Boardman is one of those brands like IKEA – it’s been around for just a twinkle of an eye compared to some of their competitors, but over the brand’s short life it has become so successful and ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine the UK mountain bike scene without it. That said, Boardman’s products trigger happier associations in my mind than the giant blue warehouse of navigational confusion.
Maybe it’s the fact that Boardman’s founder is a bonafide National Treasure; a rare sportsman who not only excelled at the whole winning business back when the UK generally didn’t, but also speaks titanic amounts of sense about everyday cycling. Or maybe it’s the way that the bikes are explicitly designed to appeal to people who absolutely want the best value for money, and aren’t overly concerned about the image.
Going back a few years, Boardman’s full suss bikes always seemed like the weak link in the range, with stems that’d take your eye out, venerable rocker-link suspension, and a model naming policy that sounded like the result of the world’s least fertile brainstorming session. The names are still dull, perhaps, but recently their bouncy offerings have transformed themselves into something much more exciting. 2011 saw a big redesign, with incremental improvements every two years since then, and the latest FS Pro, a 140/130mm 650b pedal-up/hoon-down machine, is much more interesting than any amount of reasonably-priced kitchenware or flat-pack bookcases.
Before we go any further, we need to untangle some crossed wires on Boardman’s website, which lists the bike as having a 68.5° head angle, a pressfit bottom bracket and a front mech mount. Actually the bike has a more laid-back 67.5° head tube, a conventional threaded BB and no front mech mount. The slack head angle, tight chainstays, low(ish) bottom bracket and roomy top tube all give the impression that someone at Boardman has been paying attention to what the trendier brands are doing.
Alongside these changes, the Pro FS gets squared-off chainstays to counteract heel rub, and a 12mm bolt-through back end. It has proper 4-bar suspension, which means you get to sneer at the single pivot peasants – although it also means replacing a load of fairly tiddly cartridge bearings when the time comes.
The snazzy metallic blue frame is a veritable bird of paradise compared to the workmanlike black or silver finishes of Boardmans of yore. A colour-matched Prologo saddle is a nice touch. The seatpost is also colour matched, causing me to wince when it started to scratch up. Of course, raising and lowering your seatpost by hand is generally considered to be a mug’s game these days, and it’s pleasing to note that the frame has been future-proofed with a spare cable guide and routing port for a dropper upgrade.
Avid Guide brakes make it stop, and a 740mm handlebar and stubby stem make it turn. The cockpit is rounded off with a thin plasticky set of grips which will probably be the first thing you swap out, but it’s hardly an expensive upgrade. Overall a lot of thought seems to have gone into the look, but stylistically it’s also slightly redolent of cheaper bikes in the Halfords stable, if that’s an issue.
Wheels are a set of unbranded cartridge bearing hubs paired with 32-hole Mavic XM319 rims. The rims are on the narrow side by today’s standards, but it’s nice to see an unflashy, easily tweakable set of hoops composed of standard, serviceable parts. Tyres are folding Continental Trail Kings which, while they don’t have the supernatural grip of fancier compound tyres, do the job in a wide range of conditions.
Drivetrain is fully 1×11, courtesy of a mix of SRAM’s GX groupset and and an FSA Comet chainset. The chainset features a proprietary 3-arm narrow-wide chainring, which means that you’re locked into buying the same again when it wears out, but spares do seem to be widely available. The chainline is quite extreme at the bottom end of the cassette, and I had some problems getting it to stay in the lower gears. This aside, the setup offers a much wider range than off-the-peg 1×10, going from 42T all the way up to 10T. The rear mech has a very long cage and you still get a bit of chain slap, but overall it was quiet and the chain only dropped in utterly biblical mud.
So far I haven’t mentioned the bit that will probably make most people buy this bike: the suspension. The rear shock is an OE variant of RockShox’s Monarch RT, with a single valve to add air, rebound and lockout; nice and simple. Up front, and previously virtually unheard of for a full susser at this price point, is a RockShox Pike solo air fork. For a bike that’s £100 cheaper than last year’s, it’s a fantastic spec. The all-in weight is very reasonable too, at around 29lb (with pedals) for this medium.
Slinging a leg over, the first thing I noticed was the very active rear suspension. A lockout switch on the shock stiffens things up, but there’s still quite a bit of movement. If you’re used to bikes with super-efficient platform damping, or you tend to climb out of the saddle, you might feel like your energy is being dissipated into the æther, but it didn’t seem to make much difference to how far or fast I could climb. On technical climbs, it’s superb, and if you’ve got the legs it will happily clamber up anything; you just need to keep calm and stay seated.
Once you’ve got to the top, the active suspension gives the Boardman a puppyish character, bouncing happily over trail obstacles. The fork by comparison feels more sensible and grown-up, just getting on with the job. The solid, dependable Pike and the excitable Monarch are a surprisingly good combination. One encourages you to try stupid things, the other gets you out of trouble, and if they weren’t suspension units they’d probably make a good crime-fighting duo.
Handling-wise, the bike has a very nu-skool feel, with the long reach and short back end whispering “just monster-truck it, it’ll be OK”. And it usually was. Riding the bike through the tail end of a UK winter, I did find myself wishing for some grippier tyres, but who doesn’t? The brakes howled for the first few rides, but then shut up and behaved perfectly. And while the frame and components scuffed up quite easily, they all kept working just fine. The only major issue I had with this bike was the chainline, and some resulting difficulties with gear indexing – the specced chainring ideally needs to be a few millimetres inboard for maximal happiness. Apparently this has been an issue for a few manufacturers speccing 1×11, and at least with this bike you potentially get some spare cash for crank or drivetrain swops, plus upgrades like the all-important dropper post.
Overall the FS Pro comes in at a door-busting price point, but it’s also got sorted geometry and great all-round performance on its side. Boardman could have bolted the build kit to any old frame and it’d still be a tempting purchase, but instead they’ve incorporated a lot of tweaks which bring the bike right up to date. It’s unlikely to make anyone’s list of dream bikes, but they should sell by the crateload, and it’s an awesome demonstration of what happens when you combine the purchasing power of a massive cycle retailer with a sorted product development process.
Boardman Pro FS 27.5 Specifications
- Frame // Triple Butted & Hydroformed X9 Alloy Tubing, 130mm Travel
- Fork // Rockshox Pike RC, 140mm Travel
- Shock // RockShox Monarch RT
- Hubs // Alloy Disc, 100x15mm Front & 142x12mm Rear
- Rims // Mavic XM319, 32h, Tubeless Compatible
- Tyres // Continental Trail King, Folding Bead, 2.2in Front & Rear
- Chainset // FSA Comet, 32t 1x Chainring
- Front Mech // N/A
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX 11-Speed
- Shifters // SRAM GX 11-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM XG1150, 10-42t, 11-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Guide R, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
- Stem // Boardman Alloy, 55mm Long
- Bars // Boardman Alloy, 740mm Wide, 25mm Rise
- Grips // Lock-On
- Seatpost // Boardman Alloy, 31.6mm
- Saddle // Prologo Nago Evo X15
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium & Large
- Claimed weight // 13.22kg (29.1 lbs)
|Tested:||by Antony de Heveningham for 3 months|