First Ride: The New Bianchi Oltre XR3
April 20th, 2017
April 20th, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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If you've read my review on the Bianchi Oltre XR1 last year, you'll know I was quite taken with the ride. It handled like a good Bianchi should and was remarkably comfortable for aero road bike. So when Bianchi announced the coming of the Oltre XR4 with Countervail, the vibration dampening technology in the carbon of bikes like the Infinito CV and the Specialissma, I had to try it. Combining a stiff and fast bike with the smooth ride of the Countervail would the best of both worlds for me. Then they brought out the XR3; promising the same deal in a more affordable package. Hat-trick! Bianchi tell us that the biggest cause of aerodynamic resistance is the rider, not the bike. So while Bianchi wanted the bike to be aerodynamic, their main focus was keeping the rider in an aero position for longer. After chatting to the Bianchi Dama team riders, it was clear that Countervail would be the perfect way to make the already exceptional Oltre XR1 into the perfect weapon for long distance road races. The reason being that if the bicycle frame itself can counteract the vibrations from the tarmac, the rider will experience less fatigue and spend more time in an aerodynamic position, whilst also maintaining the strength to push harder for longer. Seems like the perfect combination, right? So we had to give it a try.
Riding through a village with gentle chicanes felt very familiar, with handling reminiscent of the Oltre XR1, but something was a tad different. The XR3 accelerated with conviction and the low position allowed me to soft-pedal nicely in the wake of the riders in front. So far so good. As the riders in front peel off, it soon became my turn to feel the force of the wind, a force that proved to be a walk in the park for XR3, with barely a noticeable change. The XR3 cuts through the air as you would expect, and riding in the drops did not feel like a burden.
Countervail was the icing on the cake, so to now have the XR3 with all of the above on a budget blows the majority of the competition out of the water
As is customary with British countryside, the road got rough ahead, and this is where the Countervail began to shine. Softening the blow and taking unavoidable hits in its stride. However, the real work was done without me noticing, cancelling out that low-level tarmac buzz that you only realise was happening when you finish your ride. Unlike many other stiff aero ride bikes, I came home to land with feeling still in my hands and my ass. This may seem like a small victory, to only feel the benefits of your new expensive bike after you've ridden it, but those that know, know that this is a sure sign you were performing at your very best during the ride as well. Sometimes, not noticing a bikes' qualities is a sure sign that the bike is indeed something special. The Oltre XR3 fits in this bracket. It does the job so well that there's barely anything to comment on, which doesn't sound very sexy, but take it from a bike tester that it's bloody hard to get a road bike that you don't have anything bad to say about it. In my books, that's the holy grail of road bikes; one you don't know you are on. For me, the Oltre family is exceptional, and adding Countervail was the icing on the cake, so to now have the XR3 with all of the above on a budget blows the majority of the competition out of the water.
The Bianchi Oltre XR3 is a wonderful thing. It sits nicely between the former XR2 and the new XR4. The XR2 does not come with Countervail, but the XR4 is around 200g lighter and has spent more time in the wind tunnel being tested for aerodynamics. While the XR4 is the best of the best in the Bianchi range, the XR3 is, in my opinion, the best from a performance to value ratio. Obviously, if money were no object, I would be caressing an XR4 right now, but the XR3 has now made it possible to afford a high-performing aero road bike with the smoothness that we have come to love from the Infinito, without totally blowing your budget. It is a beautifully smooth ride that made me feel like I could ride it all day long, yet still smash up to the front of a group for a good old fight with the leading rider. It may be a few hundred quid more expensive than a similar, say, Italian thoroughbred of the same spec, but you're paying for that Countervail technology. So if you're bored of getting beaten up by your race bike, but aren't ready to retire onto a sportive bike, then maybe this is right up your strada.
Photo Credit: Geoff Waugh