We test the Boardman AiR/TT 9.0 triathlon bike
Boardman AiR/TT 9.0
Apart from some slight material changes, Boardman’s AiR/TT 9.0 is a mirror image of the AiR/TT 9.8 blasted across the Kona lava fields by Ironman world champ Pete Jacobs. Has Chris Boardman, the godfather of UK Olympic success, created another unbeatable cost-effective performance champion?
Frame and fork
When it comes to comparing the frame of the £7,500 9.8 with the entry-level 9.0, they really are peas from the same pod. Apart from swapping some sheets of premium ultra-high-modulus-weave fibre for a thicker high-modulus sandwich around the BB and getting a thicker paintjob, they’re identical. A bit more paint and carbon cloth hasn’t exactly crippled comparative stats either, as, at 1,326g, the 9.0 frame is one of the lightest full-aero chassis we’ve tested at any price.
Behind the short head-tube the blended-junction aerofoil down- and seat-tubes are triangulated with an oval top-tube for vertically smooth twist resistance. The aero seatpost is clamped in place with a neat twin-bolt plate and can be reversed for slacker time trial or steeper triathlon style seat angles.
Big rectangular chainstays feed power directly from the oversize BB30 bottom bracket to the rear dropouts, with the brake hidden underneath in already ‘dirty’ air. The front V-brake is hidden inside the smoothly sculpted fork too, minimising airflow disturbance at the expense of maximising cursing if you try to adjust it. It’s not Di2 optimised, though.
Typically for Boardman, the kit list bends conventional value rules too. The sharply accurate Mavic Aksium wheels are the lightest on test, with decent-quality Vittoria tyres keeping Tarmac contact smooth and speedy. Despite appearances, the brakes will accommodate the fattest Zipp Firecrest wheels if you’re after the ultimate aero speed upgrade.
The FSA crankset makes the most of the BB30 stiffness gains, and while it comes with full-sized 53/39T chainrings you can specify a compact 50/34T set-up for hillier riding or higher cadences. SRAM’s Rival gears click subtly through the small steps of the close-ratio gear block via minimalist tip shifters.
While they’re certainly cleanly aero, the Vision Trimax extension bars are heavy, have no rotational adjustment and need to be sawn to length. The big gull-wing arm pads are some of the comfiest around once you’ve found the right position, though, and the front end can go low enough to satisfy even the most demanding flat-back fans.
Once we’d fettled the brakes, reversed the seatpost and sorted the bars, Chris Boardman’s experience was immediately evident in the AiR/TT’s ride. As the aero position pioneer and British Cycling consultant who awakened the UK cycling scene to the fact we could be unbeatable against the clock on the track, the road and even in triathlon, Boardman has been playing in wind tunnels for over 20 years. Interestingly, the perspective that’s given him seems to be that aerodynamics aren’t everything. Yes, the AiR/TT is an extremely smooth shape, with minimal frontal area and a calm and composed feel even on gusty days. The most noticeable thing about the bike, though, is how easy and comfortable it is to ride.
The springy, cantilevered arm pads and top quality saddle definitely cosset your contact points, but the whole frame, from fork tip to rear dropout, is very smooth. This comes across as an obviously quiet ride on the road, with less buzz and chatter from rough surfaces than most road bikes, let alone deep-tubed aero machines. Because you’re rattling around less you can relax more, creating a positive spiral of increased energy saving and reduced fatigue.
Rider position is excellent, too, so we never felt bent out of shape even after max-effort or marathon-length rides. The slightly pliable nature of the frame from stem to stern means it’s not the most precise chassis in terms of wheel placement, but the handling is easy and balanced so it never feels sketchy even on blowy days with deep-section wheels subbed in. It’s no noodle where it really counts either, with plenty of stiffness from bottom bracket to rear wheel blasting you down the road with real – if not rigidly brutal – purpose.
Low overall weight makes hills less of an issue than most aero bikes, although bar and frame flex mean it’s best spun up slopes in the saddle rather than stomped. As Chris would undoubtedly say, that’s the most efficient way to go anyway, and if you want more of an aero all-rounder, just stick tri-bars on the Brownlees’ AiR road bike choice instead. Otherwise, unless you’re likely to upgrade to electric shifting in the near future, the Boardman is a benchmark for fatigue-free long-distance speed and efficiency at an affordable price.
+ Smooth-riding, aerodynamically efficient and lightweight frame
+ Excellent low-weight, high-comfort kit package for the money
– Vision tri-bars are high on weight but low on adjustability
– Frame isn’t specifically Di2 compatible