Bianchi launch Oltre XR4 aero road bike with comfort-enhancing Countervail technology
Aero machine being used by LottoNL-Jumbo at the Tour de France formally unveiled
by George Scott
Bianchi have pulled back the curtain on the Oltre XR4 - an aero road bike which utilises the Italian firm's comfort-enhacing Countervail technology.
The Oltre XR4, which is being used by the LottoNL-Jumbo team at the Tour de France, supercedes the Oltre XR2 in Bianchi's range and sits alongside the super-light Specialissima at the top of the collection. Still, thanks to its relatively low weight, aerodynamic features and now Countervail technology, Bianchi say the Oltre XR4 is the most complete race bike they offer.
Bianchi have made aerodynamic updates across the bike, including the introduction of a new integrated handlebar developed by Vision, but have also emphasised the role of Countervail in creating what they believe is the complete package.
"This is the next generation of aero machine," says Bianchi's Claudio Masnata. "Many other competitors have recently introduced super-aerodynamic bikes but at Bianchi we pay attention to the overall performance."
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here are the key details you need to know about:
- Revamped aerodynamic tube profiles and integrated seatpost clamp
- New Vision Metron 5D integrated handlebar
- Aero improvements result in a claimed 20 watt power gain compared to the Oltre XR2
- Countervail technology to improve comfort
- Claimed frame weight of 980g (size 55cm, black paintjob)
- Seven sizes, five colours, eight spec options
The Oltre will be a familiar name to many cyclists, with this the fourth iteration of the frame, following the Oltre XR, XR1 and XR2 - there's no XR3 but given the XR1 arrived as a more affordable version of the XR2, you can probably see where that's heading. Anyway, while the XR4 casts a similar shadow as the XR2 it replaces, look closer and you can see where Bianchi have been at work.
Four key steps formed the development process of Oltre XR4 in terms of aerodynamics: CFD analysis, wind tunnel testing, Formula One flow visualisation (whereby the frame is covered in a fluorescent paint to show surface aerodynamic flow across the frameset at race speed - a first in road cycling, according to Bianchi) and finally, road testing with LottoNL-Jumbo riders, who have been riding prototypes of the bike since the start of the year.
The result is the Oltre XR4, launched in northern Italy. Bianchi have used deeper tube profiles across the bike - most notably on the downtube and fork - aimed squarely at improving the aerodynamic credentials of the Oltre.
The front-on profile of the headtube is inspired by the shape of the Aquila CV time trial bike, developed in 2014, and has also been designed to offer a smooth transition into the one-piece Vision Metron 5D handlebar and stem, though the Oltre is also compatible with a conventional stem by changing the headset top cap.
The fork (claimed weight 370g) is also inspired by the Aquila CV and has curved blades with a narrow frontal profile, again in the name of aerodynamics. The Oltre XR4 uses direct mount brakes at the front and rear, offering an improvement in both braking power and aerodynamic performance.
At the rear of the frame, Bianchi have switched to an internal, wedge-style clamp to hold the aero-profiled seatpost, which can offer +25mm and -10mm of seatback, and the seatstays have been lowered a little, meeting the seattube below the junction with the toptube.
All that adds up to a claimed 20 watt power improvement over the outgoing Oltre XR2, which is certainly a significant gain. Still, the Oltre XR4 isn't as radical as other fully-fledged aero bikes on the market, not least the Specialized Venge ViAS, which steps things up a notch with proprietary brakes and barely an exposed cable in sight.
That, however, is where Countervail comes into the equation, as it's representative of Bianchi's goal to develop not just an aerodynamic road bike, but an aerodynamic road bike which places equal emphasis on comfort and ride quality.
If you're not familiar with Countervail, it's a technology developed by Bianchi in conjunction with the Materials Sciences Corp, an aerospace company working with the likes of the US government and NASA. Countervail is a patented viscoelastic carbon material with, according to Bianchi, a unique fibre architecture (the way the fibres are organised) within the layup to reportedly cancel vibrations kicked up by the road by up to 80 per cent, measured by Bianchi in the lab and on the road. "Less fatigure, more control" is Bianchi's strapline for Countervail.
Countervail was first introduced on the Infinito CV endurance bike in 2013 and has since been incorporated elsewhere in the Bianchi range: first the Aquila time trial bike, then the featherweight Specialissima, which has a claimed frame weight of 780g, and now the Oltre gets the treatment (the Oltre XR4 is also being launched alongside the Methanol CV hardtail, marking the first use of Countervail in Bianchi's mountain bike range).
Countervail is embedded within the layer of carbon fibre across the frame, so the clever stuff is happening beneath the skin of the bike - there aren't any obvious comfort-enhancing features like Trek's IsoSpeed decoupler on the Domane, the helixed tube profiles of the Cannondale Synapse, the Zertz inserts of the Specialized Roubaix, or the VCLS 2.0 seatpost of the Canyon Endurace CF SLX.
More comfortable, more aerodynamic?
While the Infinito CV offered the most obvious application for Countervail, being a bike designed for the cobbled Classics, Masnata also believes Countervail - and the increased comfort it brings - has an important role to play in aerodynamics.
"This is the most complete aero bike engineered by Bianchi, which maximises your aero advantage and increases your control," says Masnata. "Of course, this is a very aerodynamic bike - a very aerodynamic frame - but it's not only about aerodynamics. To go fast, you also need to take care of performance and the rider who is on the bike.
"When you want to go fast, you want to use your most aerodynamic position [on the bike], using the lower part of the handlebar so you keep your back almost flat. It's quite a difficult position to hold, especially for a rider who is spending hours on the bike. Thanks to Countervail, we allow you to keep that extreme aero position for longer."
As Bianchi's product manager, and former professional cyclist, Andrea Lecchi, puts it, "the position is everything." It makes sense, really, given that the bike represents a relatively small percentage (often quoted as 20 per cent) of the area exposed to the wind. "The Countervail material helps you keep an extreme position for a longer time, so of course you are faster than when you have to take an upright position."
Needless to say, the rider's flexibility and bike fit also have an important role to play in the position they're able to adopt, but Bianchi's thinking is that by not being battered and bruised by on the bike, the rider is able to stay fresher, for longer. "Control" is a key word which crops up through the launch of the Oltre XR2.
Finally on Countervail, Bianchi say the vibration-cancelling properties of the the technology reduces turbulence at race speed, which again has a small aerodynamic benefit.
Sizes, geometry and specs
The Oltre XR4 will be offered in seven sizes, from 47cm to 61cm, and the geometry has been tweaked from the XR2, with the headtube reduced in size by 5mm to allow the rider to achieve a super-aggressive position if desired. The frame will be available in five colours, including, as you'd expect, three typically Bianchi celeste options.
Bianchi will offer the Oltre XR4 in eight high-end specs, each with a range of wheel options: Campagnolo Super Record EPS, Super Record and Chorus; Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Dura-Ace, a Dura-Ace mix and Ultegra Di2; and SRAM Red eTap. All three Dura-Ace bikes will use components from the latest version of Shimano's flagship groupset, when it becomes available. Bianchi will also offer the option to buy the Oltre XR4 with a Rotor 3D+ InPower chainset-based power meter pre-installed.
How much? Pricing is to be confirmed. And the really important question - how does it ride? We'll be taking the Oltre XR4 out for a spin here in Italy so watch out for a first ride report soon. In the mean time, check out the photos in the gallery below.