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Boardman Air 9.4 review

13 Feb 2017
Verdict:

Despite its focus on speed, this is a surprisingly versatile and comfortable all-rounder

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£2,999.99

Built with one purpose in mind above all others – absolute speed and aerodynamic efficiency – the Boardman is very much a focused road weapon.

Featuring fully integrated brakes and an Ultegra Di2 groupset, the spec is a cut above the rest, too. But then, so is the price. Is it worth the extra £400 over rivals such as the Specialized Tarmac Comp?

And can such a single-minded machine pull off the trick of being the only bike you’ll ever need, or will it prove too focused for the masses?

Frameset

The Boardman’s frame is engineered for optimum wind-cheating ability.

High-mod carbon in key areas boosts stiffness (because aero is nothing without the ability to get the power down in the first place), and the tube profiles have been developed in a wind tunnel to minimise resistance.

The full carbon fork with tapered steerer further boosts stiffness and responsiveness, while the inner and outer surfaces of the fork are profiled to further reduce resistance caused by the wheel’s rotation.

You’ll find Boardman’s Aerodynamic Surface Trip tape on the leading edge of the fork to further reduce drag.

Brake cables and Di2 wires, meanwhile, are routed through the frame, with the front brake cable fed to the caliper via a clever cut-out in the top cap and through the steering tube.

Putting the rear brake behind the bottom bracket improves airflow around the top of the chainstays, too, while a press-fit BB30 bottom bracket allows a wider shell (and optimum profiling of the chainstays) for improved aerodynamics and power transfer.

Groupset

For the money you’re laying out for the Air 9.4, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic groupset.

The only part of the drivetrain that veers away from Shimano kit is the FSA chain and the Tektro integrated brake callipers.

Finishing kit

Boardman’s own finishing kit adorns the Air 9.4. At the front, the shallow-drop, short-reach, 420mm alloy handlebars are attached to the steerer by a 110mm carbon stem.

An aero-profiled carbon seatpost has a four-position seat clamp which alters the effective seat tube angle, providing the versatility to use this bike on TT and tri courses, too.

The height of the seatpost is adjusted via an Allen bolt hidden under a rubber cap on the top tube.

Be aware that the adjustment of the handlebars on the face of the stem is via hex bolts, so you’ll need a multi-tool that has hex keys to set the bike up and make any tweaks to it.

Wheels

Boardman’s own kit is used here, too – a set of Air Elite Seven carbon clinchers.

There are 20 straight-pull, steel-bladed aero spokes up front and 24 at the rear. The rim depth differs from front to rear, too, with a 45mm profile at the front and a 55mm rim at the back.

Vittoria’s Open Corsa CX tyres, in 25c, take care of grip and road resistance duties.

At 320TPI, they’re strong and light and offer cracking performance although not longevity.

Perfect, though, if speed and low resistance are what you’re after.

The ride

For a bike that looks so purposeful, we were delighted to discover that the thought that’s gone into its frame design has resulted in a bike that’s also comfortable to ride from the off.

Once we’d located a hex drive to adjust the bars, that is.

While we’re getting the niggles out of the way, the Air 9.4 has what might be the loudest freewheel known to man – but at least pedestrians heard us on the downhill that starts our test loop.

There’s no two ways about it, the Boardman is a bad influence on your riding. Five minutes into a two-hour ride, when we should have been concentrating on our warm-up, saw us hit the slightest of false flats and we were out of the saddle hammering away joyfully.

The willingness with which it sprints is thanks to its overall stiff frame make-up and wheels that spin up admirably despite not being the lightest carbon clinchers we’ve tested.

It all combines to get the best of your effort. But rolling roads and the opportunity to get into TT mode are where this bike shines.

It hangs onto speed with ease. A short-ratio cassette means jumps between cogs are minimal, and gear swaps are quick and efficient thanks to the excellent Shimano Ultegra Di2 system.

Hills? Not as troublesome as you’d think. A lowest gear of 36x25 is ample when you’ve a platform this efficient for power transfer, and a bike that weighs 8.18kg before you’ve added your pedals.

Only when we found ourselves in a ridiculously big gear did the rear wheel show the slightest sign of flex.

The overall impression is that this a bike that makes for a surprisingly good all-rounder.

The Brownlee brothers, who’ve been piloting Boardman bikes to world-class triathlon success for years, don’t win races without being able to corner quickly, and the 9.4 excels in this department.

A short wheelbase plus a measured head angle of 73.2° supply swift turning with added confidence thanks to a particularly stiff front end married to the supple rubber of Vittoria’s 25c Open Corsa tyres.

The bike is composed through a set of downhill sweeping bends, allowing you to leave the braking late for tighter turns, although you’ll need to grab a handful of rear brake to feel much effect from it – as is often the case with bottom bracket-mounted stoppers.

The frame doesn’t have clearance for tyres wider than the 25c ones it comes with, but we’d say it doesn’t need wider rubber – for racing, for rapid sportives, and even for Sunday rides, this will do it all in speed and in comfort.

Boardman sold last year’s version of the 9.4 for £3,999.99, so a £1,000 price drop makes this model both more affordable and better value for money.

Ratings

Frame: A well thought out aero-oriented design. 9/10
Components: Full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset? Nice. 9/10 
Wheels: Boardman's own carbon clinchers are excellent. 8/10 
The Ride: Magically it manages to be both fast and comfortable. 9/10

VERDICT

Despite its focus on speed, this is a surprisingly versatile and comfortable all-rounder.

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 540mm 540mm
Seat Tube (ST) 480mm 480mm
Down Tube (DT) N/A 612mm
Fork Length (FL) N/A 370mm
Head Tube (HT) 135mm 135mm
Head Angle (HA) 72.5 73.2
Seat Angle (SA) 73-75 72.5-74.6
Wheelbase (WB) 979mm 978mm
BB drop (BB) 68mm 68mm

Spec

Boardman Air 9.4
Frame Boardman AIR C10 carbon frame, T9 carbon fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2
Brakes TRP TKB131 integrated system
Chainset Shimano Ultegra, 52/36
Cassette Shimano 105, 11-25
Bars Boardman Elite, alloy
Stem Boardman Elite carbon
Seatpost Boardman Elite AIR, carbon
Wheels Boardman AIR Elite Seven carbon clinchers
Saddle Prologo Nago Evo 141
Weight 8,18kg (size S)
Contact boardmanbikes.com

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