Bianchi Ol­tre XR4

Joined in Bianchi’s range last year by the su­perlight Spe­cialis­sima, the "lag­ship Ol­tre is free to go fully aero with the new XR4 gen­er­a­tion. Pro­cy­cling’s Jamie Wilkins tests it

Procycling - - Con­tents -

S o sig­nif­i­cant a step for­ward is this bike over its pre­de­ces­sor that Bianchi skipped straight from XR2 to XR4. While fans of 80s fast Fords may feel cheated; the rest of us can re­joice. The Ol­tre XR2 was a good bike but a con­flicted one. Alone at the top of Bianchi’s range it was bur­dened by light­ness, by its duty to per­form in the moun­tains as well as on the flat. Con­se­quently, it was nei­ther es­pe­cially light nor aero and was put into the shade by more fo­cused ri­vals.

The ar­rival last year of the light­weight, range­top­ping and mag­nif­i­cent Spe­cialis­sima caused a great deal of ex­cite­ment but at least as im­por­tantly it rep­re­sented the eman­ci­pa­tion of the Ol­tre. Thanks to its new su­perlight sib­ling, the Ol­tre is freed from try­ing to be all things to all rid­ers and may now fi­nally be a full-gas aero bike.

The mis­sion for the devel­op­ment team may have been a sin­gu­lar one – speed – but they ap­proached it from two sides, draw­ing on ex­per­tise ac­quired dur­ing pre­vi­ous projects. Aero­dy­nam­ics was one path, in­formed by the Aquila time trial bike; com­fort was the other, with a new end goal for Bianchi’s Coun­ter­vail tech­nol­ogy, a vis­coelas­tic fi­bre that is claimed to re­duced vi­bra­tion by up to 80 per cent. Rather than sim­ply try­ing to in­crease com­fort for its own sake, Bianchi say that the use of Coun­ter­vail in a bike such as the Ol­tre XR4 al­lows the rider to hold a more aero­dy­namic po­si­tion for longer, and as we all know the rider causes 80-90 per cent of the to­tal drag. It’s sound logic and it ad­dresses the most com­mon weak­ness of aero-road bikes – that air­foil shapes tend to be as com­pli­ant as a rogue dic­ta­tor.

Bianchi claim that the XR4 saves its rider 20 watts of ef­fort at 50kph, all else be­ing equal. That’s a big chunk, when you con­sider that even top pro­fes­sion­als have a one-hour max­i­mum of around 420W. Most saliently, it means that Bianchi-mounted rid­ers will be back on level terms in the pelo­ton’s aero arms race.

Those pre­cious watts were mined in a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment us­ing com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics (CFD) then cut and pol­ished in the Magny-Cours wind tun­nel in France. The all-new frame­set fea­tures a more slen­der, ta­pered head­tube with an air-pierc­ing ‘nose’ and a re­duced 1.4” lower bear­ing. The new fork has legs bowed like a cow­boy’s, re­duc­ing pres­sure caused by for­ward ro­tat­ing spokes fight­ing in­com­ing air at speed. The down­tube and seat­stays have more pro­nounced air­foil pro­files, the seat­post is sleeker and its clamp is now an en­tirely hidden ex­pander in the top­tube. One quar­ter of the 20W to­tal sav­ing is cred­ited to the new Vi­sion 5D one-piece han­dle­bar and stem which is fit­ted to all but the two low­est mod­els. Sim­i­lar de­signs have ap­peared on most new aero-road bikes in the last two years be­cause, as the van­guard in the bike’s bat­tle with the wind, it’s easy pick­ings. It’s not with­out com­pro­mise, though: while it comes in four stem lengths, each has a sin­gle bar width. Just get your dealer to sort it if none suits you.

One area where this bike cer­tainly does not make aero­dy­namic gains is its wheelset. The Cam­pag­nolo Bora Ul­tra 50 tubs are light (claimed 1,215g) and have ex­otic car­bon fi­bre hubs with ce­ramic bear­ings

Fit­ting Bo­ras to a £10k aero bike is as sur­pris­ing as a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity reach­ing the White House, yet here we are

but when their skinny, V-pro­file rims were last con­sid­ered cut­ting-edge, Amer­ica was yet to have its first black pres­i­dent. They’re twitchy in gusts of wind and known to be much slower in all con­di­tions, es­pe­cially cross­winds, than the blunt pro­files long since adopted by ev­ery other se­ri­ous wheel brand. The idea of fit­ting Bo­ras to a £10k aero bike in 2017 is as sur­pris­ing as a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity reach­ing the White House, and yet here we are. Of th­ese two sur­prises, it re­mains pos­si­ble to opt out of one of them with­out wait­ing four years. The Bo­ras are an op­tional up­grade from stan­dard fit Ful­crum Rac­ing Zeroes on our Su­per Record test bike, punch­ing the price through the five-fig­ure bar­rier.

The wheels are just one of many op­tions. The Ol­tre XR4 is avail­able with eight groupsets – me­chan­i­cal and elec­tronic ver­sions of Cam­pag­nolo and Shi­mano driv­e­trains, plus SRAM Red eTap. Each build has at least one op­tional up­grade wheel and the top mod­els can be spec’d with a Ro­tor INpower crankset. The 5D bar can be added to the Cho­rus and Ul­te­gra en­trylevel (ahem) mod­els, and to the £3,400 frame­set, for an ex­tra £550. De­spite this, Bianchi tell us that over 80 per cent of or­ders are for frame­sets. They are also cur­rently work­ing on a disc-brake model.

While not of­fi­cially an op­tion, if you’re will­ing to wait longer for your bike to be de­liv­ered you can also choose your crank length and gear­ing. It al­ways strikes me as odd when an aero bike comes with ra­tios for winch­ing your­self up the most pre­cip­i­tous ex­cesses of a Giro Dolomite stage; the 11-27 cas­sette is an­noy­ingly gappy com­pared to an 11-25, though I’d con­cede that the only is­sue with a com­pact crankset out­side of a race is that it looks weedy on an other­wise ag­gres­sive bike, like swap­ping Sch­warzeneg­ger’s huge ro­tat­ing bar­rel mini­gun in

Ter­mi­na­tor 2 for James Bond’s Wal­ter PPK. The Su­per Record groupset gives few other causes to grum­ble. It looks beau­ti­ful, weighs lit­tle and shifts crisply. Yes, the thumb levers are slightly awk­ward to reach, es­pe­cially when out of the sad­dle, and their lack of dif­fer­en­ti­ated weight­ing be­tween the stiff first shift and the fur­ther avail­able three means that it’s all too easy to blast through sev­eral sprock­ets when you only wanted one, but the Italophiles at whom this 100 per cent Bel Paese build is tar­geted won’t care and, be­sides, there’s much else to like. The brake levers and the horns of the hoods have won­der­fully or­ganic shapes that fit into your hands more nat­u­rally than Shi­mano and SRAM equiv­a­lents. The brak­ing power and feel from th­ese dual-mount Skele­ton calipers is also su­pe­rior and not only to that of ri­val brands but to discs, too. Some disc set-ups of­fer more power than this but I think they sacri­fice mod­u­la­tion in its

pur­suit. This abil­ity to shed speed is made nec­es­sary by the XR4’s vo­ra­cious ap­petite for ac­cu­mu­lat­ing it. The frame is very stiff un­der power so your en­ergy in­vest­ments are trans­mit­ted com­mis­sion-free and then seized upon by the light wheels. In short, it’s re­ward­ing and fun to ride fast.

It’s smooth, too. While Bianchi’s claims for its Coun­ter­vail tech are hard to ver­ify this is a more com­fort­able ride than most aero bikes. Granted, the sup­ple Vit­to­ria Corsa G+ 25mm tubs de­serve a share of the credit but they can’t do all of the work. The same tyres fit­ted to a harsh bike such as the (other­wise ace) Can­non­dale CAAD12 only serve to limit the beat­ing, like a fighter wear­ing box­ing gloves rather than knuck­le­dusters. The 25mm tubs feel too big for the skinny Bo­ras and they are no­tice­ably un­sup­ported as you honk the bike. It feels like wheel flex. The bar has an er­gonomic for­ward sweep and long drops that make up for the fixed an­gle. It’s a shame that it doesn’t have a Garmin mount as lash­ing one to the stem spoils the view. Plusher bar tape would also be nice, though, like the light but knife-like Fizik Ari­one R3 sad­dle, that’s down to per­sonal pref­er­ence.

Any judge­ments on the aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency of the Ol­tre XR4 are un­der­mined by the re­cal­ci­trant wheels and, more so, by the heavy win­ter kit re­quired dur­ing a test­ing pe­riod in which the tem­per­a­ture av­er­aged be­low freez­ing and dipped to -8ºC. How­ever, based on ex­pe­ri­ence and power out­put, this feels like a fast frame­set. I’d be very happy to race it my­self.

Now just 6.5kg in this spec, and un­flap­pable un­der power, the Ol­tre climbs so adeptly that it slightly un­der­mines the po­si­tion of the Spe­cialis­sima which isn’t tan­gi­bly stiffer and only saves around 200g. But ac­tu­ally it’s sim­ple. The glo­ri­ous Spe­cialis­sima is for those look­ing for a bike to cher­ish, climb­ing fa­nat­ics and the most ne­far­i­ous of up­hill TTs. The Ol­tre XR4, now as light, stiff, com­fort­able and (I think) fast as any ri­val, is for ev­ery other oc­ca­sion when you’re wear­ing a num­ber or want to go as fast as you can.

Sin­cere apolo­gies for the stacked stem. Imag­ine it slammed and this bike looks fan­tas­tic

Cam­pag­nolo’s dual­mount calipers with car­bon speci ic pads de­liver out­stand­ing, disc-beat­ing brak­ing

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