We exclusively review the Boardman Elite AiR 9.0 on its UK launch
Boardman Elite AiR 9.0
The striking metallic red AiR 9.0 is the entry-level bike in Boardman’s Elite AiR range, available only through selected independent bike dealers, and packs a fantastic level of performance and value.
FRAME AND FORK
All Boardman’s AiR aero road bikes share the same frame mould, meaning that regardless of which carbon is used in its construction – depending on where it sits in the range – riders get to enjoy all the considerable research, development and wind tunnel-honed shapes that keep the Brownlees at the front of the pack.
Here, the beautiful red paintwork covers a slightly less-sprightly frame than the range topping 9.8, but at 1,340g it’s no heavyweight and the stiffness and aero benefits mean it’s certainly still one worthy of upgrading in the future.
The fairly short headtube helps to give a racy position while the integrated cables, teardrop-shaped downtube profile and thin, but wide-bladed forks keep things slick where air buffets the front. The BB30 bottom bracket and chunky chainstays give a really stiff platform that responds excellently to added power.
If you’re considering the AiR 9.0 as an all-in-one training and triathlon bike, it’s worth bearing in mind the reach of the bike’s geometry, rather than just the usual frame sizing, as this will be lengthened when on the tri bars. It’s a personal preference, but we found the small size to be perfect for a rider usually on a 54cm frame.
As the Elite range is only available from selected independent bike dealers, each bike can be fitted in-store with stems swapped to suit the rider’s requirements.
It’s also great to see deviation from the monochromatic colour scheme that has been so popular in recent years. The glossy red finish is gorgeous – everyone knows red is a fast colour – and should to help more easily locate the bike among the sea of black and white in transition.
At a snip under £2k, the level of kit on the Boardman is outstanding. Full 10-speed Shimano Ultegra gearing offers superb performance with reliable, responsive changing under pressure. Using the BB30 bottom bracket platform, Boardman have chosen the FSA Energy chainset, which is available in standard 53 39t or compact 50 34t as an option.
There’s no faulting the wheels at this price either. The solid Mavic Ksyrium Equipes weigh in at a very respectable 1,694g (without tyres or cassette) and though these are the only things barring the bike from nearing superbike status, they’ll certainly see you through training and racing. The wheels on offer here also makes the AiR 9.0 an appealing prospect for those thinking about future upgrades or who already own a pair of race day rims and want to move to an aero road bike.
The Continental Ultra Race tyres offer dependable puncture protection and are fairly grippy, making them good for all-round riding, but if you’re planning to race with the Ksyriums, a lighter, more dedicated race tyre will probably be your first port of call when upgrading.
The Ritchey Pro finishing kit provides a lightweight aluminium cockpit – the shallow drops keeping things comfy in combination with the short headtube – while the manganese-railed Fizik Arione saddle is as comfy as ever.
Out on the roads, the AiR 9.0’s ride is characterised by smoothness and speed. While some appreciate an ultra-stiff, twitchy ride that demands power and edge-of-the-saddle bike handling skills, the Boardman rewards riders who want to get quickly up to speed and stay there, feeding a constant stream of power through the cranks. This doesn’t mean it’s not exhilarating to ride; the smooth handling inspires confidence into corners while the stiff back end is responsive to power when sprinting on the way out of bends. This combination of straight-line speed and confident cornering makes the AiR a perfect choice for those coming to triathlon from swimming or running who want a stable ride with predictable handling.
The gearing is also silky, with the Ultegra setup producing perfect shifts and the flex-free FSA Energy chainset driving power through the stiff BB30 bottom bracket without losing any of the force put in. Jump on the pedals and it really shifts, then sit back and enjoy the aero benefits of the frame.
Taking on the hills, the AiR 9.0 loses some of its aero edge but still performs admirably. Though it doesn’t devour steep gradients as well as the series’ higher end models or the SLR range, the AiR 9.0 remains very stable either in the saddle or out and there’s no hint of power-sapping flex from the frame, cranks or wheels. Gear-changing on the hoods – as opposed to the end of tri extensions – makes climbing a whole lot easier than a TT bike, and considering the aero benefits too, it’s ideal for hillier triathlons.
The AiR 9.0 is also a luxuriously comfortable bike that siphons off the majority of road buzz and remains friendly on the behind during long rides, helping to keep additional fatigue at bay before the run. The default setup is quite racy, which may lead some to invert the stem, but it’s a bike designed to get low and fast on rather than sit up and spin and the balance is spot on as is.
With a correct triathlon setup – for which you will probably want to go for a more TT-friendly saddle – the AiR 9.0 is a great choice for those who don’t want the expense of owning separate tri and road bikes, giving an aero edge, comfort and great performance in a seriously good value package to satisfy both training and racing.
+ All the aero benefits of the top frame and outstanding kit for the price
+ Excellent handling and sublime comfort even in long sessions
– The wheels would need upgrading for extra speed on race day
– Not the speediest of bikes when the gradients ramp up
Triathlon Plus Gold Award