Review: Bianchi Methanol 27.3 (650b Shimano XT)
March 10th, 2016
March 10th, 2016
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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On first receiving the Bianchi Methanol 27.3, I totally fell in love with the bright matt green paint job and the sleek unusual curves of the frame, plus the Crank Brothers Cobolt wheels add an additional touch of style that you'd come to expect from an Italian brand. The Methanol 27.3 is not a typo, it is a 27.5" (650b) wheeled mountain bike, but it's the third level down in the range, starting from the 27.0 with Shimano XTR Di2 in stealth black with RS1 forks, and working down to 27.5 with a Shimano XT 1x11 groupset and Bianchi's Celeste paint job.
Shimano XT kit is a favourite of many. It is functional and lasts. It may not be as sexy as XTR, but it's actually not that much heavier, especially if you decide to upgrade your rear cassette and/or crankset later down the line. What's more and more popular is to convert the groupset to 1x11; purchase a narrow-wide chainring for the front and get rid of your front mech and shifter and you save over half a pound in weight. I sound like I'm trying to make the bike better, but all I'm saying is that this is a great groupset with plenty of options to make it fit different rider styles as well as making it pretty future-proof too. The Fox 32 Float 27.5" Performance 100mm travel forks are a decent staple in the cross-country scene and they look sleek in the matt black and minimalist black logos. They don't come with any option to adjust rebound settings, but they do come with a lock-out lever on the handlebars. The Crank Brothers' Cobalt 1 wheels will divide opinions here. At 1900g a set, they are not the lightest entry-level cross-country wheels on the market, but only by a hundred grams or so. Crank Brothers use a slightly different way of lacing their spokes which is said to increase stiffness. They certainly felt pretty stable on test, and I like that you can fix a spoke without taking the tyres off, but as sub-90kg rider I would class these as cross-country/trail or 'light all-mountain' wheels, which sounds heavy if you want to race, but to be honest, they're great for slamming around trail centres and generally testing your limits on. They also make quite a statement visually, and would be great training wheels if you later decide to upgrade for racing.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the Methanol handles like a trail bike when it's a 650b bike, but the snappiness of the steering caught me by surprise. It was lively at first, and I made the mistake of thinking it was a nervous ride, but every time I made a mistake and expected to be thrown off, the bike seemed to magically correct itself before I'd finished panicking. Obviously it's not magic, but the responsive nature of the bike allowed me to make small movements to overcome errors fast, sometimes before I even realised I'd made a mistake, leaving me feeling like a complete Jedi. It is this fast response that allows you to make smaller movements to command the bike, which in turn means you get to ride at warp speed and let your intuition take the driving seat; imagine the difference between handling a huge truck and a racing car; which would you want to control when you're barrelling up to a tight corner lined with trees? The nimble ride is as much to do with the wheel size as the bike's geometry, but the combination of the trail-oriented wheel size and the stiff carbon frame makes this bike fly through single track like a hot knife through butter. The bolt-through front and rear axels made for added stability and stiffness that left me feeling very sure-footed and in control at all times. The integrated seat post looks great, but it does have a bit of a kick. After two hours I felt a tad tender, as the post will transmit every vibration direct to the buttocks. Luckily, Bianchi have designed the bikes so that you can get this cut down and have a normal seat post fitted if you wish. A carbon post would add a lot more comfort, but personally, I will take the pain to look a bit cooler (I am half Italian after all), and this bike is designed for short cross-country races, not long-distance trail rides and marathons.
The Methanol had me leaping off drops, shifting direction at the drop of a hat, and generally egging the bike on to show me what it can do, and I was surprised with what it came back with. It was stiff and responsive and had me lapping up single track like the aforementioned Jedi, but on speed. It's so refreshing to ride a bike that is clearly designed for one thing; cross-country racing, and it's not trying to simply be "good" at everything. The nippy handling and the small wheels are perfect for UK races, especially the wooded wiggly ones. All this snappy action and stiffness can have a little sting in the tail though; as it is a harsh ride over severe rocky terrain and you need good energy to get the best out of the bike, but boy does it reward you when you do. It is clearly designed to be the best cross-country racing bike it can be, not a marathon bike or an all-rounder, a serious World Cup level racing contender, and it's no wonder the Methanol has helped World Champions in the past. Bottom line is, if you want something crazy fast and fun to ride with, like a trail dog with endless enthusiasm to play and tear up the singletrack, this is the bike for you. If you want a comfortable ride that will eat up the miles and do all the work for you, you may want to look at the Methanol 29er or the Ethanol FS full suspension models.