Bianchi Oltre XR1 road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Bianchi Oltre XR1 road bike – review

Engaging race machine but performance dulled by wheel spec

Bianchi’s race-ready Oltre XR family has been around since 2012.  First there was the original XR and that was superseded by the XR2 in 2013, the flagship machine used by the Lotto NL-Jumbo team.

This, the Oltre XR1, is a new addition for 2015 and comes out of the same mould but with a revised layup to increase the weight and drop the price.

The Bianchi Oltre XR1 is a direct descendant of the Oltre XR2, used by the Lotto NL-Jumbo team

It’s cycling’s trickle-down effect in full flow, but while the XR1 is a more affordable version of the XR2, it’s still a high-end machine in its own right, with four builds starting from £2,700. This Campagnolo Athena-equipped model sits one rung up the ladder at £3,100.

And the result? The Oltre XR1 is an engaging and well-balanced machine, exhibiting the rigidity and handling attributes you’d want from a race bike. However, performance is dulled a little by a wheelset which, in reality, isn’t in keeping with the rest of the package, and we’d expect more for the money.

The frameset

Save for the decals, the Oltre XR1 is identical to the Oltre XR2 as it shares the same tube profiles from head to toe. The difference lies beneath the skin.

First, the tube profiles. We’d describe the Oltre XR1 as an aero-influenced machine. That’s to say is has a distinct aero flavour, but it’s not a full-on aero bike in the mould of, say, the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX or the Cervelo S5.

The Oltre XR1 has an integrated headtube, fork and downtube design whereby the fork crown is neatly united with the headtube and downtube junction.

Bianchi say the first 40cm of the bike is most important when it comes to aerodynamics – which makes sense to us, as it’s the area which directly confronts the wind – and this design is intended to improve the frame’s aero prowess, though by how much it’s impossible to say.

Bianchi don’t make any specific claims (which is just as well, as most manufacturer’s aero claims should be taken with a pinch of salt) but it’s fair to say we’re talking marginal gains here. The headtube itself is a sculpted affair which keeps the frontal area suitably small.

The Oltre XR1 has an integrated headtube, fork and downtube design whereby the fork crown is neatly united with the headtube and downtube junction.

The aero theme continues as you move down the bike, with the seattube cut-out, aero-profiled seatpost and integrated seatpost clamp.

  • Specification

  • Price: £3,100
    Sizes: 47, 50, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61cm
    Size tested: 55cm
    Website: Bianchi

The downtube sweeps elegantly into the huge BB386EVO bottom bracket and out back the seatstays are skinny and flattened in a bid to add some comfort to a machine which otherwise is geared strictly towards speed.

So far, so familiar, but where the Oltre XR1 differs from the Oltre XR2 is in the carbon fibre layup. The XR1 does away with the ‘X-Tex’ technology of the Oltre XR2. What’s X-Tex anyway? It’s an internal moulding process using a grid-like structure on the headtube and bottom bracket – the two key areas of the bike – to increase the stiffness without adding any weight.

That, combined with a lower grade of carbon fibre, means the Oltre XR1 frame weighs a claimed 1,000g (+/- five per cent, according to Bianchi) for a size 55cm, compared to 895g (again +/- five per cent) for the Oltre XR2.

It wasn’t long ago that 1kg was the benchmark for a carbon fibre chassis so we’re not talking about a heavy frame.

The components

As we mentioned at the top, the Oltre XR1 is available in four builds, three of which are based around Campagnolo groupsets, so that will keep fans of all things Italian happy.

The range opens with a Campagnolo Veloce-equipped machine for £2,700 before you reach our Campagnolo Athena test bike at £3,100. Add another £100 if you want Shimano Ultegra mechanical, while the top-of-the-range Campagnolo Chorus Oltre XR1 is £3,900.

Let’s quickly run through the components worn by our test bike. Campagnolo groupset components are used throughout, namely from the 11-speed Athena setup, including the semi-compact 52-36t chainset, but the chain and 12-27t cassette come from the more expensive Chorus group.

We’ve written previously about the rise of the semi-compact chainset and it’s a good match for a bike like this. The Oltre XR1 is undoubtedly a racing bike – XR stands for Extreme Racing – but a semi-compact setup strikes a sensible middle ground between a full-blown 53-39t chainset and a 50-30t compact. Combine that with the 12-27t cassette and the bike’s relatively low weight and inherent stiffness, and the Oltre XR1 provides an ideal spread of gears both for climbing and when things get a bit tasty at the top-end.

The aerodynamic theme continues out back with this integrated seatclamp and an aero-profiled seatpost

If you’re in the market for a bike like this then chances are you’ll have a fair idea of whether you’re a Campagnolo rider or Shimano rider (or, of course, a SRAM rider, though the XR1 isn’t available in a SRAM build), so we won’t dwell too much on the intricacies of either setup.

Athena, though, is an excellent groupset, with unmistakably tactile Campag shifting, a very stiff carbon fibre crankset, and  powerful brakes, which we were particularly impressed with.

The aluminium handlebar (with a compact drop) and stem are both Bianchi own-brand components and we didn’t experience any problems with either.

The carbon fibre seatpost is another Bianchi creation, because it’s a proprietary aero unit. The seatpost was prone to slipping (as aero posts sometimes can be) during the first couple of rides but a dollop of carbon gripper paste solved that. The seatpost is topped by a colour-matched Selle San Marco Era Dynamic Open saddle.

The semi-compact 52-36t Campagnolo Athena chainset is a good match for the Oltre XR1

On to the wheels and the Oltre XR1 comes with Fulcrum Racing 7s (claimed weight 1,760g). They’re popular training wheels but whatever way you dress it they’re entry-level and there’s a fair discrepancy between the frameset and the wheels, which have a retail value of £159.99.

There’s nothing wrong with Racing 7s per se (they’re reliable hoops for everyday riding), but we’d expect to see them on machines more affordable than this and if you want to get the most out of the Oltre XR1 then you’ll want to upgrade. It’s a dilemma faced by many manufacturers – how to balance the spec with the final price – so Bianchi are far from alone, but there’s an obvious improvement to be made here, both in weight and performance.

Moving on and the wheels are wrapped in 25mm Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Slick tyres. They’re okay training tyres which roll well enough and offer a decent amount of grip, but we found the ride a little harsh and, at 260g a tyre, they carry a bit of extra weight over something racier. Like the wheels, you’re looking at an early upgrade to make the most of the Oltre XR1 and we swapped the tyres out for something more suitable come race day.

The ride

The Oltre XR1 may be the more affordable sibling of the XR2 but it is remains a racing bike at heart so, after a change of tyres, we deployed it in a local hour-long criterium. After all, what better way to get to grips with a machine designed for the cut-and-thrust of racing?

And it’s an environment in which the Oltre XR1’s best attributes came to the fore, exhibiting the key characteristics of a race bike, namely a stiff, responsive ride which rewards the rider’s effort, and quick but assured handling.

The XR1 may have lost the XR2’s X-Tex technology but it remains a suitably stiff racing chassis, both at the headtube and through the bottom bracket.

Push the Oltre XR1 hard through a tight corner (where, in a race, you might not necessarily be able to pick the desired line) and it tracks confidently, holding its line and emerging from the other side without kicking up a fuss.

The handling is, by our reckoning, the Oltre XR1’s best attribute. In this job we often jump from bike-to-bike, and while few require much getting used to, the Oltre XR1 was one on which we immediately felt at home. The handling is quick, as you’d expect from a race bike, but it falls the right side of the line and doesn’t require too much care and attention when ticking along.

The Oltre XR1’s geometry is identical to that of the Oltre XR2 (read: racy) and on our 55cm test bike that translates to a 550mm toptube, 145mm headtube, a 72.5 degree headtube angle and a 73.5 degree seattube angle – all numbers which contribute to the lively ride.

The Oltre XR1 draws on Bianchi’s 130 years of experience and offers a lively ride

Call the Oltre XR1 into action with an acceleration on the pedals and it puts that power to good use, particularly on flat or rolling roads. The frame is as rigid as you’d hope and was a willing partner on a (short-lived) criterium attack. Shame the rider’s legs fell short.

However, while the chassis won’t let you down when putting the power down, the Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels are basic and the extra heft is felt, both when revving up to speed and if the road rises.

Speaking of which, the Oltre XR1 is far from heavy at 7.8kg and it climbs well but, put it up against similarly priced competition, and it is carrying a little extra weight which does dull out-and-out acceleration, and that’s most keenly felt on steep rises.

Considering you can also get hold of an Athena groupset for around £500-600, it’s fair to say most of the Oltre XR1’s £3,100 retail price is going on the frame and, in a market where prices are being artificially driven down by direct distribution brands like Canyon and Rose, there is a question mark over the Oltre XR1’s spec sheet.

We’d hope for better wheels and tyres on a £3,100 machine, however

The Oltre XR1’s stiffness doesn’t come at the concession of comfort, and while the Oltre XR1 remains a race bike and not an endurance machine (Bianchi will no doubt point you towards the Infinito CV, used by Sep Vanmarcke at the Classics, if comfort is at the top of your agenda), it is more than comfortable enough for a bike of this ilk, dealing with the worst road buzz well while still offering plenty of feedback. That’s a good balance.

Conclusion

The Bianchi Oltre XR1 is ultimately a fast, engaging bike to ride, and it performed admirably in the various situations we placed it in, whether that be solo training rides, the local chaingang, or a criterium.

It’s a well-balanced machine with sharp, confident handling, and the frame provides a responsive platform. The wheels and tyres aren’t a fatal penalty but we’d expect more from the spec for the money and the chassis is of a quality that it’ll make good use of something lighter, more aerodynamic, or both.

This is a racing bike at heart and, while of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t race happily as the Oltre XR1 comes (just as we did), some riders may begrudge the thought of having to soon fork out for a race-day upgrade to make the most of the complete package.

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