The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is a quick and dynamic road bike with practical features that make it suitable for year-round riding, and it offers very good value for money.
- Pros: Great frame, solid spec, very good price
- Cons: Brakes aren't the best
Blimey, what a corker! The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon replaces the Road Team Carbon which is road.cc Road Bike of the Year 2017-18, and it's a lot of bike for £1,000.
Every so often in this job you review a bike that makes you think, 'I'd happily ride this one day in, day out.' That's not entirely surprising when you're on a 10 grand superbike, but it's less common at the £1,000 mark. The Boardman SLR 8.9 is one of those bikes.
Of course, £1,000 represents a significant investment for most of us, but it's not stratospheric these days, and means the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is accessible via most tax-free Cycle to Work schemes.
The highlight is the new frameset, which is good news because that's the heart of any bike. The frame was developed with the use of CFD (computational fluid dynamics), the idea being to provide improved aerodynamic efficiency. You wouldn't call this a full-on aero road bike but you do get features designed to reduce drag. The down tube, seat tube and fork legs have truncated aerofoil profiles, meaning that the trailing edge is cut off square – a design technique that's widely used in the bike industry (and elsewhere).
We can't offer any assessment of aerodynamics, but I can tell you that the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon feels lively in use. You'll find lighter bikes out there at this price point – the £999 Giant Contend SL1 that we reviewed weighed 8.74kg, for instance, and the Specialized Allez Elite, also £999, was 8.77kg – but don't get too hung up on that.
The SLR 8.9 Carbon offers a high level of stiffness for its price point. Okay, you'll probably notice a bit of frame flex if you absolutely hammer it in a quad-twanging sprint for a town sign, and a little from Boardman's own alloy tubeless-ready wheels, but that's about the extent of it. In general, the SLR 8.9 Carbon gives a good account of itself, standing firm when you launch into your best KOM efforts.
You get a tapered head tube that's home to a 1 1/8in upper bearing and a 1 1/2in lower bearing. This gives the front end a pretty solid feel that makes carving through the bends a whole lot of fun. You can smash it through the corners without the need to back off if things get vague.
The handling is quick but a way short of twitchy. You can manoeuvre yourself easily enough without any sense of skittishness. This is a bike that's simple to control – well, pretty much. I wouldn't say that the Tektro R315 long arm brakes, which have been specced to allow the use of mudguards and 28mm tyres, have quite the punch of Shimano equivalents. Don't get me wrong, they work fine, they just feel like they're lacking a little power when push comes to shove.
One thing that surprised me about the SLR 8.9 Carbon is the level of comfort on offer here. I've ridden it loads over the past few weeks, including up the Col de la Madone in southeast France two or three times and the Col de Turini, and I've never given comfort a whole lot of thought. That's definitely a good thing because the only time I usually think about that ride quality is when it's missing.
Boardman has dropped the seatstays on this model so that they meet the seat tube low down, while the seatpost is a slim 27.2mm in diameter and its clamping point is low – it's a wedge-type design in the top tube/seat tube junction.
All of this helps to make for a reasonable amount of movement at the saddle; not so much that you bounce around when laying down the power, but enough to take the edge off holes and bumps in the road and to filter out a lot of vibration.
The saddle itself is made for Boardman by Velo, although the shape is reminiscent of that of a Fizik. Let's just say that the design looks as though it has been heavily influenced by the Antares. Saddles are always a matter of personal taste but I imagine that most people are going to get along with the generous amount of gel-feel padding on offer.
The only thing that I'd really have preferred in terms of comfort would have been a larger diameter handlebar. Boardman's own alloy bar is a 31.8mm diameter at the clamp but slims down a lot from there. A chunkier bar would make for lower pressure on your hands... but that's a personal preference and I'm being picky.
If you want to fit mudguards, the SLR 8.9 Carbon comes with eyelets. The ones on the inside of the rear dropouts are hardly noticeable when not in use and those on the outside of the fork legs aren't a whole lot more conspicuous. Subtle, then, but invaluable for year-round riding in the UK.
I've been riding the SLR 8.9 Carbon in a 58cm. This one comes with a 570mm effective top tube (the measurement if the top tube was horizontal rather than sloping), a 580mm effective seat tube (again, assuming the top tube was horizontal) and a 160mm head tube. The head angle is 73 degrees and the seat angle is 73.5 degrees. The stack height (the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) is 582mm and the reach (the horizontal distance between those points) is 392mm.
Divide the stack by the reach and you get 1.48 which is exactly the same as you get with Boardman's high level SLR Endurance 9.9. The geometry is identical. It's not nearly as relaxed as something like a Specialized Roubaix, though, where the 58cm model has a stack/reach figure of 1.67. Boardman's SLR Race, on the other hand, has a lower stack and a longer reach, putting you into a more aggressive riding position.
The top and the bottom of all this number talk is that this is a performance-minded geometry but it's more relaxed than that of a full-on race bike. It splits the difference between a traditional race bike and an endurance bike. You feel like you're riding in an efficient position and the chances are that you're not going to get an ache in your back or a crick in your neck 10 miles down the road from trying to hold it.
Groupset and gearing
The SLR 8.9 Carbon is built up with a Shimano Tiagra groupset, aside from those Tektro R315 long arm brakes that I mentioned. Tiagra might lack the prestige of Shimano's higher level groupsets (it sits fourth in the hierarchy behind Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105) but it just works. Okay, it's a 10-speed rather than an 11-speed system but you don't particularly notice that difference in use; at least, I don't. You just adjust to these things.
You get a compact chainset (50/34-tooth) and a 12-28t cassette here which will probably suit most. I guess that some people might prefer an 11-32t cassette or even 11-34 to make things easier on the toughest hills. Handily, Boardman has specced the GS version of the Tiagra rear derailleur here so going for larger sprockets would be a relatively straightforward swap.
Wheels and tyres
I wouldn't say that Boardman's SLR alloy wheels are anything to get particularly excited about but they've done a decent job over the past few weeks. After a good few hundred miles the front one is still perfectly true – bang on – while the rear one is near as damn it too. That's a good sign. It means that the wheels probably won't need much attention for a long time.
The rims are tubeless ready, although the 700 x 25 Vittoria Rubino tyres aren't, so you'll need to swap them over if you want to go down that route. These tyres aren't especially lightweight or supple but they do offer durability and avoid flats pretty well thanks to a puncture protection layer.
Interestingly, Boardman offers the SLR 8.9 Alloy at exactly the same price: £1,000. The main differences are that you get an alloy frame (you worked that out for yourself, right?) – it's triple butted 6061 aluminium alloy – and a Shimano 105 11-speed groupset, which is a level higher than the SLR 8.9 Carbon's Tiagra. You also get a Fizik Antares saddle rather than Boardman's own.
The tube profiles aren't exactly the same as those of the SLR 8.9 Carbon that I've been riding but the frames are recognisably from the same family. Smooth welding gives a carbon look. I'd guess that most people are going to be tempted by the lure of carbon, but who knows? We've not reviewed the SLR 8.9 Alloy so we can't comment on the relative performance.
The Giant Contend SL 1 that we did review here on road.cc is similar to the SLR 8.9 Alloy in that you get an alloy frame and a mainly Shimano 105 groupset, although you get a cheaper chainset and Tektro R540 brakes.
The Specialized Allez Elite is also £999, it's also built around an aluminium frame, and it's also built up with a largely Shimano 105 groupset (with a Praxis groupset and Tektro brakes).
You need to decide whether you'd prefer the higher level groupset of any of these three bikes or a carbon frame. That's down to you, clearly. What I would say is that I'd consider the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon to be more upgradeable. It could certainly handle higher level components if you're likely to add them as and when the various parts wear out.
The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is a really good road bike, particularly because the frameset is an absolute winner. Add in a reliable Shimano Tiagra groupset, no-nonsense finishing kit and the ability to fit mudguards easily and this is a bike that'll give you a ton of enjoyment all year round.
Really impressive road bike that's built around a corker of a frameset, and the price is very good too
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon
Size tested: Large
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Full carbon, C7 grade, endurance geometry
Fork Full carbon blades and steerer, tapered
Headset FSA Orbit C-40 ACB, 1 1/8' - 1.5' Tapered, Integrated.
Bottom bracket Shimano BB72-41b, press fit, Hollowtech II
Chainset Shimano Tiagra 50/34t
Front derailleur Shimano Tiagra, double, braze- on
Rear derailleur Shimano Tiagra, 10 speed, medium cage
Shifters Shimano Tiagra 2x10
Brakes Tektro R315, long arm
Cassette Shimano HG500, 10 speed, 12-28t (12-13-14-15-17-19- 21-23-25-28)
Chain KMC X10
Saddle Boardman Road by Velo, steel rails
Seatpost Boardman Alloy, 27.2 x 350mm
Stem Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm clamp
Handlebar Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm clamp, 70mm reach, 120mm drop
Handlebar tape Boardman Soft-grip
Pedals Toe strap road, 9/16'
Wheels Boardman Alloy Tubeless Ready
Hubs Formula QR
Rims Boardman Tubeless Ready
Tyres Vittoria Rubino, 700x25c, wire bead. Kenda tube, presta valve
Tell us what the bike is for
Here's Boardman's writeup:
The new SLR 8.9 Carbon brings cutting-edge carbon fibre development to an attainable price point offering outstanding performance without breaking the bank.
The SLR 8.9 Carbon uses the same aero tube profiles and geometry as the top of the range SLR 9.8, using our C7 Carbon in the frame and fork. The brand new frame has been designed to combine the fantastic stiffness and ride quality of the old Road Team Carbon with much more aerodynamic tube profiles to give riders an increase in speed for the same effort. Features such as the integrated seat clamp reduce drag further, whilst dropped seat stays and a full carbon fork both help with maintaining comfort. A stiff, oversized PF86 bottom bracket area means that the bike responds instantly when you put the power down. Mudguard mounts and clearance for 28mm tyres add practicality for year round riding or commuting too.
A quality frame needs quality components to compliment it, and we've chosen Shimano's 2 x 10 speed Tiagra groupset, our own tubeless ready wheels and Vittoria Rubino tyres, offering an extremely competitive package that's fast and agile enough to race but comfortable enough for long days in the saddle.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's a really high-quality product.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from what Boardman calls C7 grade carbon, which isn't as high grade as more expensive models in the range. The fork is full carbon.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
I've talked about this in the main body of the review. Essentially, it sits somewhere between a full-on race bike and an endurance bike.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It was surprisingly comfortable, I found.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's not the stiffest bike I've ever ridden but you get a good level of stiffness for a bike of this price and you only notice any flex when you're sprinting.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, pretty efficient.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Lively but not twitchy.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
This is a bike that's easy to control.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The slim (27.2mm) seatpost can flex a bit and you can swap the 25mm tyres to 28mm if you like. Some might find the saddle a little squishy but I suspect most people will like the gel-like feel and the shape.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels aren't the stiffest I've ever encountered.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? I would.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
An 8 means 'very good' according to the road.cc score system. This bike puts in a very good performance and it comes at a very good price, especially considering the frameset you're getting here. It's a clear 8.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.