Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace road bike – review

Bianchi's flagship race bike lives up to its superb bike credentials

The Bianchi Oltre XR4 is a pro-level frame with super bike credentials, delivering a stunning combination of low weight, stiffness, razor-sharp handling and aerodynamic prowess. The introduction of Countervail technology delivers a smooth ride through the rear end of the bike, making the XR4 a highly-capable all-rounder for big miles, though that smoothness isn’t quite matched at the front.

Italian road bikes have long been on the wish list of discerning bike buyers around the world. Somehow, their style and panache just can’t be matched, and they tend to speak to our inner nine-year-old. You want one, but often you can’t explain exactly why.

In the summer we headed out to Lombardy, where we got the lowdown at the launch of the Oltre XR4 – the flagship race machine that will replace the XR2 at the head of the Italian marque’s offerings. There we formed our first impressions on a bike decked out in full Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset and mid-section Bora Ultra aero wheels – and it was as intoxicating to behold as it was to ride.

The Bianchi Oltre XR4 cuts a slender figure, thanks to the hourglass headtube and aero cockpit

Now we’ve had the chance to properly get to grips with the Oltre XR4 but in a different guise, with our our test machine, just one of 27 in the Oltre XR4 UK range, shying away from the full Italian job, instead opting for the brand new Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical groupset (purists, we can hear your groans from here) and lightweight Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels.

The frame – slippery with a sprinkling of Countervail tech

To recap, the twin headlines of the frame are improved aerodynamics, and the inclusion of Bianchi’s vibration-cancelling Countervail technology for a more comfortable ride over long distances. It’s a mantra that seemingly every road bike manufacturer out there seems to be following: more speed, more stiffness, less harshness.

The frame is more aggressively profiled than its predecessor, with deeper tubes most notably on the fork and downtube. Still, there are bikes on the market that are more obviously aggressive than the XR4 – see Canyon’s Aeroad or Specialized’s Venge ViAS as solid examples.

What you do get is a fork bowed in the style of recent generation top-level TT bikes, and a slender headtube profile inspired by Bianchi’s Aquila CV time trial machine. Additionally there’s a tidy integrated wedge-style seatpost clamp that holds the profiled carbon seatpost in place as well, keeping this area of the bike as clean as possible as well. The brakes are direct mount units, too, which adds a little extra stopping power and improves aerodynamics just a little.

  • Specification

  • Price: £6,800
  • Frame weight: 980g (55cm)
  • Sizes: 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61cm
  • Website: Bianchi

Bianchi have also teamed up with Vision to create the Metron 5D integrated handlebar and stem specifically for the Oltre XR4. It forms an important part of the XR4’s aerodynamic design, with a flat profile to cut through the wind and super clean lines, complete with an internal space for a junction box should you opt for an electronic groupset with the bike. While there are still cables on show at the front of the bike (some top-end aero bikes look to hide anything which could create drag), the handlebar does a neat job at tucking them away before they enter the frame.

Key to the Oltre XR4 is the inclusion of Countervail technology. You may well be familiar with Countervail by now, having first been introduced on the Bianchi Infinito CV endurance bike in 2013, before making its way onto the Aquila CV time trial bike and featherweight Specialissima mountain goat. In a nutshell, Countervail is a viscoelastic material embedded into key areas in the frame, designed to reduce road buzz and vibration as it travels through the bike by up to 80 per cent.

Why does it matter on an aero bike? Well, anyone can appreciate a more comfortable ride, but Bianchi say that by reducing vibrations, the rider will be able to hold a more aggressive position on the bike for longer. DT Swiss have used a similar line of thinking with the new ERC 1100 Dicut wheels by looking to improve comfort and handling in blustery conditions.

What’s clear is that Bianchi are pitching the Oltre XR4 as an all-rounder, rather than an all-out aero machine. Aerodynamics are important, but so are comfort and handling.  

Looking at cold, hard facts, Bianchi say the XR4’s aero update results in a 20-watt advantage over its predecessor, while those improvements and the introduction of Countervail add 40g to the frame weight, bringing it up to a claimed 980g – still below that magic 1kg mark. That should easily be offset by the improvements made elsewhere on the frame, while also being light enough to trouble the UCI weight limit in premium builds, like the one we have here.

Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The ride – breathtakingly quick for an all-rounder

Bianchi’s express aim with the Oltre XR4 was to develop an aero-oriented bike that also improved comfort in all-day riding scenarios. As a result, we threw everything we could at it – from smooth, flat roads to some rough stuff as well as a few local climbs to get the big picture. Is the XR4 capable of excelling on all terrain?

However, it’s still the speed of the machine that confounds belief. Accelerating in or out of the saddle is a joy – the frame laps up power, efficiently transferring it through to the cranks and onto the wheels. In fact, on all our test rides with the XR4, we felt we were only scraping the surface of its capabilities, which is no real surprise given that this is the primary machine ridden by the LottoNL-Jumbo team.

When up to speed, the Oltre XR4 is also incredibly good at maintaining it. You’re not left hacking away at the cranks as you struggle to put out the power necessary to keep yourself at top speed; instead you can gently caress the cranks, spinning away. It’s also impressive in crosswinds, the frame feeling hardly any more slab-sided than a standard, non-aero frame and reacting with composure in sideways gusts through the hedgerows. On our test rig this was undoubtedly assisted by the shallow rims, but it remains impressive nonetheless.

Uphill the stiffness of the frame reveals its diverse character; it’s quick here too. You can swing the bike side-to-side as you attack short and sharp rises with ease, the oversized PressFit bottom bracket and beefy tube profiles doing the job to minimise flex. Likewise, when climbing over longer distances, the Oltre XR4 ensures it’s only the rider, not the bike, that will be the limiting factor. This is a scintillating, race-ready machine, and rides like one too.

The integrated clamp keeps things clean around the seatpost junction

Descents are made devilishly quick, with the bike capable of responding to the smallest shifts in weight as you carve downhill. Again, the build has its part to play here – not least through the superb application and modulation offered by the Dura-Ace brakes, and responsive Fulcrum Racing Zero hoops shod with 25mm Vittoria Corsa rubber – but the Oltre XR4 is an involved and confidence-inspiring ride. It won’t throw up any nasty surprises and remains in tune which what’s going on beneath you.

At the other end of the spectrum, Countervail technology does its job admirably, successfully reducing road buzz through the rear of the bike. It makes for a very smooth feel through the saddle in most reasonable conditions – it isn’t too brilliant at dealing with bigger hits like potholes, for example, but the frame does an excellent job at smoothing out the chatter served up by rough roads.

The front end of the bike is also super-stiff and notably harsher than the rear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – this is a race bike after all and contributes to the pinpoint handling – but it’s slightly at odds with the impressive Countervail technology, with the contact points feeling noticeably different from front to rear. There are workarounds possible if required, if you do want to even things up a little – plusher bar tape, for example – but there’s no getting away from the race-intentions of the Oltre XR4.

Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The build – brand new Dura-Ace and lightweight Fulcrum hoops

As we’ve already mentioned, this is only one of 27, ranging from £5,200 with a Campagnolo Chorus groupset and Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels to £11,200 with Campagnolo Super Record EPS and Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon wheels (you can also buy the frameset only for £3,399.99). Whether you looking at the top or bottom of the range, this is super bike territory – luckily, Bianchi have put together a frame which rides as you’d hope a super bike would.

Regardless of the spec, the headline technology remains the same throughout the range: Countervail-enhanced frame, the Vision Metron cockpit complete with custom-shaped spacers to help tweak the front end, and an aero seatpost design that incorporates +25mm and -10mm setback.

This is the second test bike we’ve seen with Shimano’s new Dura-Ace mechanical groupset, following the Orro Gold STC (read our review here). That’s given us a chance to get to grips with the new setup and, from shifting to braking, it’s a joy to ride.

Shifting performance is super-slick, with shifts actuated via tactile brushes of the levers, and the chainset supplied is impressively stiff with an all-black finish which looks at home on the Oltre. The inclusion of a compact chainset is certainly at odds with the Oltre’s racy intentions – a semi-compact 52-36t setup would be more fitting – but this is just one of the options offered by Bianchi, so you can take your pick. The drivetrain is finished with an 11-28t cassette, which provides a wide spread of gears.

Braking is equally impressive through the direct-mount calipers, with positive actuation through the levers, as well as impressive levels of modulation. It’s easy to operate the brakes with one finger, should you wish to, and rim brakes as good as these undoubtedly inspire confidence.

Weight is kept further down by the Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels teamed with Vittoria Corsa tyres, and it’s a setup which rolls incredibly smoothly, thanks to the low weight and ceramic bearings of the wheels, and the low rolling resistance of what is a very good set of fast, grippy tyres.

Shimano’s new Dura-Ace groupset is a joy to use

With these wheels, It’s a setup geared towards climbing, but the Oltre XR4 would also really come alive with a set of deep-section aero hopes. That’s one of the frame’s real strong points: it’s an all-rounder capable of coming to life in any of the builds offered by Bianchi. Of course, you’d expect that, given the price, but at the heart of the bike is a pro-level frame with an adaptable and incredibly capable character.

Conclusion

The Bianchi Oltre XR4 is an incredibly fast and impressive race bike, which has proven itself adept at ultra-fast flat riding as well as demonstrating a penchant for the hilly stuff, too. Countervail technology smooths the ride through the saddle, but it remains a sharp and super-responsive race machine in any guise.

Pros

  • Incredibly stiff, efficient frame
  • Outstanding all-round ride quality
  • Countervail technology provides smooth ride through the saddle
  • Impressive performance from new Dura-Ace groupset

Cons

  • Comfort of rear end isn’t matched by front
  • Super bike performance means a super bike price tag – but you knew that

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