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Bianchi Specialissima Disc review

19 Oct 2021
Verdict:

As all-round race bikes go, the Bianchi Specialissima is up there. Responsive, light, with a good lick of acceleration and brilliant balance

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£12,000
For 
Light and stiff, incredible climber, fantastic handling
Against 
Wheels

The fabled Bianchi Specialissima is back. I say ‘fabled’ because the Specialissima was first released in 1958 – an evolution of the Campione del Mondo, as ridden by Fausto Coppi in the 1950s – and by the mid-1960s the Specialissima was dominating the Giro d’Italia with Felice Gimondi and his Salvarini team.

For years the bike waved the Bianchi flag, until the 1990s saw aluminium knock steel from its perch in the pro ranks. (Top factoid: the last time Bianchi won a Tour de France was 1998 when Marco Pantani was pedalling an aluminium Mega Pro XL).

Thus the Specialissima dynasty sat mothballed until 2015 saw Bianchi resurrect it in the name of carbon fibre, producing a superlight bike whose frame weighed a claimed 780g. Good going even now.

I rode that bike and I loved that bike – its short wheelbase, compact rear triangle and low position made for incredibly reactive handling, borderline flighty but in the most beguiling way. It had heaps of personality thanks to its round tubes, near-horizontal top tube and matt Celeste finish. It was, and still is, one of the most beautiful mass-produced bikes of the carbon era.

Fast-forward to the back end of 2020 and the announcement of a new Specialissima naturally sent my Spidey senses tingling. And you can probably guess one of the main changes: disc brakes. Yes, gone are the rim brakes that looked so elegant yet worked so poorly in wet weather; in their place (in this build at least) Campagnolo Super Record discs.

Yet despite this, weight has actually gone down. Bianchi claims a 750g frame weight (in the lightest black colour, whereas Celeste paint adds 80g), all the more impressive given the Specialissima’s tubes are markedly fatter than the 2015 bike’s.

My, haven’t you grown?

What the frame loses the fork gains to accommodate a disc brake, going from 340g to 370g. Still, all round this is a thicker-set bike – just look at the seat tube cluster and chunky head tube – so to be able to maintain frameset weight given this and discs is admirable. But the better thing for the bike, and me as its rider, is Bianchi has carried the 2015 geometry over almost verbatim.

The wheelbase is only 3mm more at 988mm, so too the chainstays at 410mm, and if anything the bike has become more aggressive, as reach remains much the same but this size 55cm drops its stack by 5mm.

This might seem like minutiae, but as bikes get ever better in terms of technology, such differences in geometry really start to mark particular bikes out.

Bianchi says it has borrowed aero cues from its Oltre XR4 race bike, and certainly the fork crown intersection and the sculpted head tube do look the aero part. However I’d suggest if there are any specific speed-generating aspects here, they are weight and stiffness.

The Specialissima accelerates beautifully, encouraging me to click through gears with abandon, and it climbs like a Celeste-coloured goat, responding nimbly to shifts in body weight and cranking up inclines like a rollercoaster winching its carts up before release.

I’d guess that in a straight-line race it would get trumped by its sister the Oltre, but that’s to be expected. There will always be trade-offs, and here the trade is a modicum of top-end speed for superb climbing abilities, punchy accelerations and sublime handling. Because, like its forebear, handling is the Specialissima’s forte.

The watchword here is balance – so hard to pin down but so obvious when lacking. The top half of the bike feels light to flick about, the bottom half stiff and resolute. There’s flex through the frame but in the good sense, as cornering is the embodiment of precision and grip. Then there’s the way a short wheelbase allows a bike to make quick changes in direction, perfect for carving down sinuous descents. It all just feels just so.

Carry on Campy

Rounding things off nicely is FSA’s ingenious ACR stem and headset, which allows hoses and wires to thread unseen into the frame thanks to the extra space afforded by a 1.5in upper bearing. I’m sure this helps with drag, but for me the boon is aesthetics, which at this price is incredibly important.

This build uses Campagnolo Super Record EPS, which is near flawless in every regard and for me has the best disc brakes on the market. The lever feel and power are tremendous.

If I were to spec one thing differently I’d put in some matching Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO 45s in place of the Fulcrums – they’re faster and nearly 200g lighter – and perhaps 28mm tyres (the max clearance) for even better grip. That would bump the price up by around £1,500, but if you’re in the market for this bike, money probably isn’t something you worry about.

Pick of the kit


Wahoo Elemnt Roam, £299.99, Condor Cycles

For more, read our full review of the Wahoo Elemnt Roam here.

I reckon on having had this little fella since 2019, and while Covid stuffed up the world it did have some positive effects for riding, namely lots of A-Bs with bikes in place of trains, and how the Roam helped.

From outward appearance the mapping couldn’t look more basic, but that’s why it works so well – the screen is uncluttered and clear, making directions easy to follow. It does everything else a good GPS computer should, including having mammoth battery life – up to 17 hours’ continuous recording –  and the companion app is a wonder at creating routes.

Alternatively…

Speed freak

The Oltre XR4 (from £6,355) is Bianchi’s paid-up aero machine, using Bianchi’s proprietary Countervail carbon for a smooth ride and a Vision Metron 5D cockpit to hide cables and cheat wind.

Classics specialist

The Bianchi Infinito (from £5,150) goes to town on robust smoothness, employing Countervail and special tube shapes to help dissipate road buzz and negotiate poor surfaces.

Spec

Frame Bianchi Specialissima Disc
Groupset   Campagnolo Super Record EPS Disc
Brakes Campagnolo Super Record EPS Disc
Chainset Campagnolo Super Record EPS Disc
Cassette Campagnolo Super Record EPS Disc
Bars FSA K-Force Light
Stem FSA ACR
Seatpost FSA K-Force Light
Saddle Fizik Vento Argo
Wheels Fulcrum Wind 40DB, Vittoria Corsa 2.0 25mm tyres  
Weight 7.15kg (size 55)
Contact bianchi.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

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