The latest evolution in Boardman’s long-running, high-value full-suspension series doesn’t look much different. But it’s brought the ride and performance bang up to date for all-round trail duties.
At first glance the hanging driver linkage suspension layout and the smooth-welded, triple-butted frame are identical to the old FS Team 650b, just with a different paint job. But according to Boardman’s ultra experienced designer almost every tube shape, forging and the detailed suspension architecture have been changed.
That’s most noticeable at the ends of the bike. While you still get a QR rear axle (only the £1499 Pro FS gets a 142x12mm axle) it’s stiffer on the trail thanks to larger pivots and bearing shafts, new rear stays and a shorter, stiffer forged shock linkage that pivots on bearings mounted directly into the top tube.
The reworked suspension combines impressive small-bump sensitivity with cornering and pedalling stability, even with the two-position damper open. The rear end stiffness and improved spring curve is also noticeable when it takes a wallop, so you can set the shock up to a ballpark pressure and then forget about it.
The reworked suspension combines excellent small-bump sensitivity with improved ability when it comes to bigger hits
The fact we’re talking about the suspension feel in such depth rather than just being surprised the rear end moved in a vaguely acceptable manner or the damper didn’t explode, shows just how far budget suspension bikes have come recently.
The 650b Boardman is the most sorted sub-£1000 suspension setup we’ve ridden though, improving climbing traction and descending confidence while still feeling efficient under power even in high torque/low rev grunt-climb situations. It’s relatively light compared with its full-suspension competition and never felt conspicuously lardy on the ups.
It certainly doesn’t suffer compromise on the kit front either, and while the SRAM GX 2x10 gearing is roughly on par with the competition, the RockShox Sektor RL complete with 15mm Maxle thru-axle is the best you'll get at this price in terms of smoothness, consistent damping and tracking stiffness.
There's no shortage of descending confidence
The new frame is based around a long 630mm top tube and short 55mm stem setup that’s the new gold standard for mixing high speed/rough terrain stability with responsive front wheel reactions to juggle traction and nail the tightest lines.
The head angle and 740mm bar are well judged to add confidence and control without making the front end flop around on steep climbs or clipping every passing tree, completing an outstanding package.
The 68.5-degree head angle, 740mm bar and 55mm make a well-judged combo
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.