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Boardman ASR 8.8 review

17 Apr 2018
Verdict:

A budget bike with a broad remit, the practical steel ASR is happy to turn its hand to everything bar racing

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£850
For 
A low-cost, versatile bike that's comfy and durable
Against 
Perhaps not as lively as an equivalent aluminium winter hack

Designed to take the edge off of schlepping through the British winter, the multi-talented Boardman ASR needn’t find itself set aside once the sun comes out.

Built around a steel frame with disc brakes and mudguards it aims to be a durable and versatile bike for durable and versatile UK riders.

Buy the Boardman ASR 8.8 from Cycle Republic here

The frame and the ride

Designed for endurance the ASR range employ longer than average top-tubes. Our size medium came with a lengthy 565mm horizontal stretch between seat post and steerer.

However, propping up the front end the headtube is also a centimetre longer than you might expect in order to take the strain off your back and shoulders.

At 90mm the stem also shortish to help keep steering predictable, especially on rough road surfaces. As an equation it all adds up to a bike that’s easy to get along with. Stable but not slouchy.

In keeping with this disposition, Boardman has chosen 4130 steel for the ASR’s frame. Likely adding the best part of a kilogram in weight versus using aluminium the pay off is a smoother ride.

Not wildly flexy, but with enough give from the slim seat stays to take the edge off, it’s particularly noticeable when riding across rougher surfaces.

At the front, the oversize headtube and matching carbon fork keep everything in line when swerving through corners or battering across cobbles or broken ground. Using standard 9mm quick-releases to hold in the wheels the lack of more modern bolt-through axles is like down to cost rather than choice.

Still we never really felt the lack of them, with the front of the bike being stiff enough by itself.

Running along the downtube all the cables are routed externally. While this might not be as slick looking as having them run inside the frame it’ll actually make servicing and adjustment easier. With mounts at the back, you could easily fit a rack.

Indeed with a slightly stretched wheelbase and steady head angle, the Boardman ASR 8.8 would make a good fast tourer.

The ASR arrives fitted with full-length mudguards. Having tested it early in the year, and across many of the muddy farm tracks that criss-cross the badlands of Essex, I can attest to their efficacy.

Once you get used to not being splattered with muck and freezing water you’ll never want to be without them. Especially given their negligible weight penalty and probably non-existent increase in drag.

You’ll also be a hit on the club run as you’ll spare your ride mates a face full of spray.

Groupset and components

Forget 12-speed. I like nine-speed. When I change gear I want to know I’ve changed gear. With Shimano Sora it’s not only the relatively large jump between sprockets, the shift itself feels like someone's thrown the points on a train track.

Using an on-brand compact 50-34t chainset and a matching 11-32t cassette there’s a wide range of ratios available to the ASR, and the whole set-up is likely to be very durable.

While all the groupset components work well it’s the integrated shifter-brake levers that are the star turn. Updated a year or so ago they look almost indistinguishable from alternatives higher up Shimano’s range.

They’ve both shrunk and shifted their attendant gear cables, which now run underneath the bar tape, rather than sticking out like antennas.

For touring nerds, this also has the benefit of leaving space free for a fitting bar bag.

Feeling compact in the hand, the shift action is slightly clunky and will only throw the derailleur up two sprockets at a time. Still, they’re a massive improvement on the older units.

Elsewhere the crankset looks the business with its integrated four-arm chainrings, while the external bottom bracket felt noticeably smoother than the cheap square cartridges often found on bikes at this price-point.

About the only deviations from Shimano’s Sora groupset are the brakes. Supplied by TRP these Spyre models work well, are easy to adjust, and fit flush flat-mount style, so no grumbles there.

Given its low cost, it’s great to see high-spec Vittoria Rubino Pro G+ folding tyres mounted to the Boardman. They sit on anonymous yet decent quality broad rims which lend a nice profile to their 28c width, helping them provide plenty of grip despite a slick tread.

Sadly neither can be set up tubeless.The wheels themselves roll on cartridge bearing hubs. Laced with 32 spokes, front and back, they’re tough and not overly heavy.

Looking to the finishing kit, the medium width and neutral, flat shape of the Prologo Kappa saddle is unlikely to offend many riders, even if its padding tends towards the minimalist.

The bars are shallow and come wrapped in tough, tactile tape.

Conclusion

With disc brakes, lots of clearance, and a tough nine-speed groupset the Boardman ASR 8.8 won’t grind itself to a halt if dragged through the winter.

Also looking out for its rider with mudguards, forgiving geometry, and an easy going nature it’ll protect them from getting ground down as well.

Not too heavy despite being made of steel (Weight: 11 kg, size medium), its smooth progress across a range of surfaces will endear it to many users.

Keen to take on the commute, mucky training rides, or head off touring it could be the only bike anyone needs.

Equally if you’re looking for a second bike it’d be a perfect daily runaround for anyone looking to save their more fragile racer for Sunday best.

Buy the Boardman ASR 8.8 from Cycle Republic here

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