We all have our regular routes, roads and loops that offer a known ride-time. We then choose a route depending on how long we want to be out for. Riding an adventure bike showed me how much more there was to find
I’m guilty to sticking to my known routes. If I’ve got an hour, hour-and-a-half, or two-and-a-quarter I’ve got a route or two to suit. Mechanicals aside, I know almost to the minute what time I’ll be back. These are the routes that I usually stick to, until I rode the Boardman ADV.
To get to know these routes I explored the vast network of lanes between the M25 and the south coast. Although my route planning is now somewhat lazy, my knowledge of those lanes is pretty good.
What I didn’t know, was how much lies in-between!
When riding my road bike (which is 99 per cent of my riding) I stick to the tarmac and see bridleways as those paths where a horse rider might pop out from. That was until I got out on this Boardman ADV Adventure bike. A go-anywhere bike that opened up parts of my ride areas I never knew existed.
An adventure bike (also known as a gravel bike) is an American import aimed at those who want to go and explore and will carry you virtually anywhere a bike is allowed. They have on and off-road features and space for a bit of well-packed luggage if you want to be away for a few days at a time. It’s somewhere between a cross bike built for comfort and a rigid mountain bike with drop handlebars.
While I didn’t get to load this bike up with luggage and head off for a long weekend, I did ride it to new places, turn down paths I’ve barely given a second glance and surprised myself by linking roads I didn’t know were linked.
And all this was within just few miles from my house.
More about my mini-explorations later. First, lets take a look at the bike. The Boardman ADV frame is triple butted 6061 alloy with a chunky C10 carbon tapered fork. All of which feels very robust. The ride position on an adventure bike is higher with less reach than a standard road bike. While this doesn’t make it particularly fast, it does make it very comfortable and crucially gives you great control off road.
The measurement from the tip of the saddle to the centre of my stem clamp is 54.5cm on my road bike, on this bike it was 49.5cm. Half of that comes from the short 9cm stem, the rest from a shorter top tube. Five centimetres shorter in reach, slightly less of a drop from saddle to bars and a standover height 5cm higher than my road bike gives a very different ride position.
The sense of control is exceptional. On the hoods or the tops it’s easy to pop the front wheel up over roots, pull a manual when rolling over very poor surfaces, get both wheels airborne if a bunny-hop is required to get you over an obstacle and tackle steep descents hanging off the back of the saddle.
This kind of riding on the Boardman ADV was complemented by a big set of Clement X’plot knobbly tyres. The 650b disc wheels that are popular on gravel bikes are basically mtb wheels, and the 50mm tyres that came with this bike were definitely suited to off-road. Ridden at little more than 30psi (they’re tubeless ready with tape sealing the rim, although came with inner tubes) the grip was incredible. Pair that with the ride position, the power of the disc brakes and I didn’t come across any terrain I couldn’t tackle with ease.
On the road it was a different story. Keen to see what it was like on tarmac I went for a two-hour ride with friends on their road bikes. They weren’t very happy with me. As soon as the road went up – even a slight drag – I was instantly dropped. There was no keeping up, even with the one guy who was less fit than me.
The big, knobbly, soft tyres of the Boardman ADV, and my flexible mtb shoes, meant the bike lacked any response to my efforts. It weights a bit more than the average road bike too.
Now of course this isn’t want the bike is meant for, my test was to see just how slow it was on the road as many people buying a bike like this will be doing some of their riding on tarmac. Be it linking bridleways together, or off on a big ride expedition, riding on road is unavoidable for most.
Swapping them out for some Cannondale TRS tyres (made by Panaracer) made a noticeable difference. The smooth 42mm wide tyre pumped up to 40psi (which was surprisingly solid) would have still seen me dropped, but not as quickly and not by as much. A set of shoes with solid soles would have improved matters further, meaning the bike’s ride characteristics can be improved for the road should you need to change.
As an aside, the Cannondale tyres with their smooth tread were surprisingly good on hard packed bridleways and even loose gravel surfaces. For any summer riding the knobbles of the Clement tyres supplied would be unnecessary. Panaracer Gravel Kings or similar would be good enough for most rides on most terrains.
All of this demonstrates the versatility of the Boardman ADV. Swap the tyres around and you can tackle almost anything. Bear in mind it will take 700c wheels too (thanks to disc brakes and plenty of clearance) so you could go faster still on the road, or use it for cyclo-cross.
With such choice, tyre selection is crucial so be sure to match it with the riding you do. At the moment you are a little limited with 650bs as you’re basically buying an mtb tyre, but as this genre grows, so will your choice.
The bike’s spec isn’t flash, but it is well thought out. The SRAM Rival 1 group complements the riding perfectly even down to the size of the brake hoods. Somewhat ugly on a road bike, these big hoods that house the reservoir for the hydraulic brake fluid give you plenty to grab hold of and a secure feel when on the rough stuff.
The 160mm rotors themselves gave superb stopping power. Basically as good as an mtb. I really liked the power and steady modulation both on and off-road, and as they’re hydraulic there is no degradation due to conditions or length of use. They filled me with confidence.
When descending on the road and braking hard on the Clement tyres there was a fair bit of squirm in the front tyre through corners, which was disconcerting. But that’s not what this bike is set up for. This isn’t a complaint, just something to be aware of if your rides see you swap between road and mud.
I was surprised by the number of times I clipped the bottom of my pedals too. The bottom of the bottom bracket shell was 24.1cm clear of the ground and the 172.5cm cranks caught a few roots and other lumps. It wasn’t a big deal as it’s happened to me plenty of times on mountain bikes, and perhaps the high riding position made me think I had a bit more space between my feet and the ground.
The one-by set-up with long-cage rear mech on the Boardman ADV was spot on, and I wouldn’t suggest anything else. The 40×11-42 combinations gave me a range of gears from 25 to 95 inches, more than enough for any climb or descent I tackled.
The bigger tyres keep the speed back on the downhills anyway, but I never felt I needed a bigger gear. In between top and bottom there were a few occasions when I wasn’t in an ideal gear, but it was only a small adjustment in cadence and it was never uncomfortably fast or slow. I never once missed an extra ring at the front and there is no slack in the chain when on the 11 sprocket thanks to the long-cage rear mech.
Elsewhere there’s nothing fancy on the Boardman ADV. The bars, stem and seatpost all fairly basic alloy components, but I didn’t feel like I needed anything more. A bike like this is likely to get a fair bit of abuse going off-road, so those items need to be up to the job and no more.
The Fizik saddle and its flat top (with central gro0ve) isn’t my saddle of choice but it was fine for the short rides I did. The thru-axles are standard with disc brakes, it has internal cabling throughout and mounts for a pannier rack at the back.
One of my favourite things about the Boardman ADV was the freedom it gave me to go and explore. Okay, so you don’t need a gravel bike to do this, people have been doing that on cyclo-cross bikes for years, and if you go back to the 1950s you’ll find the Rough Stuff Fellowship (covered in CW last August) did exactly that with no bike modifications whatsoever. But as specialisation in bike design and use is now so focused, I’m willing to bet that many CX bikes only get raced on, while road bikes being all-carbon affairs, would never be taken down the local bridleway.
I live just inside the southern most point of the M25 meaning I’m right on the boundary between densely populated suburbia and the Surrey, Kent and Sussex countryside. Even here there is an incredible amount of bridleways and routes to use. The North Downs Way is well known, and something I’ve used lots but only small sections. I immediately went out to find more with this bike.
Then a friend took me on to the Vanguard Way, a 66-mile route that I’d heard of before, but only as a walking route. It goes from Croydon (where CW’s office was based for almost 20 years), all the way down to Newhaven, and goes very close to where I live. Despite this, I’d never used it. Cutting through parks and in between gardens and houses it’s an off-road alleyway that goes almost straight to our old office. I can’t believe I’d never used it before. This for me is the beauty of this gravel bike: it allowed me to go find new rides. If there was this much so close to where I live that I didn’t know about, there must be lots more.
And yes, you could do it on a CX bike (my friend did) but I asked a few others if they’d heard of it, and even those who regularly race CX hadn’t. That’s the specialisation for you.
This bike is great fun to ride. I loved the riding position, it was comfortable and gave great control as did the well thought out kit supplied on it. As an all round package it works brilliantly with a spec perfectly suited to the riding – nothing is out of place. All you’ll need over time is a few extra sets of tyres to ensure you’ve got the right pair for the riding you do. This bike could be a specialist bike for true adventure riding but has the capability to be a commuter, winter trainer, tourer or a cross bike. If you’ve only got space for one bike at home, this is a contender for that spot. For me the beauty was that it opened up a whole new set of routes, giving me more ride options right from my doorstep.