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Review: Boardman SPORT/e Hybrid

17 June 2014

“A well-designed, hugely enjoyable all-rounder that won’t break the bank”

Product

Boardman SPORT/e Hybrid

Price

£300

Weight

11.5 kg / 25.3 lbs (without pedals)

Supplier

Halfords – www.halfords.com

About the Bike

Boardman must surely have sold more adult hybrid bikes than anyone else in the UK. Their flat-handlebar, go-anywhere bikes are a big success. Now Boardman is offering its new SPORT/e Hybrid, a 26”-wheel, scaled-down version of its adult hybrids. The bike sits alongside a road bike and a MTB in the new junior range.

The SPORT/e Hybrid promises the best of both worlds – much of the off-road ability of a dedicated MTB, combined with easy-rolling speed on the road. Our young riders tested the bike in a wide range of terrain. You can watch our video of it in action.

At £300 Boardman’s hybrid has some strong direct competitors, from Frog Bikes and Islabikes for example, so we were keen to see how it measured up.

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Geometry and Fit

Actual top tube (centre-to-centre)

500mm

Horizontal “virtual” top tube (centre-to-centre)

510mm

Seat tube (centre-to-centre)

300mm

Seat tube (centre-to-top)

365mm

Crank length

160mm

Handlebar width

540mm

Handlebar stem (centre-to-centre)

50mm

The bike’s frame has a very compact design with a low, steeply sloping top tube, so it is agile to ride on tricky, technical features and there’s plenty of standover clearance. The bike is a very similar size to Islabikes’ Beinn 26 hybrid and, as a guide, it fits riders typically aged nine to twelve years old – but you should consider your individual child’s height when sizing the bike, regardless of their age.

Crank length is good at 160mm so that riders can spin the pedals easily. It’s important that Boardman got that right, as some big brands still specify cranks that are far too long for young riders’ short legs.

The 540mm-wide flat handlebars and short 50mm stem are proportionally sized too, giving the rider a strong, confident riding position. There’s a decent junior saddle fitted from Boardman’s E4P finishing kit too.

Overall, the bike has clearly been designed with the dimensions of its young riders in mind.

Weight

We weighed the SPORT/e Hybrid at 11.5 kg (25.3 lbs) excluding pedals. That’s not bad but it’s heavier than its Frog Bikes and Islabikes rivals which both dip under 10 kg.

As another comparison the new £300 junior bike weighs about the same as Boardman’s own £430 adult Sport hybrid model. Bike weight is more important to children than adults as the bike itself is much heavier in proportion to body weight.

Frame and Forks

Like the junior road bike and MTB launched at the same time, the new junior hybrid’s aluminium frame has Boardman’s exquisite smooth welds.

It’s nice to see that structural features have filtered down from Boardman’s development of its adult bikes too. The way the top tube & down tube join the head tube is a good example, using the latest design techniques to maximise the strength of what is a highly stressed area of the frame.

For a bike that is likely to spend plenty of time off-road, Boardman has sensibly chosen steel as the material for the hybrid’s fork blades rather than stiffer aluminium. Steel is a little more forgiving and steel forks will fractionally reduce the buzz felt when riding over bumpy ground.

The frame certainly looks great, with its individually shaped tubes and its mature graphics that echo the senior bikes’ branding. If it wasn’t for its small size giving it away, you certainly wouldn’t think this looked like a child’s bike.

The frame has braze-ons for mudguards, a rear carrier and a single bottle cage. Brake and gear cables are well routed out of harm’s way.

There’s plenty of tyre clearance in the frame and the forks – enough to fit 26 x 2.1” knobbly MTB tyres if you want to use the bike on more adventurous terrain.

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Wheels and Tyres

The Boardman has a decent pair of wheels, sharing its quick-release hubs and Boardman-branded rims with its stablemates. Our testers rode the bike hard on MTB trails, including using it for jumps, and they also rode it on urban features like sets of steps. The wheels stayed round and true throughout testing. In fact we think that the wheels could afford to use 28 spokes instead of 32, given the light weight of the bike’s riders.

The tyres are spot on for a multi-use bike like this: 1.5” wide so there is enough volume of air to give some natural suspension effect, enough tread to grip well in light off-road conditions, but with low enough rolling resistance for the bike to keep up on the road. You could always fit faster slick tyres if your child mainly rides on the road, or wider knobbly MTB tyres if they’d be using the SPORT/e Hybrid off-road.

Like all three new Boardman junior bikes, the rear hub has a thread for a screw-on 7-speed freewheel rather than being a freehub (i.e. where the freewheel mechanism is integrated into the hub itself, and the sprockets are mounted on to it in the form of a cassette). We’d prefer to see a 8-speed freehub & cassette, as that would allow much more flexibility for changing gear ratios.

A freehub & cassette would also allow a much wider spread of gears (e.g. 11-34 teeth) rather than the Boardman freewheel’s 14-28 teeth.

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Drivetrain

We were surprised to see the SPORT/e Hybrid configured with a triple chainset, rather than having two chainrings or even just a single ring. We suspect a triple was specified to give the bike a wide overall spread of gears despite its relatively close-ratio 14-28 teeth freewheel. A wide-ratio 8-speed cassette would have allowed the bike to have a single chainring, simplifying it and reducing its weight considerably by removing the need for a front derailleur, front gear shifter, and two chainrings.

The cranks themselves are from SR SunTour and it’s nice to see a respected brand used on a bike of this value, rather than an anonymous component. At 160mm they suit the size of the bike and its rider well. There’s a traditional square-taper bottom bracket which is no surprise given the bike’s value, but it’s from another respected brand – FSA.

The front and rear Shimano Tourney derailleurs are simple but effective and they shift reliably every time.

They are controlled by Shimano Altus trigger shifters. They’re very positive units with a nice clear gear indicator which children will appreciate, and very easy shifting – no need for thumbs of steel. They do have large “pods” though which extend quite far behind the handlebars, and a couple of our testers found that their knees hit them when climbing out of the saddle.

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Brakes

Tektro’s much-admired V-Brakes handle the stopping, smoothly controlled by levers which are shaped nicely for two-finger braking.

The brakes are progressive & sensitive, and they are more than powerful enough in both wet and dry conditions for a bike ridden by a typical 30 to 35 kg rider.

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Components

We liked the smart Boardman E4P “finishing kit” of short handlebar stem, zero-rise 540mm handlebars, and seatpin. All are smart and fit for purpose. They are all sized just right for a small rider’s optimum riding position.

It was nice to see a FSA semi-integrated headset too.

The handgrips are curiously narrow – too narrow even for a 10-year-old child’s hands, and the brake levers and gear shifters are butted right up against them. That locates the brake and gear controls too far out to the side and makes them awkward to use. If you buy a SPORT/e Hybrid we suggest fitting wider hand-grips and sliding the gear shifters and brake levers three cm further in from the ends of the handlebars. That locates the controls in just the right position for two-finger braking and for using the trigger shifters.

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Performance

All of our testers had immediate confidence in the SPORT/e Hybrid, and they hugely enjoyed thrashing around on it. The riding position is good and the bike is very agile. Like all good hybrids it’s actually very capable off-road and it will often out-perform a MTB in all but the most challenging conditions. Like a cyclocross bike, a hybrid has great go-anywhere capability.

The bike and its wheels are stiff so that it climbs, descends and corners well. At the same time it’s comfortable on long rides with a little natural suspension given by the wide tyres and the steel forks.

Service and Support

See our comments about service & support from Boardman & Halfords in our review of the SPORT/e Hybrid’s road bike brother.

Value for Money and Resale

Although the bike’s price is £300, a British Cycling member who takes advantage of their 10% membership discount and one of the frequent Halfords special offers might pay as little as £250. At that price it would undercut the Frog Bikes 69 by £20 and the Islabikes Beinn 26S by a substantial £100. That would make it a serious bargain, and it’s a better bike than any other hybrid that you could buy for £250.

Riding a hybrid off road a lot will take its toll on bearings, cables, and drivetrain components, and the frame will probably pick up a few scratches and dings. But if the SPORT/e Hybrid is cared for and maintained well we can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t find a buyer easily and fetch a high proportion of its new price.

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Verdict

The particular strengths of this bike are its frame, its geometry and its correct proportional sizing throughout. It’s a real blast to ride and it always puts a smile on its rider’s face. Yes, we’d prefer different gearing, but if you want a hugely enjoyable all-rounder that won’t break the bank then the SPORT/e Hybrid is a great buy.

+ fast & agile
+ value for money and low price
+ proportional sizing
– gearing
– location of gear & brake controls before repositioning

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Review: Boardman SPORT/e Hybrid

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