The Boardman SLR 9.2 is, after the Forme Thorpe Elite and Pearson Hammer and Tongs, the final machine in our three-bike test celebrating British design on the back of a summer of sporting success.
There are few brands which encapsulate modern British design as much as Boardman and they are proud of their heritage – the Union Jack is printed on the downtube close to bottom bracket. What they’ve created in the SLR 9.2 is a fast, uncompromising machine.
The firm runs a two-year product development cycle, which, they say, allows them to make fundamental changes across the range at the end of each 24-month period, rather than just altering spec or colour on an annual basis.
The Elite Series, of which the SLR 9.2 is part, was launched in March 2011 and is itself split into two ranges, with four bikes apiece in the SLR and AiR collections. The AiR range is based around Boardman’s aero frame, while SLR stands for Superlight Racing. Our test bike, the 9.2, is second from bottom in the range, above the 9.0 but below the 9.4 and 9.8. The Boardman brand is synonymous with Halfords but all bikes in the Elite Series are available to buy through Boardman’s independent dealer network.
The bike is based around the sub-900g SLR frame: a chunky tubeset with a huge, squared-off downtube, BB30 bottom bracket and big, box-section chainstays. It’s not the most attractive frame we’ve seen but one which has undoubtedly been designed for speed, and not to win a beauty contest.
Chris Boardman, who as a rider was always on the lookout for latest technological gains and now acts as head of research and development at the company which bears his name, calls the SLR a climbing frame and I took the 9.2 to Majorca to put that to the test.
In short, it’s an incredibly efficient machine, where every ounce of energy spent pushing the pedals is transferred into forward momentum. Boardman have created a frame which is light without sacrificing strength and stiffness. The 9.2 takes little input to get up to speed and, with our scales recording anoverall weight of 7.1kg , it proved the ideal companion for Majorca’s long, steady climbs. Back in the UK, it’s the machine I’ve reached for over the past few months when speed is the key and, perhaps, there’s a Strava segment up for grabs.
The trade-off, however, is that it’s not the most comfortable of rides. Comfort, along with aerodynamics and weight, is a bike design buzzword, but the SLR 9.2 transmits a generous helping of road buzz through the frame to the rider. Majorca’s super-smooth roads provided no issues and the bike remained comfortable through a long, mountainous 85-mile sportive, but the UK’s potholed roads posed more of a problem and the ride quality is a little harsh if you want a machine that will accommodate long days in the saddle on bumpy roads.
But this is an aggressive, race-tuned bike, and delivers wholly on that front. If speed’s your thing then then SLR 9.2 will deliver by the bucketload. Handling is direct and nimble, and is a joy to fire through fast, sweeping descents.
The spec is, on the whole, excellent. SRAM’s Force groupset is a popular choice for amateur racers who want to combine low weight and performance with affordability. The bike is equipped with 53-39t chainrings as standard, which again alludes to the design brief to create a race-ready machine; we swapped in a cassette with a 28t sprocket ahead of our trip to Majorca and that proved enough for the island’s largely steady climbs. A compact chainset is also available through selected dealers.
Mavic’s Ksyrium Elite wheels are stiff (which contributes to some of the road buzz transmitted into the frame) and tough while, at 1540g, still relatively lightweight for a set of off-the-peg aluminium clinchers. The Ritchey WCS finishing kit (handlebar, stem and saddle) is lightweight and stiff, too, while the Fizik Arione saddle is a popular choice.
All that makes for an excellent package which, at £2,599.99, is well priced for the spec. If you’re willing to sacrifice some comfort for speed, and your heart’s set on racing or a mountainous, overseas sportive, then it’s a machine which will ask for more long after the rider has nothing left to give.