Boardman Pro FS 650b - video £1600

Subtle changes for the 2014 Pro FS, including bigger wheels

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

While Boardman started as an exclusive Halfords brand, it has recently embraced independent dealers. The Performance Series range, however, is available direct from Halfords only. This Pro FS is part of that range.

  • HIGHS: Superbly balanced, very well equipped trail all-rounder at an absolute bargain price – with the benefit of shop back up.  
  • LOWS: It deserves grippier tyres.
  • BUY IF… You want a great value all-rounder with totally neutral

If it weren't for the 650b rather than 26in wheels (which aren't, at first glance, even that obvious), you'd be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed with the FS Pro.

Look closely at the triple-butted frame though and you see the new reinforcing bulge behind the head tube, a curve at the base of the seat tube - there to sneak the bigger wheel in closer – and the cutaway rear dropouts with 142x12mm screw-through axle. The seatstays are also significantly beefed up, and Boardman has fitted dropper post guides.

Note the reinforcing bulge behind the head tube

Otherwise, the FS Pro uses exactly the same swing-link suspension design, gives the same 130mm and still has an unflatteringly boring name. The head angle is the same middle-of-the-road 68.5 degrees, but the effective seat angle steepens by a degree.

Unsurprisingly, that all means it rides with reassuring familiarity. It's confident enough to really let it go on descents but not so slack it feels like you're trying to steer a wheelbarrow round tight turns or steep climbs. The short-ish, 70mm stem also stops the borderline-width 710mm bars from feeling too narrow.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we're totally sold on 650b wheels for trail bikes. The extra smoothness and rolling speed over rough ground is noticeable, but what really surprises is how much more stability and traction you get – even from cheap plastic tyres like the ones on the Boardman. We still suggest you change them as soon as possible, but at least you have a fighting chance of staying upright on the 650b ones on wet, rocky, woodsy trails – places the 26in versions of the same tyres are, we can attest, absolutely horrible in.

If the handling is a great 'just get on and ride' balance, so is the suspension. The RockShox Revelation fork is noticeably more composed on trails where the same firm's Sektor forks – common on many similarly-priced bikes – are at the ragged edge, and there's no shortage of stiffness across the legs to back up the balanced handling.

The Monarch RL rear shock has dual flow rebound and a lockout lever, which is good – although we rarely used the latter once we had the damping level and air pressure right. The suspension is notably free of vices or oddities to get used to – it just gets on with it, doing a predictable job of creating useful traction and control on rough sections, without any obvious bob under power. It might might not be especially characterful, but the 650b wheels offset the slightly numb small bump response.

The RockShox Monarch rear shock was reliable and predictable

The quality SRAM kit, including Avid's excellent four-piston Trail brakes, is very impressive. Value, like the ride, is extremely good, even when you factor in new tyres.

The Boardman Pro FS 650b was also a the value award winner in What Mountain Bike's Trail Bike of the Year 2014 awards. Technical Editor Tom Marvin shares his thoughts on the bike in this video:

Video: Boardman Pro FS 650b

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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