The Boardman ASR, or "all season road", is a really good value package that offers a relaxed ride with the classic looks and feel of steel, the modern convenience of hydraulic discs brakes, and clearance for wide tyres. Some of the components might not be to your liking, but otherwise the ASR 8.9 serves its purpose well as an all-weather commuter.
Pros: Smooth and comfortable frame, excellent value, mudguards included
Cons: Bulbous 105 hydraulic levers are divisive
The ASR launched in late 2017, and my test bike is the top-specced version with Reynolds 725 steel tubing, a full Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes, and Boardman's own bar and wheels. The cheaper 8.8 (£849) has 9-speed Sora components, a '4130 CroMo Steel' frame and mechanical disc brakes, so for the extra £400 you're getting lighter and arguably better tubing, extra gears and hydraulic discs.
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The 8.9 arrives ready for winter, with mudguards fitted to the frame, 28mm Vittoria tyres, plus reflective frame details ticking all the boxes for commuting through the rough British weather. Remove the mudguards and the bike easily has clearance for wider tyres, so it also fits the bill for summer towpath pootling and brief gravel forays.
I can see the ASR appealing to an audience who appreciate style just as much as value and function. It's Reynolds 725 steel which has been proven the world over to provide a highly comfortable ride, the joins are smooth, and it generally doesn't have the look or feel of a mass-produced bike.
Add in the threaded bottom bracket and you have a very aesthetically pleasing frameset, with the addition of a chunky carbon fork taking care of damping vibrations up front.
Boardman has gone for a relaxed geometry inspired by its hybrid and mountain bikes, with a 72-degree head angle, 16cm head tube and an unusually long 56.5cm top tube on my size medium test bike. The head tube is also a centimetre or so longer than many endurance road bikes, and I was initially sceptical about how this bike would ride. Boardman says the slacker angles are intentional to keep the handling stable, and it's balanced out that long top tube with a shorter 90mm stem to keep the steering lively.
While it's pretty slim at the rear, with thin seatstays and chainstays, the ride feels robust and there isn't any noticeable flex in this area. Riding over rough stuff on my cycle path commute was generally a breeze, and the only real 'problem' I had with it was manoeuvrability. While the stem is shortened in an attempt to make the steering springier, I did find the ASR a bit sluggish when trying to corner quickly, which I'll put down to the relaxed angles of the frame and longer top tube making the bike quite slow to respond.
It does make for really stable handling, though, and it's not really designed to be aggressively chucked around; it's more about finesse than fast and furious. Eating up long, steady miles in comfort is what the ASR does best, and as someone who's prone to head out for a run or carry on riding if the weather's okay when I get home, it was ideal for a period of building base fitness in early spring.
> Choosing a steel, aluminium, titanium or carbon road bike
The comfort and easy gearing make up for the extra weight over a carbon frame, and when you're up to cruising speed you wouldn't know you're riding a bike that weighs over 10kg. For a steel framed bike with disc brakes it's not bad anyway: the £2k Bombrack Audax Stu tested recently was 10.7kg, and the ASR holds its own against similar priced aluminium framed bikes too, such as the 10.54kg Focus Paralane.
The wheelset is Boardman's own tubeless-ready alloy Road 5s, dressed with Vittoria Rubino Pro G+ clincher tyres. You can't buy these wheels separately and they seem to only appear on Boardman's ASR bikes, but from my thousand or so miles of riding them they've provided a sturdy option and are still running true.
I suffered no punctures on the Rubino Pro G+ tyres, so from my test riding I can recommend them, but the option to run tubeless is always going to be a positive for some extra peace of mind.
Full-length mudguards offer enough weather protection, and fit fine over the 28mm tyres supplied with no rubbing apparent.
Elsewhere, Boardman has provided a 42mm alloy bar, bar grip, stem and seatpost, and the headset is an FSA no.42 (watch out for the slightly confusing system, which requires a small hex key to loosen/tighten inside and a larger one to tighten the top cap; well, it confused me anyway).
With the exception of a KMC chain, the groupset is full Shimano 105 5800 with hydraulic disc brakes. The gearing is suitably low with 50/34 chainrings and a wide-ranging 11-32 cassette – more than enough for spinning up the steep stuff for most of us.
While I've no problem with the 105 mechanism or durability, the ergonomics and looks of the disc brakes are a bit of a letdown; it seems a shame to pair the handsome 725 frame with those bulbous levers, and I always seem to catch my fingers on the undersides. The new 105 R7000 groupset with its far smaller and neater levers can't come soon enough. Boardman's bikes usually have two-year model cycles, but the company does make running changes, so hopefully you won't have to wait until 2019 to get your hands on an ASR with the new 105 levers.
I didn't get on with Prologo's Nago Evo saddle, which is too long and narrow for me. While I appreciate every rear end is unique, and others will find it comfortable (Stu tested the Nago Evo CPC back in 2013 and liked it) this is the first time I've had to change saddles on a test bike after the first ride, so I'd be buying in-store and swapping it straight out if I were to purchase this bike.
In terms of value, there isn't much out there that ticks as many boxes as the ASR at this price point to compare it with, and as sold it's quite a package. Condor's Fratello Disc frameset with Columbus tubing came in at £1,400 with mudguards and SRAM Apex, as reviewed by Dave Arthur back in 2015, and for a Genesis Equilibrium with 725 tubing and 105 groupset but no mudguards, you're looking at a shade under two grand.
> Buyer's Guide: 22 of the best bikes for commuting
If we consider alloy frames too, there are all-weather packages that will do the job for cheaper: Ribble's Audax 7005 with full mudguards and a 105 rim brake groupset has an RRP of £949, and it's even less at the moment.
For a brand that makes thousands of aluminium bikes for Halfords, the ASR is a bold move and something a bit different to the norm with its smooth steel tubing. It looks and feels a bit special, and for those who prioritise comfort and classic looks over a couple of kilos' weight saving for long commutes and training rides, it's a really decent option.
Personally, I would wait for a version with the new 105 so I don't have to suffer with those beastly levers, but otherwise the ASR 8.9 is ready to roll whatever the weather and offers really good value for money.
Good value, comfortable and sturdy steel commuter that's nice and smooth and set up for year-round riding
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Make and model: Boardman ASR 8.9
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Reynolds 725 steel tubing
ASR Carbon Taper fork
Shimano 105 groupset - 50/34 chainrings and 11-32 cassette
Shimano RS505 Hydraulic discs, 160mm rotors
FSA, No.42 headset
Boardman Alloy bars, stem and seatpost
Boardman Road Five tubeless-ready wheels
Vittoria Rubino Pro G+, 700x28C tyres
Prologo Nago Evo saddle
Tell us what the bike is for
Boardman says, "The ASR 8.9 is a bike designed to make your winter riding as enjoyable as in the summer. Reynolds 725 tubing and a carbon fork offer a great blend of traditional comfort and resilience of steel with modern composites design for precise handling. With mud guards keeping you clean, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes providing reliable stopping regardless of conditions, and a Shimano 105 groupset providing gears for any terrain, the ASR 8.9 is ready for almost anything. Reflective orange decals running through the frame and reflectives on the mudguards ensure that you'll stand out on dark winter days too. The ASR 8.9 geometry is influenced by our award winning MTB and Hybrid bikes to increased stability, comfort and control for long days in the saddle when the rain is coming down and the mercury falls. The bikes have a longer top tube, head tube and a slacker head angle compared to our SLR bikes to keep handling stable, but use a shorter stem to keep steering lively for making corrections if you do loose [sic] grip."
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Steel tubes, carbon fork and nice wide tyres really make for a comfortable ride. The frame is well put together and you can't argue with 725 tubing – strong and reliable.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Reynolds 725 steel tubing, carbon fork
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Quite odd geometry with a long head tube and top tube, but a short stem to balance it out.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Quite a lot of reach compared to other size medium bikes – 56.5cm compared to about 55cm usually.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes – smooth riding steel frame and 28mm tyres that eat up the road buzz.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty stiff enough – quick releases (rather than thru-axles) mean there's a little bit of flex at the rear when you get out of the saddle and try to hammer, but it's not really discernible at cruising speeds.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It feels easy to ride and efficient when you're up to speed, but lacks some acceleration.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Over rough roads it feels very nice and lively, which I'll put down to the quality steel frame.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It cruises very well and you don't feel many jolts on rough roads. It's a little sluggish, though.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The 105 levers didn't feel nice in my hands, but elsewhere it's a comfortable ride. I also didn't get on with the Prologo's Evo saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
A lighter wheelset would be good for the summer, and a closer ranging cassette for stronger riders would mean less chance of gear slips on climbs.
Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
Rate the bike for acceleration:
Rate the bike for sprinting:
It's not really a sprinter.
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
Comes into its own when cruising – that's what it's for in my opinion.
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
Very comfortable and easy handing at low speeds.
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
A little tricky to manoeuvre because of the long and tall geometry.
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
Rate the bike for climbing:
Obviously weight is going to have an effect, but you get easy gearing to make up for it.
Rate the drivetrain for performance:
Shimano 105 is very reliable and shifts fine – there's a reason it's probably the world's most popular groupset.
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
Rate the drivetrain for value:
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Full 105 drivetrain was fine with me, especially at this price point. Matching the 11-32 cassette with compact chainrings gives a good range of gears although there's an argument for saying they're lower than many riders will need – especially if you do most of your riding on the flat.
Rate the wheels for performance:
Rate the wheels for durability:
Rate the wheels for weight:
Rate the wheels for comfort:
Rate the wheels for value:
Not sold individually, but seem like a solid spec on a bike of this price.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
Good wheelset for this type of bike – sturdy and tubeless ready.
Rate the tyres for performance:
Reasonably well rolling, and complement the frame nicely to eat up vibration underneath you.
Rate the tyres for durability:
No punctures and plenty of tread after more than 1,000 miles, so no complaints.
Rate the tyres for weight:
Rate the tyres for comfort:
Rate the tyres for value:
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
Fine for year-round riding, but some faster tyres for summer wouldn't go amiss.
Rate the controls for performance:
Rate the controls for durability:
Rate the controls for weight:
Rate the controls for comfort:
I didn't get on with the ergonomics of the 105 levers.
Rate the controls for value:
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
For those with massive hands, the 105 levers would be okay, but I'm not the only one who doesn't get on with them. Otherwise, 105 shifts very well and it's durable, and the disc rotors are powerful.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Easy gearing with a wide ranging cassette at the back will suit beginners/those who live in hilly areas.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Mostly
Would you consider buying the bike? With new 105, yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Rate the bike overall for performance:
Rate the bike overall for value:
Use this box to explain your overall score
This has the potential to be an excellent bike, a full do-it-all package and ready to go in all weathers. It's a good weight for a steel bike with disc brakes, if a bit heavy for a serious/club rider's summer steed, so the "all season road" is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but as a commuter it's really capable and certainly built for handling British roads year-round. Some of the component choices don't do it for me, but this is down to personal preference, and you can't argue that it's very good value.
Age: 27 Height: 179cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: Road bike (currently Specialized Tarmac) My best bike is: Ridley Chronus TT bike
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, triathlon races
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