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Boardman Air 9.0 review

13 Jul 2016
Verdict:

High-spec British bike promises aero superiority.

Price: 
£2,200

About the bike

Revamped for 2016, the Boardman Air has a frame that benefits from the company proprietor’s long association with aerodynamics research. Although the most affordable model in the range, the 9.0 echoes the aero advantages of its more expensive stablemates. Front and rear brakes are hidden from turbulent airflow, it wears a Shimano Ultegra groupset, and is claimed by Boardman to be suitable for TTs, triathlon and general road riding. Could it be the suit-all aero road bike we’ve all been looking for? 

The spec

Frameset 

The Air 9.0’s frame is the product of five years’ research and refining. The biggest claim made for it is that it offers a performance advantage over a wider range of yaw angles than other brands’ bikes, thanks to extensive computational fluid dynamics research and wind tunnel testing. Most noticeable at the front end are a deep, teardrop-profiled down tube and girder-like fork legs with a rounded leading edge. The 135mm head tube on our small frame is relatively squat, allowing a low position for proper head-down heroics. An expansive bottom bracket area provides the base for a deeply profiled seat tube while box-section chainstays promise maximum power transfer. 

Groupset 

Shimano’s second-tier Ultegra groupset provides the shifters and front and rear derailleurs, while the 105 cassette offers a more race-ready range of ratios than most; it’s the once ubiquitous 12-25. Combined with a 52/36 FSA Gossamer chainset, it’s a good compromise set-up with all-out power always on tap, but enough gears in reserve to maintain momentum on rolling roads. The brakes – hidden from the airflow below the bottom bracket and inside the fork – are fiddly to set up and lack a quick-release, but the front brake is particularly effective. As with most BB-mounted brakes, the rear stopper probably shouldn’t be relied upon in an emergency.

Finishing kit 

Boardman’s own 40cm alloy bars are an ideal fit for our size small bike, and are particularly comfortable, offering just enough flex but stiff enough for serious out of the saddle efforts. The carbon seatpost is easier than you might imagine to set up, and due to its sharply bladed nature won’t rotate, so the very comfortable Prologo Nago Evo saddle is always facing perfectly forward. 

Wheels 

Boardman say they’ve put serious thought into the design of their Air Elite Five wheelset, thinking of both aero benefits and longevity. The 35mm deep-section rims operate well enough in most conditions, but harsher crosswinds will still cause wobbles. Sealed cartridge bearings (two at the front, four in the rear) ensure they spin up quickly enough, while straight-pull spokes (20/24) are simple enough to adjust, should the wheel go out of true. Vittoria’s 25c Rubino Pro tyres are a cut above the standard-fit Conti Grand Sports of two of our test bikes, offering plenty of grip and feel along our test route.

The ride

First impression

As our test loop starts on top of a hill, the first impression we had was of how efficient the Air 9.0 is at dispatching a road without even turning the pedals. A quick tuck to get as low as the set-up would allow saw us rocket through the descent with some serious speed. 

On the road

Boardman has created a stiff bike that actually feels like it’s giving you an advantage while you’re riding. We were provoked into full TT beast mode within 15 minutes. At 8.26kg, the 9.0 is no flyweight, but it covers distance at speed and positively devours false flats. The amount of power we were able to get to the floor surpasses most other bikes we’ve tested in recent months, and the biggest gear of 52x12 was pressed into use on a number of occasions. Stiffness is the byword here – the front end borders on being too rigid, thanks to the beefy carbon fork and unforgiving alloy bars. It’s on the cusp of jarring at times – nothing we couldn’t put up with for a few hours, but it might cause a little discomfort on an all-day ride. Very few issues with the rear, though – there’s a feeling of direct connection to the road, while the seatmast damps out a fair amount of vibration, too.

The one thing that lets it down on the open road is the braking set-up. Although the front brake
is powerful enough, and offers pretty good modulation for scrubbing off speed on the approach to downhill corners, the rear rubs under heavy pedalling efforts. Given the exceptionally rigid nature of the chainstays, it’s safe to say this was due to the wheel flexing.

Handling

Although frame geometry might lead you to expect a fairly ‘committed’ nature to its handling, the Boardman feels decidedly settled at all times. There’s no twitchiness from the steering, and cornering is fast and assured, especially downhill. That slightly unforgiving front end comes into its own on rapid, sinuous descents, lending us stacks of confidence to brake late, tip in and power out of sharp turns. Although the first half of our ride was in fairly gusty conditions, the slab-sided 9.0 wasn’t unduly affected. All that wind tunnel research wasn’t for nothing.

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 540mm 540mm
Seat Tube (ST) 505mm 480mm
Down Tube (DT) n/a 630mm
Fork Length (FL) n/a 380mm
Head Tube (HT) 130mm 135mm
Head Angle (HA) 72.5 72.3
Seat Angle (SA) 73 73
Wheelbase (WB) n/a 990mm
BB drop (BB) 68mm 70mm

Spec

Frame Boardman Air C10 
Groupset Shimano Ultegra
Brakes TRP TKB55 / TK714R
Chainset FSA Gossamer Pro (52/36)
Cassette Shimano 105 (12-25)
Bars Boardman Elite
Stem Boardman Elite
Seatpost Boardman Elite Air
Wheels Boardman Air Elite Five
Saddle Prologo Nago Evo 141
Weight 8.26kg
Contact boardmanbikes.com

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