traits,’ Dowler says.

The SLR acronym rather unimaginatively stands for ‘super light road’, but thankfully it was immediately obvious that a little more creativity had gone into the frame design, in particular the tube profiles, when the 9.8 SLR Disc first arrived at the Cyclist office.

‘Mostly we’ve used truncated aerofoil profiles,’ Dowler says. ‘They’re perhaps a little wider than what you’d go for in an out-and-out aero frame, but this was to maintain the stiffness and rigidity we wanted. The square section top tube carries load well with almost no torsional twisting, so that really comes through in the stiffness and responsiveness of the front end.’

Getting a buzz

I would agree with Dowler. The SLR 9.8 Disc had a sprightliness about it, the lightweight chassis feeling solid as I stomped hard on the pedals up a steep climb I frequently use as a benchmark, coupled with a direct steering feel as I pushed the tyres to the point of scrubbing through sweeping bends on descents.

Speed-wise, I can’t say for certain how accurate Boardman’s claim of a 10 watt saving at 40kmh (versus the old SLR) is, but what I can say is rattling along at above 40kmh didn’t feel overly arduous. Did I say rattling? Well, yes. What the SLR 9.8 Disc delivers in terms of pace is not entirely matched by what it delivers in the comfort stakes.

It deals well with bigger blows – a pothole catching you off-guard, for example – and in these instances there’s a real sense of the impact being deadened quickly. However it’s less adept at absorbing high-frequency buzz. Unfortunately I experience this a lot where I ride, as most of my local lanes have been given that nasty chipseal surface treatment that makes roads feel like riding on a tiny rumble strip. I frequently found my feet taking the brunt of this on the SLR 9.8 Disc, with occasional pins and needles after long stretches of poor road surface.

‘The squarer tube profiles we use to be fast aerodynamically do have a slight compromise in their ability to deal with higher-frequency vibration,’ admits Dowler when I feed back my findings. ‘But now with 28mm tyres, and assuming they will be run at lower pressures, we can design a bit around that trend. We don’t need to go after every little bit of vibration.

‘Also, the SLR is not trying to be a Trek Domane or a Specialized Roubaix. We haven’t engineered in any specific shock damping solutions; it’s more about bridging the gap between that “endurance” style of bike and a thoroughbred racer.’

The key differences keeping it out of the latter camp are a slightly shorter reach and slightly higher stack than what might be considered traditional race geometry. Otherwise, I would agree that the SLR 9.8 Disc does indeed slot into the territory he suggests – not a cushy ride, nor an eyeballs-out racer, but a well balanced and fast all-rounder.

I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the superb value this bike offers. The spec sheet reads like a wishlist of top-drawer components: Sram’s wireless shifting eTap hydraulic disc brake groupset paired with Zipp 202 Firecrest clincher disc wheels (that would comfortably set you back over £2k alone), and with a classy Zipp Service Course finishing kit, Fizik Antares R3 saddle and top-of-the-line Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres, it would be practically impossible to find areas to upgrade.

What’s more, during the time I was testing the bike, Boardman took the decision to reduce the RRP from its original price of £5,900 to £4,999, a drop of over £900. It’s hard to fathom how you get all this for under five grand.

With the SLR 9.8 Disc leant up outside a café after a group ride, I overheard someone scoffing at the Boardman, describing it as ‘looking like a poor man’s [Specialized] Tarmac’. But to that person and all the other brand snobs out there, I would say there is nothing ‘poor’ about this bike. Get over your preconceptions and you can book a few cycling holidays abroad with the nearly £5k you’ll save over the equivalent-spec Tarmac