Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Bike, New Start

by Kat Hunter
The Boardman AiR 9.2S

When the Boardman line came to ATC in April, we posted the review Boardman Bikes: A British Powerhouse Arrives in Texas. My husband, Jack Mott, was its author and guinea pig, field testing the AiR 9.2S at the Veloway side by side against his Cervelo S5. Pregnant at the time, I hadn’t gotten a chance to ride the Boardman bike, but I knew that the frames had become popular over the summer. When ATC said they wanted to put me on an AiR 9.2S, I jumped at the opportunity.

Boardman Bikes may be new to the States, but the company has plenty of street cred. Named for cycling legend Chris Boardman, who is also director of the company’s R&D department, Boardman Bikes sponsors a host of uber-talented athletes. The Brownlee brothers, British ITU triathletes, took Olympic gold and bronze on the AiR 9.8S.

The shape and weight of Boardman’s AiR frames are the same, with models differing in price and paint job according to their gruppo. The AiR 9.2S, the median option with Ultegra Di2, has personality. Matte black with yellow and white accents, she’s a mean girl. Internal electric cable routing and a carbon fiber frame make her sleek and light, and from fork to seat post, she’s wind-tunnel tested and aero. The brand lettering on the flat, airfoil down tube is prominent without being cartoonish. My favorite subtle detail: the inside of the fork and seat stays are a bright, solid yellow, a design element that seems mildly racy, as if the AiR 9.2S is sporting red garters beneath an otherwise staid business suit. Online specs say that she comes in at 17.1 pounds with training wheels.

I fell in love on the first ride.

In early August, I was in a slump. My return to bike racing post-baby had gotten off to a discouraging start. Progress was slow, and then a little over a month into training, I’d had a crash that took me off the bike for two weeks. I felt like a much larger and slower shadow of the bike racer I had been before my son was born, and I feared I’d never make a full comeback.

The Boardman bike was a good kick in the pants. I’m no Alistair Brownlee, but I’m a decent Cat 1. The bike rekindled the competitive spirit in my heart and legs, despite their diminished state. From that first ride on, I felt like I was back on track; I would be fast again...or no, even faster.

Typically, I don’t like change. I tend to hold on to my equipment until it’s dead or dying, but the day I got fit on the Boardman, the new pair of Giro road shoes I’d ordered had come in. I’d also recently replaced the helmet that had cracked in the crash with a shiny new LG Course. I thought of something I’d seen in an IKEA catalogue—a prescription that “even new towels make a big difference.” Maybe I’d started with that idea, but in the end, I’d gutted the whole house.

My nervousness about the top-to-bottom makeover was eased by the fact that I was getting a professional fit. Stefan Rothe of Rothe Training fit me on the Boardman, checking my saddle setback, seat height, reach, and drop to the bars. New bike or no, I knew it was something I needed. Jack and I had changed the setup of my old bike so many times since my last fit that nothing felt quite right anymore, though I couldn’t say which individual thing or combination of things needed to be fixed. With the new fit on the Boardman, I felt less constricted, and I could shift and brake more easily in the drops.

We made some other modifications to match my old setup. I’ve always ridden 170mm cranks, so we put on the FSA SL-K Light compact crankset, and we swapped out the bars for a narrower size. The AiR 9.2S is shipped with very nice training wheels and race tires—the Mavic Ksyrium wheelset with Vittoria Open Corsa CX tires. The saddle, the Fizik Arione Titanium is good, too, but I’ve used the Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow since the start of my pregnancy with zero problems, and I’m not ready to give up my security blanket just yet. Even if it does make weight-conscious roadies cringe.
I think of all the reasons to get a fit—saddle sores, back pain, knee pain, comfort, better efficiency—perhaps the most important is peace of mind. The new setup felt good immediately, and, confident in Stefan’s expertise, I knew I wouldn’t want to touch a thing for a long time.

On the inaugural ride back home from ATC, I felt like I’d been given new legs. The Boardman seemed bigger (I think we’d raised the saddle height), yet at the same time noticeably lighter, almost delicate. My new carbon fiber glass slipper.

Apart from the raised saddle, the biggest difference was the Di2. I’d never had electronic shifting before, nor ever imagined I would want it. I preferred having the control, feeling the gears click into place...or so I’d thought. The Di2 was amazing. Click a button and with a soft mechanical rasp it shifts smoothly every time. Several people had told me that with Di2 you could change gears no matter how hard you are pedaling, and while I haven’t found that to be true, I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about dropping my chain.

Even glass slippers don’t fit perfectly right away, though. Roughly a month later, I’m still getting used to the Boardman. Jack loves the science behind the bike, the yaw angles and training graphs and various components. I can appreciate the technical side of things, but for me, a large part of the attraction is a kind of physical escapism. Most days, I just like to feel my legs going around in circles, the harder the better. The newness of the Boardman is nice in its own way, making each training ride exciting, but I also like it when my bike feels like a second skin, when the “old hat” is old enough that I forget I’m wearing it. I think that’s beginning to happen; the Boardman and I are developing a relationship of trust, one where we can go around a corner together at something approaching top speed...though I have a sneaking suspicion she still thinks me unworthy.

AiR 9.2S specs
Previous ATC Boardman Bikes review, Boardman Bikes: A British Powerhouse Arrives in Texas
AiR 9.2S at ATC

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