Absolutely superb trail bike that hits way above its modest price tag
Jun 12 2018
Much improved stiffer frame and supportive suspension
Excellent value for money with an almost flaw-free build kit
Confidence inspiring handling for beginner and advanced rider alike
Deserves a dropper post upgrade
You want a superb full suspension trail bike without breaking the bank
Boardman's new MTR 8.9 manages to deliver the amazing value their full suspension range has always offered, but performance is now a step up thanks to revised geometry and suspension. It's not just a good bike for the money; it's a bike that's more than capable of shaming machines double or triple the price.
Boardman's full suspension bikes previously went under the FS moniker, but as well as being renamed, the frame has been heavily revised. It still uses the same four-bar rear end delivering 130mm of travel, but it's been seriously beefed up to improve stiffness, with new tube profiles throughout the frame. This MTR 8.9 is the highest spec bike in the three-bike range and both it and the next-down MTR 8.8 have a single-ring only wider stance main pivot to help boost that cause as well. All the bikes also get Boost hub spacing and a 12mm through axle at the rear. The frame is also smooth welded, which makes it look very smart indeed.
Geometry has been tweaked for a longer reach - 455mm for a large - and a slacker head angle than before, though front travel remains the same at 140mm. The seat angle has also been steepened up for improved weight balance when climbing and the cockpit is reasonably modern, with a 50mm stem and 740mm wide bars.
The suspension has also seen a major overhaul, with a move to a Metric sized shock and kinematic tweaked to make the most of it. That all requires the kinked top tube in order to get the shock in the right place and the whole setup is said to have better small bump performance, better mid-stroke support and bottom out resistance.
So what does this all add up to? In short, a mighty impressive trail bike. The changes to the geometry mean it's much happier attacking the trail, both uphill or down. The frame feels noticeably much sturdier than the old bike, with the squared-off tubing profiles delivering a much more precise ride that's less liable to wriggle about underneath you when you're hauling hard or pinballing through rocks.
The suspension is much improved, with a supple start and much more support all the way through the middle and end of the travel that means you've got much more confidence to push hard in turns. It's made the bike feel significantly more stable in the rough, but also more controlled and responsive when you're pumping and pushing on the terrain for speed. It's often easy to be impressed simply when affordable full-suspension mountain bikes have suspension that's not bad, but the Boardman is genuinely good, by any standard.
Okay, to get a bit princess and the pea about it all, it could do with a touch more anti-squat to liven up the pedalling manners - but this would be a relatively minor criticism for a bike at twice the money, so even mentioning it feels rather churlish for what's essentially an entry level machine. It's truly impressive to even start thinking about judging a 'budget' suspension bike by the standards of seriously high-dollar machines.
A kit list to kill for
It's a similar story with the kit fitted to the bike. The RockShox Revelation RC is essentially the same 35mm legged chassis as the high-end Pike, so it's plenty stiff and while the damping isn't quite as refined as it's more expensive brother you can still push pretty hard before it starts to lose the plot. The SRAM NX 11spd drivetrain occasionally doesn't feel quite as smooth under shifting as Shimano's offerings, but there's plenty of gear range from the 11-42T spread and the 32T ring means you should be able to get up pretty much anything without being left wanting on the flat too.
The SRAM Level T brakes are fairly basic, but they offer decent power and feel and having a larger 180mm rotor up front means you're unlikely to need more stopping grunt in general use. They aren't a hugely well-known name in the mountain bike work, but the Vittoria Morsa tyres are predictable and grippy, with plenty of volume. They come with the TNT casing both add strength and allows them to be run tubeless easily - you'd just need to convert the nicely wide own-brand 25mm rims with tape and some valve stems.
While the 67º head angle isn't mega slack by today's standards, there's a good mix of stability on descents without it getting too floppy and lazy when you want to dart through some twisty singletrack. The same goes for the seat angle - it's significantly better than the old bike's rather slack seat angle, which means you're in a better position for steep climbs without being too extreme - it's fairly middle of the road, which is a good thing when it comes to a bike designed to appeal to such a broad swath of potential buyers.
That 455mm reach for the large frame gives you plenty of space to move about on the bike too, so whether you're an experienced rider or more of a novice, you'll have the confidence to push harder. The 14.2kg weight is very good for a bike at this money - especially a full suspension one, so big days pedalling won't leave you any more exhausted than you should be either. It's no flyweight racer, but as a do-it-all machine, it's hugely impressive.
All in all, it's hard to find fault with this bike. It's an absolutely cracking mid-travel trail bike that'll flatter beginners and advanced alike and it's superb value for money, even by the standards of direct-sales bikes. To be honest, the only thing I felt was even slightly lacking compared to many bikes that have cost much, much more than the MTR 8.9 was the lack of a dropper post, but you could still spend a couple of hundred quid on one and still be laughing all the way to the bank - and all the way around the trails. Quite simply, this is a superb bike by any standard and at this money, it's an absolute steal.