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Bianchi Impulso Allroad review

9 Jul 2020
Verdict:

Off the shelf this Italian gravel muncher is good, but give it a wheelset upgrade and it becomes something rather great

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Stiff • Stable • Robust • Great groupset
Against 
Entry-level wheelset

I’m finding it really difficult to be objective about this bike because of when it arrived.

What I can say, objectively, is the Bianchi Impulso Allroad is currently the sole occupant of Bianchi’s gravel stable, it’s made from twice-formed hydroformed aluminium, it comes with Shimano’s GRX gravel groupset, in-house alloy finishing kit and has clearance for up to 40mm tyres.

It also came third in the gruelling 1,000km-long Bikingman Oman under Georgie Panchaud. Plaudits indeed.

What I can’t back up with empirical fact is just how much this bike has given me. Mid-lockdown, peak stir-crazed-despondency, the Impulso Allroad was the escape I needed. It kept me sane. It even made me smile. We did have to make a few compromises first, though.

Unboxing

The first thing I noticed was the Impulso Allroad doesn’t come tubeless, and not just no tubeless setup but no tubeless option. The Kenda tyres are wire-bead clinchers; the wheels are clincher-only Alex rims on Bianchi hubs.

I’ll stick my hand up and say tubeless is the best thing to happen to off-road bikes, period. Better than disc brakes. After all, what use is being able to brake if you’ve flatted again? That said, it’s quite standard that bikes don’t come set up as tubeless, but I have come to expect most gravel bikes to come tubeless ready, especially ones above the £2,000 mark.

I did a fortnight’s riding with the Impulso’s stock wheelset before I could bear the spectre of pinch flats no longer and instead swapped in a pair of Hunt Carbon Gravel Disc wheels set up tubeless with Schwalbe G-One tyres.

Buy now from Sigma Sports for £2,100

The difference was immediate, the Impluso was transformed, and as the scales fell from my eyes so the grams fell from the scales. Despite tyres now a whole 5mm wider at 40mm, the bike had lost 700g. Substantial. But that wasn’t all.

The ride

Losing 700g anywhere is noticeable, but if it’s from rolling stock you feel it twofold. Acceleration is faster and steering more nimble, and the Impulso turned from ‘capable’ into a ‘proper whippet’. Not quite winning at the local track, but definitely on the sharp end of the retired-greyhound spectrum. I’d back it against any other dog in the park.

That is to say, off-the-peg the Impulso was great fun to ride but ultimately just fine in the grand scheme of gravel bikes.

Relaxed geometry – a 71.5° head angle for example – made for a stable bike, but handling was somewhat slow on twisty trails, albeit because of this it chipped along in a lovely stately fashion, particularly on tarmac. And let’s not forget gravel bikes like this are designed for roads too.

But with the wheelset change I realised just what a punchy gravel bike had been itching to get out, and it all stems from the aluminium frame.

Bianchi’s designers have pulled off a neat trick, using hyrdoformed tubes (forced into shapes by pumping high-pressure liquid into a tube inside a mould), which are then welded and hydroformed again to create smooth, carbon-like joints. The result is a stiff, refined-looking frame (the fork is carbon) that feels solid and robust yet isn’t overtly harsh.

If there is one personal criticism it’s that I would have dearly liked to see some Celeste in the paint scheme. A Bianchi without it is like a Ferrari in any colour that isn’t red – although you always look good on a Bianchi, while the jury is out with regards rosso Ferraris.

But back to the ride: now down at 9.8kg, 700g shaved exclusively off the wheels and a set of significantly more supple and grippy tyres, the Impulso was a force to be reckoned with. Time and again I’d have the choice of a road ride on another test bike or a gravel ride on the Impulso and I’d opt for the Impulso every time.

I can’t underplay the draw of being out on trails, riding through forest and spinning over fields, but at the same time, I knew all of this would be a zingy pleasure on the Impulso.

I could attack climbs and be rewarded for the fact, descend root-strewn, rutted trails with supreme confidence, and power out of corners like a crit racer. All thanks to that stiff, well-engineered frame now paired to some decent wheels. The Impulso had woken up.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, the Bianchi Impulso All-Road as is brought me a huge amount of joy; it ticked the necessary boxes to get me away from the city, off the road and into the forest at a time when I needed that escape and freedom most. And I will love it for this, no matter what. But I loved it even more with Hunt’s wheels and Schwalbe’s tyres. It was a whole new bike.

With that simple change everything improved – weight, responsiveness, climbing prowess, grip, the thrash-it-and-see security of tubeless – and the Impulso was elevated into a category where usually only full carbon bikes hang out.

Yet dare I say, I kind of like the fact the Impluso isn’t carbon, as there is something about the feel of aluminium that makes me think strong and robust, and that has here helped create something perfect for hacking about in near-mountain bike fashion.

Still, even in this ‘upgraded’ guise (which would set you back another £877 for wheels and tyres) there are areas for improvement.

I’d want wider tyre clearances, as 40mm already feels quite narrow in the gravel sector, with many brands offering clearance for 47mm tyres on 700c wheels or 2.1inch tyres on 650b. And on that note, 650b wheel compatibility would be good too, more in keeping with the latest trends and adding versatility.

Elsewhere, I will just mention the bar tape and politely say that it is not best suited for off-road. Tackier and thicker would be nice and would not cost the Earth. However, Bianchi has not skimped on the expected mounting options, with plenty of guard, rack and third-cage bosses all over the frameset.

Thus in a nutshell the Bianchi Impulso All-Road does what it sets out to do from the off, but throw a few more quid at it and it becomes quite the bike, a bike which I will struggle to part with. I’ve grown rather fond. Just fetch me the Celeste paint pot…

Buy now from Sigma Sports for £2,100

…but wait just one second, there is a Celeste-liveried Impulso Allroad! Albeit it has a Shimano GRX 600 series groupset and is a full £400 cheaper. But do some digging (and read below about GRX) and the differences are miniscule, with most of the bike’s spec the same – only the STI levers and chainset are a downgrade, from GRX 810 to 600.

Everything else, from rear mech to wheels to handlebars, is the same. So that’s where I’d put my money, on this one-notch lower bike little more than 150g heavier. And you even get that dreamy paint.

 

A word on the groupsets

Shimano offers GRX in 600 and 810 series, the latter costing more, but being slightly more refined. The GRX 810 STI levers, for example, are a claimed 44g lighter than 600, so too the GRX 810 chainset at around 100g. However performance and ‘feel’ are more or less on par – just think Shimano 105 versus Shimano Ultegra.

GRX features a clutch in the rear mech, and if you run the chainset 1x (which both GRX 600 and 810 can) the chainring tooth profiles are narrow-wide. Both these things are designed to stop chain slap and chain drop, with the clutch keeping tension on the chain while the taller, thicker teeth help to retain the chain further.

The clutch can also be turned off to aid wheel removal, or to decrease drivetrain friction on smooth roads (although this is a contested point, the gains being potentially very marginal and open to other variables).

The rear mech sits more inbound, under the cassette, to protect it from bashes, and overall GRX is functionally no different to Shimano’s disc road groupsets. That is to say, it is nigh-on perfect. No chains were dropped or shifts missed in the making of this review.

Spec

Frame Bianchi Impulso Allroad alluminium frame and carbon fork  
Groupset Shimano GRX 810
Deviations Shimano 105 cassette
Stem, bars, seatpost   Reparto Corse alloy
Saddle Selle Royal SR saddle
Wheels Reparto Corse CDX22 Disc
Tyres Kenda Flintridge Sport 35mm tyres
Weight 10.5kg (55)
Contact bianchi.com

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

Price: 
£2,500