Boardman’s superb SLS 9.0 road bike ridden, reviewed and rated
Boardman SLS 9.0
Boardman has had the performance spectrum covered with its AiR aero bike and SLR race bike for a while, but the totally new SLS moves the company into the more forgiving high-mileage sector. Don’t think that means performance has been played down, though.
Frame and fork
For a start this new frame hits the scales at 850 grams, which is race weight by any standards. While other bikes at this price use second (or even third) level models in their manufacturer’s carbon frame range, the SLS 9.0 uses exactly the same chassis as the flagship SLS 9.8. It uses the same top grade carbon fibre bottom bracket and chainstay lay-up that was previously only used on the 9.8 level bikes. Now the oversized bottom bracket shell itself is built into the lay-up to reduce weight without sacrificing stiffness.
While the chunky rectangular chainstays are all about power transfer, the seatstays use a flattened and slightly curved profile to put some leaf-spring style deflection into the mix. The triangular section forks and top-tube are cleanly tapered to suck out some sting too.
The head-tube is 2cm taller than Boardman’s SLR race bike. All cabling is internally routed – mechanically or electrically compatible – and the seat collar is a very lightweight band with replaceable thread barrels. In other words, you’re getting a supremely upgradeable frameset that’s worth taking all the way with the most expensive kit you can afford over time.
The par-for-the-course Shimano 105 kit levels of the SLS 9.0 might come as a surprise to those used to Boardman bikes looking like an absolute bargain, but what it really shows is just how much money they’ve invested in the frameset and its development.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the performance of the gears or brakes and their long-term durability is legend. Thanks to the ultralight chassis, complete bike weight is still low at 7.85kg, although it’s worth noting that the fully Ultegra (including wheels) equipped SLS 9.2 (£2,600) is 500g lighter.
The Mavic Aksium/Aksion wheel and tyre combo is fast, light and stiff enough to underline the ride in suitable style and the Boardman own brand cockpit and seat post are all usefully lightweight pieces. Most of our testers would have preferred a softer saddle than the ultra firm Fizik Ardea, although from experience it’s a seat you’ll get used to given a bit of riding time.
Boardman describes the geometry of the SLS as ‘Endurance Racing’ and that’s a perfect description of the ride character. In default mode, with all the carbon steerer spacers left in, you’re definitely sitting up and seeing more sky than a standard race bike. Switching out of the spacers or using the lower half of the bars drops you out of the wind and into a more aggressive position when the pace picks up though.
The Boardman initially had us puzzled with the ease with which it pulled away on climbs, sprints or any other time we decided to properly press the pedals. The only answer is the superior power transfer of the premium carbon fibre construction which lesser bikes with contempt whether it was effortlessly spinning tempo in the saddle or stood up and literally stamping its authority on group rides.
Drop your elbows to lower your centre of gravity and that same authority is equally clear in the balanced handling of the classic 73-degree parallel head- and seat-tube angles which have won Boardman bikes a string of victories at the highest levels.
While it’s not significantly soft in your hands or under your rump, there’s definitely more glide and less jackhammer than a pure performance bike over the council’s worst road crimes and winter frost damage.
Switching to larger volume tyres and a more forgiving seat would certainly add more float without reducing (or possibly even increasing) rolling speed. Even in standard trim the SLS was still friendly enough to stay ache free on the longest back road rides though. Most significantly for those with a competitive mindset it definitely kept our legs feeling significantly fresher and our morale more upbeat than the other bikes here.
+ Effortlessly light, fast and efficient frame with top upgrade potential
+ Smooth riding frame is comfortable without hindering performance
– Component spec is OK rather than outstanding
– Fatter, better tyres and softer saddle would increase comfort