News that triple world champion and Olympic champion Chris Boardman MBE has joined up with retail chain Halfords has mostly been met with guarded optimism ; the expectation seems to be that the Boardman-branded bikes will be good, but that Halfords may not be able to prepare or service them to the standard they deserve.
The first chance to see the machines themselves came with the official launch of the brand at Longleat on Tuesday 19 June. A wide selection of bikes bearing the cboardman logo was on hand in a tent carrying the Bikehut label (Bikehut is a bikes-only retail chain owned by Halfords) that had been erected on a lawn outside the stately home. Before we could get to ride them, Chris gave a short presentation outlining some of the core values behind the brand and giving his reasons for creating it. Having said no in the past to several offers to simply stick his name on a frame, he only decided to go ahead when Halfords agreed to give him absolute control over the finished product and a long enough lead time – some two and a half years – to get it to his satisfaction. He was candid about the poor reputation of Halfords staff when it came to matters cycling, but said he felt that the company’s huge investment indicated that it was beginning to take the human-powered side of its business seriously. He pointed out that the sheer size and buying power of Halfords meant that his cycles could be offered at a very competitive price. In any case, the Boardman range will only be carried by 100 selected Halfords outlets in addition to Bikehuts.
A leading British frame builder helped with frame geometries and sizes, and Boardman was happy to admit he had little input on the mountain bikes, which were developed with the help of a top UK mtb racer. Rather than take the own-brand route on finishing kit he went for Ritchey components, which have a solid reputation and come in a series of ranges that neatly matches Boardman’s own. These run Comp, Team and Pro across mtb, ‘performance hybrid’ and road bikes, with a top-level Boardman Elite range of carbon-fibre framed road and time trial machines, which will also be sold through selected independent bicycle dealers, promised for the end of the year.
As might be expected given the views on racing bikes he has made known in print, Chris has avoided any hint of what he describes as ‘gimmicks’ in the design and specification of his cycles. The only unusual visual feature is the diamond-profile top tube, which is common across all the bikes. Otherwise, these are straightforward lightweight machines with pleasing proportions, agreeably subdued colouring and a workmanlike specification.
With limited time available, RCUK opted to ride the Road Pro, which features Shimano Dura-Ace shifting, a Truvativ Rouleur carbon-fibre chainset with 53/39 rings, Ritchey WCS finishing kit and wheelset and a 7005 triple-butted aluminium frame with all-carbon back end and 350g carbon monocoque fork. Sitting at the top of the Road range, this machine will retail for £1399.99. The Ultegra-equipped Team will retail for £899.99, and the Tiagra sti/105 rear mech Comp for £599.99. Boardman reckons the Comp is superior to the bike on which he rode his first Tour de France, which gives some idea of the standard of modern machinery. All the road bikes are currently offered in the same four sizes : Small, Medium, Large and Xlarge. The geometry of each size is common across the three ranges ; in this case, a no-nonsense mix of 57cm mildly sloping top tube, 73/73deg angles and a 170mm head tube with integrated bearings that puts the top of the headset in just about the right place.
The test bike had 175mm cranks, although this may not be definitive. Chris said that customers will be able to specify changes to details such as stem length when ordering, and that Halfords warehousing should mean changes can be made overnight when the desired item is out of stock.
After adjusting the stem and seat height, RCUK found it necessary to tweak the gears to get them to work properly. Round three to the Halfords doubters, then, but once readied, the Road Pro proved a real hit. On the lumpy, twisting and occasionally gravel-strewn Longleat circuit, and what a Kermesse Lord Bath could organise around it, the bike got a chance to show most of its abilities. The immediate impression, shared by those riding one, was of considerable stiffness around the bottom bracket allied to good stability and neutral steering with incisive turn-in. Pretty much what any discerning punter (and most pros for that matter) would ask for, and just what you’d expect of a decent road bike in today’s market. The often-scorned Tektro carbon-fibre R750 brake calipers proved more than adequate, especially as the bike couldn’t have weighed more than 8.5kilos, and there was no hint of seat post slip, headset judder or any of the other minor niggles that can blight a really light bike.
Detailing includes the obligatory double bottle bosses and a small threaded number boss with screw under the top tube. This is even found on the hybrid frames in case they might be used for charity rides. The cboardman lettering was adjudged a success, as was the choice of various shades of silver for the various model levels. On the basis of a five-mile jaunt around the grounds of Longleat, then, the bike was very impressive. So too were the accessories on show, from a carbon-fibre shell helmet to Boardman’s ‘completely squeezable’ black drink bottle with clear fill tell-tale strip down the side. How do the bikes stack up over time ? We’ll let you know, but for now, the Boardman-Halfords partnership gets a thumbs-up – on one side at least.
On sale date is slated for 30 June, just in time for the Tour de France; neat.