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Boardman SLR 8.6 review

19 May 2020
Verdict:

Light wheels help ignite what is already a fast and balanced performance

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fast yet comfortable • Solid spec for the price
Against 
Limited versatility

This review first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Cyclist*

Chris Boardman... aka The Professor. Not only a successful rider in his own right but a key part of the Secret Squirrel club – a group whose technical knowledge and meticulous attention to detail helped propel team GB to Olympic success.

But is he any good at designing bikes? This SLR 8.6 supposedly shares DNA with the quickest machines in his eponymous range. With aero-inspired tubes and an endurance geometry, it also manages rack and mudguards mounts along with clearance to fit up to 28mm tyres.

The spec

The frame

Designed to add in compliance, the skinny seatstays on the SLR 8.6 meet in a wishbone formation an inch or two below the seat clamp. It’s one of several design cues taken from further up the Boardman range.

Another is the square profile of the top and down tubes, which aim to provide a bulwark against torsional forces inflicted when yanking on the bars or pushing the pedals.

Up the front, an all-carbon fork sits in the straight 1 1/8th-inch headtube. It may look a little runty compared to more expensive frames with oversize or tapered head tubes, but its carbon steerer adds compliance and sloughs off weight.

With mounts for mudguards and a rear rack along with clearance to fit up to 28mm tyres alongside, the Boardman is fairly adaptable for commuting or light touring, something its relatively upright geometry will be happy to play along with.

Although, if you want to venture off the tarmac or the option to fit front panniers, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

Groupset

Shimano’s slick 8-speed Claris parts comprise most of the Boardman’s groupset. Taking care of shifting, the levers could be mistaken for their posher brethren, although in the hand they’re slightly chunkier and the shifting a little less snappy.

They operate the matching Shimano derailleurs to provide solid shifting across the wide 11-30t cassette. Paired with the compact 50/34t FSA Tempo crankset, this gives a good span of gears. Not a bad stand-in, the FSA product is still a bit of a downgrade from the Shimano alternative.

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It’s not the only substitution either. The Tektro R315 brake callipers take the place of more expensive alternatives from the Shimano range and give away a little stopping power in comparison.

Finishing kit

Anonymous yet sensible kit adorns the Boardman. Left to tower over the frame in the hope of maximising its ability to flex, we were particularly pleased to see a twin-bolt head atop the slender seatpost.

Also Boardman-branded, the saddle is flat in shape and quite squishy. The bar and stem are not as boxy as some on similarly priced bikes, helping improve the bike’s aesthetics.

Using a standard short reach and shallow drop, the bar’s vital stats will be the correct choice for the vast majority of users. The robust, tactile tape, and locking bar end plugs wrap up the package.

Wheels

Tubeless ready and with just enough depth to suggest they might give some kind of aerodynamic boost, the Boardman’s wheels are a strong suit.

With 32 conventionally laced spokes at the back and 28 radial ones at the front, they’re a few hundred grams below where you’d expect them to be in terms of weight.

While ditching the tubes could be a good option to sharpen them up even further, we’re not sure how many riders will take up this chance. As it stands, their profile makes getting the tyres on and off a severe test of thumb strength.

No grumbles about the tyres themselves, though. Despite not being tubeless ready, the 25c Vittoria Zaffiros are quicker than you’ll find on most other bikes in this category.

The ride

First impressions

A slender looking machine, the Boardman borrows the dropped seatstay design used on the brand’s pricier models. The idea is to keep the SLR 8.6 comfy, while other features take their cues from the aero stylings of its fancier carbon relatives.

Only the bike’s external cables give away its budget pricing. The Boardman seems a touch lighter than most bikes in the price bracket and a first spin delivers a decent-width grin, as the SLR 8.6 seems ready enough to get underway.

On the road

With neat Shimano Claris shifters, sensibly shaped finishing kit, and a considered geometry, the SLR 8.6 is likely to suit most riders hunting for a bike at this price-point.

Sporty but not intimidating, with smooth welds it looks nice enough to be mistaken for a pricier machine at 10 yards and isn’t burdened by any excess flab. Its shallow-drop ergo bars place the controls easily to hand, and while its Tektro brake callipers aren’t as sharp as the Shimano made alternative, they’re better than many we’ve tested.

The rest of the parts follow a similar script. Clearly, the budget has been worked hard, and where it can’t quite cover the gaps, sensible areas have been chosen to scale back.

This sees the brakes and crankset sourced from outside of the Shimano catalogue, but cash diverted to the frame and wheels. Most of the groupset is present anyway. Providing eight sprockets, these cover a wide 11-30t range to ensure the Boardman remains happy in the hills.

The result is a well-rounded performance that’s happy to be driven along at a decent pace regardless of the terrain.

Handling

The wheels on the SLR 8.6 are just a shade fancier than you’d have grounds to expect. Despite using cup-and-cone-style bearings, these spin more freely than most and so cut down drag.

With fewer spokes and a slightly deeper and stiffer rim, they’re topped off with quality Vittoria Zaffiro tyres. All this adds a modicum of pizzazz where it’s most needed. Getting the bike up to speed is less of a chore, while its 25c tyres won’t give you the horrors when laying the bike over through corners or dragging it across suboptimally maintained tarmac.

Buy now from Halfords for £550

The combination of skinny stays, plenty of seatpost extension, and a rare all-carbon fork also help the Boardman traverse rough surfaces with a minimum of bother. With a medium height at the front and a standard reach, the SLR 8.6’s contact points are all pretty much where you’d expect them to be.

The geometry is also likely to prove familiar, with nothing to scare the horses. That said, one thing you don’t get is a huge amount of standover. This makes throwing the bike around a tad less instinctive than some more ground-hugging designs, although in use this isn’t much of an issue.

Ratings

Frame: Fast, yet wrings out more comfort than you'd expect - 8/10 
Components: A solid mix, with the best from the groupset - 8/10 
Wheels: Lighter than average and with good tyres, too - ;8/10 
The ride: Sensible geometry yet a spirited personality - 8/10 

Geometry

Size tested: M  
Weight: 10.12kg  
Top tube (TT): 555mm  
Seat tube (ST): 530mm  
Stack (S): 568mm  
Reach (R): 387mm  
Chainstays (C): 415mm  
Head angle (HA): 72.5 degrees  
Seat angle (SA): 73.5 degrees  
Wheelbase (WB): 1006mm  
BB drop (BB): 69mm  

Boardman SLR 8.6
Frame 7005 alloy, full carbon fork
Groupset Shimano Claris 8-speed
Brakes Tektro R315
Chainset FSA Tempo 34/50t
Cassette Shimano HG50, 11-28t
Bars Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm, Short reach & drop
Stem Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm
Seatpost Boardman Alloy, 27.2 x 350mm
Wheels Boardman Alloy, tubeless-ready, Vittoria Zaffiro 700 x 25c wire bead tyres
Saddle Boardman Road, steel rails
Weight 10.12kg (M)
Contact boardmanbikes.com

*Cyclist was a sister magazine to Cyclist that was published between 2014 and 2019

Price: 
£550

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