In a world of price rises caused by demand and supply issues, delivering a bike of the calibre of the Boardman SLR 8.8 is a masterstroke – not only for less than a grand, but for a cracking £850.
It's not like it's been developed to purely hit a price point either. It rides really well, offering a comfortable, no-nonsense frame and fork with well-balanced handling to suit beginners or those who want to exploit its all-weather capabilities.
While many mid to top-end aluminium alloy frames show excellent ride qualities thanks to clever design and development of the tubing, some of the cheapest and most basic can still feel a little unforgiving in their feedback and be a bit harsh on certain surfaces.
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With things like triple butting and slender tube profiles where it matters, the SLR 8.8 gives a great ride feel. It's firm, and as stiff as it needs to be, while taking the edge off the high-frequency buzz coming up from the surface of the road. It makes the Boardman feel like a much more expensive bike when you're riding it.
Not having to settle for compromises from a comfort point of view means that you can enjoy everything else too.
The geometry is slightly more relaxed than a race bike, with the front end slackened off enough to take a bit of speed out of the steering without muting it too much that it lacks excitement at speed – you can still have fun tackling a fast section of road or your favourite downhill.
It's your typical 'endurance' setup. The top tube is a touch shorter for the bike's nominal size and the head tube a little taller. It gives you a less extreme, more relaxing position on the bike while still allowing you to get a bit aero in the drops when you want.
At this price the SRL 8.8 is more likely to be considered by those new to road riding – your first bike, possibly, or first road bike at least if you're coming from a hybrid or mountain bike background.
The Boardman is perfect for this; it's an easy bike to ride and it gives you all of the fun and sense of speed roadies crave with none of the drawbacks like twitchy handling or a nervous rear end from a short wheelbase.
With the ability to take full mudguards and a rear rack, the Boardman lends itself well to all-year-round riding for training or commuting, where the relaxed ride feel can also be a benefit if the roads are wet, slippery or you're in urban environments mixing with the traffic.
I found the SLR to be a cracking bike to ride, and while I spend a large amount of time on bikes costing thousands and thousands more than the Boardman, it was never found wanting in terms of the fun factor.
Its overall weight takes the edge off of climbing and acceleration compared with bikes 2kg to 3kg lighter, but the SLR doesn't come across as sluggish. And while some of the long, steeper climbs were a bit of a slog in the 34x32 bottom gear, I don't think I felt as though I'd ever had a compromised training session or ride.
When sprinting away from the lights or hauling up those climbs, I could feel a tiny amount of movement at the bottom bracket area, but that was only when really smashing the power through the pedals. Overall, the SLR still feels tight throughout, including the fork, when cornering or braking hard.
I probably enjoyed the Boardman the most on those rides where I was just tapping out the miles, on my own in the lanes. Away from the hills the overall weight is less of an issue, and it was here I found the SLR to be efficient and smooth rolling.
The standard wheels and tyres are comfortable, as is the rest of the finishing kit. The bar tape and saddle give plenty in terms of padding and support.
If you are in the market for a road bike and the budget is tight, whether you're a novice or a seasoned rider, the SLR 8.8 is a very positive, confidence-inspiring machine – something that's worth as much, if not more than the spec list. I'd sacrifice the next level up the component tree over ride quality ever day of the week.
Frame and fork
As I mentioned earlier, the SLR 8.8 is created from aluminium alloy tubing, 6061 grade in this case. No surprises there as it is a stalwart of bicycle manufacturing, but Boardman has gone down the butting route.
I mentioned the triple butting earlier; butting relates to the wall thickness of the tube. On basic metal alloy frames, the wall will be the same thickness across its length. If it's double butted, probably the most common we see, it'll be two different thicknesses: thicker at the ends where more strength is required and thinner towards the middle to promote flex for better ride quality and to drop a tiny amount of weight.
Triple butted – yep, you've guessed it – means that the tube will have three different wall widths, giving even more scope to tweak the frame's stiffness and comfort levels.
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Boardman's designers have done a good job, as you can tell from the previous section; the SLR 8.8 rides very well indeed. It has the stiff and firm qualities that aluminium frames are known for, but with a hint of suppleness. It's no steel or titanium, but for the price it's one of the better aluminium frames out there.
The overall finish looks good, with the silver paint finish alluding to the metal beneath. The welds in the visible sections have been sanded to give as smooth a finish as possible, although the bottom bracket junction has been left a little more agricultural looking. I've no issue with that, though – leave as much material in this area as possible.
There are some concessions to price, though.
First up, apart from the brake hose travelling down through the fork leg, the rest of the cable/hose routing runs externally. It's not as clean looking as internal routing but it does make maintenance easier, especially for those who like to fettle and do their own servicing and repairs at home.
The other thing is that the SLR doesn't use thru-axles for the disc wheels, going old school with quick release levers. It's not a massive issue – we've lived with them for years without problems – but I suppose I've just got used to the security of having the axle threaded into the frame.
One issue with quick releases is that they can allow the fork ends to twist under heavy braking, because of the rotor just being on one side. In my experience you have to be motoring for that to happen, though – I'm talking hauling the brakes on for a complete stop from 50mph or so – and it'll depend on how stiff the fork is in the first place.
Essentially, neither the quick releases nor the external cable routing affect performance, they just highlight the little upgrades you get by paying a bit more.
Other than that, you are getting two sets of bottle cage mounts, full mudguard mounts and bosses for attaching a rear rack.
The bottom bracket shell is threaded, and the SLR has plenty of room left over either side of the 28mm tyres fitted as standard for mudguards to fit, and to go wider without.
There isn't anything out of the ordinary when it comes to the geometry of the Boardman, and that's a good thing. There aren't any quirks that you are going to need to learn to live with.
Four sizes are available, from small to extra-large, which equates to top tube lengths of 540mm and 585mm respectively, or a recommended height range of 170cm to 195cm.
Our medium test bike has a top tube length of 552mm, head tube of 160mm and seat tube of 530mm. The head angle is 72.5 degrees while the seat tube sits at 73.5 degrees. This gives stack and reach figures of 568mm and 384mm respectively.
The SLR 8.8 primarily uses a Shimano Tiagra groupset, which is based around a 10-speed system. You get the STi levers, front mech and rear mech, plus a Shimano HG500 cassette, but then things deviate a little.
There is an FSA Vero Compact chainset, which requires an old school square taper bottom bracket, driven by a KMC chain.
For the brakes we switch over to Tektro and its MD-C511 mechanically operated, flat mount disc brake callipers and 160mm rotors.
It's all a bit pick 'n' mix but to be fair it all works, and it's the kind of setup I've been seeing on bikes much higher up the price list from other brands.
Starting with the gears, you are looking at a 50/34-tooth chainset paired to an 11-32 cassette. Not a massive spread of gears, but I'd say plenty for the majority of road riders. You can get an 11-34 Tiagra cassette, but with only 10 sprockets, going wider will create bigger gaps than there already are – although, on the flip side, if you are relatively new to the sport you'll probably not find much need for the 50x11 top gear.
You can get a Tiagra cassette with a 12T smallest sprocket, but it only comes with a 28T at the other end.
The shifting quality is good; it lacks the definition and weight in the click of Shimano's higher end mechanical groupsets from 105 upwards, but it still can't be faulted, especially when you take price into consideration.
Tiagra is available as a hydraulic braking groupset, but to keep costs down Boardman hasn't gone down that route, instead mating Tiagra's standard mechanical levers with the Tektro callipers.
Regardless of the brand, mechanical braking systems lack the bite and modulation of a hydraulic system. In fact, some don't even offer the performance of a quality cable-operated rim brake setup.
These Tektro MD-C511s aren't bad, though, especially once they have bedded in a bit. The power on offer is pretty good, and once I adapted (I'm currently riding five different bikes a week with all kinds of setups), I had plenty of confidence in them, with only the steepest technical descents seeing me squeeze the lever as hard as I could.
As expected on a bike of this price, the finishing kit is own branded and basic. There's nothing wrong with that – how exciting can you really make a stem or seatpost in terms of the job it needs to do?
It's all aluminium kit and decent enough. The handlebar is your now standard compact drop shape, while the seatpost is easy to adjust and holds the saddle securely.
The stem is stem-like, while the saddle is a favourable shape for me – quite slender, with supportive padding.
Wheels and tyres
The wheels aren't off the shelf either. It's a mix of Boardman branded SLR rims, which are tubeless ready, laced to Formula DC-20 (front) and DC-22 (rear) hubs via 28 spokes.
Being tubeless ready is great, as it'll just take a tyre and tape upgrade if you want to go down that route.
On the whole, it's a solid set of wheels. Not light, but dependable, and I had no issues with them throughout testing. As always, at this sort of money even a small upgrade can make a lot of difference in terms of weight, but it's not something I'd be rushing out to do.
The tyres are 28mm Vittoria Rubino G2.0. Liam tested the TLR version and reckoned they're a great option for high-mileage riders who aren't so concerned about top speed. Rolling resistance isn't bad, and the grip levels are reassuring in both the wet and dry.
With all of my testing taking place during the tail end of winter, durability was more of a concern than how they'd handle my favourite downhill at speed. From that point of view, they haven't let me down, returning to Boardman without punctures or any small cuts to the rubber.
Here we go then – the SLR 8.8's killer punch. At £850 this bike is a bargain, there is no other way to describe it.
Ribble's Endurance AL Disc, a bike that I considered to be great value and well specced, has now crept up from £999 (2021) to £1,099. On the current build sheet, it uses a Tiagra groupset with Tektro mechanical callipers and an FSA chainset, though it's an Omega MegaExo, which is a bit of a step up from the Boardman's. It does come with Mavic Aksium wheels too.
> 10 of the best road bikes around £1,000
Giant's aluminium Contend AR is a similar machine. The range starts at £999 but for that you are only going to get an 8-speed Shimano Claris build. If you want a similar build to the Boardman, you are looking at the Contend AR 2, and that's £1,349. (We tested the Contend SL 1 Disc last year; that's £1,649.)
> 10 of the best Shimano Tiagra-equipped road bikes for £999-£2,100
One of my favourite budget aluminium frames on the market is the Specialized Allez, so I headed over to the website to check current prices. For the same money as this SLR (all right, knock a quid off) you can get the basic Allez. That's rim brakes and Shimano Claris. The Boardman doesn't give much away in terms of ride quality over the Allez either.
Two or three years ago, I knew roughly what a particular budget would get you from each brand off the top of my head, but the cycling world, like every other market, has changed dramatically in terms of pricing. Which is what makes it even more remarkable to be looking at this Boardman and going, bloody hell, that's cracking value for money. Not just in the current climate, but generally.
The key for me though is that Boardman hasn't achieved this by offering a 'gas-pipe' frameset with a nice paintjob. The SLR gives a quality ride and balanced handling, matched to a blend of components that complement while keeping the price down.
Well specced and a great ride feel from a bike that looks and feels more expensive than it is
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Make and model: Boardman SLR 8.8
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Triple Butted 6061 X7 Aluminium with hidden welds
Fork: C7 Carbon with Tapered Steerer
Headset: FSA no.10, 1 1/8', Semi Integrated
Bottom Bracket: Square Taper 68x103mm
Cranks: FSA Vero Compact, 50-34T
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra RD-4700GS
Shifter: Shimano Tiagra 4700 2x10
Front Brake: Tektro MD-C511 Disc brake - Flat Mount - 160mm rotor
Cassette: Shimano HG500, 10 speed, 11-32
Chain: KMC X10
Saddle: Boardman SLR
Seat Post: Boardman Alloy, 27.2mm
Stem: Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm clamp
Handlebar: Boardman Alloy, 31.8mm clamp, 75mm reach, 120mm drop
Handlebar Tape: Boardman Soft-grip
Pedals: Toe strap road, 9/16'
Wheelset: Boardman SLR Tubeless Ready
Hubs: Formula DC-20 front, DC22 rear
Rims: Boardman SLR Tubeless Ready - 28h
Tyre: Vittoria Rubino G2.0 700c x 28mm
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?
Boardman says, "The SLR 8.8 is our highest spec aluminium road bike, designed for people who want a fast, comfortable bike that's also practical. Sportives, the daily commute or just riding for fun; the SLR 8.8 has it covered.
A triple-butted aluminium frame with a tapered full carbon fork and high-quality 28mm tyres deliver efficient power transfer, without compromising comfort or precise handling. Hidden welds mean the frame is easily mistaken for carbon at first glance. The bike's geometry is designed to balance fast riding and longer distance comfort, allowing both a low, stretched position and a more comfortable all-day cruising option.
Tektro disc brakes ensure stopping is powerful and easy to control, while also giving plenty of clearance for mudguards and a pannier rack if needed, adding year-round versatility to a bike that still flies in the summer months.
Tube profiles inspired are by our aerodynamic research on top level SLR 9 Series bikes, and with a wide spread of gears from the 10 speed Shimano Tiagra groupset, there's plenty of speed on tap too when you want it."
For a sub-grand bike it delivers a quality ride and comes well specced.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
This SLR 8.8 is the top model in the alloy framed range; above this things go carbon fibre. Sitting below the SLR 8.8 is the SLR 8.6 which also comes in a women's version. It costs £550.
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The smooth finish to the welds give the 8.8 a high quality look to it, and it's good to see a full carbon fork at this price.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Frame: Triple Butted 6061 X7 Aluminium with hidden welds
Fork: C7 Carbon with Tapered Steerer
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is typically endurance bike based – neutral but with a sporty edge to it.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack and reach figures are typical for this style of bike.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Overall comfort is good, with no harshness from the frame.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
There is a hint of flex around the BB when really stamping on the pedals, but it is hardly a problem for 99% of your riding.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
On the whole the SLR 8.8 feels efficient, especially considering the overall weight.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Boardman has steering that is on the neutral side of things, but quick enough for tackling technical descents or long, flowing corners.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I found the saddle to offer a decent blend of comfort with support.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I found the handlebar/stem combination stiff enough for out of the saddle efforts.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
There is a decent spread of gears, which should help most riders get the most out of the uphills and downhills.
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Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It's a bit of a mixed bag components-wise, but the end product works fine. The 11-32T cassette gives a good spread of gears, but can feel a little gappy between the bigger sprockets.
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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?
A decent quality set of wheels for the budget and they remained true throughout the test period. Being tubeless ready is a bonus as well.
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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?
A solid set of training tyres that work well in most conditions.
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Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Basic entry-level kit, but the shape is comfortable and very usable when it comes to the handlebar, plus the saddle offers comfort without being too soft.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's very well priced. Ribble's Endurance AL is £1,099 in a similar build, and Giant's Contend AR 2 is a lot more at £1,349 with Shimano Tiagra and mechanical brakes.
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Use this box to explain your overall score
The Boardman SLR 8.8 is a very good bike that offers impressive finishing kit backed up by a great ride quality. The most impressive thing, though, is that it does all of this for a great price.
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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,
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