Boardman Elite AiR 9.8

We test the Brownlees brothers' Zipp-specific Boardman road bike

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5

Chris Boardman won gold in the Individual Pursuit at Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics on one of the most ground-breaking bikes ever seen. And being a driving force behind the ‘Secret Squirrel’ developments that reaped so many rewards in Beijing for British Cycling, you know the same meticulous approach will have been applied to the Elite AiR 9.8.


The Build

Even at standstill, the Elite AiR looks fast. Every tube is profiled, especially the blade-like downtube, and it’s clear that serious time has been spent in the wind tunnel. The BB30 bottom bracket is reassuringly chunky and continuous fibres through into the rigid-looking stays should maximise power transfer.

As you’d expect from an aero road bike, cabling is internal and the bladed forks finish off a slippery-looking core. There’s no skimping with the wheels, either – they’re Zipp 404 Firecrests paired with Vittoria Corsa Evo CX tubs. The 58mm rims give aero gains without handling issues, they weigh in at an impressive 1,280g and, retailing at £1,900, how Boardman have specced them at this price is mind-blowing.

As for the stem and bars, we’re testing the Brownlee-specific Zipp model. However, the model available in shops now features high-quality offerings from Ritchey. We also tested SRAM’s 2013 Red groupset, which will be available on next year’s model. It came with 53/39t upfront and 11-25t at the rear, it’d be ready
to gobble up any flat course.

Whether you go for the 2012 or, in the future, the 2013 model, the price is £4,999.99. The headset’s from FSA, and the saddle’s the ever-dependable and high-performing titanium-railed Fizik Arione. The seatpost is a sleek-looking cboardman Carbon AiR. Our only minor niggle about a stunningly good build is the slightly agricultural-looking clamp.

The Ride

You don’t get the same romantic rush of expectation rolling off on the Boardman as you might on a classic Italian super bike, but once you’ve put brand snobbery aside and some power through the cranks, you realise it’s very special indeed. The Zipps spin up to speed with a satisfying whoosh, and the overall stiffness makes powering over small rises and jumping to sprint instantaneously gratifying.

On flats it hums along with brisk, understated efficiency, the Zipps seemingly purring as they carve through the air. For such a stiff bike, there’s little harshness and, even on rough roads, ride quality’s plush and not at all draining. It snaps to attention when you sprint out of bends and the handling is a perfect balance between sharpness and stability. It’s certainly racy but with our tester putting in a 100-mile ride and feeling fresh and ache-free at the end, it’s suitable for long days in the saddle as well as short blasts. It climbs nimbly and responsively, on a long tempo seated drag or a steep out-of-the-saddle honk.

Again the Zipps elevate the bike and, although obviously aero wheels, they’re no slouches when the gradient kicks up; if you need a sudden burst of uphill speed, you won’t be disappointed. The latest SRAM Red group can’t be faulted and even intentionally bad shifts under load don’t cause problems.

The solid, predictable handling, responsiveness to sprints and surprisingly good braking for carbon rims make descending rapid and enjoyable. Best of all, once you reach the bottom, you get to experience the Boardman’s prowess on flats and climbs all over again.


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