Boardman AiR TT 9.8 Triathlon Bike Review

Boardman Air TT 9.8 TT/triathlon bike tested, rated and reviewed.

£1,699.99 (frameset only)
boardmanbikes.com

The only proven Ironman winner here, the quiet, efficient long-distance speed of Boardman’s AiR 9.8TT is an outstanding option for any level of athlete. To highlight their frameset-only option, Boardman sent us a custom build based on SRAM’s 22-speed Force set-up rather than a complete bike from their four-strong range.

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Boardman Air TT 9.8 – Frame and fork

While the AiR/TT has been superseded by the TTE frame with its integrated front end and stem it’s still one of our benchmark bikes for easy, efficient speed. The most distinctive element is the front fork, which uses a broad crown to completely hide the Tektro V-brakes from airflow. It certainly looks clean too although even a conventional wheel can only be removed if you deflate the tyre, which is a right pain, and fitting a fat rim needs care. The rear brake is tucked under the chainstay too, but that’s not restrictive even with short rear-facing dropouts. The short head-tube means it’s really easy to get low while the seatpost clamp is flush fitted with a rubber grommet sealing the top. An oversized BB30 bottom bracket, tapered head-tube and deep chainstays keep things stiff at all the important points while a flat top-tube and skinny stays feed in flex where it’s welcome.

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Boardman Air TT 9.8 – The kit

Our bike was built up to show what kind of machine your local Boardman Elite dealer could put together on the frame-only option. SRAM Force is light, positive and we love the broad R2C levers, but despite the BB30 axle the carbon chainset doesn’t feel as stiff as Ultegra. The Vision cockpit is comfy, but heavy compared to bolted rather than telescopic extensions. There are more aero wheels than the Mavics for similar money too but the Conti tyres are our all-round favourites.

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Boardman Air TT 9.8 – The ride

The Boardman is noticeably smoother and quieter on the road straight away, with the rougher sections of our test loop feeling more muted through all contact points. The subtly sprung Vision composite arm pads help in a tuck, but there’s none of the chatter through the pedals that rigid machines transmit.

Even as speed increases – which it does very easily – there’s a real quietness about the bike that actually feels slow until you realise there’s a lot more noise rushing through your helmet vents than you’d expect. Testing time splits and GPS checks confirmed the helmet noise as the true indicator not the bike quietness and the Boardman cruised as fast as the other bikes. There’s a slight sense of flex from the SRAM Force cranks compared to the solidity of Ultegra and it doesn’t feel quite as direct through the pedals as the stiffest bikes here. There’s no wheel rub out of the saddle though and it holds traction really well when climbing on broken surfaces. Once you’ve got your head around the almost disappointing lack of speed sensation, the smoothness pays bigger and bigger dividends the further and longer you ride.

The natural riding position of the AiR TT amplifies the aerodynamic gain of the frame too. The relatively long and low (for its seat-tube length) position of the Boardman shouldn’t surprise those riders who remember the way Chris Boardman rode. If you’re in any doubt, get onto Google images and find the shots of him screaming round track banking or recording the fastest ever opening stage of the Tour De France with his knees pretty much skimming his nipples, he’s so low on the bike. Our ‘custom’ bike also came with a 15mm longer stem than standard spec too, which really accentuated the length and lowness of it all, but one of the biggest advantages of building up your own bike is that you can create whatever cockpit position you want. The extra stem length makes the surefooted geometry and neutral wind manners of the AiR TT feel even more planted through high speed turns and we never worried about braking late and diving in hard on corners that we knew. The standard stem with its faster reactions will be more forgiving on roundabout rich courses or when you’re riding blind through twistier roads on a course you don’t know. Either way the steering geometry is superbly balanced whether you’re on skinny or deep wheels and the tapered-top fork adds enough accuracy and feedback to exploit the top quality Continental tyres. We didn’t notice any downside to the teardrop rather than Kammtail tube profiles either.

The multi position seatpost top also lets you move the already steep seat angle back and forward by 50mm depending on which of four holes you bolt the saddle clamp into. That means you can properly open up your pelvic angle tri style and if you get on with the cloven nosed Adamo saddle then that’s exactly the ‘on point’ position where it really works.

+ Super smooth, sweet handling, long-distance friendly character.

+ Lightweight and aerodynamic efficiency at a cost effective price.

– Not as dramatic in power delivery and acceleration as stiffer bikes.

– Getting wheels in and out around the front brake is a pain in the arse.

 

Words Guy Kesteven Photos Joby Sessions