Bianchi have introduced the Oltre XR3 - an aero bike which becomes the fifth machine in the Bianchi range to use the Italian firm's comfort-enhancing Countervail technology.

When Bianchi launched the XR4 as the successor to the XR2 launch year, some asked what had happened to the XR3. Well, here it is - the Oltre XR3 enters the fray as a more affordable alternative to the XR4.

The Oltre XR3 is entering production now and will be available in four builds, from £2,799.99 to £4,599.99. We'll take a closer look at the specs - and file our first ride review - a little down the page, but first let's inspect the frame.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Aero-lite

When the Oltre XR4 was unveiled last year, Bianchi revamped the frame from head to toe, with refreshed tube profiles across the bike.

The XR3, however, is primarily based on the existing XR1/XR2 frame. We'd call it aero-lite - designed with a nod to aerodynamics, but without the all-out integrated and warped tube profiles of full-on aero bikes.

The frame shares the same oversized, sweeping downtube as the XR1 and XR2, along with the chunky, box-section chainstays. The headtube, however, is inspired by the new XR4 and sports a slim, hourglass shape, while Bianchi have also borrowed the XR4's integrated seatpost clamp.

On top of that, the seatstays have been beefed up in a move Bianchi say ensures better braking, by offering a more secure anchor point for the rear caliper. While slimmer seatstays are widely thought to offer more comfort (by virtue of being able to flex more), Bianchi say the introduction of Countervail, which we'll come on to, offsets this.

Otherwise, the fork is new, incorporating Countervail and coming in at a claimed 370g, while Bianchi have also switched to a BB86 bottom bracket.

Naturally, given its lower price, the Oltre XR3 is heavier than the XR4, with a claimed frame weight of 1,100g, compared to 980g for the top-level chassis. It's no lightweight climbing machine - that position is reserved for the Bianchi Specialissima - but Bianchi say the XR3 (like the XR4) is designed to offer an all-round package, covering low weight, aerodynamics and comfort.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Countervail - aero comfort

When the XR4 was unveiled last year, it was the latest bike in Bianchi’s esteemed Oltre family. Except, with the launch of the XR4, the Oltre had an additional card up its sleeve - becoming the fourth Bianchi bike to use the Countervail comfort-enhancing technology first seen on the Infinito CV endurance bike.

Now Countervail has been deployed on the new Oltre XR3. If you’re not familiar with the technology, Countervail is a viscoelastic material embedded within the carbon fibre frame and said to reduce vibrations by up to 80 per cent.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

While the initial application of Countervail in the Bianchi Infinito CV makes sense, as a bike designed to tame both the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and improve comfort for everyday sportive riders, its application is less obvious on a race bike like the Oltre.

The key, Bianchi say, is in helping the rider maintain an aero position for longer. While bike manufacturers strive to make their frames more aero than ever, the rider still accounts for 80 per cent of drag, so Bianchi say that by smoothing out the ride on an aero bike, a rider will be able to remain comfortable in an aggressive position for longer. It's all about efficiency, according to Bianchi.

Geometry and specs

Bianchi will offer the Oltre XR3 in seven sizes, from 47cm to 61cm, using the same geometry as the XR1. It’s not quite as aggressive as the XR4, which is used by the LottoNL-Jumbo team, and adds 5mm to the headtube - but rest assured, this is still an aggressive, racy geometry.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike, Campagnolo Potenza groupset (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

The Oltre XR3 will also be offered in four specs:

Shimano Dura-Ace/Ultegra mix and Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels (£4,599.99)

Campagnolo Chorus and Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels (£4,199.99)

Campagnolo Potenza and Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels (£3,299.99)

Shimano 105 and Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels (£2,799.99)

The frame will also be available in three colours: celeste/black, black/celeste and black.

First ride

We had the chance to ride the Oltre XR3 at the UK launch in Gloucestershire before getting another two-hour spin under our belt on home roads. First impressions? The XR3 has a genuinely balanced feel about it.

Of course, we need to get plenty more miles under our belt aboard the XR3 to deliver a definitive verdict but, crucially, those are miles we're looking forward to logging. One of the early signs of a good bike is that you want to ride it again and again.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

Bianchi Oltre XR3 road bike, group, spring, summer (Pic: Geoff Waugh)

The Oltre is, in essence, Bianchi's aero-influenced all-rounder and that's evident in the ride. Step on the gas and the Oltre XR3 responds just as you'd hope a race-bred bike would, with the downtube, bottom bracket and chainstays providing a solid platform to have a hit out.

Of course, Countervail is at the heart of the XR3, and that's something we'll need more time to get to grips with, but our two initial outings suggests the frame does a good job at muting high frequency road vibrations without isolating the rider.

We've just taken the new Bianchi Oltre XR3 for a spin. This Campagnolo Potenza build comes in at £3,299.99. More on Bianchi's new aero bike on RCUK this week ???????? ???? . . . #bianchi #bianchioltre #bianchibicycles #bianchibikes #celeste #aerobike #italianbike #superbike #campagnolo #potenza #cycling #roadcycling #spring #nofilter

A post shared by RoadCyclingUK (@roadcyclinguk) on

It's not a bike you jump on and get an noticeably plush ride in return - like, say, the Trek Domane SLR with its IsoSpeed decouplers and plush tyres - but instead retains a connection with the road. The handling helps in that regard - the Oltre XR3 has the fast touch of an aggressive machine while remaining easy to live with. It's all about balance.

We'll have the opportunity to spend plenty more time on the Bianchi Oltre XR3 in the weeks ahead, so watch out for a full review in due course.

Website: Bianchi