Boardman’s top AiR model is an almost perfect aero assassin that proves they can compete and win globally at the very highest level, in addition to cornering the sub-£1,000 ride to work market. Quiet aero efficiency and understated performance might not be what everyone is after, but the AiR 9.8 combines phenomenal long distance speed potential and superb value.
- Highs: Ultra-efficient, lightweight, comfortable aerodynamic speed chassis loaded with the best possible equipment at an astonishing price
- Lows: Trades charisma for ultimate efficiency and feels slightly soft up front when cornering and out of the saddle.
- Buy if: You want a near perfect maximum efficiency speed and distance machine at a competitive price
Together with his coach Peter Keen, master time triallist Chris Boardman was probably the first truly scientific aero-aware rider to translate tech into Olympic, hour record and multiple stage win success. It’s no surprise that the AiR bikes have been obsessively honed in the wind tunnel to increase their energy efficiency. While that’s the first thing that strikes you aesthetically, it’s the weight that dominates initial impressions.
Deep main tubes and deep section wheels normally mean a trade-off on the scales, but the ultra-light unidirectional carbon layup of the AiR brings it in significantly lighter than most aero bikes. Add a genuine wishlist parts kit including ultra-light Ritchey cockpit gear and the latest Zipp 404 Firecrest tubular wheels, and this bike is as light as legally allowable for UCI racing.
The superbly balanced handling of the Zipps – even in gusting sidewinds – means the Boardman is almost underwhelmingly sorted at first. The BB30 crankset and box section seatstays certainly don’t waste any of your power, but it doesn’t leap and pop forward from the first pedal stroke.
The skinny main tubes also mean a softer feel than some other high-end bikes if you get out of the saddle and try to get your shoulders involved. As we’re sure Chris would tell us, that isn’t efficient riding – instead if you sit and spin smoothly through the gears the effect is simply devastating.
The Zipps and profiled tubes developed from those used on the Boardman time trial bike might not dramatically flatter speed gain, but their ability to sustain it is breathtaking – for riders trying to keep up, that is. Time and again as ride speeds spun up past 20mph, the AiR would just slide off the front of our test groups leaving other bikes in its wake.
The low weight means that it’ll let you slip ahead of your mates as easily on long, fast climbs as it will on the flat, but it’ll also drop like a polished stone as long as you don’t hit the corners and brakes hard enough to fluster the front end. Its slight compliance is a tangible comfort bonus on longer rides and less than perfect surfaces too, so it’s a compromise most riders will be very happy with.