Boardman’s SLR 8.9c was in our Bike of the Year top ten last year – and as it’s unchanged since then, it’s no surprise to find it’s well up the ratings again.
That said, it was the only carbon bike that made the final cut in 2019, but this time there are three others, from Carrera, Vitus and Ribble.
To hit that all-important £1,000 price, which has a huge psychological appeal and means it’s eligible for the UK’s tax-friendly Cycle to Work scheme, Boardman has gone with Shimano’s 10-speed Tiagra rather than Shimano 105, and has also made a few other cost-cutting measures.
But all this is forgivable considering the quality of the frame and the ride it delivers.
Bike of the Year 2020
The Boardman SLR 8.9c is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.
Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.
I went to the launch of Boardman’s first £1,000 carbon road bike at the Manchester Velodrome over a decade ago, and the spirit of that bike lives on with its successors, but it has had a few improvements over the years.
The original Boardman Carbon Team came with the then-popular 31.6mm seatpost and near-horizontal top tube, and back then it was SRAM rather than Shimano – but, crucially, the geometry is very similar.
Shimano’s Tiagra rather than 105 drivetrain. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Boardman SLR 8.9c kit
All the cabling is now internally routed and the semi-compact frame features the dropped, slimline seatstays and what Boardman describes as “much more aerodynamic tube profiles to give riders an increase in speed for the same effort”.
The fork is a full-carbon tapered affair and the bottom-bracket shell is an oversized PF86.
The cabling is now internally routed. David Caudery / Immediate Media
The Boardman-branded wheels may be quite modest but they’ll take 28mm tyres and they’re also tubeless-ready.
After a few years lurking in the background and threatening to make the breakthrough, road tubeless finally seems to be making inroads over the last year or two, presumably a spin-off of the popularity of gravel bikes.
The SLR 8.9c has a light-feeling, lively handling ride but one that’s not too twitchy for commuting or everyday riding.
The carbon has more-than-adequate comfort for long-distance riding too, and I got in loads of miles on this over the winter and spring with no trouble.
The 27.2mm seatpost offers a bit more fore-and-aft deflection. David Caudery / Immediate Media
And some of this will be down to the changes from the original Boardman Carbon Team. The first models in 2009 had the then-popular 31.6mm seatpost and that near-horizontal top tube. Now, it’s a more compact frame, complete with up-to-date aero-friendly features and a narrower 27.2mm seatpost.
The result is a seatpost that offers a bit more fore-and-aft deflection, which combines with the dropped seatstays for both excellent comfort and a tight and efficient rear triangle.
The saddle’s pretty decent too. Manufactured by saddle experts Velo especially for Boardman, its shape strongly echoes that of the Fizik Antares, which funnily enough is the saddle on the aluminium Boardman.
The saddle was designed especially for Boardman. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Boardman SLR 8.9c geometry and ride experience
The geometry bridges the gap between performance and race bike, making it ideal for fast riding without putting you in a very extreme – and quickly discomfiting – riding position; it’s fine for tackling your Strava or sportive personal bests, and its predecessor propelled Nicole Cooke to gold at the Beijing Olympics, so it’s not too shabby when it comes to speed!
The ride of the carbon SLR 8.9 belies its budget price, and then some. It’s smooth and composed, the carbon easily softening road bumps and taking the edge off chatter.
The 25mm tyres are okay and the tubeless-ready rims are a real boon. Go up to the rims’ maximum 28mm tyre width and switch to tubeless and you’ll find even more comfort.
The Boardman-branded wheels will take 28mm tyres. David Caudery / Immediate Media
But this is just one area in which the 8.9c scores heavily. Boardman has also moved with the times and the SLR 8.9c is very much a bike of our era – the frame was developed with the help of CFD (computational fluid dynamics) so, while not an aero bike, the truncated aerofoil tube profiles will have drag-reducing properties.
It’s sufficiently stiff for those of us this side of Hoy and Cavendish, with a little flex during full-on sprints and hard, out-of-the-saddle climbing, and the wheels aren’t super-stiff either. But that’s more than made up for by its day-long endurance-friendly geometry and the comfort that imbues.
The Alloy bar and stem combo. David Caudery / Immediate Media
But Boardman’s SLR 8.9c is in a class – that of the £1,000 carbon road bike – with very few competitors, though there are a few now snapping at its heels.
If you want carbon and don’t want to splash more than £1,000 of your cash it’s a close call between this and Ribble’s newest R872. I’d have appreciated a lower bottom gear and the Boardman’s brakes aren’t the best of the bunch.
But the comfort of carbon gives it that dash of smoothness as well as definite cachet, and you barely notice the drop down to 10-speed Tiagra.
Tektro R315 long-arm caliper rim brakes. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Its tubeless-ready rims add to your ability to upgrade it too. The 9.03kg weight is only a little higher than the lightest bikes in our top 10 and it’s fractionally heavier than the Ribble.
But the difference isn’t discernible and, with the help of its stiff frame and some aero features, the Boardman can be pretty speedy should the mood take you.
There’s a reason why I still see a lot of these – and its predecessor – on my commute and my local rides: it’s a great bike for the money. Simple as that.
Boardman SLR 8.9c geometry
Sizes (* tested): S, M*, L, XL
Seat angle: 73.5 degrees
Head angle: 72.5 degrees
Seat tube: 50cm
Top tube: 55.5cm
Head tube: 16cm
Fork offset: 4.8cm
Bottom-bracket drop: 6.8cm
With thanks to…
BikeRadar would like to thank 100%, Q36.5, Lazer, Garmin and Facom for their support during our Bike of the Year test.