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Wilier Cento10 Air review

7 Nov 2016
Verdict:

The seventh iteration of the Cento is Wilier's most aero road bike yet

Price: 
£4,599

I always think there’s something reassuring about a bike that’s had many before it bear its name. Specialized has the Allez, Cannondale the CAAD series, Trek the Madone, Giant the TCR, and Wilier the Cento.

It speaks of consideration, faith and solid reputation. Consideration that a manufacturer has tried to create lineage and pedigree; faith that each iteration will be better than the generation before; and solid reputation that if a name has lasted long enough, a bike must be doing something right.

After all, everyone knows a Porsche 911; few will remember the Gordon-Keeble.

Buon compleanno!

The Cento first surfaced in 2006, built to celebrate Wilier’s 100th birthday – Cento meaning ‘hundred’ in Italian. However, it was 2008’s Cento1 that really established the range’s reputation.

Replete with integrated seatmast and £5,499 pricetag, it was heralded as one of the best all-round race bikes of its time and garnered much praise in the bike press.

In general, success has followed success where the Cento marque is concerned. The SL did much the same as the Cento1 (and was a few grams lighter), the SR was an entire redesign but with similar poise and reception, then the Cento1Air alighted from the aero-road train in 2013. There was one disappointment, though.

‘We made the Cento Uno SR Disc, and we sold zero,’ says Wilier’s international sales manager, Claudio Salomoni. ‘There were supply issues with the disc brake units, but really it is the attitude in southern Europe. It’s, “Why do you need disc brakes? Because it is raining? If it is raining, I just ride tomorrow.”’

Wilier does make disc brake bikes, of course – the endurance GTR and the Montegrappa – but in the Cento10Air (named in celebration of the brand’s 110th birthday) it’s looking for a bike to capture the hearts of the purest racers.

The stopping power therefore comes from a set of Shimano Ultegra direct-mount brakes. There’s not a huge amount in it when compared to the regular single-bolt mounted version, but modulation is ever so slightly better as the brake calliper is stiffer thanks to each being mounted via its own pivot, thereby turning the frame or fork into a brace for the brake. However, this isn’t the reason Wilier has chosen the system.

‘The brakes mean that we can offer more clearance for wider tyres, but crucially for air flow,’ says Salomoni. ‘The rear stays are much wider apart than usual, as is the fork, aiding airflow between the wheel, frame and fork so the Cento is better aerodynamically.’

Add in integrated ‘Alabarda’ bars and kamm-tail tubes (a truncated tear-drop profile that adheres to the UCI’s 3:1 tube ratio rule) and Wilier claims the Cento10Air is 8% faster than its predecessor, the Cento1Air.

Could I tell if that was true? Well, I rode the Cento1Air when it debuted and was mightily impressed at the time by how fast it felt. Admittedly that was three years ago, but if memory serves then the initial feeling of speed aboard the Cento10Air wasn’t quite so dramatic.

It definitely felt fast compared to my round-tubed training bike, but having just come off the back of the Specialized Venge ViAS (issue 54), the Cento10Air felt fairly normal.

In part that’s down to two things. Firstly, bikes are just getting faster. But also the secret weapon in the Cento’s arsenal isn’t necessarily aerodynamics, but ride feel.

Ever the stereotype

Just like how 50kmh on a motorbike feels like 100kmh in a car, thanks to the far more connected, visceral feeling you get from riding a motorbike, speed can be deceptive on a road bike.

Enjoy a smooth-riding bike and things seem underwhelming, sometimes even slow, but get on a super-stiff racer and bounce all over the place feeling every shock and you can be tricked into thinking you’re pegging it along faster than you really are.

The Cento, much to its credit, is particularly smooth. It’s still aggressive – at the closest I could get to my correct set up there was still a fairly long drop from saddle to bar – but other than the position I often forgot I was riding an aero bike.

There is a real relationship between the front and the rear ends, where the fork tracks precisely and the rear follows without complaint. But more than that, vibrations up the seatpost and through the pedals felt on the same level as those that travelled up the steerer tube and through the bars, a trait that makes a bike feel more like a homogenous piece and less like a collection of parts.

In this respect I’d liken the Cento10Air to the Scott Foil (issue 50), an aero bike that coped well enough with the cobbles of Roubaix to help Mathew Hayman to victory. That bike had an endearingly fast, smooth and precise ride, and the Cento10Air is the same. Yet the Cento does manage to juggle a personality all of its own too.

The ride feels very ‘Italian’. As smooth as it is for an aero bike, it still takes some containing on sharper descents or tighter corners due to a slightly twitchy edge.

It’s not unstable but, as I’ve found on similar bikes from Bianchi and Colnago, it takes a bit of getting used to before you master the controls. But once I learned to be a bit more sensitive with my steering input and shifts of bodyweight, such as a dropped knee or a more forward position as when descending fast, the Cento10Air came into its own.

Make me better

Of course to go down one needs to first go up, and I was ‘lucky’ enough to be faced with several nasty climbs in the Dolomites aboard the Cento (Wilier having chosen to launch the bike in Cortina, Italy).

The initial test ride was eye-wateringly early, the air thin and the roads horrendously steep, but according to Strava I managed to drag myself up the 2,250m Lavaredo in a time that put me in the top 10% on the leader board.

No matter where I ride, I wouldn’t expect to obtain such lofty heights in Stravadom, let alone aboard a bike I’ve never ridden before up something so steep (there are regular stretches of 15%), so it’s testament to Wilier that the Cento10Air managed to paper over my deficiencies as a climber so well.

A weight-weenie might baulk at the idea of 7.51kg bike, but such experiential evidence does make the argument for aerodynamics over weight.

Add that evidence to the rest and the Cento10Air builds quite a case for itself. It’s nimble, smooth, climbs well and has a fair lick of speed. There are faster bikes out there, but few come as close to melding aerodynamics with all-round race bike performance. Plus it’s red.

Spec

Wilier Cento10 Air
Frame L
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6800
Brakes Shimano Ultegra 6810 direct mount
Chainset Shimano Ultegra 6800
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6800
Bars Wilier Alabarda integrated
Stem Wilier Alabarda integrated
Seatpost Ritchey Cento10 Air custom
Wheels Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon Exalith
Saddle Selle Italia SLS carbon
Weight 7.51kg
Contact wilier.com

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