The Boardman SLR 8.9 Alloy is a shining example of how advancements in frame technology and evolution of economies of scale can supply sheer riding enjoyment. Cast your minds back a decade or so and the choice of aluminium road bikes was limited. You were faced with polar options: either a heavy alloy bike peppered with compromises, or something like a Cervelo S1 – rapid, lightweight, but with precisely zero concession to comfort.
‘Boardman is known for affordable carbon bikes,’ says Boardman Bikes’s Product Manager Matt Dowler. ‘But we’ve also plenty of experience in designing in aluminium. We knew we could produce an aluminium frame which delivered a great ride experience, and being a less expensive material to work with as opposed to carbon, allowed us to fit better components at a similar price.’
It’s a triumph; here’s why.
Balance or compromise?
The Boardman SLR 8.9 Alloy is better specced, lighter and £100 cheaper than the brand’s entry-level 8.9 Carbon model. The aluminium version I’ve been testing wears a Shimano 105 groupset, while the 8.9 Carbon uses Tiagra (so you’re also getting an extra sprocket as Tiagra remains 10-speed).
‘The 8.9 Alloy is a very well balanced package straight out of the box,’ continues Dowler. ‘The level of components fitted matches the quality of the frame well. The 8.9 Carbon has a better frame, which wouldn’t feel out of place with higher level components on it and could be upgraded over time.’
So what we’re faced with here, on the proviso that you’re not going to fit your best wheels to it, is essentially the better package.
It’s long been argued that good quality alloy trumps low-quality carbon, and the Boardman SLR 8.9 Alloy proves the point. Take into consideration the incredibly smooth welds and you’d even think it was carbon at a glance.
Dowler vindicates this assessment: ‘With modern production processes, alloy frames can be almost as light as carbon. Using hydroforming and complex butting of tubes, we can achieve a very high performing frame, and we’ve also worked very closely over the years to master smooth welding so the tube junctions on our aluminium bikes are almost invisible.’
Harshness be gone; this frameset’s ride quality is such that I was covering distance in such comfort that I bolted another hour’s ride on to my initial blast (dinner was cold when I got home, but moderate domestic disharmony was a small price to pay).
The bike offers simple, basic long-distance riding enjoyment with barely a noticeable intrusion from the road surface. Its 72.5° head angle ensures that turn-in isn’t accompanied by involuntary sphincter contraction, yet urges you to take full advantage of its biddable nature.
Buy now from Halfords for £1,000
Downhill sweepers are its hunting ground; engage the big ring (50T in this compact Shimano 105 set-up), fire some bigger ratios into the 11-28 cassette via those dependable 105 shifters, and mid-corner daydreaming on rippled Lincolnshire tarmac turns to thoughts of descending Mallorca’s Col de Soller, rolling through wide open turns with a nudge on the Boardman’s 400mm alloy bars.
This bike eats rapid, twisty descents, but it won’t set your teeth chattering, either. Standard long-arm Tektro R317 rim brakes haul the bike up with little fuss, too.
Weight a minute
The joy is compounded (if climbing is ever a joy) when short, sharp asents on rolling hills are encountered. The close-ratio cassette means gears mesh precisely and rapidly, the plenty-stiff-enough frameset excelling either when grinding up an incline in the 34-tooth little chainring, or going ‘full Ardennes’ in the big ring.
Of course, the bike’s all-up weight of 8.72kg is a bonus here. The heavier carbon version of the same bike (whose geometry is – give or take a mm – identical) might have a touch more stiffness and compliance, but I’ll take 11-speed gearing, a lighter groupset and wheels any day of the week.
But there’s one issue I’d take with the entire build, if we’re looking for perfection rather than cost-effectiveness. The Mavic CXP rims – although lighter than the Boardman own-brand items fitted to the SLR 8.9 Carbon – are still basic, no doubt in order to get the list price of the Boardman SLR 8.9 Alloy down to the magic £1000 figure.
You can pick a pair up for £62 direct from Mavic, and build them up yourself. Weighing in at 1.1kg just for the rims, before you’ve added hubs, spokes and the Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres (£14 each for 25c online, or support your local bike shop), you can see that the only thing that’s holding this bike back on flatter roads is the amount of rotating mass it carries.
Buy now from Halfords for £1,000
Those rims, on the other hand, are particularly robust, and versatile – they’ll accept tyres from 19 to 28mm in diameter, so will ably accommodate the maximum recommended width for which this frame has clearance (28mm, since you ask).
The simple, although obviously more costly, solution to this slight unwillingness to get up and go is to swap out the wheels for something lighter and quicker. The best budget option would be to shave off a handful of grams with a wallet-friendly alloy-rimmed Mavic Aksium wheelset, which would retain the flexibility to run wider tyres.
Inevitable compromise at the spinning ends of the bike notwithstanding, this is an outstanding example of an alloy road bike done properly. Many of us might shy away from aluminium as a frame material, perhaps opting for carbon because… well, because carbon.
Boardman’s Matt Dowler has some thoughts on the trade-off. ‘Lower grade carbon which hasn’t had a lot of work go into its design and lay-up can have a simultaneously harsh and dead feeling,’ he opines. ‘But a high-quality aluminium frame can filter out the worst of the road buzz and deliver a sharp, communicative ride.’
What the build of the Boardman SLR 8.9 Alloy does communicate, apart from confidence and comfort over distance, is that, aluminium still has a bright future, especially when the overall package offers such incredible value for money.