Interview with Chris Boardman in Melbourne

One of the most prominent visitors of the UCI World Track Championships in Melbourne is Chris Boardman. The English cyclist has won Olympic gold, has had track (pursuit) and time trial world championship victories and has set world records (Aussie Jack Bobridge beat the 15 year old record for the 4 km pursuit in 2011).

Since retiring, Chris Boardman has taken on elite coaching duties for British Cycling and been involved in equipment design and development. He also engaged by media, including the BBC as a cycling commentator and analyst and without skipping a beat, founded and launched Chris Boardman Bikes which have taken off in the UK and are now available worldwide.

On the Eve of the Track Championships at the Hisense Arena in Melbourne, Chris Boardman took time  for Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) and share his views on the event in the lead up to the London Olympics as well as UCI regulations and an insight into Boardman Bikes.

 

BNA: There are a lot of reasons you could be in Melbourne for the 2012 World Track Championships, your success on the track, your coaching skills, your experience and involvement as a cycling analyst and commentator or plain old patriotism, is it all of the above or do you have a more defined role during this event?

Chris Boardman: When travelling half way around the world, most people try to make the most of it and I’m no different. Whilst the catalyst for the trip is to commentate at the World Track Championships for the BBC, Pete Jacobs and I saw it as an excellent opportunity to catch up and talk about upcoming tri bike development. As Pete is not just a sponsored athlete but also part of our test team, we consult him before we make anything, feeding his thoughts into the new designs and he gets to trial the first prototypes out of the mould too. Face to face is always the best way to do this so it’s great to have the opportunity.

As I also have another hat, leading the team who supplies the equipment to the GB squad, it’s a great opportunity to see what the other nations are developing for the Olympics too

BNA: In the World Track Championships, are you anticipating a battle of the giants or can we also expect some upsets with younger and lesser-known athletes reaching for victory as they aim for the Olympics?

Chris Boardman: I expect the World Champs to be a mini Olympics with all the main contenders there. This is the last big competition pre Games so it will be ferocious. I also expect it to be very closely fought.

Chris Boardman: Reviewing the results of the World Cup Classics, it is hard to say that the English team will dominate the World Champs and the London Olympics – or do you see this differently?

Chris Boardman: I don’t think any team will dominate in 2012, France and Germany are incredibly powerful in the sprint events now and Russia has surged forward in the team pursuit, so it is going to make for some very close racing. I expect GB to medal competitively in virtually every event at The Games but I don’t think they will dominate any. It’s a great time to be a spectator.

BNA: What is your role in British cycling leading into the 2012 London Olympics?

Chris Boardman: I have much less of a role with the British team post Beijing due to other commitments in my life such as Boardman Bikes which is now so successful, it requires much more than just product design. With BC I oversee the design and development of all the equipment they will use at the Olympics which is still a sizeable task

BNA: As a pioneer of bicycle technology, UCI rules have had a significant role. Safety considerations aside, do you feel that the regulations hinder progress and advancement in bicycle design or creates a more fairer playing field?

Chris Boardman:  The UCI are trying very hard now to remove ambiguity from the rules and enforce them fairly. We may not always agree on where they draw the lines but I respect what they are striving to achieve. Oddly, a lot of the technical stuff I was credited with introducing I didn’t agree with but I knew it helped my performance and that the rules allowed it, so I was going to do it.

Despite using it to good effect, I was actually happy when Graeme O’Bree’s superman position was banned as I felt we were moving away from cycling towards human powered vehicle racing but it was legal and an advantage so I was going to use it.

O’Bree is an amazing character and I have often been wrongly credited with innovations that he should take full credit for. I think he also shares my philosophy on rules; you tell me what they are and I will butt up against them. Graeme did it far better than me no question, he is an amazing guy.

BNA: In top level competition where a rider and bike perfectly fit – can the bike still make the difference or is there a point at which the bike can’t get better and it is down to rider strength, skill and tactics.

Chris Boardman: Where innovation and performance improvement is concerned, I learned a valuable lesson from an associate at McLaren Fi. We were looking at a line of cars produced over the last 10yrs and I asked him “how much more do you think there is to come?” He pointed at a car they had produced 6 years previously and said “see that, I remember when it rolled off the production line and thinking that’s it, I can’t see where else we can go. The next year, the car was 4% better, the year after a 5% improvement. After that, I learned to have faith.” Now, even when I can’t see where the next innovation in bike design will come from, I have faith there will always be a way to do it better.

BNA: Whilst you are heavily involved in cycling, are you still cycling yourself?

Chris Boardman: I ride bikes more now than I ever have since I stopped as a pro. I get out on average 4 days a week, often more. It is the best way to assess my own product and riding bikes is where we (the Boardman Team) do most of our brain storming; it’s the perfect environment to have design ideas spring up and to kick them around. Fitness wise, I’m in pretty good shape and am thinking of riding the Trans Rockies MTB stage race next year!

BNA: Let’s move onto Boardman Bikes, considering your previous experience continually improving the bicycle – how much have your learnt and evolved since beginning boardman bicycles.

Chris Boardman: Through my work with British Cycling I got to know a lot about carbon fibre, exotic materials, production techniques and of course, aerodynamics. Although all of that work is strictly classified, from that experience I have learned what tools to use, what people to work with and where to look for the biggest paybacks. We are now applying all of this and there is tons more to come for 2013…..I can’t say any more or I’d have to kill you.

Chris Boardman Boardman Bikes
BNA: Despite your knowledge and success on the track, in the Boardman range there is only one track bike, is this because the track cycling market is too small?

Chris Boardman: Pretty much. There are so many projects to work on, so many possibilities that with this role (Boardman rather than BC) it’s a business and resource is allocated on what the majority of customers want. We will be doing more sophisticated track bikes in the not too distant future but as I hate doing anything ‘a bit’ we will only do it when we know we can do it properly. That moment is not far away now.

BNA: We recently reviewed the Boardman SLR 9.0 and found that for a such a young brand it was remarkably well rounded without flaws or teething troubles that newer brands may face. Where does the journey go – gradual frame modifications or new series.

Chris Boardman: We have a gimmick (it’s a personal philosophy really) we don’t do gimmicks, just performance. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s what we live by.

Our design process starts with breaking down and making a list of what a bike needs to be or have for it’s chosen application. We then prioritise those points and every design decision is measured against the question ‘Which of these points does that idea address?” it keeps us on target and honest. We don’t do anything that doesn’t have a performance reason so you wont see curvy tubes on a frame if it’s not needed; the lightest, stiffest, strongest way between two points is usually straight line…so that’s what we do.

Even internally there is thinking: you have to change cables on a bike from time to time and how much of a pain is it to have to fish around inside for the end of a cable. So we do things like put a carbon tube in there, meaning changing cables is a breeze and with carbon tubes, there is a negligible weight penalty. Likewise for handling, I know what geometry works for stable and confident descending, or negotiating rough terrain, so why would I want to play around with it? I don’t, we use the same geometry as I used as a pro bike rider and everyone is surprised when the bikes handle well! I like bikes to be practical and user friendly as well as cutting edge aero or feather light.

BNA: Can you discuss the reception of your brand in the UK and overseas, do you feel that you have a solid international foundation or is more work needed to build the brand presence and build the fan base?

Chris Boardman: We launched the brand and our first range in Summer 2007, very quickly we were officially the fastest growing British bike brand ever which was quite cool. I really delight in winning most of the bike reviews we take part in, in fact I’m struggling to think of a bike in the range that hasn’t won some kind of accolade…..which is also cool! Independent reviews are the acid test and whenever anyone asks me for an opinion, I point them at those.

Last year, after a lot of people asked us, we decided it was time to start taking the range international which we are now well into the process of doing (our website will tell people how to get hold of bikes in their part of the world but I believe we are already available in 86 countries).

Building awareness of the range internationally is going very well, it takes time and we are happy with that, we would rather have some quality relationships with the likes of Pete Jacobs and the Brownlee brothers Al and Jonny than start with a Pro Tour team. The costs of doing the latter is huge, costs that would have to be passed on to the customer, so right now we can deliver genuine performance product at incredible prices. We would love to be involved in races like the Tour de France but only when the time is right for us.

In 2012 we have some genuine Gold Medal contenders for London on our team (Annie Last in MTB and the Brownlee brothers who are currently ranked No1 and No2 in Olympic tri distance) Pete Jacobs is also hoping to improve on last years 2nd place in this years Hawaii Iron Man competition. Next year we will have more stories to tell!

Pete Jacobs boardman
Australian Triathlete Pete Jacobs is sponsored by Boardman Bikes

1 April 2012 Strategy Session with Pete Jacobs in Melbourne, Australia.
1 April 2012 Strategy Session with Pete Jacobs in Melbourne, Australia.

BNA: This is not a trick question, there are 24 hours in a day, how many hours are actually needed to get everything done?

Chris Boardman: About 27

BNA: And finally for our readers who plug away on their bunch rides or daily commute, what words of wisdom can you share for a cyclist who may not be eyeing a gold medal.

Chris Boardman: That would be me these days! It’s hard to give out a generic piece of advice that suits everyone as the beauty of bike riding is you can do it for so many different reasons; from fitness and commuting to exploring and leisure or family time. Its one of the very few activities that you can do from age 8 to 80 too. For me, as this amazing device is, at it’s heart, just a wonderful form of transport, I’d like to see all of use it more for the simple act of getting around instead of the car.

Thank you kindly for your time, we wish you ongoing success with your bike brand and cycling endeavours.

Boardman bikes can be viewed on the website: www.boardmanbikes.com and in Australia are available through their international distributer Wiggle.

 

Photos (1, 4) © BPM-Sport.com, Photos 2, 3 © Boardman Bikes



Christopher Jones
About The Author

Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a professional design business, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.

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