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Bianchi Oltre XR4 review

15 Jan 2018
Verdict:

Undeniably rapid but while its modified carbon lay-up brings new levels of comfort, its DNA has been slightly dulled in the process

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£9,800

Buy the Bianchi Oltre XR4 from Rutland Cycling here

I remember the first rendition of the Bianchi Oltre XR well. It arrived in the Cyclist office at the end of 2012, when this magazine was still knee-high to a grasshopper, and it had it all.

The Campagnolo Super Record EPS, the Fulcrum Speed XLR wheels, the outlandish graphics and random bits of writing about ‘Nano Tube Tech’, the Celeste paint… the pricetag.

That Oltre cost £11,000, which you could have bought a house for back then.

Soon £11,000 will barely buy you a loaf of bread, but until that time Bianchi is still happily offering its latest Oltre, the XR4, at superbike prices.

And bound up in that is both my first gripe and my overriding praise.

If a bike costs £9,800 it should come with two matching water bottle cages and two water bottles. The Oltre comes with just one.

I could almost understand no cages and bottles (you can’t miss what you never had), but just one set? Imagine if Ferrari only gave you one footwell mat.

Secondly, if a bike costs £9,800 it had better be really, really good. And, I’m happy to report, the Oltre XR4 is guilty here too.

Holy smoke, that’s fast!

I recall being amazed at how quick and stiff the original Oltre XR was, and while I skipped its direct offspring, the XR2, I have it on good authority that it too wasn’t shy in the performance department.

The Oltre name is attached to a long line of accomplished race bikes, and these are precisely the genes Bianchi has tried to splice in here.

Short chainstays and a steep head tube angle combine for a snappy, lively feel, and the natural rider position is aggressive given a 155mm head tube on this 56cm top tube frame.

The geometry is nearly identical to its stablemate, the Specialissma, which I reviewed in Issue 48 and which handled supremely well, if a little on the reactive side. But that just made it more fun – the bike was wickedly direct and took no prisoners.

In the same way, I can’t fault the Oltre’s handling. It was deft and confident at all times, stable in descents and nimble through quick turns.

Nor can I fault its climbing or sprinting abilities. The platform is as stiff as I’d want for both, and the chassis, although 40g heavier than its predecessor (which Bianchi says is down to even bigger tubes), is still light enough in this trim to hit 6.8kg on the nose.

Yet there was an odd quirk that marks this bike out as very special, and in the same breath not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Aerofication

When I first jumped on the Oltre XR4 it felt a bit, well... slow. Not slow by general standards, but slow in the category of aerodynamic flagship racer, which is exactly what the Oltre is.

Bianchi engineers have turned a huge amount of their attention toward making this bike significantly more slippery than before using CFD, wind-tunnels and a process called ‘flow visualisation’.

In basic terms, flow visualisation makes the flow of air on or around an object visible. That means putting the Oltre in a wind-tunnel and allowing a thick fluorescent paint to blow over the frame to reveal the movement of air across its surface.

As well as making for a funky paintjob, it helps to make the Oltre XR4 faster. Road product manager Angelo Lecchi says, ‘It saves around 20 watts compared to the old bike, and even more at speeds of over 55kmh.’

Unless the road tips down a bit I’m not in any real danger of hitting 55kmh, but as my test rides progressed I started to make better sense of the Oltre.

My Garmin was routinely displaying higher than average speeds over tried and tested routes, at efforts I perceived to be normal.

It was a similar story on descents, where my Strava data highlighted a brace of bested PBs on one particular ride over stretches I’ve been trying to nail for a while. Yet there were times when I’d have sworn I was going slower than I was were it not for the data on my Garmin.

The reason, I’ve come to believe, is the frame’s inherent smoothness. 

Countervail conundrum

The Oltre is blessed with what Bianchi calls ‘Countervail’, a proprietary carbon fibre designed to dampen vibrations.

As well as viscoelastic ‘polymeric materials’ in the layup, the carbon fibre tows (the bundles of fibres that make up the weave) are arranged in specific orientations that it’s claimed better dissipate vibrations to the viscoelastic component, but without sacrificing stiffness.

Does it work? As is so often the answer, I couldn’t tell you. Bianchi says it does, and I don’t have a non-Countervail Oltre XR4 to compare. Is the Oltre smooth? Like melted butter.

But herein lies the problem, if you can call it that.

While ‘fast’ is a quantifiable term, I think it also has a qualitative value: feeling.

A teeth-jangling ride from an ultra stiff frame and high-pressure tyres feels fast, even if physics will tell you otherwise, because if a bike is bumping up and down – or deflecting – it means it’s losing energy that could otherwise be used for forward propulsion.

It’s the reason why wider tyres at lower pressures have become a ‘thing’, and it’s why 70mph in an old Mini can feel deathly scary, while on a train the same speed feels like nothing at all.

The Oltre, then, was at times so smooth it felt like we weren’t really shifting. I still felt the big bumps in the road like any other bike, but the rest of the time the frame seemed to siphon off the road buzz that breeds the viscerality of speed.

Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. I like to feel connected to the road, to feel a bike reacting to it and to react accordingly in return, but I also like smoothness, and I definitely like speed.

And the Oltre delivers both of these by the proverbial digging implements.

As such this is something of a monstrous bike. Its handling is whip-sharp, its capability over a variety of terrains and situations fearsomely impressive and its look and build imposing.

Yet for all this the Oltre is a well-mannered monster, and whether or not that suits your riding tastes, only you can tell.

Let’s agree we’d like two bottles and cages, though.

Buy the Vianchi Oltre XR4 from Rutland Cycles here

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Spec

Bianchi Oltre XR4
Frame Proprietary Countervail carbon fibre
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record
Brakes Campagnolo Super Record Direct Mount
Chainset Campagnolo Super Record
Cassette Campagnolo Super Record
Bars Vision Metron 5D Aero
Stem Vision Metron 5D Aero
Seatpost Bianchi Carbon Aero
Saddle Fizik Arione R3
Wheels Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 tubular 
Weight 6.8kg (56cm top tube)
Contact bianchi.com

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