Of all the places in the world to test ride a new bike, the Lombardy region of northern Italy is definitely not the worst. With Bianchi hailing from Milan, the Lombardian capital, it was technically a ride on home roads for the celeste crew, And with a staff containing ex-pros Fred Morini, Angelo Lecchi and Giuseppe Guerini (winner of the famous 1999 Tour de France stage on Alpe d’Huez), they have a pretty fearsome riding pedigree.
The purpose was a first ride on Bianchi’s new Specialissima, a super lightweight climber’s bike infused with more than a little of that classic (and possibly clichéd) Italian flair. Either way, the Specialissima cuts a striking figure, with my test bike being fully painted up in the new CK16 version of the iconic Bianchi celeste colour, designed to be more ‘flouro’ than the standard shade.
One of the big things Bianchi are emphasising about the Specialissima is that the bike uses the same Countervail technology as the Infinito CV (for a full low down on the Specialissima, read our launch report). Countervail was developed by Materials Sciences Corporation (MSC) who describe it as “a fiber [sic] reinforced composite technology for vibration reduction in high performance applications.” The result is a vibration dampening performance that’s shown to be twice as good, or more so, than traditional vibration killing layers.
But does it work? As ever, it’s impossible to give any empirical evidence from the highly subjective world of bike test rides, but one thing I can say for sure is that the Specialissima definitely performed well on some very suspect road surfaces. The thing is, Countervail isn’t some kind of miracle cure for road bikes, and if you jump on the Specialissima expecting it to feel like riding a full suspension mountain bike you’re only going to be disappointed. What Countervail is most effective at is the dissipation of road vibration rather than the cancellation of it altogether. What that means is you’ll still feel the jolts through the frame when you’re riding over rough surfaces, but the frame will stop vibrating quicker than a standard carbon frame which should be less fatiguing over the course of long rides.
One other thing that Bianchi say Countervail does is smooth out the nervousness of super light carbon frames. And the front end of the Specialissima is definitely sure-footed. It’s also very light, and has that highly responsive feel that newer riders might find makes them uneasy, but for anyone with a bit of experience at heading downhill, it’s a huge ally. There’s no reason to doubt Bianchi’s assertion that because the vibrations dampen quicker, that sures up the front end as it’s certainly borne out by performance. The surety and precision of handling combine to make the Specialissima a machine which descends fantastically well. In fact, come the end of the test ride, the descending ability of the bike was what stuck in my mind the most.
Uphill, it’s fantastic too. My Campagnolo Super Record equipped 55cm test bike weighed in at under 6kg, and if you can complain about a sub-6kg bike, you can complain about anything. Of course, weight itself means nothing if the performance doesn’t match, and the Specialissima is wonderfully responsive. In the saddle or out you get so much positivity from each pedal stroke that even when you’re working really hard, the bike is a lot of fun to ride.
First impressions of the Specialissima are overwhelmingly positive. Bianchi have clearly put an awful lot of time and effort into development and have been rewarded with a bike that descends as well as it climbs, and won’t let you down on the flat sections in between, either. The main reservation will ultimately be price. Bianchi haven’t announced UK pricing yet, but given that the bike is only available with Shimano Dura-Ace or Campagnolo Super Record (or their electronic equivalents), it’s fair to say that you won’t be getting your hands on one of these unless you have very deep pockets.