Few bike brands are as iconic as Bianchi. Bespoke Cycling took to Mallorca to ride the new Oltre XR4, an all-new bike with aerodynamic enhancements and bump-absorbing CounterVail technology. Can you combine comfort and aerodynamics?
From the celeste paint to the silver coat of arms head badge, there are brands none more iconic or evocative of cycling's rich tapestry of history than Bianchi. An Italian bicycle brand born at the dawn of cycling, Edoardo Bianchi formed the company bearing his name in 1885 when he started a workshop in Milanese, in north western Italy.
Despite impoverished and orphaned beginnings, young Edoardo founded Bianchi when he was just 21-years-old, and it wasn't long before he was producing thousands of bicycles built to the highest standard. He was quick to embrace some of the latest designs and technologies, and in 1939 was an early adopter of the then revolutionary Campagnolo rear derailleur, which allowed gear changes to be made on the move.
This pioneering embrace of modern bicycle design has been a constant through the company's long history, and has ensured cycling's oldest bicycle company is still in business today. But it's arguably a close partnership with some of cycling's most storied racing cyclists - Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Fausto Coppi - that have contributed to Bianchi's continued success and cemented its legacy as one of the most iconic brands in cycling. To many people, Bianchi is cycling.
While Bianchi does embrace its history, it still has a sharp focus on the latest technology advancements to ensure it's at the cutting edge of bicycle design. The past two decades have seen an unprecedented pace of development, the introduction of once space age materials, ever lighter frames and a focus on aerodynamics.
And so we arrive at the Oltre XR4, the very latest and most advanced bike that Bianchi has ever produced. Combining an aerodynamically shaped frame and fork with the Countervail Carbon Vibration Cancelling Technology first introduced on its Infinito CV, Bianchi hopes to offer a winning combination of performance and comfort.
Bianchi produces the frame by integrating a viscoelastic material into the carbon fibre layup in a closely guarded production process developed by NASA. It says this CounterVail drastically improves comfort and reduces fatigue when riding in an aero position and contributes to an enhanced performance, as much as an 80% reduction of vibration compared to a regular carbon frame. It heralds a promise for a smoother ride than other conventional carbon fibre race bikes.
Aerodynamics has been the biggest charge in bicycle design over the past few years. To produce a more slippery frame, to reduce drag, Bianchi has refined the shape and curvature of every tube in the frame, bowed the fork blades away from the wheel, routed the cables inside the frame and integrated the seat clamp and fitted an aero seat post. All these changes amount to a 20 watt saving compared to the previous Oltre according to Bianchi.
Yet despite such state-of-the-art developments, Bianchi has managed to produce a bike that, in my eyes at least, looks absolutely stunning. Many aerodynamic bikes are a triumph for function over form. The Bianchi designers have managed to ensure that form has an equal footing to function. It's a carefully balanced aesthetic. Plus it looks fast. Fast even while stationary outside the shop.
My first taste of the Oltre XR4 came with a ride around my local Cotswolds country lanes, the rolling hills an ideal opportunity to get familiar with the Bianchi. With my position and fit dialled in on the 57cm test bike the bike felt comfortable with that familiar feel of a race bike, the long reach to the low handlebars providing an aero stance that maximises speed.
Before I could ride off into the sunset imagining I was Coppi or Pantani, it was time to box the bike up and fly out to Mallorca for the inaugural Bespoke Cycling holiday. Like Bianchi, Mallorca needs little introduction. A cyclist's paradise with a fantastic mix of roads set to a beautiful backdrop, an aqua blue sea rolling up against the sun-bleached beaches and cliffs, and properly challenging climbs such as Sa Colobra and Puig Major to work up a sweat.
The roads, climbs and descents of Mallorca couldn't have been a better place to test the Oltre XR4 and put it through its paces. Some 440km and 7678m of climbing in five days with a good mix of buttery smooth road surfaces, a few rough patches and some long mountain climbs and thrilling descents, let me really get under the skin of the Bianchi.
And get under my skin the Oltre XR4 did. My first introduction to Mallorca's climbs was the Coll de Soller, a 7.3km climb with a 6% average gradient, not the hardest climb on the island but a good one to start with. An easy spin out from the luxurious hotel on the beachfront at Port de Soller with the other guests led us to the foot of Coll de Soller, and I soon found myself being paced up the ascent by Bespoke's Barry Scott and ex-pro Joan Horrach, who did as all ex-pros do and made it look so easy.
The hairpins were quickly ticked off. Through them, the Oltre XR4 felt fast and efficient, the stiff frame easily apparent when lifting my body out of the saddle and sprinting through the tight turns. The road surface is broken and rough in many places, especially under the dense cover of the trees, but the Oltre XR4 soaked up the vibrations well, leaving me with more energy and composure to concentrate on the task of trying (and ultimately failing) to keep up with my two very fast pace setters.
Cresting the summit, a quick regroup and a topping of water bottles from the support van, and it was into the descent and another chance for the Oltre XR4 to impress. And impress it did. My focus switched from power output to carving turns at high speed. Here the Bianchi proved to be a sharp and direct descender. It turns into corners precisely and it's solidly stable in a straight line at high speed.
What of the CounterVail? It certainly works. Sure, the Oltre XR4 still has that unmistakeable race bike feel to its reactions, but when you need it, such as encountering a bad patch of tarmac halfway through a hairpin turn, the frame soaks up the impacts, keeping the tyres planted on the road surface and your attention fully focused on the line ahead.
It's no sofa but it does filter out much of the unnecessary feedback from the road surface, whilst still ensuring a sense of connection to what is passing underneath the tyres so you can gauge the grip levels on various road surfaces. It doesn't isolate you, it feels firm without being overly stiff. Perhaps it's not as hardcore as some other high-end race bikes, but I finished every ride feeling relatively fresh.
There are good roads on Mallorca for really stretching the Oltre's legs and putting its aerodynamics to use. And boy is it fast. This is no scientific test but there's no denying the Oltre XR4 offers genuine high pace and it's relatively easy to tap into this pace, thanks to the smoothness the CounterVail gifts the bike.
Get out of the narrow lanes that weave through orange groves and out onto faster roads and you can push the Bianchi hard. And it responds willingly. The speed rockets up, the aero frame and fork smoothing airflow to reduce drag and produce impressive momentum at higher speeds. Hold onto the speed as the lactic acid builds and unleash a sprint and the Oltre XR4 rises to the demands. This is a bike that likes to be ridden quickly.
It does everything you could ask of it supremely well. Dynamic handling, instinctive responses, controlled, stable and planted at all speeds. It might have all the race credentials to cut it at the sharp end of a race, but it's an approachable and manageable bike at more modest speeds, thanks to the well honed geometry and CounterVail smoothness. There's great steering feel, it's responsive and nicely weighted without being too lively. And because the handling feels so intuitive and natural you're more inclined to unleash its performance whenever you feel like it. The Oltre XR4 is a bike to be enjoyed.
For years the measure of a good performance road race bike was how stiff and light it was. While stiffness is desirable in a testing laboratory, the real world serves up a multitude of road surfaces where an overly stiff bike can be taxing and hard work. The latest push has been for aero bikes that also offer a compliant ride. Trek has done the same with its Madone and Bianchi has been similarly inspired with its Oltre XR4.
By injecting the Oltre XR4 with its CounterVail technology it has managed to produce a bike that lacks nothing in the speed department, but manages to remove much of the harshness that can lead to a hard and fatiguing ride. It offers a compliant ride that cushions you from the most severe vibrations without removing the responsive and direct handling that is key to a race bike, and leaves you feeling fresher for longer.
The challenge for Bianchi is to ply its heritage whilst also harnessing the latest technologies and combing these two elements into a cohesive package that can excite discerning cyclists and newcomers to the sport alike. The new Oltre XR4 manages this balance well, fusing the latest aerodynamic design and its CounterVail technology without ruining the aesthetics and providing outstanding performance and ride quality. It's a thrilling and enjoyable ride.
Bianchi's new flagship is as desirable and rewarding as any other high-end road bike puts it right alongside other premium bike models.
The Bianchi Oltre XR4 demo bike was equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2 with Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels and Rotor INpower crank-based power meter. Thanks to Bianchi for the loan of the bike.
The Oltre XR4 frameset costs £3,399 and custom colour options an extra £450, available from Bespoke Cycling now.
We're proud to welcome the legendary Bianchi to Bespoke. Surely one of the most famous brands in road cycling, Bianchi are consistent innovators, constantly building on...Read more