Chris Boardman and his team at Boardman bikes have made impressive strides since launching a range of decent quality and value packed, yet affordable bikes.
However since the launch of their Elite range the firm has shifted gear from an exclusive-to-Halfords brand to a worldwide company – with Elite taking on the best out there. As a facet of Boardman as a whole, just think of Elite as what S-Works is to Specialized. The Elite SLS9.0 reviewed here, was one of the top five bikes in Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year 2014 Awards.
When Boardman told us it was making a bike that, for want of a better word, was designed for Sportives we were intrigued – up until now Boardman road machines on the whole have been very much on the racy side. We’d expect nothing less though, as Mr Boardman is a racing legend and keeps firm involvement with the evolution of his bikes, spending plenty of hours in the saddle testing them.
What we could have ended up with is a race bike with some comfortable bits, or one that swings wildly the other way – short, upright and a little dull. If you’ve fought your way through the Tour, and achieved as much as Chris did racing, then your average non-competitive distance event could seem lacking in adrenaline-fuelled antics.
What Boardman has come up with on the SLS, though, is a brilliant balance achieved by basing the frame around plenty of the design features of the impressive super light SLR. These include a light yet stiff fork and a rock solid press-fit BB shell that seamlessly meets an oversized down tube and flows into deep rigid chainstays. Everything above the line that ensures out-and-out stiffness and therefore efficient pedal power is slimmed, lightened and allowed some give. The lessons learnt from the SLR in its carbon specification and lay-up have been well applied.
The Hi-Mod carbon frame tips the scales at a claimed 850g. That’s seriously light for a race frame, but for a bike with a sportive bias it’s quite possibly the lightest on the market right now. It’s not so far apart from the racing SLR’s weight of 790g either.
The shape isn’t radically relaxed – the SLS has a 180mm head tube on our large test bike, while the SLR has a 160. The seat and head angle are classic parallel 73s and the top tube remains at 57, the same as the racing SLR. The wheelbase is elongated to just over a metre by adding 5mm to the chainstays. This makes the SLR a little more stable because the slightly taller front end can have the effect of pitching a little more of the rider's mass further back.
Out on the road the SLS feels gloriously balanced; its an easy bike to live with and feels at once comfortable, yet firm. When it comes to components, historically Boardman have outclassed their rivals (take a look at the Performance series ProC SlR to see they still can), but this SLR has more of what we’d expect from a machine in this bracket (the mix of full 105 and Aksiums being the default). The carbon seatpost and Fi'zi:k Ardea saddle are certainly classy, with the neatly finished stem and super compact bar looking good, though the bar did buzz a bit over poor road surfaces.
The frameset is so good we can see why Boardman hasn't been able to go down the usual upscaled kit levels – sub-1kg frames of this calibre most certainly don’t come cheap.
Gearing is spot-on sensible for all rounders: the 50/34 12-28 combo offers all the range you need and maintains good gear progression without any major jumps through the block. The SLS’s combination of stable handling and ride position makes for an impressive climbing bike; the fact that it isn’t that heavy obviously adds to the mix. The Aksium wheels are a good, hardwearing budget wheelset and we like that Boardman has chosen the 25c version of the decent Aksion tyre.
Overall the SLS is a showcase for just how good Boardman has become in such a small space of time – the fact that the firm can compete with the likes of Cannondale, Giant, Focus, Trek and Specialized in terms of pure performance rather than kit per pound is impressive. We can’t really fault the SLS on anything other than a single niggle – ideally we’d prefer a bar that would soak up road buzz a little better – but this is the very definition of nitpicking.