Boardman MTR 8.8 review
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Boardman MTR 8.8 review

Nov 14, 2023

A thrilling trail all-rounder at an attractive price

This competition is now closed

By Luke Marshall

Published: January 3, 2023 at 12:00 pm

The Boardman MTR 8.8 is built to be the ideal all-around UK trail bike for riders looking to take things more seriously with their riding.

It rolls on 29in wheels, dishes out 145mm of rear suspension and has up-to-date geometry to inspire confidence whether burning laps in the bike park or thrashing trail-centre loops.

The Boardman MTR 8.8 shares the same frame as its MTR siblings. It's constructed from triple-butted 6061 aluminium tubes with an anodised finish.

Cable routing runs externally under the down tube, but there's an opening to fit an internally cabled dropper post.

The rear brake hose and gear cable run externally along the chainstays. This will make maintenance more straightforward if you need to replace them. Boardman has pulled off the externally routed cables without looking messy.

Unfortunately, the bike has no chainstay protection, and the rear hub uses a 141mm Boost quick-release. Fortunately, this uses the Boost hub sizing with 141mm-wide quick-release end caps. This makes it possible to upgrade to a set of the best mountain bike wheels, with brands such as Hope, but doesn't deliver such a sturdy rear end as a bolt-thru axle.

There's space inside the front triangle for a small 550ml bottle with a side-loading bottle cage. Also, the frames use a threaded BSA 73mm bottom bracket shell and taper head tube.

Suspension-wise, Boardman uses a four-bar Horst-Link to deliver its 145mm of travel. Boardman mounts the shock horizontally under the top tube. This has enabled the brand to tailor the bike's kinematics to what it thinks is most suitable for the riding it will do – aggressive trail riding.

For its claimed aggressive trail bike status, the MTR 8.8 has moderate rather than groundbreaking geometry. However, it's still capable for a trail bike.

I tested a size-medium MTR 8.8. This has a 455mm reach and 440mm chainstays, which should balance stability and manoeuvrability well.

The head tube angle is 66 degrees, which is somewhat steep for modern trail bikes, and the 75.5-degree effective seat tube angle could be more progressive too. Still, neither dimension is a deal-breaker for this bike.

This gives an effective top tube of 615mm that's pretty comfortable for this style of bike and shouldn't feel cramped or too stretched-out if you fit the medium frame.

The seat tube is moderate at 430mm, so you can still use a suitable-length dropper post. The bottom bracket has a decent 33mm drop to help keep the bike's centre of gravity reasonably close to the ground.

The 620mm stack height is spot-on, so it should balance aggression over the front wheel and confidence on the descents.

For £1,350, the MTR 8.8 gets some respectable parts, but there are a few compromises.

The 150mm-travel RockShox Recon Silver RL fork is a good choice for the price point. It features RockShox's Solo Air spring and Motion Control damper with externally adjustable low-speed compression and rebound damping.

The RockShox Deluxe Select+ shock is another strong option with its DebonAir+ spring, low-speed rebound and two-position compression adjustment.

The drivetrain uses the Shimano Deore M5100 range. This is an 11-speed system with a wide-range 11-51t cassette.

The brakes on my test bike were the weak link. That bike was specced with Tektro's HD-M275 brakes, while Boardman's website states the MTR uses Shimano MT200 brakes.

Rolling stock comes from Boardman. The Boardman Boost 29in wheels with a 30mm internal diameter are shrouded in Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR II tyres. They use a dual-rubber compound and EXO casing.

The finishing kit from Boardman includes its 780mm-wide alloy handlebars and 45mm alloy stem. In addition, there's a Satori Sorata Pro 2 dropper post with a 125mm drop on the medium frame. The bike is completed by a Boardman MTR saddle.

I tested the Boardman on a mix of blue and red trail-centre loops, off-piste descents, and laps of technical and flow lines at Bike Park Wales to give the bike a thorough thrashing through the range of riding it will be subjected to.

I ran the Boardman with 25 per cent sag, which was easy to set up with the shock's sag marking. That was 165psi. The rebound on these shocks is heavily damped, so I ran nine clicks from closed out of 10.

I had to run the forks at 110psi to get the support I wanted, which was about 20psi above the recommended setting. I ran the compression fully open and the rebound was set to five clicks from closed, out of six.

Even though the Boardman has 145mm travel, it climbs capably and doesn't eat into its travel when pushing hard on the pedals standing up.

Climbing while sitting, the geometry seats you relatively centrally on the bike. As a result, I didn't need to shuffle my weight around as trails undulated and changed pitch to keep traction or the front wheel tracking where I wanted it to go, even at slow speeds.

Traction was plentiful when climbing, and the rear suspension was supple enough to keep tracking the ground over technical climbs while not succumbing to excessive pedal bob. The suspension felt like an aid rather than a chore.

The chunky Maxxis tyres provided plenty of traction on climbs while still having acceptable rolling resistance. The extra travel wasn't a hindrance when grinding uphill.

The bike's centred seated position made it easy to negotiate tight twisting climbs. While the bottom bracket is reasonably low, I didn't notice many pedal strikes.

I was surprised and impressed by how fun and capable the MTR 8.8 was once at the top of the hill. Whether the trail was mellow or rowdy, the Boardman felt comfortable and had a wide comfort zone.

The suspension was sensitive in its initial travel, which helped iron out small bumps and trail chatter on less rough trails. It also helped give the Boardman plenty of traction on less-supported turns.

Still, there was enough support deeper in the travel to help the bike deal with bigger hits and high loads from high-speed berms and heavy compressions.

The suspension lacks a little composure compared to high-spec models. Still, it covers the basics well, and the Boardman had a predictable and well-mannered ride even over rough ground.

The forks held up their end of the bargain too, and while they’re a little narrow for really pushing on steep, technical trails, they do an excellent job of keeping things in control on the red and blue runs.

While the bike's geometry isn't wildly progressive, it is well-balanced and allowed me to get to grips quickly with it on a wide variety of trails. It's an engaging ride on mellow trails, where its agility helps you make the most out of the trail features, and play and pop around.

There's enough stability from the chassis and suspension on faster sections to feel confident to let the brakes off. Through fast berms, the MTR 8.8 was supportive, didn't feel vague or flexible, and could hold lines without fuss.

On more slow, technical sections, I could move the bike underneath me as needed, and it hunted out grip better than I was expecting. Tight, twisting trails were fun, thanks to its nippy handling.

However, a longer dropper post would have been an improvement, and I used the quick-release seatpost clamp to change the seat height whether I was climbing or descending.

A different-style dropper lever under the handlebar would be a welcome change. However, these are available aftermarket for not too much of an outlay.

The Tektro brakes were the bike's biggest letdown and hindrance to feeling confident. If the MTR 8.8 comes with the Shimano MT200 brakes, as stated on the spec sheet, this will be a slight improvement. However, these would be the second thing I’d change after the dropper lever.

It's good to see the wheels are tubeless-ready, and that's another thing that's worth upgrading. Otherwise, the dual-compound Maxxis tyres were great on rocky, gravel bike park and trail-centre tracks, but came unstuck a little in more slippery conditions.

Shimano's 11-speed Deore gears worked well and never gave me any cause for concern, whether climbing or shifting lots on undulating trails. The shifts were crisp, and I didn't notice the wider steps in the 11-speed system, although the 12-speed Deore is slightly more refined.

The rest of the gear worked well and didn't present any hiccups during testing. For ride feel on the trail, the MTR 8.8 felt like a more expensive bike with plenty of potential.

I can't say it looks as stylish or refined as some of its rival bikes, but you can't see it while riding.

The Boardman takes the top spot against the Polygon Siskiu T7 29 for capability on the trail. Its suspension better isolates the rider from bumps, while providing plenty of support to give an engaging and fun ride.

Still, the Polygon isn't far behind and delivers plenty of confidence on the trail.

However, Boardman loses out overall because the bike can't quite match the spec and class of the Polygon. There are a few more compromises on the Boardman, especially the lack of a bolt-thru rear axle, dropper lever and its brakes.

For the price, there aren't many better bikes in terms of performance on the trail. Boardman has created a capable platform that will help novice riders improve quickly and have tons of fun doing it.

It's not perfect, though; a few small spec changes could make the riding experience even better, and it's missing a touch of class that other bikes in the price range now have.

We tested four trail bikes around the £1,500 mark. We set out to uncover the advantages and disadvantages of these more entry-level mountain bikes. We were impressed by just how capable and fun each one was for this price point.

Sure, there are compromises on bikes at this price, and the disparity between these and more expensive bikes becomes wider as the trail difficulty increases.

However, these bikes will perform on a wide range of tracks, from mellow trail-centre loops to burly bike park lines.

Technical writer

Luke Marshall is a technical writer for BikeRadar and MBUK magazine. He's been working for both titles since 2018 and has over 20 years of mountain biking experience. Luke is a gravity-focused rider with a history of racing downhill, previously competing in the UCI Downhill World Cup. Educated to a degree level in engineering and with a penchant for full-throttle speed, Luke is more than qualified to put every bike and product through its paces to bring you informative and independent reviews. You'll most likely find him on a trail, enduro or downhill bike riding the off-piste tracks around south Wales and the south west of England. He often makes an appearance on BikeRadar's podcast and YouTube channel.