Exclusive: Q&A with Chris Boardman

Ahead of his appearance at the Triathlon Show, 220 caught up with Chris Boardman to talk Boardman bikes, his career, those Brownlee Olympic helmets, and competing with Osteopenia...

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In 1992, Chris Boardman captured the attention of a nation when he won gold in the Individual Pursuit at the Barcelona Olympics, he went on to win three stages at the Tour de France, and World TT championship and break the fabled UCI Hour record which had been held by Eddy Merckx since 1972. 

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Now retired, he’s launched his own very succesful bike brand, Boardman Bikes, which have carried the likes of Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and Pete Jacobs to Olympic and Kona glory. Ahead of his appearance in the 220 subs lounge at the Triathlon Show, we caught up with Boardman to ask him a few questions…

220: The Boardman brand is established in triathlon and getting bigger, with the Brownless and Pete Jacobs’s success in 2012 a big factor, was there a reason tri was targeted rather than road cycling?

Chris Boardman: Alan [Ingarfield, Boardman Bikes co-founder] was a world-class triathlete and I’m mad keen on the sport as it offers new design challenges so I was completely up for a new challenge in a new sport. Alan is so passionate he spotted the Brownlee’s very early and initially just wanted to help them out more than anything, we then grew together with them testing, using and winning with our bikes. He then did the same thing with Pete who is now helping us create the next Tri-focused bike (which I’ve actually been working on all day today, back and forth with CAD designs and the design team!) 

It seems like you’re very hands-on with the brand, is getting involved something that’s important to you? And something you enjoy?

I wouldn’t have got involved in the bike industry unless I could truly make things myself, really be part of the team from sketches on paper to CAD to aero testing and field testing. This is the bit I enjoy. I actually designed and commissioned my first carbon parts (an all in one bar and fork assembly) back in the early 90’s so it’s not new to me.
Leading the GB teams R&D program for 9 years has introduced me to new knowledge and more importantly, some very clever people too. Although I can’t use anything developed for the GB team, I do know where not to look for gains as well as what people and tools I want to work with on the Boardman products.

Are there any plans to extended the Di2 versions of the bikes to include the AiRTT 9.4/9.8 in the future?

There’s tons of new stuff in the works right now with a lot of new ideas and concepts never done before. Di2 is an interesting product as it allows you more scope than mechanical cables so yes, lots more Di2 stuff planned.

How much involvement did you have with the Brownlees in the lead up to the Olympics? And can you tell us any more about those intriguing helmets they wore?

It’s a bit unusual as I have two hats, the Boardman Bikes hat and Head of R&D for British Cycling. Now as our R&D is funded by UK Sport, I often help out on related issues with other sports they support, so I’ve spent time in the wind tunnel with the boys looking at everything from bikes (of course) positions and as you mention, helmets.
The beauty of a wind tunnel is that it allows an athlete to make their own choices so when they see a drop in drag (that we can translate for them directly to power saved or time saved in an event) they can make informed choices and that’s what they did with the helmets.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, what was the moment in your career you’d point to as the proudest? And are there any moments you look back at and would like a chance to do again?

I have to confess that I spend little time looking back unless there is something to be learned that can be applied going forward. The Hour record in 96 taught me to be open minded as I reluctantly tested the O’Bree Superman position and found that due to my own prejudices I almost missed what was a massive drag advantage (all be it short lived before the UCI banned it) It’s only thanks to people who think differently like Lotus, and O’Bree that that record was possible.

As an athlete, how did you cope after your diagnosis with osteopenia? Did you have to change your training or diet in any way to compensate?

Being diagnosed with Osteopenia came from some testing I had done to see why I just couldn’t recover in races and to find out why I could go fast in time trials but couldn’t translate that to climbs (of course there has been some more light shed on why that was recently!) It was found I am very low in metabolic hormones such as testosterone. The normal treatment is HRT but as a pro bike rider, this was understandably not allowed so the diagnosis was a large part of why I stopped. I managed it really by cutting back on my own race program and being more modest in ambitions but ultimately, by stopping.

Do you still ride a lot? 

I’d say when I’m home I ride about 4 times a week, average 2h rides and mostly either CX or MTB for a change. I used to really love running but the ankle I broke in 6 places back in 95 has finally given up so I’ve been banned from that which is a shame.

You’ve done a marathon since retiring, ever been tempted by triathlon?

For the reasons above, it seems I’m done with competing but to be honest, I really enjoy being on this side of the fence now. I’m getting old and I don’t mind a bit.

We’ve just watched, and enjoyed, the video you made with British Cycling about bike lanes. Can you tell us a bit more about why you made it, and what you guys are hoping to achieve?

If I’m passionate about anything these days, it is seeing this wonderful, simple machine used to just get form A to B for the majority of our journeys. It’s infuriating that it makes so much sense for all of us on every level you can think of but it’s not happening. I’ll be a happy man if I can do a little bit to help change that.

For more information on Chris, Alan, Boardman sponsored athletes and product ranges visit www.boardmanbikes.com

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