Introduced by British retail chain Halfords last year, the Boardman range is far more than just a name hijack – in fact, Olympian and World Champion Chris is a real kit fanatic. While the quality of the road bikes came as no surprise, off-road was an unknown quantity. If the Comp FS is anything to go by, there was no need to worry. It's a stunning new benchmark for the budget full-suspension scene.
The rear shock is a potential problem area, but patient set-up will unleash a stellar ride. Handling, speed, control, componentry and overall suitability for UK riding are as good as many far more expensive bikes and it looks superb to boot.
Ride & handling: Light and nimble – it'll leave you grinning
As well as looking slick and carrying some impressive kit, the Boardman impresses immediately on the trail. For a start, it’s lighter than a lot of bikes in the same mid-travel trail category, which always helps to foster a grin.
That a lot of the weight is lost directly from wheels and tyres means the Comp accelerates quickly and easily whenever you press the pedals. Despite their high levels of wet-ground grip, the relatively narrow Continental tyres roll fast. Lighter rolling mass lets you keep speed high enough to flow and skip through sections that other bikes trudge towards and then thump into. And this positive spiral of easy speed and ‘skip through’ agility continues to enthuse long after other bikes have become an exercise in endurance over enjoyment.
To complement the lively feel, the handling is equally nimble and responsive, thanks to a well judged stem length and bar width. It’s not a ‘power assisted’ muscle setup, but it turns as much as you need whenever you need to and doesn’t twitch about on climbs or slow-speed stuff. The short back end whips round quickly in tight terrain as well.
Frame stiffness is impressive considering overall weight, enabling you to pilot precise lines. The forks are also stiff, but the Ritchey wheels have a tendency to twang out of line if forced off camber or shaved too close to parallel roots and ruts.
Suspension performance is vital to the overall package and it’s one area where the Boardman needs some careful work. The RockShox Ario rear shock has been the bane of many bikes and only the longer stroke of this version saved the Boardman from being blighted. It still took us three full rides of tuning to eliminate a vicious compression damping spike over sudden hits, so be prepared for a lot of trial-and-error tuning to get it smooth. On the bright side ,the natural stiffness of the shock adds a stable and sharp pedalling feel to the trail-hugging performance of the Horst link suspension setup.
Frame: Classy-looking, stiff and ideal for UK, with classic Horst link suspension
The mainframe is as slick as the majority of pricier bikes, with hydroformed and butted down and top tubes. There’s plenty of standover clearance and the short integrated headtube allows you to swap out the big stack of spacers and get ‘racer’ low.
Out back, machined linkage plates get bare metal detailing (à la top Shimano groupsets) and there’s a double-bolted brace to reduce rear end twist. Broad machined dropout sections, double-sided pivot connections, a wide box seatstay bridge and asymmetric offside chainstay keep things stiff and classy-looking.
A 190mm shock reduces overall leverage and proves crucial to performance. Because the Comp FS is only sold in the UK, Boardman can use the classic ‘Horst link’ chainstay pivot design without worrying about US patents.
UK riders will also beneit from the large amount of mud room around the tyres and a seat clamp slot that faces forward away from wheel spray. While a bolted seat clamp slows down adjustment, the post can be dropped right down for steep descents and there’s a down tube bottle mount for ride refreshment.
Equipment: Cheap shock is the only weak link
The Ario rear shock is the only sticking point when it comes to the bike's spec. In contrast, the RockShox Recon air fork is wonderful for the price. It’s light, easily adjustable for rider weight and well controlled on rougher terrain.
While the bearings may need replacing frequently, the Truvativ integrated axle crank gives a solid feeling underfoot, complementing the crisp overall feeling of the bike.
SRAM gears are punchy and positive, and Avid brakes reassuringly powerful. Boardman steering and seating equipment is all well sized for comfort and control. And little details like the carbon fibre headset spacers make it feel like a class act.