FEATURES: RBA TEST: BIANCHI OLTRE
May 11, 2012


As one of the true legacy bikes that exists in the sport today, Bianchi is the one brand that can honestly boast of being the sport’s oldest surviving bike company. It was 127 years ago that company founder Edoardo Bianchi joined his first set of frame tubes at his small factory in Milan, Italy. The Bianchi Oltre is their top-of-the-line racing frame, and it will see duty under the ProTour Vacansoleil team, as well as one of Italy’s squads in 2012.
Price: $9000 ($4999 frame, fork and seatpost)
Weight: 14.5 pounds
Sizes: 47, 50, 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59cm
www.bianchiusa.com

GEOMETRY
Wheelbase: 99.5cm
Headtube angle: 73 degrees
Seat tube angle: 73.5 degrees
Standover height: 80cm
Effective top tube length: 56cm
Headtube length: 15.8cm

PARTS
Shifters: Shimano Dura-Ace
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace
Cranks: FSA K-Force Light
BB30 53/39
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 12-25
Wheels: Fulcrum Racing One
Stem: FSA 0S-99 CSI
Seatpost: Oltre carbon aero
Handlebar: FSA K-Force
Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace
Saddle: Fizik Antares carbon rail
Tires: Vittoria Diamante Pro Light



WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THE FRAME?
Bianchi is touting the Oltre as their most advanced frame ever—that’s a big statement for a company with such history. The monocoque frame uses CNT (Carbon Nano Tube) technology, which is claimed to increase fracture resistance over standard resins by nearly 50 percent. That means that if it’s—gasp—skidded down the road at some point, it is much more likely to avoid the scrap pile.

The Oltre frame uses three distinct tubing designs: First, an oversized diamond-shaped downtube is bolstered by a massive BB30 bottom bracket to achieve stiffness. Second, the thin seat stays with a slightly arched top tube tapered down in size from the head tube to the seat tube for ride comfort. And last but not least, the aerodynamics of an airfoil-shaped seat tube and an aero “finned” design behind the fork crown improve airflow over the downtube. The Bianchi frame is made in Taiwan and painted and assembled at the Bianchi factory outside of Milan.



WHAT ABOUT THE COMPONENTS?
Sometimes the smallest of details stand out the most, such is the case with the Oltre. Blue anodized water-bottle cage bolts, the stem-cap bolt, rear derailleur hanger and cable tips do nothing for performance, but are the visually appealing details that we have come to expect from Bianchi.

When it comes to the overall build, it is slightly uninspiring for us Italiano aficionados. Why not a little more local patronage? While the Oltre does come in a Campagnolo Super Record option, ours had the Dura-Ace 7900. Don’t get us wrong; it’s a great functioning group, but with a $9000 price tag, the Di2 would have been a welcome integration to the Oltre’s technologically advanced frame. There are a couple of parts that Bianchi nailed; the Fizik carbon-railed Antares saddle is as high-end as they come and a comfortable fit for most. The aero carbon seatpost is another winner. It has the sleek aesthetics of an integrated seatpost and easy saddle adjustability via two titanium bolts that are offset so a roadside adjustment with a multi-tool doesn’t become an exercise in patience.



WHAT ABOUT THE RIDE?
In the quintessentially typical Italian bike fashion, the Oltre does not sacrifice ride quality for low weight. Vibration damping is simply not something to be sacrificed to make a frame a few grams lighter. While it’s still plenty light enough to make any climber go search for more hills, the front- and rear-end stiffness produces a responsive and quickfeeling bike. Combined with its ability to comfortably power on down a bumpy road, the Oltre provides a solid and predictable overall feel. The result is more confidence as you push its, or your own, limits. The massive bottom bracket and beefy headtube provide all the stiffness you need to put the power from your legs directly to the road, and so the bike responds immediately when both climbing and sprinting. Best of all, it carves high-speed corners to perfection and is compliant enough to produce an all-day comfortable ride on any type of road.

WHAT ABOUT THE LOOKS?
From the aero-finned fork crown to the pencil-thin seat stays, this bike is a work of art. The closer you look, the more you see and appreciate the Italian styling. But as the flagship bike from a company such as Bianchi, in our minds, there can be just one color—the Celeste. Trendy colors, like this red version, should be left to their competitors. As with most race bikes, the Oltre is covered with logos of all shapes, sizes, colors and fonts—not leaving much empty space to admire.

SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
The Oltre proves that Bianchi hasn’t stayed in business all these years just because of a snazzy color. No, after 127 years in the business, they’re still turning out premier-level bikes against a growing crowd of competition. The Oltre was a pleasure with its consistent ride—it didn’t blow our mind in any one category, but always had what we needed. From the bottom-bracket stiffness under hard accelerations to the front-end rigidity when torqueing the handlebars during a sprint, it delivered. The best thing about the Oltre is its European-tuned ride. The minuscule seat stays and tapered top tube give enough respite from the bike’s robust lower half to provide the perfect level of damping to feel smooth without a sluggish hangover.

Ideal buyer: Not just for Italian bike aficionados, but nearly anyone who wants performance with plenty of Euro swankiness.

The Bianchi Oltre has all the elements of a great bike, but in the end, its broad-based prowess makes it a jack of all trades and a master of none, resulting in its sixth-place finish. Its descending stability was the best in the test, and it is aided by the smooth damping we’ve come to expect from traditional European bikes. But, the stiffness doesn’t reach the bar set by the SL4. And while some Italian hands do touch the frame in production (paint and assembly), the Oltre—along with every other bike in this test—can’t boast the workmanship of the RSL.

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