Bikes are so expensive these days, eh? Remember when you could get a really good spec hardtail for well under a grand?
I mean, there’s no chance of getting, say, a triple-butted aluminium frame with a Reba fork, full Sram GX drivetrain and Guide brakes for £720, is there?
You can probably tell where I’m going with this – and that very reasonable sum is what I paid for the Boardman Pro 29er this summer – taking advantage of one of Halfords periodic 20% deals, plus getting a further 10% off thanks to British Cycling membership.
In addition to the solid core spec already mentioned, the bike also comes with Mavic 319 rims and colour-matched own-brand stem, bar, seatpost and Prologo saddle.
I made a couple of changes to the spec right away, swapping the wheels for a lighter pair of RaceFace Turbine wheels and the tyres for some Maxxis Beavers in a skinny 2in width. The 60mm stem and 720mm bar were replaced with a 50mm / 761mm combo from my spares box.
My initial couple of rides felt fast but rather precarious, thanks to the skinny rubber and non-uppy-downy seatpost. I thought about persevering and re-awakening my XC skills, but after injuring my back pumping it through a bombhole, I just slapped a 2.35in Maxxis DHR rear / Shorty front tyre combo on it instead.
Changing from SPD pedals to flats and installing a Reverb at the same time meant that my next ride on the Pro 29er was like being on a totally different bike – one that was happy to be thrashed through the autumn slop and could be trusted not to put me in the orthopedic ward.
The Sram GX transmission has – unusually – been a right pain to get indexed correctly, but I have the same stuff on another bike and it’s flawless so I’m willing to put this down to poor set-up at the factory and rubbish tweaking by me.
Now I’ve got it working pretty good, it offers a great gearing range and shifts crisply with a nice feel at the lever.
The Sram Guide brakes also have a lovely feel, with beautiful modulation and decent outright power considering the 160mm / 180mm rotors. Very impressed with these.
Not so middle-of-the-road
Boardman might be middle-of-the-road in terms of their image, but the geometry of the Pro 29er is slightly ahead of the curve compared to some of the big brand offerings its competing with.
The 435mm chainstays are nice and short by XC 29er standards, the 68.5deg head angle is a good compromise that keeps it feeling sharp on the singletrack but not dangerous on steep sections – and my large (19in) frame has a reach of 431mm. This is a bit shorter than I’d normally like, but it felt great once I’d swapped back to the 60mm stem that came on the bike.
Ideally I should be on a medium at 5ft 8in, but there’s plenty enough standover and the seatmast is still low enough for anything I’m going to want to ride on it.
Maybe my perception of bike weight has been spoiled by my road bike, but even with the wheels upgraded the Boardman isn’t as light as I’d hoped. I’d guess it’s about 28lbs with the dropper post and pedals.
I’ve read other reviews of these bikes praising the sophisticated frame – but it strikes me as a utilitarian bit of metalwork. I suppose it looks OK (now I’ve got used to those bright green flashes) but it seems to exist solely to keep the wheels and other components in the right place with as little flex as possible.
The balance between stiffness and flex in a bike frame is something I’ve been thinking about recently with my full-sus machines, and it’s fair to say the Boardman is over towards the “direct” side of the spectrum.
With 2in tyres I think it was a bit too rattly for anything apart from easy pootling or racing XC, but the fatter rubber takes just enough of the edge off to make it rideable over rough ground at speed.
And the payback for that frame stiffness is of course a lovely turn of speed when you stamp on the pedals – and a precise and predictable feel when cornering, pumping or jumping.
I bought the bike with the intention of taking part in some local XC races again next year and doing some longer, less gnarly XC rides. I have confidence it’s going to do a great job at both.
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