It's that time of year when some of us feel the urge to go and get muddy. The whole gravel/adventure thing may have softened some bikes a touch to make them more versatile but Boardman's CXR 9.4 is having none of it.
'Ready to race straight out of the box,' it says on Boardman's website and while I'd say it could do with a couple of minor tweaks the CXR 9.4 is one flickable, lightweight off-road rocket which is an absolute blast on the technical stuff.
I've been testing the CXR 9.4 alongside another from the Boardman Elite stable, the SLR Endurance 9.0 disc equipped road bike.
Similarly priced and with an almost identical weight (just 80g lighter) the SLR Endurance 9.0 really highlighted just how good the CXR 9.4 is when riding them side by side. This cyclocross bike felt so much lighter in the real world even on the road giving a much more snappy and eager feel to everything from acceleration to climbing and handling.
My off-road playground is Salisbury Plain, a giant Army training ground surrounded by miles and miles of gravel by-ways which if you dare to venture off deliver various routes on grass, chalk and lots of twisty singletrack through the various wooded sections.
When the terrain becomes technical in nature like tree roots and potholes the flickability of the CXR really comes into play. With a 72° head angle the CXR's handling feels very quick indeed and with a relatively short 140mm head tube and 550mm top tube you sit in a long and low position which allows you to keep your centre of gravity low and weight distributed.
All this adds up to a bike that really responds to your input especially when the track is flowing and you are carrying plenty of speed over obstacles and through the bends.
The low weight makes bunny hopping ruts or man made obstacles an absolute breeze too.
Adding to your control through the tricky stuff are SRAM's Force hydraulic calipers paired with 160mm rotors front and rear. The braking power is stunning and once I'd adapted to the way they feel, easy to modulate.
I spend a lot of time riding Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes which I find engage as soon as you ease the lever back towards the handlebar, and have a very progressive feel. The SRAMs feel a little more on and off. I wouldn't say either is better than the other but a few times I failed to give the SRAM lever enough of a tug and would slightly overshoot the turn until I got used to it.
In short races like most cyclo-cross events comfort isn't necessarily as important as it is on say an adventure bike which you are likely to be sitting on for hours on end. The CXR reflects that by being very stiff and a little unforgiving on certain surfaces. That's not helped by the fact that the standard tyres require a minimum of 45psi. This isn't to say that the Boardman is uncomfortable it just isn't very plush.
The frame is made from the same C10 carbon fibre, Boardman's highest grade, as the Elite Endurance SLR and gives a very similar ride.
I took the CXR for a four and a half hour ride mostly on gravel and I knew I'd Done Something, thanks mostly to muscle fatigue in my arms and upper body. Padded bar tape and possibly shimming the seat tube to 27.2mm and fitting a more flexible seatpost would make a difference.
The high levels of stiffness though are welcome when it comes to climbing especially those short, sharp crests likely to be found in the woods or under race conditions.
The bottom half of the bike resists practically every force your legs can chuck at it thanks to that massive, near-square-section, oversized down tube, press fit bottom bracket area and tall chainstays.
The head tube has had the tapering treatment with a massive 1 1/2in bottom bearing race and a fork steerer to match.
Compared to the forks on Boardman's road bikes the CXR's is a beast with massive deep legs from top to bottom which resist both steering forces and those caused by hauling hard on the front brake.
Tyre clearance isn't massive. You might be able to swap the stock Vittoria Cross XM 31mm for 35mm wide rubber, maybe 38mm at a push, but you're not going to get those newfangled 45mm adventure bike tyres in there. That's not what this bike is about.
You will need to change the tyres if there is even the slightest hint of moisture on the ground. The minimal central tread offers no grip whatsoever on wet mud or grass and they tend to sink on deep sections of gravel because they're quite skinny.
While you're changing the tyres, go tubeless. Even at 50psi I suffered two pinch flats in a matter of miles. The the CXR Elite Five wheels are tubeless-ready so that's an obvious upgrade.
The CXR 9.4 has thru axles: 15mm at the front and 12mm at the rear. Most manufacturers have settled on 12mm all round now especially for road use so we might see Boardman go that way when the frame and fork are updated. We'd expect to see a move to flat mount for the calipers too rather than the post mounts currently used.
It's good to see the CXR has full internal cabling runs for the gears and braking which keeps them out of the muddy elements and mean there is nothing to get snagged on should you need to chuck the bike on your shoulder to run with it.
If the CXR had a front mech, the cable would run through the top tube and exit just before the end to drop down to the front mech via a guide on the seat tube. Again this keeps everything out of the mud but it does look a little redundant when you are using a single-chainring transmission.
The SRAM Force CX1 groupset will set you back just under £900 online so it makes up a fair chunk of the CXR 9.4's budget but it's worth it.
The wide-range 11-speed cassette (11/12/13/15/17/19/22/25/28/32/36) and a 38-tooth single chainring gives a pretty decent spread of gears for the type of terrain you'll likely encounter on this bike.
Bottom gear, 38x36, is 28.5 inches which is comparable to the 34x32 (28.7inches) lowest gear yuou get when you combine a compact chainset with an 11-32 cassette.
At the other end you'll find yourself spinning out a lot sooner. The 38x11 top gear combination is only 93.3 inches. At a brisk 110-110rpm spin that's about 28-30mph, so if you like to pedal down hills you'll struggle to keep up. That said, I found the gear ratios too gappy to spend any amount of time on the road.
Shifting is quick and crisp through the clutch rear mech. Even under load plus there were no issues whatsoever with the chain becoming derailed.
The wheels, Boardman's own CXR Elite Fives, are a tough set of hoops that stood up to all of the abuse from the terrain and weather I could chuck at them. They have 28 spokes front and rear, laced two-cross to a 28mm deep rim. The hubs run smooth and didn't need any tweaking or adjustment throughout the test period which towards the end turned very wet and muddy.
The rest of the finishing kit is all Boardman branded and keeps the look subtle and classy to match the frame. The handlebars are alloy, seatpost is carbon with the stem being a mixture of the two being alloy with a carbon wrapped finish.
When it comes to value the CXR 9.4 doesn't really disappoint. I think £2,299 is a fair price for a quality frameset and a decent selection of kit. The frame has been around a while now so it doesn't have the tyre clearances to accept the move towards big tyres and still has slightly old-fashioned post mounts for the brakes, but these are not major hindrances or deal breakers against the opposition.
It's a couple of hundred quid cheaper than the Cannondale Super X and comes with a better groupset. The Merida CX 5000 is only £1,700 but comes with a much lower spec and more weight even if it does sound as though it could match the Boardman as a race bike.
If you want a double chainset Boardman offers the Ultegra-equipped CXR 9.2 which scrapes in just under the £2,000 mark and looks decent value for money. As a frameset it's available for £999.99.
If you're looking for a pure race-orientated cyclocross bike, the CXR 9.4 is a very solid choice. However, if you're looking for a bike that can do a bit of everything then bear in mind the carbon CXRs have no mudguard eyelets at all, so you're not going to fit mudguards or a rack without faffing. You'll have to choose the aluminium alloy framed CXR 9.0 for that luxury.
Quick handling off-road race machine that is an absolute blast in the technical sections
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Boardman CXR 9.4
Size tested: Medium
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Boardman CXR, C10 Carbon
Boardman CXR Disc, Carbon, Carbon Tapered Steerer, 15mm Thru-Axle
Sram Force CX1
Sram Force CX1
Sram Force CX1
Sram Force Hydraulic
Sram Force Hydraulic
Sram PowerGlide 1170, 11-36
FSA Team Issue
Prologo Nago Evo 141
Boardman Elite SLR Carbon Twenty
Boardman Elite Carbon - 6° rise
Boardman Elite Alloy
Boardman CXR Elite Five Disc
Boardman J-bend, 28H, 15mm front / 12mm rear thru-axles
Stainless Steel butted, Aero- bladed
28mm deep disc-specific profile, Clincher
Vittoria Cross XM Pro (31C)
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
"Pure race spec cyclocross bike, ready to race straight out of the box. With a super light, super stiff thru-axle carbon frame and fork combined with the brilliantly simple and effective Sram Force CX1 groupset you'll have more headspace to focus on making smooth turns and accelerating cleanly out of every corner to chase down your nearest competitors."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The quality and overall finish is very impressive although the paint work does scratch quite easily
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame and fork is manufactured from what Boardman call C10, their highest grade of high modulus carbon fibre
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
With quite a low front end and and steep angles the CXR is definitely designed more for competing than as a general all terrain machine.
Full details here - https://www.boardmanbikes.com/gb_en/products/427-cxr-9.4.html
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
This medium has a stack of 563mm, reach of 383mm which gives a ratio of 1.47. This compares with other race CX bikes in this size.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It wasn't uncomfortable but its ride isn't plush either, not that that is a criticism for a race bike of this style
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes very stiff indeed
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The bottom half of the frame just puts every ounce of power down onto the ground
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes and no real issues
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is exactly as you need it on tricky terrain, quick and very precise but without being twitchy
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The 31.6mm seatpost diameter might offer more respite from rough terrain if it was swapped for a 27.2mm one
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Sram's crank arms don't let you down when you are really trying to drag the bike up a steep off-road ascent.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
For road use you'd need to tweak the gear ratios for maintaining cadence
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The clutch rear mech keeps the chain tight on rough terrain and supplies a crisp gear change regardless of load
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The wheels seem to be very tough and durable regardless of conditions plus the tyres were very easy to remove and refit.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?
The Vittoria tyres are good for dry, hard surfaces due to minimal tread on their central track but I'd definitely upgrade for something more adaptable to any conditions.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It's all decent enough kit which suits the quality of the frame and exactly what I'd expect on a bike of this price.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
A very impressive frameset backed up with a hardwearing and good performing set of components though the average tyres means it's not quite ready to go straight out of the box.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!