One look at the Boardman URB 8.8 and you're not really thinking towpath ambles and parkland potters. This might fall into the ever-expanding category of bikes known as 'hybrids' but it's still a machine that appears built for speed. Hop aboard, and that's not an impression that disappears.
This is a bike designed to race through the urban jungle. The small rear triangle and relatively short chainstays – at least, short by hybrid standards – allow for ultra-efficient efforts away from standstill and the ability to hit a high-speed cruise with ease. Climbing is suitably rewarding too: more inclined to promote dancing out of the saddle than simply spinning or grinding gears.
The aluminium fork means the front end is responsive. Handling is lively and direct but never falls into the realms of flighty, it simply goes where you want it to without ever having to be asked twice. In fact, the URB 8.8 is so good that it's tempting to start thinking what it would ride like with a drop handlebar fitted... Okay, I know that would totally miss the point of riding a hybrid, but it is testament to the fact that this is a fairly sexy, fast hybrid.
So far, so good. And if your hometown is a fairy dairy land where rough surfaces and ferocious potholes are banned, this is the bike for you. But let's assume you live in the real world. In which case, the URB 8.8 can at times feel a little harsh. Despite the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres at least nodding towards a spot of bump insulation with their 32mm width, there isn't really anywhere to hide from road imperfections.
I used the words 'sexy' and 'hybrid' in combination above, and it's really not an oxymoron anymore. Until a couple of years ago, the BMC Alpenchallenge was hands-down the most exciting-looking urban cycle. Now other hybrid manufacturers have joined in with aggressively under-sized rear triangles, not least Boardman. I would even go so far as to say that this URB frame has usurped the BMC and taken top spot in my top-10 sexiest hybrids.
Old-school frame aficionados who like round tubes – and why not? round is strongest after all – won't be impressed by the variety of hydroformed aluminium frame shapes. But it would take a heart of steel to not admit this is an incredibly pretty bike and, as we've discovered, it's not found wanting when it comes to strength. In any case, round tubes largely make up the seat tube and stays.
Certainly, the URB 8.8's beauty is more than skin deep – literally – with internal cable routing for both rear brake and derailleur adding to the classy build.
Similarly, in a game of 'Snog, Marry, Avoid', there's enough potential in the build to ensure the URB 8.8 isn't the subject of just a brief dalliance. With a 1x11 SRAM NX1 gearset and SRAM Apex chainset, hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless-ready wheelset and a retail price of a penny off £700, the URB has enough long-lasting excitement to warrant putting a ring on it, or at least a holding deposit.
Indeed, despite the 1x11 format being thoroughly of the moment, the choice of 44T chainset with 11-42T rear block suggests this is a machine ready for the long haul and suitable for a lifetime of cycling duties.
The biggest sprocket at the back will cope with fairly serious climbs, or you can make use of the rear rack mounts and carry a bit of weight without fear (it's roughly the same as 34x32 on a typical compact double with 11-32 cassette).
Meanwhile, the smallest sprocket provides more than enough potential to break a 20mph urban speed limit (I got the URB 8.8 up to 30mph downhill and still wasn't quite spinning out.)
Speed is obviously what this bike is built for, so the inclusion of hydraulic disc brakes isn't surprising. I have always found Tektro rim brakes to be a case of nearly-but-not-quite compared to equivalent offerings from SRAM or Shimano, and it's a similar situation with Tektro hydraulic discs. They scrub speed off reasonably well but never feel like there's quite enough power or modulation to bring the bike to a halt really quickly and effectively.
I've mentioned that the 32mm Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres can't quite take the edge off many road imperfections but they do offer good grip on dry roads without compromising outright speed. The fairly responsive and sturdy Boardman wheels can also be run with tubeless rubber, so traction and puncture resistance should be easy to maximise.
Aesthetically speaking, the modern-retro Boardman Canvas grips and saddle are very nice touches. The thin grips have the added advantage of making front end control feel even more direct – I really like them.
With the saddle it's a slightly different situation. This is the kind of seat some people would happily pay a premium for if the 'B' emblem stood for Brooks, and you'll probably need a few thousand miles aboard a leather saddle to feel at home on this. It's not very forgiving and I wouldn't blame new riders if they wanted to swap in something a little more padded.
In all, with a recommended retail price of just £699.99, this is a thoroughly impressive package that would blow the mind of a hybrid buyer twenty, ten, or possibly even just five years ago.
If it's true that most bike buyers make their purchasing decisions with their eyes, the URB 8.8 will be flying out of shops almost as quickly as it travels on the road. If, however, new bike buyers use a more fundamental part of their anatomy to make purchasing decisions, they might take just a little more persuading.
Super-stiff, super-quick flat-bar road bike masquerading as an urban warrior that just falls down on comfort
Make and model: Boardman URB 8.8
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Boardman URB X7 aluminium
Fork: Boardman URB aluminium
Wheels: Boardman URB aluminium (tubeless ready)
Tyres: Vittoria Zaffiro Pro 700x32mm
Shifter: SRAM NX1
Rear derailleur: SRAM NX1
Chainset: SRAM Apex 44T
Cassette: SRAM PG-1130 11-42T
Chain: SRAM PC-1110
Bottom bracket: SRAM GXP threaded
Brakeset: Tektro Auriga (HD-R310) hydraulic disc
Saddle: Boardman URB Canvas
Seatpost: Boardman Alloy
Handlebar: Boardman Alloy
Stem: Boardman Alloy
Headset: FSA No. 10 aheadset
Grips: Boardman URB Canvas
Tell us what the bike is for
Urban riding and fast commuting.
Boardman says: "The URB is the definition of everything the team at Boardman wanted a city bike to be. Sleek, hydroformed frame shapes with minimal branding? Check. Wide, puncture resistant tyres to keep you rolling when the clock is against you? Check. Single ring, low maintenance gears? Check. Mudguard and rack mounts for ultimate adaptability? Check. Add in a set of Tektro disc brakes for reliable stopping in any condition, and you've got an urban bike ready to take on anything the city can throw at it."
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Beautifully hydroformed and finished. One of the best-looking hybrid bikes on the market.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Aluminium for both frame and fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Slightly towards the more aggressive end of the geometry spectrum for a hybrid – encourages fast riding.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
This is a medium sized bike, which is a little strange as it fitted me perfectly yet I'm (just) over 6ft and I normally ride a large. Buy smaller than you'd normally take.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Not as comfortable as I would have hoped. Quite a stiff frame, so road imperfections do make their way to the rider.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Rear end felt suitably stiff for power transfer, but a tad too stiff for relaxed urban riding. Same for the aluminium fork: great control, but no forgiveness.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Lively but nothing to worry about.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Felt great if you were in the mood to have a bit of fun and ride at speed.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I would swap out the saddle for something with just a bit more cushioning.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
No problems with stiffness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Great 1x11 SRAM drivetrain – no changes recommended.
Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
Very, very efficient for a hybrid-style bike.
Rate the bike for acceleration:
Felt great getting up to speed.
Rate the bike for sprinting:
Controlled, reactive, lively.
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
High-speed stability was impressive.
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
Road shocks tended to make their way through, affecting stability a little.
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
Pretty secure, as long as the road surface is fairly smooth.
Rate the bike for climbing:
I was impressed by its climbing ability.
Rate the drivetrain for performance:
Worked without a fault, and a sensible setup.
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
Should be fine – no front mech to worry about anyway!
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
Rate the drivetrain for value:
I was impressed by the 1x11 setup.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Gear changes were smooth but it's the choice of ratios that is most important with the 1x11 system. Boardman has got it spot-on.
Rate the wheels for performance:
They rolled fine but a bit heavy.
Rate the wheels for durability:
Didn't miss a beat during testing and look heavy duty.
Rate the wheels for weight:
As you'd expect on this kind of bike at this price point – fairly heavy.
Rate the wheels for comfort:
Not bad but didn't really do much to take the sting out of the road.
Rate the wheels for value:
Tubeless ready is a nice bonus.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
Rolled fine – really no more than you'd expect.
Rate the tyres for performance:
Good grip without sacrificing any speed.
Rate the tyres for durability:
Rate the tyres for weight:
Rate the tyres for comfort:
Not quite as cushioning as I would have hoped.
Rate the tyres for value:
Very good quality tyres at this price.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
They worked very well in dry conditions – not so sure how they'd cope in the wet.
Rate the controls for performance:
Controls all worked very well.
Rate the controls for durability:
Everything looks built to last. No sign of any early problems.
Rate the controls for weight:
Not super-light, but not needlessly heavy.
Rate the controls for comfort:
I particularly liked the grips – thin but feel great.
Rate the controls for value:
Quite impressed with the 'Canvas'-finished components. They look very classy.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Everything worked as expected. The grips were very good. The saddle less so – it was a touch firm.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Tektro Auriga brakes weren't as impressive as the drivetrain. They didn't feel like they had as much outright power as I would have liked.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? 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
The Boardman URB 8.8 performs incredibly well at speed – I'd give it 9 or 10 if that was all that counted – and it offers great value. But even a fast hybrid has to make at least some concessions towards comfort. In this case, it feels like comfort was sacrificed for speed, which brings that performance score and the overall down to a still very good 8.
Age: 39 Height: 6'0 Weight: 16 stone
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure
What's new and revolutionary? Saw this extending tube principle on Giant branded bikes in Shanghai in 2006.
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