Review: Bianchi Oltre XR.1 (Shimano 105)
July 8th, 2016
July 8th, 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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Dotted around the Tour de France peloton are little flashes of Celeste, that's 'sky blue' in Italian, and the signature colour of a Bianchi. The Specialissma is a favourite, of course, but the Oltre is the go-to aero bike for pro team LottoNL-Jumbo. All Oltre frames share the same geometry and are designed with speed in mind, but in true Bianchi style there are different grades to opt for; the XR.1, which is a 1000g carbon frame, and the XR.2, which is a higher grade carbon frame and slightly lighter at 895g, however, the all new XR.4 is soon upon us and has already been spotted on test in the Tour de Suisse. The XR.4 will be a further step up in carbon development by holding Bianchi's patented Countervail technology; cancelling road vibrations while increasing the stiffness and strength of the entire frame. While we wait on tenterhooks to test that, here's what we think of the XR.1:
We received the Bianchi XR.1 laced with Shimano 105, 2x 11 speed, which is a good looking groupset with a stealthy black aesthetic. Although 105 is a touch heavier than Ultegra, it is much lighter on the wallet and keeps this incredible bike under the £3k mark. The semi-compact 52T-36T chainrings on the front nod towards the bike's intentions, but strikes a good middle ground between full-blown race gearing and full compact. Being such a great groupset choice, I'm sorry to see the brakes didn't follow suit. The Fsa Gossamer Pro brakes were weak and felt cheap. I would not be keeping these if it were my bike and wouldn't feel confident racing with them, however; they are adequate for less aggressive club riding and casual jaunts. Vision Team 30 wheels are aluminium, but are light and sturdy for the money, but they are also quite cheap feeling and can be bought new for £200. Should they be on a £1,500-£2,000 bike, I'd say they were reasonably matched, but for me, they don't quite fit well with stunning Oltre frame. All-in-all, the spec is sound and good quality, and isn't heavy enough to ruin the speedy properties of the Oltre frame, however, there is a certain piece of me that thinks that the Oltre deserves better. It is impressive that this model is sub 8kg (17lbs) with budget kit hanging off of it, but on paper, it may seem to be on par with bikes £1,000 cheaper, so you'll just have to trust me and Bianchi that the extra funds went into the frame; the key component for making a bike perform the way it should. If you want showy kit you need to be dropping some serious wads on the Oltre XR.2 models (which start at £4,900 for Ultegra), as the Oltre XR.1 only goes up to Shimano Ultegra Di2 (for £3,800) with some similarly entry-level Fulcrum wheels. If I were in the market for an Oltre (and I just might be after this test), but couldn't afford anything over £5k, then I would probably stick with this particular XR.1 with 105 and drop a few notes on some new brakes and wheels, thus giving me a near-on Tour-worthy ride for potentially half the price of buying a fully pimped up XR.2. That being said, if you have the money, you can buy an XR.2 frameset and create a custom build.
Though my analysis of the spec may seem a little negative, you won't hear a peep of negativity from me with regards to the ride. The Oltre delivers that stunning ride quality I've come to love from Bianchi. If it were possible to blind test a bike, I would probably pick out a Bianchi within a few minutes of riding. There is one thing I can say for sure about Bianchi bikes, be it a top end professional road bike, or an entry level mountain, Bianchi bikes handle like a dream, and the Oltre is no exception.
Bianchi bikes handle like a dream, and the Oltre is no exception.
Being an aero road bike obviously makes this quite an effortless bike to ride. If you've never tried one, it has to be experienced to be believed. Aero tubing is not marketing "BS", and it does not aid only those with legs like traction engines. In my local chaingang the Oltre helped me slip in and out of airstreams with ease. I seemed to catch the slightest of draft from the riders in front and get sucked along with minimal effort. Freewheeling and soft pedalling most of the time in the pack, I was never worried about dropping out or having to make short digs to catch up with a group or sprint to the front. The Oltre was responsive to fast accelerations and the speedy aero profiles allowed me to tuck into the peloton quickly and easily.
Climbing may not be the Oltre's forte, but this was largely due to the entry-level wheels which are a bit of a lump in comparison to other bikes in the same price bracket. Sturdy Shimano 105 cranks and a good stiff rear end with short and tall chain stays meant that munching up short sharp climbs were over and done with pretty quickly despite the resistance from the Vision wheels. Once over the hill, the Oltre's character really starts to shine through, picking up speed with ease and taking corners faster than I usually dare. It's not a novice confidence-inspiring bike, as the front end can be a bit lively at times if you're not on top of it, but it's responsiveness is certainly rewarding for an accomplished rider. Finally, I have to say that this is one of the comfiest race bikes I've ever ridden, regardless of the fact that it's an aero bike. In fact, I had to double check that I didn't get given a prototype Countervail model by mistake. Despite the tear-drop shaped Oltre-specific Aeroseat post, the full carbon composite with a 30mm set-back obviously offers a great deal of vibration damping in itself, and there seemed to be a touch of compliance in the frame as well. Of course, this does mean the Oltre XR.1 is not the stiffest of bicycles out there, but I personally feel it's just the right amount of compromise, especially if this aerobic is to be your main road bike for most occasions.
The Bianchi Oltre has now become one of my all-time favourite road bikes, and I'm trying my best to justify an Oltre-shaped space in my collection. It is fast and handles like a dream, and I couldn't believe how comfortable it was, let alone for an aero bike. This could easily be my club riding, all-day riding, marathon sportive and evening crit racing bike all rolled into one. I was also very proud to be astride it, especially in bright Celeste and with the large Bianchi emblem on the seat tube; a nod to the past and present of Bianchi all in one bike. The Oltre has been like a teammate to me over the last few rides, and like one of those teammates who tirelessly do all the work and leave me with the credit of being an awesome rider at the end. If you're not snobby about the carbon grading, the XR.1 is an exceptional bike, just don't expect to get one of these frames laced with bling unless you're going to upgrade parts later. The XR.2 models will give you much fancier kit and the lighter stiffer frame, however, they do come at a price. Personally, even if I had a £5k to throw down on an XR.2, I'd be putting it down on this particular model and buying myself some fancy aero wheels to race on (and some brakes that actually work would be nice), but as it stands, the Bianchi Oltre 105 is worth every penny, if only for the ride.
The Bianchi Oltre Shimano 105 model retails at £2,700 with Shimano 105.