By Paul Norman
Chris Boardman and his eponymous bike company need no introduction to UK cyclists. From a stellar riding career, Chris has moved seamlessly into parallel careers as cycling advocate, race commentator and bike manufacturer.
Boardman Bikes manufactures the Elite series which is sold through independent cycle shops, as well as the Performance series sold through Halfords. Top of the Elite range is the Air 9.8, a fiercely aero bike with a no-holds-barred spec.
There is a Dura-Ace Di2 build available with a Zipp 404 clincher wheelset at a cool £7999.99. We have in the next level down AiR 9.8, a cheaper option at £4999.99, although Boardman has not exactly skimped on the spec – it’s still decked out with SRAM Red and Zipp 60 wheels. There are four other bikes below this spec in Boardman's AiR road bike lineup.
Boardman bikes: the range explained
Boardman has taken many of its design cues for this bike from time trial bikes, with concealed brakes, chunky forks and narrow tube profiles.
The down tube has an almost startlingly narrow horizontal cross-section when looking from above, with a barely there look to it. In contrast, the vertical cross section is wide, although the frame stays within the UCI’s 3:1 tube section ratio.
The forks too are thin from the front but broad when viewed from the side. Tucked away towards the trailing edge, where they are less likely to produce drag, are TRP’s mini V-brakes. The forks’ cross section is flat on the inside face but curved on the outside, as are the seatstays, again for aero benefits and stability.
There’s an FSA tapered headtube for steering accuracy and stable handling. All cables are routed internally, disappearing vertically into the frame just behind the head tube, with barrel adjusters just before they do so.
Boardman sets great store by its computational analysis and wind tunnel testing of its bikes during the design process, particularly its testing at greater yaw angles where there’s more of a side wind – an area where aero designs often suffer.
The drivetrain is almost exclusively SRAM Red 22 speed, with the exception of the cassette and chain. These are SRAM 1170, so the next level down from Red. For components with a limited lifespan, a downspec makes a lot of sense.
There’s a SRAM BB30 pressfit bottom bracket – a choice which should ensure pedalling efficiency due to the oversize spindle and bearings.
The chainring/cassette combination is geared towards racers with a 53-11 top ratio and a lowest gear of 39-25; not something for the unfit to haul themselves up hills on.
The Boardman runs on Zipp 60 clincher wheels. These are 58mm deep carbon wheels with an aluminium braking track. The carbon part of the rim has Zipp’s classic toroidal section with a dimpled surface, a design which Zipp has proved in the wind tunnel to be aero in headwind and crosswind conditions.
They have aluminium hubs and are laced with Sapim’s top CXRay spokes, 18 radial up front and 20 2-crossed at the rear. Nipples are external, which should allow easy truing if this becomes necessary.
At a claimed weight of 1820g these wheels aren’t light, but with a rider weight limit of 250lb – 113kg or almost 18 stone – they should be robust.
The tyres are Continental’s GP4000 clinchers in 23mm width, so dry and wet grip should be excellent.
All top drawer stuff here. The bars and stem are both Zipp Service Course SL alloy. There’s an FSA integrated headset with 1 ½ to 1 1/8 inch tapered bearings. The top cap is carbon – more cosmetic than functional, as the weight saving over an aluminium top cap is marginal.
>>> Guide to bike saddles
The Fizik Arione saddle is a classic racer’s choice and should be comfortable for big miles and hard efforts. It has titanium rails and is finished in black with a yellow stripe to match the rest of the bike’s colour scheme.
This sits on the Boardman’s integrated aero seatpost, which has a four position clamp, allowing its angle to be changed to move the saddle forward and aft, effectively changing the seat tube angle between 73 and 75 degrees.
This allows road riders and time triallists to set up their optimal riding position dependent on whether or not they are using aerobars.
The front brakes is a TRP aero V-brake, a choice which allows it to be tucked away out of the airstream, TT bike style. It is mounted towards the rear of the chunky forks and is so well shielded that it takes quite an effort to get a good look at it.
The rear brake is a TRP direct mount calliper mounted under the bottom bracket, again protected from the airflow – in this case by the bottom bracket shell.
The complete bike weighs 7.65kg without pedals – light for an aero bike. We’re looking forward to seeing how its aero credentials play out in real world riding conditions, particularly in crosswinds.
It will also be interesting to see how it performs on hillier courses, where the extra strain on the bike when climbing will test its rigidity and power transfer while its aero features should come into their own on descents.
For more details visit the Boardman website.
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