We review the Boardman AiR 9.4 aero road bike

Boardman AiR 9.4

Boardman AiR 9.4
£3,499.99
boardmanbikes.com

Chris Boardman’s career is littered with world record, Olympic and pro road race wins, and this owed a lot to his meticulous preparation and a cutting-edge attitude to aerodynamic advantage. It’s no surprise then that his AiR aero road bikes are exceptionally efficient and coherently designed performance packages. They’re also astonishingly good value.

FRAME AND FORK

The AiR 9.4 frame uses the same mould as the range-topping 9.8 model, the same one raced by the Brownlees, and its wind-tunnel-honed design also owes a lot to that of the AiR TT triathlon/time trial bike.

Internally routed cables are tucked neatly into the side of the head tube, and smoothly sculpted aero tubes taper back to the seat tube with a matching carbon aero seatpost and thin-bladed seatstays. There are no gimmicks here: brakes are conventionally positioned, the fork isn’t stepped or integrated into the frame in any special way – just the clean lines that Boardman has refined in the wind tunnel.

As it’s in line with the wind, the powertrain bottom line can be much more muscular, with the big, smooth BB30 bottom bracket block leading back into big tapering chainstays designed to maximise power transfer. Despite using a cheaper, slightly lower grade of carbon fibre construction than the 9.8, it’s still reasonably light for an aero frame.

THE KIT

Before anyone had the chance to realise how well their bikes rode, Boardman bought its way into buyers’ consideration with outrageously good component selections for the price. That’s still the case today, with a Shimano Dura-Ace gear and brake set-up teamed with an oversized BB30 axle carbon fibre FSA SLK chainset. Ritchey finishing kit creates a lightweight cockpit, while Fizik’s Arione saddle is a superb place to tap out the miles from.

Boardman has taken a really bold step with the wheels though. The obvious choice would be a set of deep-section clincher wheels and normal tyres, prioritising their conventional puncture repair simplicity over the increased weight and sluggish slower speed feel that often accompanies them. Instead they’ve gone for a set of own-brand 50mm deep-section wheels, with tubular tyres glued into place.

The result is a weight saving of around 200g per wheel (because there’s no rim to add weight) and a noticeably smoother ride. It’s an opinion divider, but with a bit of patience and preparation tubs are a lot easier to fit and live with than the industry scaremongering would suggest. Besides, which would you rather have to buy as extras: a £200-300 set of clincher wheels or a £1,000-plus set of race wheels?

THE RIDE

The most telling thing about the Boardman’s ride is that there’s simply no trace of the fact that this bike costs a fraction of the price of its rivals. While we thought we’d notice the lower grade carbon it feels every bit as responsive as the top frame. Granted it’s not as brutally rigid as some of its competitors under power, but the BB30 crank and big chainstays mean it certainly never feels like it’s squandering effort.

The impressively low bike weight means the AiR 9.4 climbs with equal enthusiasm on both long and short climbs. The rear hub engages really quickly, so you’re back on the power immediately out of corners. Even without hidden brakes or other fancy touches, there’s definitely enough aero effect going on here to produce a clean, sustained speed feel compared with a conventional road bike.

When pushed hard it’s not totally pin-sharp through corners, and the wheels and frame are prone to strong gusts of wind. However, the reassuringly stable handling meant we never had any nervous issues, even when ripping the big ring down twisting single-track gravel-centred roads in the Dales.

Significantly for triathletes facing a long bike leg followed by a long run afterwards, the AiR 9.4 is extremely comfortable for an aero bike. The tub tyres definitely help take the edge off those unavoidable cattle grids and potholes – as well as surviving better than clinchers – but the whole bike glides rather than chatters.

The AiR 9.4’s Shimano gearing is flawlessly smooth and quiet and the bars and saddle are pleasantly long-ride-compliant. Add in the Boardman aero edge that is invisibly massaging your speed upwards the whole time you’re riding it, and this bike’s not just an absolute bargain for the price but also an effortless way to clock up startlingly fast mileage at any price.

Pros
+Aero efficient frame delivers a speed, comfort and handling balance
+ Outstanding kit including race-ready lightweight tubular tyres

Cons
– Not everyone will want to deal with the potential hassle of tubs
– Frame is heavier and slightly softer than the lightest aero bikes