The Boardman Pro Carbon SLR is a fast, uncompromising, ready-to-race machine with an excellent spec – but make sure it’s the right bike for you.
The Pro Carbon SLR’s super-stiff frame means it’s not the smoothest ride and the aggressive geometry will suit some riders more than others.
What it is, however, is a bike which gallops along on the flat, which punches up short, sharp ascents with brutal efficiency and which cruises with ease on longer climbs. It’s a race-worthy bike which rewards any input from the rider with a reaction, whether that’s an acceleration through the pedals or a flick of the handlebars. It’s outstanding value, too, at £1,799.99 with full Shimano Ultegra and a complete weight of 7.65kg.
The Pro Carbon SLR is the flagship model in the Performance Series range of bikes sold through Halfords. Move up a level and you enter Boardman’s top-tier Elite Series range, available through the firm’s network of local bike shops.
This a new model for 2014 but is based on the existing SLR – or Superlight Racing – range, sharing many of the features of those bikes found in the Elite Series range but with a slight increase in weight. Boardman state a claimed frame weight of 980g.
The ‘pearlescent white’ frame is made from a Toray T700 carbon fibre and its design places great emphasis on efficiency. “A straight line is still the most efficient way to connect two tubes,” the firm’s founder and head of research and development, Chris Boardman, told us at the 2014 Performance Series launch. It’s a frame characterised by the oversized, box-section downtube and chainstays, and broad PressFit bottom bracket, which together promise bags of stiffness – and it delivers just that. The straight-blade, carbon fibre fork slots into a tapered 1-1/8” to 1-1/2” headtube, into which the internal cables feed.
The Pro Carbon SLR’s geometry is unashamedly racy. The 14cm headtube on our medium (56cm) test bike is the shortest we’ve seen on a bike of this size and encourages a low, aggressive position but a word of warning: carefully consider the geometry in line with your desired position on the bike. By comparison, a 56cm Lapierre Xelius EFI 600 has a 15cm headtube, the Cannondale SuperSix Evo is 15.5cm and the Trek Madone is 17cm.
Is it unduly aggressive? That depends on the rider’s flexibility and position, but the mainstream appeal of a range of Boardman bikes sold through Halfords means a slightly taller headtube would make it easier for more riders to find a comfortable position, without turning a race bike into a sportive bike, or using a stack of spacers on the fork steerer.
The race-inspired geometry continues with matching 73 degree head and seattube angles, and compact 405mm chainstays, while the sloping toptube and short 505mm seatube combine to leave plenty of seatpost exposed.
Boardman have forged a rock-solid reputation for producing top bikes at attractive prices and the Pro Carbon SLR continues that tradition.
Of course, the frame is at the heart of the bike, but as a complete package the Pro Carbon SLR offers plenty for your money and – possibly with a change of tyres – could be rolled off the shop floor and on to the start line of a race without the rider having the slightest concern over their equipment.
The Pro Carbon SLR utilises Shimano’s new-for-2014, 11-speed Ultegra groupset in its entirety – down to the wheels. Top marks to Boardman for not skimping with a cheaper chainset or cost-cutting brakes, and the inclusion of the Ultegra hoops is impressive for the price. You’d expect to pay considerably more than £2,000 for this spec from many brands.
The new Ultegra delivers much of the performance of the top-tier Dura-Ace setup and is a joy to ride with. The smaller hoods feel more comfortable under hand – to this reviewer, at least – and the lever action is incredibly light and smooth, with an efficiency which can only be expected of Shimano. The chainset uses the same, four-arm design as Dura-Ace 9000, which is said to maintain stiffness while reducing weight, and Shimano claim the dual pivot brakes produce a claimed ten per cent improvement in power over the previous generation Ultegra 6700 stoppers. We found that the brake pads took a little while to bed in but, once they had, braking was powerful and consistent.
The Pro Carbon’s racing DNA extends to the spec, with a standard chainset combining with an 11-25t cassette to provide a tight spread of gears. While a bigger sprocket on the cassette would offer more back-up in the hills, the bike’s low weight and efficiency means the off-the-shelf setup isn’t as much of a hinderance on the steep stuff as it could be. Still, a wide-ranging cassette is an easy upgrade and Ultegra can accept anything from 11-23t to 11-32t with the long cage rear derailleur fitted on the Pro Carbon SLR.
Wheels represent an easy cost saving measure for many manufacturers when speccing a bike and, as a result, new hoops are the first upgrade for a lot of riders, but the Ultegra wheelset supplied here is excellent. Weight is reasonable at a claimed 1,640g and the wheels are a willing accomplice to the Pro Carbon SLR’s eager ride quality. The rim is also tubeless-compatible and the hubs (Shimano hubs have an excellent reputation for reliability, though that is dependent on regular servicing ) now have a digital adjustment system which only needs a 5mm Allen key to remove any play from the bearings.
Those wheels are wrapped in Continental Ultra Sport tyres, which we’d look to change pretty sharpish. They roll reasonably well but we’ve found them to be prone to punctures. It’s also quite a stiff rubber, which doesn’t help in what is already a fairly uncompromising bike.
The Pro Carbon SLR also comes with a Fizik Ardea saddle. It’s a perch described as a chameleon according to the Italian saddle manufacturer’s ‘spine concept’, which they say means it’s best suited to riders with an intermediate degree of flexibility. It’s a broad-nosed saddle, and a little too wide for my liking, but saddle choice always come with a disclaimer of personal preference.
Finally, Boardman have used their own E4P – Engineered for Performance in marketing speak – finishing kit on the Pro Carbon SLR. It’s all fairly standard stuff, with an oversized, aluminium handlebar and stem, and a carbon fibre seatpost. Many manufacturers are moving to a 27.2mm seatpost, with the idea that the smaller diameter offers more flex and, therefore, comfort, but Boardman have chosen to stick with 31.6mm.
And on to the ride. In short, the Boardman Pro Carbon SLR is super-stiff, fast and responsive. It’s great fun on hard, fast rides, encouraging the rider out of the saddle to attack short climbs, and to sprint for town signs. In fact, it’s the kind of bike which feels as though it can only be ridden fast.
If you’re an aggressive rider, or plan to get the Pro Carbon SLR on a crit circuit, then you’ll be rewarded with a bike which relinquishes nothing to flex. The frame is incredibly taut and rigid. The 7.65kg overall weight is low for the price and, combined with the super-efficient frame, results in a really responsive ride which jumps in response to pressure on the pedals.
The handling is also pin-sharp. It’s best described as ‘flickable’ in that a flick on the handlebar results in a quick but accurate change in direction and that equally encourages fast, aggressive riding through corners. Some riders might find the handling a little too sharp but ultimately it’s not twitchy and the front-end rigidity means it can be thrown about without feeling anything but solid.
So it’s all good? Not entirely. The Pro Carbon SLR is most at home on smooth tarmac and it begins to suffer on rough roads, of which there is no shortage. While the rear half of the frame does a decent if unspectacular job at smoothing out imperfections in the road, helped in this case by plenty of exposed seatpost, a lot of road chatter is transmitted to the rider at the front end, through the fork, handlebar and your hands, and that becomes quite wearing on long rides. A crack in the road can result in a sharp jolt and long stretches of broken tarmac are keenly felt. Combine a steep descent with a poor road surface and the Pro Carbon SLR’s previously rock-solid handling can become a little unnerving.
The Boardman Pro Carbon SLR had been designed as a race bike and should be considered as such. In a race environment it’s likely to leave the rider with no excuses, owing to the frame’s rigidity, and an excellent spec which offers plenty of bang for your buck. The Pro Carbon SLR’s racing persona extends right through to the geometry – make sure you look at the frame’s vital statistics to ensure you can get a good fit before taking the plunge.
Get on to the open roads and if you enjoy riding hard and fast then the Pro Carbon SLR will reward your effort with aplomb. It’s a fun bike to blast around the lanes for a couple of hours, attacking climbs, pedaling on through descents and riding at full gas.
But there are more comfortable race bikes out there. The Pro Carbon SLR’s front end makes little concession to comfort and it takes something away from the ride quality, and that can be a little tiring on longer rides. If Boardman could make the ride a little smoother without impacting too greatly on rigidity then they’d be on to a real all-round winner, particularly given the price.
Maybe that bike’s already in the range? The SLS – or Superlight Sportive – is a new model introduced for 2014, which places greater emphasis on comfort, relaxes the geometry (though the 16cm headtube on a medium/56cm frame is on par with many ‘race’ bikes) and actually reduces the frame weight to a claimed 850g, albeit at a premium. We’ve got a Shimano Ultegra Di2-equipped SLS 9.4 on its way to us to review and we’re looking forward to seeing if it lives up to its billing.
But let’s not get away from the fact that the Pro Carbon SLR is a very good race bike. If your priorities are stiffness, sharp handling and a super spec – and you’re less concerned with comfort – then you’ll find a lot to like.