The launch of the Bianchi Oltre XR2 in northern Italy last week not only gave us the opportunity to look at the firm’s new flagship machine – but to ride it, too.
Any bike launch follows a tried-and-test format: a group of invited journalists assembles, often a stone’s throw from some of the finest riding Europe has to offer, and listens to a presentation detailing the technical innovations of whatever it is we’ve come to see.
It is, of course, important stuff but the real fun comes during the ride which invariably follows. A short test ride on unfamiliar roads isn’t enough time to get to grips with a new machine but our two-and-a-half hour outing on the Bianchi Oltre XR2 was, well, really fun. It’s an extremely fast bike: very light, very stiff and with the finely-tuned handling you’d expect from an Italian racing thoroughbred.
But first, a quick recap on the Oltre XR2. It’s the latest evolution of the top-of-the-range frame ridden for most of the year by the Bianchi-sponsored Vacansoleil-DCM WorldTour team, starting life as the Oltre in 2011, before becoming the Oltre XR in 2012 and… you get the picture.
The main difference between the Oltre XR and the Oltre XR2 is the new, integrated headtube, which is designed to improve aerodynamics and front-end stiffness, while the switch to FSA’s BB386 bottom bracket standard is also intended to bolster the frame’s rigidity.
The big news for 2014 (yes, we are already talking about model year 2014) is the introduction of a disc brake version of the Oltre XR2 equipped with SRAM Red 22. We saw it in the flesh at the launch but it wasn’t a rideable sample so had to ‘settle’ for a regular Oltre XR2 dressed in Campagnolo Super Record and Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR wheels. It could barely have been more Italian.
Claimed frame weight for a size 55cm Oltre XR2 is 895g which, while very light, is not featherweight by modern super bike standards. However, while we didn’t have scales to hand, in this build the Oltre XR2 will sit extremely close to the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit. It’s lift-the-toptube-with-two-fingers light.
Needless to say, Bianchi say the Oltre XR2 is stiffer than its predecessor and, while they didn’t put any numbers next to it, the new machine is incredibly rigid. It responds instantly to pressure on the pedals and almost every watt moves through the bottom bracket and into the rear wheel.
Our test loop took skirted Lake Iseo, north of Brescia, and the fast, flat route gave us the opportunity to open up a few sprints and the Oltre XR2 responded to our admittedly under-powered accelerations (unfortunately Andre Greipel doesn’t hold a position with RCUK) with aplomb.
Turning left away from the lake, a lovely 7.5km climb, rising at an average gradient of 5.7 per cent and a feature on Marco Pinotti’s (BMC Racing) training rides, gave us the opportunity to point the Oltre XR2 uphill and, once again, the frame handled both seated and out-of-the-saddle accelerations with ease. The subsequent descent took us down the same road we came up and that rigid front-end helped the Oltre XR2 to hold its line through a series of fast, tight hairpins.
Comfort is more difficult to gauge. The Infinito CV, first introduced ahead of Paris-Roubaix, is Bianchi’s dedicated ‘comfort’ bike and our ride on the Oltre XR2 took place on roads which were invariably smoother than those here in the UK.
We’ll need to spend more time with the Oltre XR2 on our local roads to file a full review but early impressions are good. It’s an Italian super bike with a ride to match and, with the Oltre XR2 Disc in the offing too, it’s one of the few flagship racing bikes also available with disc brakes.