Wheels, etc: Boardman SLR/9.0
More Barca-style brilliance from Chris Boardman
Frame: SLR full-carbon monocoque
Gearing: SRAM Force
Chainseat: FSA Energy BB30
What do ex-cyclists do? They don't run pubs because that's what ex-footballers do, or used to do in the days before playing football earned you millions. And there's not much of a drinking culture in cycling. A cyclist's body is so highly tuned that half a glass is all it takes.
A handful of the biggest names go into the bike-manufacturing business but your name needs to be pretty well known if its appearance on a down-tube is to turn heads and command sales. I've always liked the look of a Merckx bike myself, and for a while I did actually own a LeMond. Now I've ridden a Boardman.
Unlike Eddy Merckx and Greg LeMond, Chris Boardman never won a Grand Tour, or even came close. But he did stupendous things in his time, winning gold at the Barcelona Olympics, setting hour records and wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on three occasions.
When Boardman came along in the early 1990s, there hadn't been a poster boy for British cycling for 25 years. He was dedicated and scientific but also easy going and personable and in many ways he paved the way for the golden age of Wiggins, Cavendish, Hoy and Pendleton that we're living through now. Pioneer, campaigner, and TV summariser, he is the sport's No 1 ambassador, and when a Boardman bike goes past everyone knows who we're talking about.
I was amazed to find that Boardman Bikes have only been going since 2007. They seem to have been around for ever, but maybe that's because you see a lot of them. Boardman has gone for the mass market, selling through Halfords, which in the snobby world of cycling tends to be looked down upon. But what's a Boardman bike actually like?
I tested the latest high-end racer, the SLR/9.0, a beautifully constructed bit of kit very much aimed at the serious sportive rider (not available at Halfords but sold instead via high-end bike shops) and into which every effort seems to have gone to make it as light as possible. It's got a full carbon monocoque frame and Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels and it just flew.
Bike weight, and rider weight, is something cyclists obsess over. We get a kick out of every shaved-off ounce, wherever it can be lost. Maybe we put too much emphasis on bike weight when it's more within our power to reduce the weight of our own bodies, but so much of cycling is about confidence and that's what a bike like the SLR/9.0 gives you.
At this level of bike there is a constant trade-off between stiffness and comfort, and what I liked about the SLR/9.0 was that it was super-responsive and great on climbs but also rolled smoothly and absorbed vibration. The approach, Boardman says, is "putting material where it's needed and removing it where it isn't". The SRAM gearing (internal cabling) was smooth and decisive.
A good performance in an event like the Étape – the amateurs' stage of the Tour de France, where you might be in the saddle for eight hours-plus – isn't just about fitness. It's about staying comfortable. And the longer rides I did on the SLR/9.0 showed that it had got that right.
With the boom in sportive riding, this is now quite a crowded market. Quite a lot comes down to aesthetics and the sporty angles of the SLR/9.0's compact frame and its quite boxy tubing may not be to everyone's taste. But at just under £2,000 it's competitively priced and it did provide a brilliant ride. I'd say Boardman's got his retirement sorted.
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