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Boardman SLR 8.8 road bike review

27 Jan 2021
Verdict:

The Boardman SLR 8.8's well thought-out spec leads to a ride that surpasses its budget pricetag

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Looks and rides like a much pricier bike • Well-considered component spec
Against 
A bit heavier than more expensive models

Pulling the Boardman out of its box, I couldn’t help but tap the top tube to check the frame wasn’t carbon. Although it’s alloy, the well-smoothed welds at the top tube, head tube and seatstay junctions have the look of a carbon frame.

That’s given the lie by the fishtails around the bottom bracket welds, but it’s still impressive in a lower priced frame, where large lumps of excess metal are more the norm where the tubes meet.

It’s part of a package that looks and rides well above its entry-level pricetag and includes a slender all-carbon fork and dropped seatstays for a modern looking frameset.

Boardman has redesigned its alloy SLR frameset for 2021, swapping from rim brakes to the disc brakes that are now rapidly becoming the norm for most road bikes, from race-proven thoroughbreds and increasingly down to lower priced machines.

The change also lets it fit wider 28mm tyres for a more comfortable, more grippy ride.

 

The SLR 8.8 is Boardman’s top spec alloy road bike and made of triple-butted alloy. Above this model, Boardman moves to carbon frames; there’s a parallel line of gravel bikes with bigger tyres, including a couple of alloy framed options if you’re more into mixed surface action.

Buy the Boardman SLR 8.8. road bike now from Halfords

The external cabling on the SLR 8.8 isn’t as flashy as the internal routing that’s more common on higher priced bikes, but it leads to easier maintenance and adjustment. Even on grotty winter roads and liberally coated with dirt and grit, everything continued to work effectively.

For all-weather use, there’s plenty of tyre clearance to the frameset and the mounting points to fit full mudguards, while you also get rack-mounting points on the rear triangle, allowing you to set up the SLR 8.8 as a winter bike or commuter.

 

Thoughtful spec choices

Boardman has specced the SLR 8.8 cleverly too. Although disc brakes are trickling down to lower priced road bikes, many bikes costing around the Boardman’s £750 price still rely on rim brakes.

Despite the SLR 8.8’s mechanical, rather than hydraulic, disc brakes they’re almost as effective. That’s not true of all mechanical setups, but the Tektro MD-C511 callipers and 160mm rotors work well.

Once bedded in, stopping was effective, with plenty of bite and a progressive action. The all-weather reliability of discs was a boon when riding wet winter roads.

 

Boardman’s wheels are well built too. They’re quite wide and they’re also tubeless-ready – another feature not always found on lower-priced bikes. So with a change of tyres you could ditch your inner tubes should you wish.

The extra rim width means that the Vittoria Rubino Graphene 2.0 28mm tyres come out closer to 30mm.

Again, that’s a nice, modern feature that lets you lower tyre pressure for a more comfortable ride. Tyres are important for ride quality and puncture protection.

It’s another area where brands will often skimp to hit a price point, so it’s good to see Boardman bucking the trend and fitting quality, branded tyres.

 

Although the axles are quick release rather than the more modern thru-axles, the rotor alignment was fine and not prone to rubbing. The brake callipers use the flat-mount standard which is usually found on road bikes, rather than post mounts, for a sleeker look.

There’s a 10-speed Shimano Tiagra groupset on the Boardman SLR 8.8, so you’ve got one less gear than with Shimano’s next step up, 105. But I really didn’t miss the extra ratio and the combination of an 11-32 tooth cassette with the compact 50/34 chainset gives ample range to handle climbs, however steep they come.

Tiagra’s shift quality, lever feel and its cable routing under the bar tape are the match of 105 too, and again speccing this groupset is a notch up on many sub-£1,000 bikes and provides at least one extra ratio.

 

Boardman fits an FSA Vero chainset on a square taper bottom bracket axle. It’s another canny choice that’s less expensive than other options but still works fine and should lead to easy bearing maintenance.

Buy the Boardman SLR 8.8. road bike now from Halfords

High torque starts in high gears could lead to a bit of rub against the front derailleur cage, so there’s a bit more flex than with a more robust axle setup, but it’s not something I noticed in normal riding once I was moving.

As you’d expect at this price, finishing kit is all own-brand alloy. But it’s effective, feels robust and is comfortable, with the Boardman SLR saddle in particular giving just the right mix of comfort and support.

 

A refined ride

Despite the wet and cold December weather I found myself out on the Boardman more than I’d expected. It’s a bike that punches above its £750 price tag in performance, with a comfortable, reassuring ride quality.

The seating position is pretty neutral: neither too upright, nor too stretched out, so it doesn’t trouble your lower back or shoulders but also means that you don’t catch too much of any headwind and the front end is well weighted. That leads to predictable handling and I was never caught off guard by the inevitable road imperfections.

 

There’s plenty of grip from the Vittoria tyres and, riding them at around 80psi, they really helped smooth out the road surface. There was little tendency to slip, except on the steepest climbs on wet roads – even here it was minimal and easily controlled.

The tyres seem pretty robust too and there were no issues with punctures despite riding plenty of wet, grit-strewn back roads.

Some lower spec bikes can feel a bit lumpen and heavy to ride, slow to accelerate and generally a bit plodding. That’s not true of the Boardman, which just feels fun and engaging to ride wherever the road leads.

 

On flatter roads and downhill, it rides fast and the disc brakes give confidence that you can regulate your speed effectively when you need to. I didn’t feel like I was labouring on hills either, whether spinning up a more gentle slope or pushing harder to crest steeper rises.

An impressive, well priced all-rounder

It all adds up to a bike that punches above its price point and its 10.7kg weight. That’s significantly more than the 9.9kg quoted by Boardman, but again not out of range for a lower priced bike.

If you’re after a robust winter bike or all-weather commuter, the Boardman SLR 8.8 would fit the bill perfectly without breaking the bank or upsetting your company’s Cycle To Work scheme organisers.

It’s versatile enough too that you’d be happy to take it on longer excursions once summer weather tempts you out.

Spec

Frame SLR 8.8 Triple Butted 6061 X7 Aluminium
Fork C7 Carbon
Groupset Shimano Tiagra
Brakes Tektro MD-C511 mechanical disc
Chainset FSA Vero 50/34
Cassette Shimano Tiagra 11-32
Bars Boardman Alloy
Stem Boardman Alloy
Seatpost Boardman Alloy
Saddle Boardman SLR
Wheels Boardman SLR tubeless ready rims on Formula hubs
Tyres Vittoria Rubino Graphene 2.0 28mm
Weight 10.7kg
Contact boardmanbikes.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Price: 
£750

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