Wheels, Etc: Boardman MX Race

Does Boardman win again with this hybrid of a hybrid?

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The Independent Online

Price: £499.99
Frame: Lightweight alloy
Forks: Suntour suspension with hydraulic lockout
Brakes: Avid BB5 Mechanical Disc Brakes
Gearing: Sram X5

Britain's cycling celebrities are cashing in on their heroic exploits with bikes bearing their names. Victoria Pendleton will soon launch her second range of budget women's cycles with Halfords. Evans Cycles will respond in May with its first Hoy road and city bikes developed by Sir Chris.

Both cyclists must play catch-up with Chris Boardman, however, the man credited with kick-starting Britain's bike boom. No British rider had topped the Olympic podium for 72 years before he won gold on the track in 1992. The one-time yellow-jersey wearer later applied his technical expertise as former head of what became known as Team GB's "secret squirrel club".

He now leads research and development at his own bikes company, which also has an exclusive deal with Halfords. First launched in 2007, Boardman Bikes have earned rave reviews for their looks and value, and medals for the pros who ride the elite range.

At the budget end, three new bikes launched last month include a sporty hybrid at £429.99, a red road bike at a penny under £500 and, for the same price the MX Race.

Boardman himself said the MX was his favourite of the three, "because you have the ability to go on tracks and paths and it's a great bike to go to work on." Sadly, I couldn't find time to properly test its off-road chops but went in search of cobbles, potholes and towpaths during a week or so of commuting in London.

First, the looks. A matt-black finish with shiny white forks and perfectly smooth joins in the aluminium frame give the MX the appearance of a bike worth much more than £500. A hybrid of a hybrid, it's the son of a mountain bike and a more traditional road bike. Full-size 700c wheels with relatively slim tyres pair with chunky suspension forks at the front, disc brakes and wide handlebars.

This is not an elegant bike but it is handsome. If Boardman has designed it for commuters fond of occasional off-road forays, how does it ride where it will do most of its miles? Well, compared to purer road-going bikes of a similar price, it's heavy and even with tyres inflated to their maximum it can feel plodding.

A very easy lever at the head of the right fork makes it very easy to lock out the suspension, essential to prevent energy-sapping bouncing on tarmac. The tyres then help to offer reasonable protection to one's seating area from jolts that pass easily through the white race saddle.

The Avid disc brakes are perfectly adequate and almost benefit from be- ing less responsive than those which have almost thrown me over the bars of higher-end mountain bikes.

I didn't get through all of the 27 gears but switching between them was as smooth as you would expect from the entry-level setup, which includes SRAM shifters and an FSA chainset. Despite occasionally feeling I was having to work rather hard with each pedal turn, and any aesthetic concerns about the MX bike, I've always been impressed by Boardman's offerings.

To plump for the MX, you'll want to be sure of the opportunities to take it off road to be satisfied with its on-road performance. Otherwise go for the cheaper hybrid, which has had promising reviews. Either way, there is always the satisfaction that comes with supporting a brand that symbolises so much that is good about the sport.