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Bike test – Bianchi Nirone

Nirone

Bianchi have been building bikes for a very, very long time. In their time they have carried some of the brightest Italian stars to famous victories; Felice Gimondi, Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani, Gianni Bugno and Moreno Argentin, a veritable who’s who of Italian cycling. Also this year they won the Paris-Roubaix with ‘Super-Swede’ Magnus Backstedt. For the latest model year (2005) it just happens to be the 120th anniversary of Bianchi bicycles, so with this milestone reached they have produced a range of ‘birthday bikes’ and this, the Nirone, is one of them.

Bianchi are often regarded as being the ‘Raleigh of Italy’ which is a fair comparison as they share a similar glorious past and have been market leaders. However Bianchi have continued with building bikes for trade teams and developing products that are at the cutting edge of bicycle design – something Raleigh, sadly, stopped doing long ago.

This bike is named after the address in Milan (Via Nirone 7) where Eduardo Bianchi started his company all those years ago, but does the Nirone live up to the name?

Frame and fork
At the heart of the Nirone is a very well finished 7000 series heat treated aluminium frame. Complete with socket style dropouts, integrated head tube, elegantly shaped rear stays and subtly swaged downtube – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a frame so well appointed at this price point.
The panelled paint finish on this Bianchi is superb – something you’d expect to see on a bike that cost at least twice as much. The limited edition colours represent both the past and the present; Graphite was the traditional colour of all bicycles when they were first mass produced, silver is the ‘futuristic statement’ and the Celeste piping is to remind you you’re on a Bianchi. The super imposed Bianchi graphics also represent old and new and the two sets of head badges are reminiscent of Bianchi bikes Gimondi and Coppi rode to historic victories. It’s all very tasteful and by far the best looking Bianchi range for many years. We checked the Nirone’s dimensions In the work stand, the frame and fork were bang in track and the rear dropouts and mech. hanger were also perfectly aligned.

Out on the road the Nirone was equally well behaved. The design is ‘semi-compact’ which is a much less extreme position than previous compact designs. It retains the tight feel and responsive handling you’d expect from a smaller rear triangle, just less saddle to bar height differential. Carbon forks are integrated into an oversize head tube making the front end feel as solid and strong as the rear. It certainly climbs effortlessly (albeit with a few miss shifts… we’ll come to that later) and you can sprint with equally efficient power transfer. The slightly overweight aspect of the bike was easily countered with plenty of low gears.

Wheels
Well they look the part and in truth they rode quite well too. Take them out of the bike and you see where most of the weight adds up – they weigh a ton. The front wheel (inc. tyre) is 3.24lbs (1.5kg) alone, crikey. Heavy wheels always make a bike feel less lively and it certainly hindered the sprinting prowess of the Nirone. But they do appear to be bomb proof as I battered around London and the Surrey lanes and they didn’t complain. They also look the part with contemporary lacing and deep section rims. The Vittoria tyres are a good choice for UK road conditions and plenty of racers are happy to use them for training and competition, especially as they last well and grip in the wet.

Components
Everything else on the Nirone certainly looks the part, The Bianchi branded ‘Componenti’ are well chosen to match the sleek look of the frame and fork.
Other non-gruppo areas and where money has been saved include the bottom bracket and the brakes. The BB’s chain line made for messy shifting (see below) and the brakes worked perfectly, even in the wet they had adequate power. However you can watch the wear line disappear pretty quickly as the pad compound is probably more suited to a winter in Tuscany than one in soggy Blighty.

Compact problems
I really like the idea of compact cranks. Triple groupsets look messy and over done on road bikes and although I have used a trip’ for sportive riding in the past, there’s just something that stops me from being convinced of their overall value. We have already talked about the principles of compact before and ridden cyclo-cross bikes on the road so we know that the smaller gears you can get with a 110 BCD crank are welcome in the hills. However the compact set up on the Bianchi was as extreme as it gets, at 50/34T with a 13-27T cassette, this gave some strange gaps in the gearing – I was either trudging around on the big ring or spinning like a hamster in a wheel on the inner.
The 48/36T ratio may be much better with the option of swapping the inner ring for a 39 or 42 being sensible, you will be able to use this at home and when training and then simply swap the inner ring to use the small gears in the mountains. This is a much better idea than swapping the entire drive train as you have to when you fit a triple. So if you live in the Peak district or Devon then compact may well work for you but If you do most of your riding in the South East or Norfolk you’ll wear the big ring out very quickly.
For more on going compact have a look at
this.

As for the gears on the Nirone, the problems didn’t end there. Bianchi have specified a KMC ‘Z’ chain which I just couldn’t get to work with the Campag gears. I tried. I swore at it. It was crap. I had used it on a Shimano set-up recently and all was fine, it just hated the Campag Xenon combination. Whilst we’re on the subject the bottom end groupset wasn’t what you’d expect from the Italian component makers – they have tried to make the click a little more subtle than on the higher groups, the result was at best feeble and at worst pathetic. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether I had shifted or not, especially when you are used to the positive ‘click, clunk’ shift of Veloce, Chorus, Record et al, it’s a bit of a let down. I think they may have fallen foul of trying to make Campag a little more ‘Shimano’ in operation when they had it fine in the first place. You’ll have to ask the mechanic to spend time setting the gears up and even pay the extra money and change the chain to a quality SRAM or Campag one before it leaves the shop.

Contact points
As we’ve said in previous tests this is an issue of personal choice, so don’t judge a bike on this alone. On the down side the good quality ITM oversized handlebars were too narrow and too deep to be of any use to me. Deep bars are OK on the track, but I’d like a shallow drop that you can use more often, I spent most of the time on the hoods as a result. Shallow drop bars also add extra confidence for descending.

The minimalist saddle is for the showroom only. It was OK but I’d change it for something you are used to or risk a painful arse.

Conclusion
First appearances certainly count, especially when you are buying your first bike. Many of the cycling staffers at the office couldn’t guess how much the Bianchi cost. Not even close. None of them. The closest guess was about £300 out, which is certainly testament to this book’s cover. But the Nirone is not just a pretty paint job, it offered a comfortable and exciting ride and will easily justify some upgrades (something that bikes at this price point can rarely claim). It was easy to forget that this is a ‘budget bike’ and it had plenty of admiring glances which is very unusual these days, especially for a bike for under 600 quid.
If racing is your thing, or you just like to ride a little harder, then I’d suggest investing the extra £150 and buying the non compact Mirage/Veloce equipped bike – it would be money well spent and would be the ideal platform to begin your racing career.



Good:
Staggering value entry level racing bike, wonderful build quality and finish



Bad:
Gearing issues, chain and a few other niggles stopped it being a real winner

Performance:

4/5

Value:
5/5

Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:
Frame sizes: 50, 53, 55, 57, 59 & 61cm
Size tested: 55cm c to c – 55cm top tube
Frame tubing: Heat treated 7000 series alloy
Fork: Bianchi Alloy/Carbon integrated
Headset:Cane Creek Integrated Aheadset
Crankarms: Bianchi 170 mm
Chainrings: 50/34T
B/B: Unbranded
Pedals: Bianchi ‘Look style’ clipless
Chain: KMC
Freewheel: Campagnolo 9 speed 13-27
F/D: Campagnolo Xenon
R/D: Campagnolo Xenon 9spd
Shifters: Campagnolo Xenon
Handlebar: ITM 330 Anatomica Super Oversized 42cm
Stem: Bianchi Componenti
Tape: Bianchi Componenti
Brakes: Bianchi Componenti
Wheels: Bianchi Componenti Hubs, Bianchi Componenti/Ambrosio rims
Tires: Vittoria Zaffiro 700x23c
Saddle: Selle Italia Ouch!
Seatpost: Bianchi Componenti
Color: 120 year anniversary special edition

Weight: 22.7lbs/10.34 kgs including pedals
Price: Complete bike as shown £555.95 Mirage/Veloce £700.00

Full Geometry here

Contact UK – Cycleurope/Bianchi UK: 01234 245929
www.bianchi.com

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