Boardman ADV 8.6 review: a lot of gravel bike without the big price tag

Boardman specs its entry-level gravel bike well to handle the majority of off-road action

Boardman ADV 8.6 on a yellow background
(Image credit: Future)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

Although it’s the entry into Boardman’s gravel range, the Boardman ADV 8.6 doesn’t make too many compromises to hit its sub-£1,000 price. Its taut frame can be a little jarring on rougher terrain, but leads to pedalling efficiency and the tubeless-ready wheels and tyres are a bonus. It would be nice to see fully sheathed cabling to the 9-speed groupset though to reduce cable contamination and preserve shifting performance.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Responsive frame

  • +

    Well-balanced ride position

  • +

    Tubeless-ready wheels and tyres

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Slightly bumpy ride on rougher terrain

  • -

    Exposed gear cables prone to contamination

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The Boardman ADV 8.6 extends Boardman’s expertise in designing and speccing high value, lower priced bikes to the gravel segment. It’s well kitted out, although the external cabling can be an issue if things get muddy.

The ADV 8.6 spec is the entry model of Boardman’s gravel bike range, with an alloy frame, but it still gets a decent range of low gears and tubeless-ready wheels and tyres. It’s available in men’s and women’s versions, with four sizes for the former and three for the latter. Move up the range and the ADV 8.9 adds in a gravel specific groupset with hydraulic braking, but also almost 50 per cent to the price.

Further up the range, the ADV 9.0 offers a carbon frame and Shimano GRX 11-speed groupset and the ADV 9.0 is equipped with SRAM Rival AXS XPLR. Boardman even sells a Fazua-powered electric gravel bike, the ADV8.9E. 

Boardman ADV 8.6: construction

Boardman ADV 8.6 on a yellow background

(Image credit: Future)

The Boardman ADV frameset is quite a chunky design, with a broad, rectangular cross-section down tube, a top tube that broadens towards the seat tube and quite substantial stays. The top tube, head tube and seat tube have nicely smoothed welds, whereas those at the bottom bracket and the rear dropouts show the fishtails from the welding process. There’s a carbon fork and the Boardman ADV 8.6 comes with both mudguard and rack mounts. The whole is nicely painted in a matt light blue.

Cables run externally, with the shift cables bare from the top of the down tube and running through guides under the bottom bracket shell. The rear brake cable is fully sheathed, while the front brake cable runs fully enclosed through the left fork leg.

While the next spec up Boardman ADV 8.9 gets a 10–speed Shimano GRX gravel-specific groupset, the ADV 8.6’s Shimano Sora is a 9-speed all-rounder road groupset. That means that it misses out on a gravel-specific clutched rear mech.

Crankset of the Boardman ADV 8.6

(Image credit: Future)

There’s not quite the gear range as the higher spec bike either, with Sora providing an 11-34t cassette. That’s paired with a supercompact 48/32t FSA Vero Pro chainset though, offering a sub-1:1 lowest gear that can be helpful when tackling off-road terrain. The bottom bracket is a basic square tapered model with inboard threaded bearings.

Stopping power comes from Tektro MD-C510 mechanical disc brakes.

Although not set up tubeless, it’s great to see that both the Boardman Adventure rims and the 38mm Schwalbe G-One Allround TLE tyres are tubeless-ready. I rode for several weeks with tubes, before converting to tubeless. This was a fairly painless process, just requiring replacement of the rim tape, a set of tubeless valves and sealant, with one tyre seating with just a track pump, although I reverted to a reservoir pump for the other. 

The wheels run on quick release hubs, rather than the now more common thru-axles. In theory the latter give you better precision in wheel alignment and so less chance of brake rub. They should also increase the rigidity of the wheel-frame interface, although as we’ll see later, this isn’t really an issue with the Boardman ADV 8.6.

Like the wheels, the contact points come from Boardman, with the size M tested having a set of 440mm wide, gently flared bars, which sit on a short stem – 80mm for the size M. There’s a Boardman ADV saddle that’s long enough to shift your position as you tackle off-road obstacles.

Boardman ADV 8.6: the ride

The Boardman ADV’s chunky alloy frame profiles have their advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, there’s really good power transfer, so that progress is rapid both on road and off. 

On the flip side, the frameset doesn’t feel very compliant and I found that I was rattled around when riding trails with any degree of unevenness. I suspect that the 31.6mm alloy seatpost doesn’t help here.

Flared handlebars of the Boardman ADV 8.6

(Image credit: Future)

On the other hand, the touchpoints are comfortable. I got on well with the Boardman saddle and the Boardman bars are wide and not too flared, with a shallow drop, so they give plenty of steering precision without too much of your weight over the front wheel on descents. The ride position is a good compromise between stretched out and upright and the head tube short enough to give a decent drop to the bars, so that on-road progress is pretty fast.

Shimano sora shifter of the Boardman ADV 8.6

(Image credit: Future)

The Boardman’s road-going Shimano Sora groupset worked pretty well on dirty trails, but I couldn’t help thinking that a dedicated gravel groupset would have been a plus. Particularly when things got proper muddy, shift quality diminished markedly and on one occasion I lost all but the middle ratios once the rear mech and cassette had a decent coating of mud. 

Partly, that’s down to the exposed cable routing, particularly under the bottom bracket, where the cable guide regularly got coated with mud, even in drier conditions. The exposed run under the chainstay was also prone to collect dirt, although there’s a sheath where the gear cable enters the loop of outer leading to the rear mech that helps to reduce contamination.

Yes, it would be nice to see a dedicated gravel groupset like the Shimano GRX400 fitted to the Boardman ADV 8.9, but these start at 10 speeds and are considerably more expensive than Sora. But full outers for the cable runs feel as if they would be more achievable and I suspect would help keep shifting sweeter.

Another advantage of a gravel groupset is that it should give a lower bottom gear, or at least the option to fit one. Although the Sora groupset’s sub-1:1 lowest gear was adequate for most off-road action, I was occasionally reduced to walking steep, dirty climbs that I might have ridden with an even-wider gravel-specific cassette.

Cassette of the Boardman ADV 8.6

(Image credit: Future)

On the way back down the other side, the Tektro mechanical disc brakes need significantly more hand pressure to operate than would hydraulic brakes. They have plenty of bite though, once the pads had bedded in.

I was suspicious of the “Allround” in the Schwalbe G-One tyres’ name. This suggested that the tyres might not shine on any particular surface, but this turned out to be an erroneous assumption. The tyres slipped around in sloppy mud more than a gravel bike tyre with a more aggressive tread like the WTB Resolute and the tread tended to clog up in claggy mud, although this soon cleared once on tarmac.

Schwalbe G-One tyres of the Boardman ADV 8.6

(Image credit: Future)

But they coped well with firmer dirt trails and real gravel, as well as rolling well on tarmac, which I reckon is a pretty good spread of conditions handled. If you are looking for a more specialist tyre, check out our list of the best gravel bike tyres

Set up with tubes, I kept the tyre pressures at around 40psi. Paired with the rather taut frame, this led to quite a bumpy ride on uneven ground, although the tyres were fast-rolling on tarmac. 

But swapping to tubeless allowed me to drop around 5psi out of the tyres without risk of pinch flats, which did soften things up. The Boardman is still not a compliant frame, but running tubeless definitely helps.

Boardman ADV 8.6: value

Boardman packs a lot of value into its entry level ADV 8.6 gravel bike, allowing the novice and those who don’t want to spend a fortune on a gravel bike to get a quality machine that is one of the dwindling number of bikes that still sit significantly below the £1,000 mark.

It’s spent money carefully where it’s most useful, like the tubeless-ready wheels and tyres while keeping everything simple. You’ll thank Boardman when it comes time to replace parts as well, with 9-speed components significantly cheaper than flashier gravel pieces.

On the other hand, the next spec up ADV 8.9 does give you that gravel-specific groupset with its lower gearing and other enhancements like thru-axles in place of quick release wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and an external bottom bracket in place of the ADV 8.6’s square taper. It shows just what good value the ADV 8.6 is though, that you’re paying 50 per cent more for these extras.

The Boardman ADV 8.6 arguably makes fewer compromises to hit its price point than some other budget gravel bikes options like the Triban 120. The Kona Rove AL has a similarly dialled spec, but is edging £1,000 in the UK, while the Marin Nicasio+ offers a steel frame and fork with chunky 650b wheels, but blows the £1,000 budget.

Boardman ADV 8.6: conclusion

Boardman ADV 8.6 on a yellow background

(Image credit: Future)

The Boardman ADV 8.6 offers a great value entry level gravel bike that will give you everything you need to head off-road for drop bar fun. It’s cleverly specced with nice features like tubeless-ready wheels and tyres, so your gravel experience is a lot less likely to be soured by repeated punctures.

It’s great fun to ride and has the handling and the gear ratios you need to take on all but the most arduous off-road riding. If you avoid the roughest trails, you’ll not get bounced around too much and if you shun the muddiest ones, the limited tyre grip and external cabling might not be a problem for you.

It’s a bike that would serve commuting duties well too, with the option to fit mudguards and a rack and plenty of air in its tyres to cushion you from city streets.

As a low priced entrée into gravel riding, it’s one of the most well rounded packages out there. 

Boardman ADV 8.6: specs

Frame: Triple Butted 6061 X7

Fork: C7 Carbon

Groupset: Shimano Sora 9-speed with FSA Vero Pro chainset

Gear ratios: 48/32t, 11-34t

Wheels: Boardman ADV tubeless ready

Tyres: Schwalbe G-One Allround TLE 38mm

Brakes: Tektro MD-C510 mechanical disc

Bars: Boardman alloy

Stem: Boardman alloy

Saddle: Boardman ADV

Seatpost: Boardman alloy 31.6mm

Sizes: Men’s S, M, L, XL, Women’s S, M, L

Weight: 11.0kg (men's size M)

Price: £825

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