11/02/2013 | 3 comments
Our third test bike of January is the Bianchi Sempre Pro.
This is a machine with which we shared a brief acquaintance (and a few sneaky miles) when a model intended for the Italian market came our way last November.
Our Ultegra Di2-equipped test model, finished in Bianchi’s signature Celeste blue, carries more than a whiff of summer with it. Its appearance speaks of sun-soaked piazzas rather than filthy country lanes, but, unhappily for our Sempre Pro, it’s headed for the latter.
We’ll begin our ‘first look’ with a close examination of the Sempre Pro’s vital statistics.
The key to understanding this latest incarnation is Bianchi’s desire to make it a more race-oriented machine, and, as such, move it closer to the flagship Oltre. Both models are supplied to professional teams: the Oltre XR to the Vacansoleil-DCM team, competing in professional cycling’s elite WorldTour, and the Sempre Pro to Italian champion, Franco Pellizotti, and his Androni Giocattoli Venezuela teammates, a team registered for competition in the second-from-top Pro Continental tier.
An examination of the geometry chart for each reveals identical measurements in key areas. The headtube measures 130mm both on our 53cm Sempre Pro test bike and on its Oltre XR cousin, for example. The chainstay length – a key indication of bike’s acceleration and its performance on climbs – again reveals identical measurements: a compact 406mm on both.
The angle of the headtube and of the seat-tube have a significant impact on a frame’s handling, and while both the Oltre XR and Sempre Pro have an identical seat-tube angle of 74 degrees, the head angle reveals a subtle but significant difference: 71.5 degrees on the Sempre Pro, compared to a more aggressive 72-degree angle on the Oltre XR.
Phew! Still with us? It’s always worth looking beyond the marketing and here we discover amid the incontrovertible evidence of the angles and dimensions that Bianchi’s designers have been sincere in their desire to make the Sempre Pro “the baby Oltre”. We’re expecting a fast, responsive ride.
Of course, the designer’s work extends beyond numbers to profiles: the more obvious and frankly enjoyable aspects of creating a frame. We looked closely at the Sempre Pro’s curves in our ‘preview’ article. To summarise, it includes features popular with designers at host of leading brands: an oversized downtube, bottom bracket shell, deep chainstays, and a head tube that tapers to 1.5 inches at the lower bearing: all placing extra material at areas of the bike most susceptible to flex.
The frame’s silhouette is where the designer has greatest freedom of expression, and there are many pleasing features here: the wishbone seat stay, the gently splayed chainstays, the beefy top tube and its elegant, internal cable routings – all help to make the Sempre Pro an object of desire.
The final factor to consider in the performance of a carbon frame is one we can’t comment on before riding: its ride quality. A composite frame’s character – it’s stiffness or compliance, whether it offers a smooth, harsh, or even a dull and isolating ride – is heavily defined by the lay up of the fibres. Stay tuned for the full review later this month.
Returning to more prosaic matters, we’ll consider the components.
The most interesting is the Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shift set-up: one that comprises STI levers, and motorized front and rear derailleurs. We’ve tested them on other machines (most recently the Focus Cayo Evo 2), and been impressed. Our previous, admittedly brief encounter with a Sempre Pro involved SRAM Red, leaving us well-placed to assess the contribution of the shifting to the Sempre Pro’s overall performance.
The drivetrain is completed here with an FSA Energy chainset, one with a ‘compact’ 50-34 ratio, presumably the ‘baby’ part of the ‘Baby Oltre’ identity. Our first instinct is to question why Bianchi hasn’t opted for a Shimano Ultegra turbine to match the shifting components. Research confirms that the inclusion of the FSA unit isn’t a cost cutting measure; there is little between their value on the aftermarket. We’ll judge its performance keenly. It spins on a press-fit, BB30 bottom bracket.
Braking comes courtesy of Shimano Ultegra calipers, units in which previous experience gives us every confidence in their ability to slow the Sempre Pro.
The rolling stock is the increasingly familiar Fulcrum Racing Quattro: a 35mm deep, aluminium rim, laced to sealed, cartridge bearing hubs with straight pull, aero-bladed spokes: 16 at the front in a radial pattern, and 21 in a three-cross configuration at the rear. RCUK’s testers have experienced them variously in a carbon steed of similar intent to the Bianchi Sempre Pro (the Wilier Cento 1 SR) and in an aluminium winter steed (the RCUK winter bike) and concluded that they justify their modest price tag rather than ignite a frame. We’ll see what they do for the Sempre Pro.
Our latest encounter with this suddenly ubiquitous hoop is tinged with disappointment by its pairing with Hutchinson Equinox 2 tyres: rubber that proved inadequate even to the dry roads of summer when last July when we experienced them on the Lapierre Xelius 400. They’re unlikely to cope well with the greater demands of winter. A swap may ensue before our testing of the Sempre Pro is complete.
Better news can be found in the FSA SLK finishing kit: a Reparto Corsa four-bolt stem with carbon face plate and compact bar, and carbon seat post topped with a slender, San Marco Concor flow saddle.
The Bianchi Sempre Pro Ultegra Compact Di2 comes in seven sizes, from 47cm to 61cm, and costs £3,900.
Check back soon for a full review.