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Boardman Hybrid MX RACE 2013–2014

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Tested by Neil Watterson

Review

No, no, no, no, no! White contact points should never be fitted to a bike destined for cross-country use. By the end of my second outing on the Boardman MX Race, the pristine white grips were less of a glowing white and more of a muddy brown.

It wasn't intentional - I don't normally go round wearing grubby gloves - but I picked up two punctures in quick succession and with the temperature close to freezing, I needed my gloves on when replacing the tubes.

I know why the bike has the white grips. With a satin black frame, it would look too sober for a fun bike. The white grips, saddle and SR Suntour NEX fork contrast the frame to make a good-looking bike.

In some ways, it seems a shame to get it dirty. The finish on the frame is excellent. The only welds that are visible are those around the square taper bottom bracket; the rest are smoothed perfectly and having the rear disc brake mounts inside the rear 'triangle' gives a premium feel to the frame.

It's interesting to see that the rear triangles differ from each other. The drive-side is a proper old-fashioned triangle, whereas the brake-side is a quadrilateral formed by the chainstay being slightly lower on that side.

The rear brake mount is a heavily-reinforced affair, looking like it is built to last. In fact, the whole frame is reassuringly strong - though with an all-up weight of 14kg including pedals, it's no lightweight - making a sound basis for the bike. Which is just as well, really.

It's not that the components bolted to it are bad; just that a few upgrades would transform it. But I guess that's the balance - do you buy a bike with a low-spec frame but good components, or go for something like this with a good frame, but low spec components? I'd certainly go the better frame route, knowing that it would be worth upgrading as components wear. And I'd start by upgrading the crankset.

It's an FSA Dyna something. I would tell you what its full name is, but the name, and the paint below it, has rubbed off. And that was within the first 100 miles of use. I've got cranksets on other bikes that have seen thousands of miles and the paintwork is still intact.

But that's not the reason I'd junk it. I'd swap it for something better because it doesn't have any ramps on it for easy shifting between the rings. Go from the middle to the large ring and you have to endure an embarrassing clattering and the chain fights against the front mech trying to make the leap between the gears. I dread having to drop a cog at the front as I know it'll be a pain to recover.

Then there's the fact that there's no chainguard - its omission may make it look sportier, but as it doesn't have a sporty gear change in the first place, what's the point? Get rid of it. That said, with 26/26/48 tooth rings, it does give a very wide spread of gears and I've struggled to find anywhere I can't find the right ratio for.

The gear change uses SRAM components, with an X5 rear mech moving the chain up and down the 11-32-tooth 9-speed SRAM PC950 cassette. A reassuringly-firm and accurate gearchange, there's been no miss-shifting at all, even with the chain caked with three weeks' worth of crud. What I have found I'm missing is a gear window on the shifter. I know some people think they're unnecessary, but when you're commuting and have just had to come to an abrupt halt from speed, rather than having a quick glance to see if you're in the right gear, you have to look at the rear cassette. Then there's the times when you're climbing long hills - how many gears have you got left before you have to drop a cog on the front, then have to struggle getting back into the big ring?

It would be less of a problem for leisure cyclists, and that's who I think will be buying the MX Race. People wanting to go out for a quick ride, maybe getting in a bit of training, or taking their kids on rides, having upgraded from cheaper bikes. And the bike will be fine for that.

Grip on the road is provided by 700x37 Schwalbe Tyrago tyres, working well on tarmac and on hard-packed surfaces, but squirm considerably when the going gets soft, so are best-suited to roads, towpaths and forestry fire roads. With a maximum pressure of 65psi, they drag a bit more than other tyres on the road, but give a slightly softer ride. They're mounted on 32-spoke 700C disc-specific rims on Formula hubs which do the job. They're not fancy, but cope well with undulations and potholes, even when the front fork is locked-out.

A fork with an easy-to-get-to lockout is a bonus on a bike like this. The SR Suntour NEX HLO fork's lockout switch is on the top of the right hand fork leg. With 63mm of travel, it isn't the most active fork around, but it's enough to smooth out the ride across mild undulations, though it doesn't respond to tree-roots that quickly.

The lockout is exceptionally light to use - a good job too as you have to reach down to get it - and a quick flick sees the fork rigid. Well, almost rigid; hit some harsh bumps and you'll feel the forks chattering a bit. There is a bit of play in the forks when they're locked - but that's acceptable for the price.

Of course, you could always steer round the potholes or brake and hit them slower. The light-rise of 15mm on the handlebars give plenty of movement, though the geometry of the frame did initially make manoeuvring feel a lot slower than other bikes. After a while you get used to it and though I still wouldn't use this bike for a slalom race, it's adequate.

The 160mm Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes fitted front and rear are steady performers. They require a fair amount of fettling to keep them working perfectly. They're not fiddly, or anything like that, you just need to wind-in the static inboard pad to compensate for wear, then adjust the cable length as you would a traditional cable-operated brake.

If you're moving up from rim-brakes, you'll be used to this. If you're more used to hydraulic discs, you'll find the maintenance irritating. That said, when properly adjusted they're not that far off hydraulic brakes in terms of performance, so are ideal for those just getting into (or back into) cycling who may prefer the simplicity of them. They could always upgrade to hydraulics later, anyway.

The rest of the finishing kit does the job. It's not the lightest kit around, but it's strong and functional. The Boardman saddle is a reasonably comfortable place to spend a couple of hours in but if you're out longer, you may find yourself wishing for a more anatomically-designed unit.

To be honest, that pretty much sums up the bike: it's a reasonably-priced bike, ideal for upgrades. I like the frame and, while there is nothing particularly wrong with the rest of the components, I would think about setting aside some cash to upgrade it. A new chainset would make the world of difference.

On the other hand, you could just buy a funky wall-mount and stick it on your living room wall as a conversation piece. At least it would prevent the white grips from getting dirty…

At a glance

Verdict A competent, great-looking hybrid built around a good frame. A few upgrades would make it a whole lot better, though.
Value
Performance

Do you own this bike?

by nav woods  on 6 Jul 2020
got this bike has someone borrwered my pinnicle kupur2 without asking one night .
great bike matched with some land crusier tires and some black boardman grips .the white ones did not stay white very long even in 2020 ppl with new mtb look at it and say its a nice bike only thing i have changed was rear derailer ..but it keeeps going everyday .i have tried other bike at twice the price but this is quicker .
by Ian McGovarin  on 29 Dec 2014
Bought this bike on ride to work scheme, after first ride had to ditch the uncomfortable seat for something a little more practical and not as long as was rubbing part it should not! found the bike to be very rugged and quick when needed however after around 500 miles found chain kept jumping off sprockets and getting wedged in between cogs took it back for a service at Halfords and this made it worse than ever - I then rest myself and have been riding fine ever since. I road ride with forks permanently locked out and they have been great. I've had a few problems with spokes coming loose but this has been after going "off road" riding which it is more than capable of doing and as I'm no light weight (20st +) the bike takes a lot of punishment - would recommend though. 8/10
by gordon o reilly  on 2 Oct 2014
The last bike I really loved was the Raleigh bomber, all those years ago. The kind of bike you could look at and say, wow thats mine.... but unfortunately you would end up on a hospital bed after a few miles. Now at 42yrs old I felt it was time to do some exercise of some sort, anyway, I saw the mx race in thes cycle store .(that was a full stop by the way) and I got the same buzz by just how the bike looked. It, s a super looking bike. But guess what? In the last month, I did two 50km & one 120k cycles no problem. Also sprained my wrist and fractured 3 ribs on a mountain bike track (townley hall) the bike had a buckled wheel, im no pro.. but I love the bike. 10/10

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