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Bianchi Oltre XR3 Disc review

12 Dec 2018
Verdict:

There are better race bikes for £4K but you’d be hard pushed to find something as enjoyable to ride

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Decent level of comfort • Well balanced handling • Good all-rounder
Against 
A little heavy at this price • Aero traits are a way behind the best in category

This review was first published in Issue 80 of Cyclist magazine

The list of bike brands that can boast even half the heritage of Bianchi would be very short indeed. The company is 133 years old, making it the longest-surviving bike manufacturer in the world, and for the majority of that time it has had a presence in the top ranks of the pro sport.

There are several different tales of how the colour celeste (pronounced che-lest-ay) came to be Bianchi’s trademark pastel shade, the most fanciful of which relates to it mimicking the eye colour of a former queen of Italy, for whom Eduardo Bianchi once made a custom bicycle.

The more believable and far less romantic tale is that it was the colour that resulted from a mixture of surplus military paint.

Buy the Bianchi Oltre XR3 Disc Ultra from Rutland Cycling

Either way, the colour is synonymous with the brand, and if you’re going to ride a Bianchi, then it really ought to be celeste. 

You won’t see this model, the Oltre XR3 Disc, being used by the male pros very often, if at all, with most of the Lotto NL-Jumbo squad favouring the top-tier and more aggressively aero race model, the XR4.

You will however see the XR3 Disc in action on the women’s WorldTour, as it’s often the weapon of choice for Italian UCI team Eurotarget-Bianchi-Vitasana.

Of course, sponsored riders get to choose which model they ride and how it is specced, a decision that will be based on the demands of a specific race or the parcours of a particular Grand Tour stage.

We, as everyday riders, don’t have that luxury, and that’s why the XR3 Disc is a very appealing choice. Let me explain…

Shoot for the moon

If I were an astronaut, I’d much rather go into space in a rocket designed by Americans than Italians. Equally, I wouldn’t buy an Italian TV.

On the other hand, there’s a reason Mario Cipollini always looks so sharp, and it’s not his US or Far East-made suit or shoes.

It’s just a fact of life that certain areas of the world excel at certain things.

Understanding materials clearly comes naturally to Italians, but I think it’s fair to say they are not best known for making highly technical aero bicycles (OK, maybe with the exception of a few being raced by a certain British satellite TV-backed outfit).

I get a sense that Italians – arguably the only nation that can make white Lycra look good – would rather be out riding, hair precisely coiffed beneath a Casco, outfit with not a fabric crease out of place, than being buried under piles of paperwork in a wind-tunnel facility somewhere.

What this rather long-winded pre-amble is getting to is that my overwhelming feeling about the Oltre XR3 Disc is that it’s a bike that has its materials and geometry absolutely spot on, yet its aero performance won’t blow your mind.

The Oltre’s cause (at least where outright speed is concerned) wasn’t helped by the fact that the bike I was testing prior to this was the latest range-topping rocket ship out of Specialized’s stable – the S-Works Venge.

You’ve only got to look at their respective silhouettes to work out where and why one might be significantly faster than the other.

But, not to do the Bianchi too much of a disservice, a lot of bikes would feel distinctly tardy up against that particular beast.

That said, while my eyes may not have been watering with the speeds I was achieving on the Oltre, neither were they bleeding from nearly being rattled from my skull.

No sir, the Oltre XR3 Disc is one of the most agreeable aero race bikes I’ve ever tested.

Counter service

Bianchi’s masterstroke is what it calls Countervail technology, a viscoelastic resin in the layup that the company claims cancels 80% of the fatiguing vibrations coming through the bike.

Where other brands might only add some extra compliance in certain areas, Bianchi has embedded Countervail throughout the entire frame and fork. Its effects were immediately obvious.

The frame does a commendable job of muting the high-frequency buzz from the road surface, but not at the detriment of losing the sense of connection with the road, nor any perceptible loss of performance in terms of lateral stiffness.

Returning from a three-hour ride, I felt just the same as if I’d been riding for one.

After suggesting the Oltre XR3 Disc’s frame shape might be a touch behind the curve with its aerodynamics, Bianchi’s counter was to remind me that it’s still the rider that generates the most amount of aero drag, and the best way to make

a bike go fast for any length of time is to keep the rider comfortable. But even though I agree with that (at least to some extent) there was something else I felt might be holding the Oltre XR3 Disc back.

The claimed frame weight of 1,150g (55cm) and 450g fork is pretty good for an aggressive aero bike, but in this guise the overall weight is less impressive.

The bike comes with a Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset, mostly alloy finishing kit and Fulcrum 418 wheels (these are essentially an OE-spec version of Fulcrum’s aftermarket Racing 4 DB wheels with a 35mm alloy rim, meaning they are quite heavy at around 1,700g a pair), such that the complete bike weighs 8.27kg.

That left it feeling a little less nimble than some competitor bikes, and meant it stalled quicker on a steep climb than perhaps I would have liked from a £4,000 race rig.

The frame, though, is still plenty stiff enough to deliver a sizable punch when you need to dial up the speed – it just happens a little less instantaneously than with some.

Changing the wheels for something more high spec could shave off nearly half a kilo in one fell swoop, which I’d suggest would really change the bike’s persona, especially given the Oltre’s racy (low front/short rear end) geometry.

Buy the Bianchi Oltre XR3 Disc Ultra from Rutland Cycling

Overall I’m left pondering where I would position the Oltre XR3 Disc in Bianchi’s portfolio. The manufacturer distinguishes between race and endurance in its line-up, and the Oltre sits in the former. For me, though, I’m left feeling the Oltre XR3 Disc actually sits on the fence.

Would I choose it for my race bike? Probably not. Would I select it for an all-day sportive in varied terrain? Definitely. And even more so if I could put it on a bit of a diet beforehand.

Spec

Groupset Shimano Ultegra
Brakes Shimano Ultegra
Chainset Shimano Ultegra
Cassette Shimano Ultegra
Bars Bianchi Reparto Corse Aero Compact Alloy
Stem Reparto Corse Alloy
Seatpost Oltre Full Carbon Aero  
Saddle Fizik Antares R7 
Wheels Fulcrum Racing 418, Vittoria Rubino Pro G+ 28mm tyres
Weight 8.27kg (57cm)
Contact bianchi.com
Price: 
£4,000

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