I do not normally write product reviews but I was compelled to write one after spending a weekend with a bona-fide superbike, the Bianchi Oltre Xr4. I am the proud owner of another legendary bike, the Colnago C60 but I now feel like a long-married man who has had a weekend fling with a a gorgeous and super-sexy, Italian temptress dressed in grey and celeste. You are happily married to a beautiful, dependable and loyal woman but after the fling, you are faced with 3 questions or points:
- I love my wife (c60), can I or should I, leave my wife for this new woman (XR4)?
- If the answer to 1. above is no, Should I then have a long-term affair?
- If the answer to 2. is ‘yes’, how can I afford to buy and keep both?
These are very, very good questions. Let me explain how and why I got to this point.
I consider myself a bike enthusiast and I’m particular keen on the top-end bikes from the historic Italian marques like Colnago, Pinarello, Bianchi and De Rosa. Many a Giro D’Italia and Tour De Frances’ have been won by great cyclists aboard bikes from these marques. Many one-day classics such as the Paris Roubaix have also been won by these brands. In short, they are steeped in cycling history and folklore. Eddy Merckx, arguably the greatest cyclist in history rode Colnagos to most of his greatest triumphs.
This means I make the effort to familiarise myself with these brands latest offerings (I’m yet to sample the Colnago C64) So the chance to sample an XR4, courtesy of Sigma Sports and Bianchi, was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Bianchi is the world’s oldest bicycle manufacturing company still in existence and one that still retains a certain mystique and their products still have a certain cachet attached. Turn up anywhere on a Bianchi and those in the know will give you ‘the look’ to acknowledge you and the bikes presence.
I picked up the bike from Sigma Sport’s Hampton Wick store and was immediately struck by the lightness and feel of the thing. The bike just ooozed quality and the attention to detail was obvious. This attention to detail became even more apparent as I installed my pedals and bottle cages as the bike had come sans both.
I took it out on Friday evening for a quick spin to Richmond Park and discovered I did not have to make any adjustments at all. Sure I’d have liked a lower stem to get into a lower and more aggressive ‘aero’ position but I was immediately comfortable on the bike and that was all that mattered.
If it had been any other bike, I’d have ridden it for maybe 20km’s which would have sufficed to for an initial impression. Not so the Bianchi Oltre XR4. It goads you into riding distances you did not initially plan.
I quickly decided to use the next day, which was supposed to be a rest day, to ride my usual Surrey Hills route to properly assess this bike. My initial impressions warranted that.
Surrey Hills on the Bianchi Oltre XR4.
My usual 120km+ Surrey Hills route begins in West London and goes through Richmond Park, Kingston, Hampton, Esher, Leatherhead and into Surrey to tackle the popular Leith Hill and Boxhill climbs. This route has everything: fast flats, never-ending drags, climbs of varying severity and length and wickedly fast descents along the very fast return to Kingston on the Dorking road, the Reigate road and the A240. It has smooth asphalt, rough asphalt plus many broken and pothole-ridden country roads. It is a route designed to test every aspect of a bike.
The Bianchi handled it with supreme aplomb. Fast, stiff and incredibly responsive, every pedal stroke seemingly resulting in forward motion with nary a watt wasted. I was tired but I found climbing on this bike far less stressful (I’m most definitely not a climber) than on my Cervelo. It was very stable during the fast descents, in fact it is as stable as the model of stability which is the C60. If a bike inspires confidence during descents then you go faster, simple. And this bike inspires confidence.
This bike nearly matches the legendary ride comfort of the C60 too. This is what I found most astonishing. That a lighter, aero bike could almost match the C60 in terms of ride comfort is truly a remarkable achievement. This is all down to Bianchi’s much vaunted ‘Countervail’ technology which I had initially dismissed as marketing gobbledegook. It is most definitely not marketing gobbledegook. It works.
From Bianchi’s website:
“Countervail® is a carbon composite-material system that, with special fiber architecture, combines patented structural carbon with viscoelastic resin. Countervail® cancels 80% of vibrations while increasing the stiffness and strength of our carbon frames and forks.”
They are correct. It does! This means you are not beaten up on every ride, therefore you have more energy for longer and the end result is a faster, smoother, more enjoyable ride. Full Stop.
And all this on the standard spec Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels, which are nothing special. If eve a bike deserved a wheel upgrade it is this one. I shudder to think how good this bike would be on a set of Enve’s or on the ultimate climbing wheelset, the Lightweight Meilentsteins. The wheels were shod with a pair of 25mm Vittoria’s which definitely contributed to the comfort levels.
The price. This is not a cheap bike. Then again, its price is in the same ballpark as similar bikes from Pinarello and Colnago. A Bianchi Oltre XR4 with a Shimano Dura Ace DI2 costs about £9,400. That is before a wheel upgrade which is a must for this bike. The frame alone costs £3,400 which is actually cheaper than the Colnago C64 and the Pinarello F10 framesets.
Errr and that’s it!
I do not really think the one-piece stem and handlebar is a negative. It does restrict fitment options but I think the benefits of this system far outweigh the negatives.
Ahh! the stem and handlebars. I really should talk about the stand-out feature of this bike. Its a carbon Vision Metron 5D handlebar and integrated stem and boy! does it make a difference when sprinting and when making big out-of-the-saddle efforts. I honestly did not think the traditional separate handlebars and stem setup was lacking…until I used this setup. It is incredibly stiff without a hint of flex.
I’m sure by now, you have worked out that I like this bike. A lot. I’m going to have a long term affair for sure. I just need to work out how best to fund my two expensive ladies.
I have ridden many top-end bikes recently, including the Madone and the F8\F10 but I have been able (somewhat easily) to resist their charms. But not this time. I cannot resist the Bianchi. The Oltre XR4 is the offspring of a Pinarello F10 and a Colnago C60. If you took the best bits of a Pinarello F10 and the Colnago C60 and fused them into one bike, that bike is the Bianchi Oltre XR4. Lighter than the F10 but just as fast and stiff, and more comfortable, nearly as stable and comfortable as the C60 but lighter and more responsive. The C60 still edges it in the desirability stakes for me though, hence why I will be keeping the C60, but I must have the XR4, so my Cervelo S3 will make way for it.
Objectively it is better than both the F10 and the C60. If I’m riding a sportive i’ll be using the C60 but if I’m chasing a time in a sportive or racing, I’ll be using the Bianchi Oltre XR4. No question.
It is that good.
FRAME: Bianchi Oltre XR.4, carbon, Countervail technology
FORK: Bianchi Full Carbon Aero 1.4″>1.1/8″, Countervail technology
HEADSET: FSA Orbit C-33, matt UD carbon, 1.1/8″>1.1/4″
BOTTOM BRACKET: Shimano SM-BB92-41B, PressFit
STEM: Vision Metron 5D integrated aero, UD carbon
HANDLEBARS: Vision Metron 5D integrated aero, UD carbon
FRONT BRAKE: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-R9110, direct mount
REAR BRAKE: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-R9110, direct mount
BRAKE LEVERS: Shimano Dura-Ace, Di2, ST-R9150
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, FD-R9150
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, RD-R9150, SS, 11-speed
SHIFT LEVERS: Shimano Dura-Ace, Di2, ST-R9150, 11-speed
CHAIN: Shimano Dura-Ace, CN-HG901
CASSETTE: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100, 11-28T
CRANKSET: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100, Hollowtech II, 52x36T
FRONT WHEEL: Fulcrum Racing Zero C17
REAR WHEEL: Fulcrum Racing Zero C17
FRONT TYRE: Vittoria Corsa G+ Isotech graphene, 700x25c, clincher
REAR TYRE: Vittoria Corsa G+ Isotech graphene, 700x25c, clincher
SADDLE: Fizik Arione R1
SEATPOST: Bianchi Oltre Full Carbon Aero, +/- 35mm adjustable head