words and pictures – Paul Bowker
Bianchi – a legendary Marque
Since 1885, Bianchi has been a byword for quality. From design to materials innovation, Bianchi have built up an extraordinary body of technical know-how and race-honed real world experience to produce some of the finest frames the world of cycling has ever seen. Oh yes, and there’s that colour – the mere mention of Celeste has many grown men (and women) going weak at the knees.
In July 2016, Richard & I went to Italy for the launch of what was at the time Bianchi’s latest creation; the Oltre XR4. With CFD designed and wind tunnel tested aero dynamics, the XR4 was always intended to be uber fast. Yet, with the inclusion of Counter Vail carbon, the XR4 frame assumed a level of comfort and control that confounded all those who said comfort and aero optimised geometries were incompatible bedfellows.
So fast forward to May 2017 and Bianchi has now launched the XR3. One’s immediate assumption is that 3 being a lesser number than 4, the same is going to be true of the bike. And just the like the XR4 before it which confounded the critics, that turns out to be a wrong assumption. A very wrong assumption.
To understand how Bianchi achieve this counter-intuitive outcome of aero racing geometry and comfort / compliance we need to look at the Bianchi Countervail range of road frames (excluding the Aquila CV as that is really a dedicated TT bike.
- Specialissima – Ultra light and ultra stiff frame intended for attacking the climbs. Inclusion of Countervail for control and fatigue reduction
- Infinito CV – Light weight, with an extensive use of Countervail vibration cancelling carbon to enjoy all day on those long epic rides
- Oltre XR4 – Light weight with the latest generation of aerodynamics. Fast, agile and stiff for very high average speeds.
Yet there are some apparent contradictions when it comes to deciding where the XR3 fits in that list. First, it has the same extreme racing geometry of the Oltre XR4 but dispenses with some elements of the XR4’s aero technology. Then it has an extensive use of Countervail carbon within its frame but does not seek to replicate the endurance racing geometry of the Infinito CV. And finally, the frame weight is heavier than all three exiting Countervail bikes, so it appears it is not intended to be a flyer on the climbs. So the big question is – what is it trying to be? And I decided that the best way to answer that was to ride it.
At Criterium Cycles, we try and make buying a bike as simple as possible. To do this, we ask three very simple and straightforward questions using the 80% – 20% rule:
- For 80% of the time, what terrain is the bike going to be used on?
- For 80% of the time, how many hours do you intend to be in the saddle?
- How much have you budgeted to spend?
With the answer to these questions, plus a few other details, we can guide customers towards the correct style, geometry and type of bike that is going to suit the vast majority of their riding at a cost that is comfortable. After this, we size you correctly and include a bike fit to ensure you really are comfortable.
However, when it came to testing the Bianchi Oltre XR3, I decided to put a spanner in our own works. Why? Well, for a 40 year old guy of average weight and average flexibility, the racing geometry of the Oltre XR3 would normally lead to a lot of really hard work when riding in excess of three and a bit hours. With a laterally and torsional stiff aero frame like the Oltre, the fatigue over longer distances would normally render the rider a squishy organic mess. Even more of a squishy mess than usual. So I was nervous when I headed out for the first, big ride.
On a day off that also managed to be sunny and 23 degrees, I decided to do my first 100mile ride of the year! Taking in the delights of Dumfries and Galloway, then through to the Scottish Borders and back to Dumfries and Galloway, the loop was just over 100miles in length with just over 1600m of climbing. The roads were the usual Scottish fare, i.e. a bit rubbish, with wash board sections, cattle grids and gravel in the middle of the road on fast descents. But none of that mattered; I was on a Bianchi, in the sunshine and surrounded by the some of the most beautiful landscape imaginable.
Coffee, Cake and Celeste
50km in and I stop at a café in Newcastleton. I reflect on the journey so far, and can’t quite believe how fresh I am feeling. The riding position is spot on, the miles are clicking by in a relentless and near effortless way.
Just under 100km and I find myself in Hawick after riding some stunning climbs, where the stiffness of the Oltre XR3 shone through. Every pedal stroke was converted into forward thrust, yet the Countervail was eliminating the road buzz that would normally have my hands, feet and backside running in the opposite direction. The descents were fantastic, again with a riding position that asked to be pushed and the frame stiffness, combined with the vibration cancelling, felt safe and stable.
The last 60km was an undulating sprint through the Ettrick valley, where the aero advantage of the Oltre really kicked in. The bike travelled along the tarmac with the same effortless poise that I had enjoyed through the entire ride.
Well, in a nutshell, this is a very fast and well accomplished sportive bike for the rider looking to attack the course instead of just being another number in the event. Yes, you would be less fatigued on an Infinito CV. However, if you are looking for that perfect 60-80 mile sportive bike that climbs, descends and batters the flats whilst putting the biggest grin on your face imaginable, then the Oltre XR3 is just about the fastest way to do it.
In a word? Stunning.
Call Paul on 0131 663 6220 to discuss further details and options on the Bianchi Oltre XR3 range.
Spec of the Bike as tested
- Oltre XR.3 frameset
- Reparto Corse Carbon aero seatpost
- Reparto Corse Alloy bar and stem
- Full Shimano 105 11sp Groupset
- Base price £2,899.99 with Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels
Additional items fitted to test bike
- Bontrager Aura 5 wheels
- Bontrager R4 320 tyres
- Bontrager RXL carbon bottle cages
- Bontrager medium seat pack and Flare City tail light
- Bontrager XXXL Paradigm Carbon saddle
- Garmin Edge 1000 computer
- Shimano Ultegra Pedals