A Legend?s Namesake

For the benefit of those who have no idea what Boardman Bikes is about, here’s a quickie.

Chris Boardman was born to professional cyclist-parents. This gave him the edge in racing, and this can be seen clearly from his track records (pun intended). The British legend broke the world hour record three times while competing against archrival Greame Obree between 1993 and 1996.

Throughout his career, Chris had always strongly believed in proven scientific technology. So when he stepped down from a professional racing career and started his own brand of bikes, research, innovation, creativity and technology were elements that went into developing each bike’s design.

Since its Boardman Bikes’ inception in 2007, Chris has headed the company’s Research & Development department to this day. Under his supervision, Boardman bikes have carried riders to the podium at Olympic, World, European and National-level titles across all disciplines which they produce bikes for.

Boardman’s range currently includes road, MTB, cyclocross, hybrid and female-specific bikes.

Putting Weight Where It Matters

Carbon technology has come a long way since carbon-fibre tubes were first introduced to bicycle frames in the 1970’s. It didn’t take long for manufacturers to perfect construction with the material since its infancy almost forty years ago.

Today, carbon bikes are no longer facing the challenge of being extremely light, as this is confronted with the minimum weight-limit set by the UCI at 6.8 kilograms. Frames that weigh in at a mere 600 grams and complete bikes that weight as light as a ludicrous 2.7 kilograms already exist. But it all comes to naught when you’re talking about a bike that you’d really want to ride. With a good bike, you want quality.

We have here the AiR 9.8, the top-of-the-line model in Boardman’s AiR (Aerodynamic Racing) range. Inspired by the AiR TT bikes, Boardman has used the excess weight available and redistributed it to where it matters.

If your focus is on a light frame, then get something from the SLR (Superlight Racing) range. But when the R&D guys zoom in on bicycle design to a science, aerodynamics trumps weight. Unless you do a fair bit of stage racing with climbs in the Alps or Mount Faber, a superlight bike might not be everything.

The AiR 9.8 took the spare weight that they had in hand and used it to their advantage with the help of a wind tunnel. Thought went into all the tubes including the fork and stays to reduce as much wind resistance as possible. The latter were also designed to work best with deep-section wheels, which is why Zipp 404 Firecrests come as standard issue.

Reinforced yet tapered profiles are feature at junctions of the head-tube, seat-tube and BB30 bottom bracket to retain stiffness. An aero seat-post and internal cables are also nice touches in efforts to minimise drag.

Compared to the SLR 9.8, the angles of the AiR 9.8 are slightly tighter at the rear triangle and fork. This essentially creates a more compact frameset with less flex.

Flight Of The Bumblebee

Rolling along on the flats, the frame’s stiffness instantly shows. The oval seat-tube, down-tube and box-section chainstays contribute to a healthy dose of vertical compliance, which I initially thought would be uncomfortable during longer rides.

Clearly, energy loss from vertical flex is low, thanks to the aerodynamics they took from the AiR’s time-trial sibling. This means the AiR 9.8 is quick on straights, essentially making it excellent for fast courses for those who do not intend to invest in a time-trial-specific machine.

On an extended ride over 70km though, I realised despite the ride being stiff, it was not harsh. What the bike focuses on vertically, makes up for comfort laterally.

It seems seat-stays and top-tube keeps the ride relatively plush, with lower levels of torsional stiffness. Torsional stiffness basically relates to the load from the bottom bracket from each pedal stroke that in turn causes horizontal flex. For a longer ride, this is a welcoming touch that contributes to ride comfort.

While the frame comes up to almost 1000 grams (size SM), choice components bring the complete bike to just a whiff below UCI’s minimum weight limit. Goodies comprise of a Ritchey carbon stem-and-bar combo coupled with a Ti Fizik Arione, Boardman’s proprietary seatpost, a SRAM Red gruppo and Zipp 404 Firecrests.

The Boardman AiR 9.8 is no doubt race-ready straight out the box. Acceleration and climbs are easy-peasy thanks to the bike’s final weight. Many wind tunnels only test aerodynamics from a zero yaw direction (head wind), but information taken from various yaw angles were taken into consideration here. This makes handling positive even with side-winds, meaning your focus to stick like glue to the echelon can relax a little.

Outwardly, the bumblebee colour-scheme is handsome with subtle lemony yellow hints, while the raw understated carbon of the monocoque frame also highlights its somewhat passive-aggressive nature.

Retailing at slightly over $9000, this top-of-the-line bike is not exorbitantly expensive, with the equivalent of many other brands easily costing 1.5 times more. Think if it as a combination of a road bike and a time-trial bike that has really incorporated the best of both worlds.