Boardman Bikes last month announced it will sponsor Dame Sarah Storey’s Podium Ambition team, a squad with some big names, including Storey herself, and Joanna Rowsell.
Olympian Chris Boardman chats to Laura Laker for Total Women’s Cycling about why Podium Ambition and Boardman Bikes are a good match, and how the team will feed into development of the bikes themselves. He also broaches the “marmite" subject of whether we need women-specific bikes or not...
He says: “I love what they [Podium Ambition] do, really. I think what they’re doing is giving people a chance, creating a platform for people to succeed on, and it fits with us.
“I think what attracted me first was the aspiration to do more with this, rather than have a team, concentrate [on performance] and go and win races."
“Why a women’s team? Well I think there’s more scope for getting more people onto bikes as well as just winning bicycle races."
These are things that are on Boardman Bikes’ hit list at the moment – getting more people cycling, and bridging the gap between the grassroots and Olympic sport, something Boardman and Podium Ambition, with their Boot out Breast Cancer cycling club, have in common.
Two of Boardman’s board members are women, including Emma Fox, who wants to see more women on bikes, after rediscovering cycling in adulthood and embracing the sport, especially female-specific events.
Sarah Storey herself was a draw. Says Boardman: “I’ve known Sarah for years and I’ve always been an admirer; there’s no airs and graces, she just cracks on with it."
Just as Podium Ambition is encouraging women to up their involvement in the sport, Boardman Bikes is doing that with its performance centre, opening in November near Manchester, which will feature, among other things, a wind tunnel - bringing pro equipment to us mortals.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his background*, Boardman also sees Podium Ambition as an opportunity for improving product performance, via feedback from the team.
He says: “And not at the point where we go ‘there’s a frame, what do you think?’ i.e., ‘I’ve already made it, so tell me you like it’ - at the conceptual stage, so things that we can go on and explore and make a prototype … and carry that all the way forward."
He wants the sponsorship to become a relationship, something “more than just races and photographs".
On women-specific frames
The bikes the Podium Ambition riders are using are Boardman Bikes’ female-specific AIR frames. TWC wanted to know, with his expertise and knowledge of bike design, whether Chris Boardman thinks we need women’s bikes.
“It’s very marmite. Some people, you change the colour and they say ‘don’t be patronising’; other people go ‘brilliant, a women’s bike’, and you’ve just got to choose."
The Women’s AIR bikes the team will ride have what Boardman describes as “not quite Bianchi blue" – his preference, he says.
He says: “The rest of it’s about size … it’s about narrower bars, the reach and saddles – saddles are a very personal thing, as are pedals.
“For me – you want a bike to handle the same as I want a bike to handle, so what’s the difference? It’s just size, average sizes get a bit smaller [with women’s bikes]."
The Female Informed part, he says is “the likes of [board member] Emma Fox going ‘That saddle’s sh*t, change that’. She’s been brilliant," he adds.
Boardman echoes something frame builder Caren Hartley told us last month: that wheels ideally should scale with smaller riders, too – something that doesn’t happen right now.
“For me I don’t think it’s a men-women thing," he says. “It’s a size thing, and so the bike, really should just scale with the person, and ideally the wheels should scale with the person as well, but until the industry supplies a good variety of tyres and spares and everything we need to go with that choice, that it’s very hard to do – you give somebody a different problem [of finding parts].
“It’s something I’d like to do in the future," he adds. Watch this space…
*Boardman’s nickname, “the professor" comes from his methodical approach to his own performance as a successful pro cyclist, and latterly as part of British Cycling’s “Secret Squirrel" tech development team. When TWC saw him at the Track World Championships in London last month he was explaining how he’d been measuring air flow across the velodrome, which position in the team pursuit is the most protected from wind (surprisingly it’s the third rider) and his work on aerodynamics with companies like McLaren.