The SLR includes some good quality components for its price point, notably having a full carbon fibre frame and forks with the Shimano 105 groupset. It has a neat finish with internally routed cables and cool paintwork if looking stylish is your thing. Finally, the frame is specially designed to be versatile enough to ride the SLR 8.9 in different settings while providing comfort.
Responsive, efficient transmission
Tyres difficult to remove
By Maria David
The Boardman SLR 8.9 was selected for an Editor's Choice award in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval.
Boardman bikes launched in 2007, and the brand has been manufacturing models with women's specific components since 2010. All of the women's bikes share the same frame as the unisex models, but with adjusted touchpoints - so if you're looking at the unisex SLR 8.9, then most of this review still applies.
I have tested assorted Boardman bikes going right back to the brand's early days, and have seen the design evolve over the years. So for me, riding a Boardman feels like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. Old slippers suggest reliable if a little old and tired. However, this design is anything but that.
The last Boardman bike I rode, a slick matt silver Team Carbon Fi, has been superseded by the women’s SLR range, first launched in 2019. The SLR has always set its goals on being "light, stiff, and comfortable" - a difficult trio to get right. However, like the Team Carbon before it, the SLR does manage to tick these boxes very well.
Though ownership has passed on, Boardman is famous for having constructed its own windtunnel at the Boardman Performanced Centre. This frame has been aero optimised, and there's clear nods to drag reduction - such as the squarer, deeper tubing, dropped seatstays and hidden seatpost clamp.
The SLR 8.9 certainly offers a streamlined feel, which is accentuated by a stiff bottom bracket. Certainly, when riding it I found that pushing through the pedals the transmission felt very efficient and the SLR 8.9 is responsive when going along a straight flat section of road.
While the dynamics of the bike aren’t quite in time trial territory you could get away with using the SLR 8.9 on your local 10-mile event, especially on a sporting course where dips and dives in the road can make a road bike a more natural choice.
The set-up was designed following extensive testing and research done at the former Boardman Performance centre. The bike was constructed using data from fittings by lead bike fit specialist, Bianca Broadbent. Designers used the numbers from hundreds of bike fits to finesse the geometry and the contact points.
I note that the headset angle of the 2021 SLR is slightly shallower compared with the Team Carbon, and a steeper seat angle on the smaller sizes. These adjustments give rise to a shorter reach to the handlebars, and therefore a more upright position, meaning less strain in the lower back area when doing long rides such as cyclosportives.
That said, with a stack and reach of 520mm/376mm on the size small, this is still a relatively racey geometry. It's not a million miles off the 517mm/383mm of the pro-ready Specialized Tarmac SL7 in a comparable size 52, as an example. I didn't feel overly stretched out at all on this frame, and there was plenty of compliance built in. I can see it being a happy companion for a long sportive.
Clearance has been an area of focus with the SLR 8.9. With wider tyres increasing in popularity, the brand has ensured this model can accommodate 28mm tyres, and the decreased head angle mentioned above allows decent toe clearance when the SLR 8.9 is fitted with mudguards.
The cables are neatly tucked away, diving into the frame at the downtube. However, they're not tidied into the handlebar itself as per some very high end, integrated bikes - this might look a little bit messier, but it does make maintenance considerably easier.
The two-piece bar and stem is also easier to work with, and makes adjusting these components much more user friendly, too. Featuring a standard diamter 27.2mm seatpost also makes replacement easy should you choose to make a swap at a later date.
If cyclosportive-type rides through hilly terrain are your thing the good news is the SLR 8.9 has a good range of gears to go with the 34/50 chainset. An 11-speed 11-30T cassette now replaces the 10-speed cassette on previous models.
One pleasant surprise is the inclusion of the higher spec Shimano 105 shifters and deraillieurs – something that you don’t always see on a carbon road bike at a £1,000 price point.
It is worth noting though that the brakes (Tektro) and crankset (FSA) are obvious areas where cost savings have been made.
The SLR 8.9 does not have disc brakes, which sets it apart from current trends, but is fitted with Tektro R-315 caliper brakes. Personally, though disc are applauded for their performance - particularly in the wet - I am still prefer rim brakes on a road bike and I'm far from alone in that preference. Furthermore, fitting even Tiagra disc brakes would have taken it over the £1,000 price point; if you want disc brakes you might have to accept compromises elsewhere.
The wheels specced are tubeless ready Boardman SLRs fitted with 25mm Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Graphene 2.0 tyres. It is possible to fit on 28mm tyres, if you want to increase the width for improved comfort and cornering speed. I must say that when I got a puncture, I struggled to remove the tyre from the rim. It’s a shame how hard-wearing tyres, which typically have a tougher sidewall, can end up being a bugbear on those odd times the puncture fairy comes your way!
As with other women-specific Boardman bikes the SLR comes with a female specific SLR saddle. An uncomfortble saddle is a common complaint that can put women off cycling, so Boardman has done extensive testing and advanced pressure mapping on the contact points to get the best possible fit and comfort even for long rides. Of course, not all saddles can agree with every female cyclist, so ultimately this saddle will be a question of personal preference.
Extensive windtunnel testing has led to developing slightly narrower handle bars and an even more aerodynamic position than before, adapted specifically to the shoulder width of women riders. This, along with the shorter cranks and integrated seat post clamp result in a smaller frontal area of the rider, and reduced drag compared with previous models.
What’s it like to ride?
I found the SLR pleasantly responsive when setting off on the flat. As I was in South London during my first ride I was very soon on one of South London’s (in)famous climbs, and changing gear with the Shimano 105 R7000 system was so smooth I thought I was riding with electronic gears.
When hitting the hills, the relatively low weight - at 9kg - of this bike was helpful. Granted, it’s some way off the 6.8kg UCI minimum allowable weight, but it is still light enough, especially considering its friendly price tag. I rode the SLR around the hills of South London, which meant fast descents as well as testing climbs. I also included laps around Crystal Palace Park where there are opportunities to do fast flat sections and enjoy some quick corners.
The SLR 8.9 handled the road well, and was very responsive to the constantly changing terrain.
For those wanting to do a bit of touring, the SLR 8.9 lends itself to bike packing with capacity for bags on the saddle, frame, top tube, and handlebars. It is also possible to put a rack on the alloy seatpost.
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