Boardman Air TT 9.0 Full Review

I did promise a full review of my TT bike once i’d ridden it in anger a few times. Last year i used a planet-x stealth which did the job but was starting to look a little bit antiquated next to some of the more modern machines.

the boardman in full flow

The Main Details:

If you’re getting a Boardman it’s worth taking a similar approach to me. Essentially, each frame in the range is the same apart from the very top end one, the 9.8, which has a different carbon layup. All the others are identical, and the aerodynamic properties and design of the 9.8 and the 9.0 are also the same. You are paying for the finishing kit. The 9.0 comes with Aksiums as standard and a SRAM rival groupset. This is fine by me because my intention was to immediately switch it all out and around for the bits i already have.  The 9.0 costs around £2000 for the complete bike and the prices for the others in the range increase in stages, topping out at an eye-watering, kidney-exchanging £8000 for the 9.8.

It’s also worth considering that Chris Boardman is the director of research and engineering for British Cycling and therefore fully involved in the process of ‘marginal gains’ over the past decade. His role was to ensure that the gold-medal winning world champions from within the Brailsford group have the best possible equipment. His attention to detail is carried across to this range of bikes.

Why Did I Buy The Air TT?

I was looking for a bike that didn’t break the bank in the first instance. My other requirements were that it had to be very slippery indeed with carefully engineered tube shapes and minimal frontal area. I also wanted hidden brakes and the cabling to be very tidy, with the outers entering the top tube behind the stem where the air is already swirling around. I need the bike to be light; coming in at as close to 8 or so kilos fully built as i could get. The Boardman fulfilled all of these with aplomb. I also was looking for a red bike. This could have been a deal breaker.

What sort of riding do I use it for? 

This season i’ve ridden 7 races. With the exception of the very first race which was a loosener, i’ve come either 2nd or 3rd in each one. I have done mostly hilly time trials with varying amounts of climbing. For this reason i need a TT bike that climbs and descends well, feel stable and also corners well. I’ve been on the extensions much more than last season because i feel more confident in the bike’s stability. It rides beautifully well. Climbing on the base bar is also pretty good. It’s worth noting that on my first spin out i took it up Belmont Hill and managed a 4.04 – this might mean nothing to you but it’s quick, trust me, for a TT bike with a set of mavic aksiums.

I’ve set a PB on every single course i’ve ridden so far this year. On the hilly courses i’ve been around 3 minutes quicker on each course. This is a huge leap forwards and is down to a combination of things, clearly increased fitness, but the bike plays a part.

Component Changes:

I immediately swapped out the chainset for Rotor Q rings. These look cool and as yet i haven’t noticed any other difference. This is a good thing. I have a hed 3 front wheel and a renn disc on the back with a campag cassette. This meant swapping the SRAM shifters for shimano friction, which then meant i had to swap the rear mech for shimano because of the stupid pull-ratio of SRAM. With these minor modifications the bike was ready to race.

How Does it Ride? 

The Boardman rides like a dream. Sometimes, when i’m really pushing a big gear and it’s pan flat, it feels like i’m sat on a guided missile, remorselessly tracking along. I find it much easier to push the big gear and regularly find that i’m in the 54:11. I’m much much lower than last year and thus have a smaller frontal profile. What this means is i’ve managed to adopt a more aerodynamic riding position without any cost to power output. It’s a delight to ride, really, it feels amazing and goes like the clappers. Or as my dad used to say; “it moves like shit off a shovel”. He also used to say “goes like hot snot” but i never really knew why, i mean, if ever afflicted by ‘hot snot’ as an ailment i might be able to check out the worth of this simile. I hope it never happens.

you can see (or not see) the hidden brake and clean lines.

If you’re thinking of getting a new TT bike then i’d heartily recommend the Boardman. You get proven aerodynamics and a pro-level frame, and if you’re canny it’s possible to put it together on a budget, relatively speaking. Lastly – this bike survived a pretty massive crash on Wednesday without a scratch on it. I was battered to pieces. This is a good thing, i think.

Boardman Air TT 9 Review

I’ve got some new weaponry for the TT series. my planet x served me very well but it was looking a bit passé. and as we know, looks are everything. over the winter i decided to buy a boardman TT bike. this was based on lots of research trawling through typically conflicting internet reviews. ultimately, i trusted Jeff Jones, who said it was very very fast. he should know, being also very very fast.

i’ve used it a couple of times over the winter on the turbo trainer, not fully set up or anything. recently i got strada to do a couple of tweaks, it seemed a bit criminal for me to be bodging a brand new bike with my patented srampagmano™ system so i opted to get a professional (matt dawson of strada) to do the jiggery pokery for me.

today was the first day i’ve ridden it out on the road. having been on the fairly relaxed winter bike for the past 6 months the first shock was the low and aggressive riding position. i’ve dropped the stem pretty much as low as it can go, thus creating a very aggressive and aerodynamic profile. i was using a set of aksium training wheels rather than the full disc and trispoke, for obvious reasons. the brakes are recessed inside the fork crown and hidden above the bottom bracket. they work extremely well and are much better than the dual pivot campag brakes on my road bike. i was surprised by this, to be honest.

i went out and tackled a hilly loop. i could feel yesterday’s exertions but it didn’t have that much of an effect. once i got used to the handling and comfortable on the extensions i tucked in and floored it. it feels quick and incredibly aerodynamic. i rode for an hour with about 1400 feet of climbing and averaged 21 mph. this included my fastest time on belmont this year – a 4.13, not that far off my PB of 4.02, which was a shock because i didn’t think i was pushing that hard. there was a slight tailwind, but not enough to  pull a super quick time out of the bag. i can conclude that the low weight and power transfer, including the super stiff bottom bracket, means it climbs very well. handy to know with the upcoming hilly events. similarly, it felt pretty tasty on the descents – although it is a TT bike so it’s a case of throwing caution to the wind. i managed 42mph on the descent of Clarken Coombe, startling a few motorists.

where are the brakes?

the bike comes in 4 variants with an ascending price scale. the thing to remember is they are all exactly the same in terms of profile and frame design, the only different one is the uber expensive 9.8 which has a slightly different carbon layup, making it arguably stiffer, although i doubt the layman like me would notice. the price point changes on account of the spec. if you have already got some fairly bling bits then it makes sense to go for the cheaper 9.0 and then swap bits out. this is what i did, switching the stock chainset for rotor Q rings and then changing the rear mech and shifters so i can run my campag disc wheel in the back.

like biopace, but snazzier

i’m going to probably take it out for another spin on wednesday. having ridden it today i’ve already noticed that my muscles are acheing from the different setup. this was anticipated and it’s important to ride in the position before the first race to avoid a really painful experience. all things considered, i’m looking forward to the weekend, fingers crossed for the weather!

narrow profile

Race Blade Longs (SKS vs Crud)

The race blade longs have arrived. here are the key points:

1. they were installed with a bare minimum of fuss. as soon as i realised the best policy is always to read and then wholly ignore the instructions, i was good to go. they clip around the QR on the wheel axle. you have to remove the springs. the only problem i had was that the small plastic expanding jobbie used to secure the mudflap to the mudguards does not hold in place with the metal washer supplied. i swapped it for a very short mudguard bolt and self-tapping nut. i felt suitably worthy and masculine after effecting this bodge.

2. they are really easy to adjust to avoid any issues with rubbing or noisesome nastiness. they have two very small allen bolts that allow you to adjust height. this is very nifty.

3. the use of two metal ‘L’ clips means that the mudguard does not have to go under the brake bridge. this is a real step forward and an insightful solution to a problem. Crudguards are bedevilled by this issue, they go right under the brake caliper and thus the clearance is so tight you can’t run anything other than 19mm tyres (I exaggerate, but only marginally) and most people i know who have piously stated just how goddamn wonderful crudguards are already have clearance for full mudguards.

4. they extend right down and are thus good at keeping spray off your riding companions. that’s if your riding companions have opted to wait, or instead put the hammer down when you are eating a banana and left you alone to bang your face repeatedly against a block headwind whilst they saunter up the road in their own belgian echelon. bastards. in which case next time you go out don’t use any mudguards and give them a mouthful of ebola-infected slurry from north somerset’s finest country lanes.

5. i have also road tested them this weekend. at first they did that slightly high pitched rubbing noise on a couple of occasions, but it then just disappeared, as though they settled in and were happy. i used them through 45 miles of filth and mess and they were grand. i used them again today and no problems whatsoever. also, my feet were utterly dry – a problem with the shorter race blades.

in conclusion, sks race blade longs are the answer to the following questions:

1. can someone please, for the love of god, find me a mudguard that is better than the crudguard, that doesn’t rub for four hours or flap around in the breeze and is in no way flimsy?

2. how can i convert my once proud race bike, which has now become my second best bike, into some sort of fast trainer, and avoid being persona non grata on the club run?

3. what mudguards should i buy for my only bike, one which i foolishly bought without mudguard eyelets, despite intending to ride throughout the vagaries of the english four-season winter?

i am very happy with them.

the rear; note clips on the QR axle.
the brake bridge; note 'spatter' around the brake
front, with brake bridge adapter
front, with mudflap 'bodge'

The Race Blade Longs Have Arrived!

Pretty much as it says in the title: the holy grail, the missing link, the ark of the covenant, all three of the above in one glorious triumvirate. or to put it another way, the fastest way to convert your blingety blong roadbike into a hapless, cowshit-encrusted winter hack.

the only problem is i haven’t got time to try them out, or photo them, or review them until Friday because tonight i’m going on an archaeological mission to a venerated BSCC club member’s house to look through copies of cycling weekly dating back to the 1920s. this is all part of a hush secret research project. I’m also looking at his memorabilia, which is also part of a hush secret, on the QT, never never, black ops project.

so many exciting things, so little time…. hold tight readers! all will be revealed!

Crud Catcher Mk 2 vs SKS Race Blades

there’s a pretty large gap in the market for a mudguard that can bodged onto a frame that doesn’t have mudguard eyelets or bosses. unfortunately there’s not a similar sized gap between the fork crown and wheel. crud catchers are quite popular on the club run. i have a winter bike, but wanted to find some way of using my old summer bike in winter, so have been experimenting with ‘mudguard solutions’.

if looking for some sort of winter saver for your ass, then you have 3, or possibly 4 choices.

1. get a winter bike. use winter bike. problem solved completely. make winter bike fixed wheel for extra kudos and old-skool points.

2. try sks race blades. i have tried these. they keep your ass dry but not your feet, and unfortunately deposit all the mud on the back brake. they generally last ok but can slip and move around a bit. i used to have to gaffer tape the clips. they spray the person behind you.

not my bike. SKS race blade in situ.

3. try crud catchers. i have tried these. they keep you dry, in the main. however, they rub and make all kinds of noise and don’t stay put and don’t work satisfactorily with anything else other than an ultra narrow 18mm tubular tyre. they are frustrating to fix in place, not that they can be fixed in place. they are, in short, awful.

Not my bike. Cruds in situ.

4. some sort of miraculous bodge using p-clips and proper mudguards, like they would have done back in the days of yore.

to summarise, i would avoid crud catchers like the plague. i would prefer to get horribly filthy than ride with these shonky pieces of plastic shit. rumour has it that SKS are putting out a ‘race blade long’. i am optimistic that this just might be the solution to my woes.

Il Soigneur: Cycling Musettes

It’s a well-known fact that a cyclist can never have too many cycling caps or musettes. I am grateful to Il Soigneur for this array of hand stitched loveliness:

Red cordura
living the tweed dream
contrast interior, contrast button, oh yes.

Dene has been making musettes for a couple of years now. I’ve usually relied on sourcing older musettes from ebay, i’ve got a lovely Enfield Cycles bag and used to have a Mapperley Lightweights one, until i kindly gave it to someone else who was eyeing it up. It’s great to get my sticky paws on a newer version. I am particularly enamoured by the Harris Tweed number – tally-ho!

Dene has also recently branched out into another area of much interest to the cyclist’s psyche: producing a special blend of coffee. i have yet to try it, but as soon as i do i will review the arabica on these pages.

an erotic collage

Il Soigneur is another part of the amazing bicycle-related culture and fellowship in Bristol, alongside Gavin Strange, the Bristol Bike Project, Boneshaker, Levrier Bags and many many others.

Best Cycling Films

I was going write a long, subjective and detailed post about the best cycling films, but thought better of it. suffice to say, films you really should see include:

1. Breaking Away (Peter Yates), featuring a really young Dennis Quaid, and a rites of passage narrative focused on a real-life race, the Little 500. the film is also about social class and very much in a tradition of american films like ‘the outsiders’ (adapted from SE Hinton’s brilliant novel), and it’s an ensemble piece. it’s a hugely underrated film, and there’s a great article and video clips here.

2. A Sunday in Hell (Jorgen Leth), a documentary about Paris Roubaix. By some distance the best film solely focused on cycling, and directed by a dane who late became a fully fledged member of the Dogma movement. A Sunday in Hell seems to get even better the more i cycle, the esoteric aspects become more relevant. below is the entire film (!). if you’ve got 90 minutes to spare then watch it. if not, then just watch the first few minutes.

3. the bicycle thieves – neo-realist director Vittoria De Sicca’s film focusing on a missing bike and man who needs it back: “no bicycle, no job”.

4. Les Triplets De Belleville; an amazing animated film, with terrifying depictions of mountain stages in the Tour, oblique references to real-life celebrities of the era, and a brilliant dog, who has startling dog dreams.

Böikzmöind

Last Saturday saw the premiere of Gavin Strange’s film Böikzmöind, focusing on cycling in Bristol. it’s an oblique look at the fixed gear scene, but is also much more than that. It explores cycling and community in a resolutely uncynical manner, and as such, goes further towards articulating the essential joy that can be had when riding a bike, and the positive effect that cycling has on everyone who does it.

I found the film captivating and completely engrossing. it’s incredibly well made: beautifully shot, framed, edited, and composed. as a direct result it captures  the essential and simple joy of bike riding. this is given substance and shape from the interviews that are at the core of the film. i’m a cynical person, maybe, or at least can be a bit scathing about things. boikzmoind makes me utterly positive about everything, but more than any one thing, utterly positive about bristol and bicycles and anyone anywhere who rides a bicycle. it creates a physical and social picture of a city that is constantly in flux, but has a sense of community at the core that drives many of the changes that occur. on a similar note, and not to stretch things too far, there’s a definite lineation between this film and boneshaker magazine, cafe kino, M-Shed’s foregrounding of social history, weekends outside the arnolfini, the graffiti exhibition, the bristol bike project, the cube, jamaica street studios, spike island, and all the other interanimating elements that forge the cultural and communal identity of the city. boikzmoind is a part of the patchwork.

on a personal note, 3 years ago along with a friend i helped organise a weird fixed wheel hillclimb thing in bristol. we called it the hillycat. Gav came along and filmed it and some of the footage has made it into the final edit. if i think back to the first hillycat, about 3 years ago, and then pitch forward into the present, i can’t help but think that nearly all of the people in the film wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for something else that was happening, which is clearly centred around bicycles, and the joy they create that transcends precisely the kind of cynicism that we (or I) are often afflicted by.

on another note, there are couple of highlights for me:

  • the supermarket sequence is, in short, genius. you have to see it
  • everything jake says and does is awesome
  • sam gaunt and sam higley are pretty darn amazing – especially the intro, and then sam G’s wheelie and insouciant gaze at the camera
  • i’m going to buy the beak> album
  • there’s a massive rabbit in the film, frequently
  • i love a heavy metal umlaut

the film is out on DVD in the not too distant future and in the meantime you can see it at anyone of a number of screenings all over the world (seriously). go see it, it’s brilliant, and i defy you not to smile luminously throughout the entirety of the screening.

Cervelo R5 for Hillclimbs

I rode the Gillingham and District hillclimb this evening. It’s a 1.5 mile or so blast up the Mere, with a couple of nasty kicks and super-fast finish. i was feeling a bit battered after a weekend of birthday-related cakes, ale and cheese, but thought the best way to get back into riding was to do a hillclimb, it made me nervous though.

it was exciting to ride the cervelo properly, give it a bit of welly and see how it shapes up. in short, it’s very very fast, super stiff and a lightweight beast. it drew admiring glances from all and sundy, which is nice.i did three climbs before the race, seeing how it went, working out the thirds, getting out of the saddle and so on. from the push i went quite hard, moved up through the gears, attacked it quite hard all the way up and won with a time of 4.33, beating a quick junior called Josh Day by about 12 seconds or so. I wasn’t that far off the course record which i may go back and chase on another day, even though it’s pretty quick – i think it’s gettable if i’m in slightly better shape, and now that i know the hill it’s slightly different. it was good to feel the real hillclimb burn, managing the effort when it’s much more harsh and intense than any other kind of time trial.

so, back to the cervelo – it defies gravity. i got the weight down to 6.7kg with not much bother at all, using a kit carbonio saddle and some lightweight skewers helps, i have an even lighter wheelset to go on once i’ve relaced the back. there’s no limit really, it’s pretty easy to make it UCI non-compliant, which gives me a furtive thrill. it’s so ridiculously stiff and responsive, i love this bike.

 

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