Italian masters remain at the top of the game, well into their second century
Legendary Italian bike manufacturers Wilier celebrated their 100th birthday in 2006 by introducing the Cento range. Eleven years and seven iterations later and the brand’s flagship bike has ensured Wilier remain a revered marque well into their second century.
Cento is Italian for ‘hundred’ but the bike itself has proved to be far more than just a one-off or flash-in-the-pan.
Fast forward two years and the Cento1 was earning rave reviews for its all-round race quality, before Wilier experimented with lighter frames and even disc brakes before launching the Wilier Cento1 Air in 2013.
And as aerodynamic technology has moved on, so have the Italians, with the Cento10 Air blending wind-cheating ability with low weight and an all-round impressive ride quality. The Cento1 was said to be the ultimate all-round race bike in 2008, and indeed was raced to World Championship success by Alessandro Ballan, but nearly a decade on the Cento10 Air trumps it on every front.
At the heart of the new model is its aero frame, designed using tech from the aeronautics industry. The tube profiles, based on shapes devised by National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a US government agency, have a Kammtail profile – nothing new, but they trick the wind into following the shape of a full aerofoil but without the weight, and while also improving stiffness.
Integration was also key to the Cento10 Air’s design brief and that’s manifested itself in a new integrated aero cockpit – the Alabarda. Designed specifically for the Cento10 Air, the Alabarda has also been developed to NACA specifications and the all-in-one cockpit looks visibly fast, with a flat shape which slices through the air. It’s comfortable, too, and provides an ergonomic top section on which to place your hands.
The handlebar also keeps cables tucked out of the way, routing them through the stem, spacers and headset. It’s a very tidy solution and the one set of cables you can see externally are those of the brakes. The headtube is also part of the re-imagined front end and it’s a svelte design, adorned with Wilier’s iconic logo.
That headtube meets a much wider fork than before. While there is little space for air to escape over the top of the tyre, the wider fork profile – with more space between wheel and fork legs – has been designed to reduce air turbulence in this critical area. Direct-mount brakes, asymmetric rear stays and a PressFit bottom bracket complete the design.
The result is a scintillating bike which rides as fast as it looks. The Cento10 Air is a machine which begs to be ridden quickly, from the stiffness served up by the bottom bracket, to the ease with which it accelerates and then maintains that speed. It’s a joy to ride and a bike which will leave you grinning from ear to ear. That’s backed up by the handling. It’s pin-sharp, as you’d expect from an Italian race bike, but remains predictable enough to push hard into hairpins. Strap yourself in for the ride because the Cento10 Air is a bike which wants to head downhill quickly.
The frame is surprisingly comfortable, too, given the aggressive tube profiles. Sure, it’s no gravel bike but hit a stretch of broken tarmac and the chunky tube profiles will do an admirable job at taking the sting out of things.
And there’s no denying it’s a looker. The Cento10 Air may be a little more subtle than some aero bikes, lacking the all-out integration of next-gen machines like the Trek Madone or the Specialized Venge ViAS, but that ensures it retains something of a classic look as far as a wind-cheating bike can. The traditional rim brakes help in that regard. They’re direct mount units, adding a modicum of aero prowess as a result, but ultimately they’re easy to access and service, unlike some proprietary designs.
A beautiful, well-thought-out bike deserves a top spec too, and the bike we have here certainly lives up to that with Campagnolo’s Super Record groupset and Mavic’s Cosmic Pro Carbon Exalith wheels.
We don’t need to introduce Super Record – a flagship Italian groupset fit for an Italian super bike – and the Mavic wheels are a good match for the Cento10 Air. The 45mm rim is deep enough to gain an aero advantage but shallow enough for all-round use, helped by the 25mm width (perfect for 25mm tyres, while the Cento has clearance for up to 28c rubber). They’re not the lightest at 1,650g but remain competitive when the road rises – same goes for the Cento10 Air’s sub-kilo frame weight.
Our build adds up to £6,999 but Wilier offer a wide range of specs: there are four builds in UK-held stock and no less than 20 custom options available direct from Italy, of which our bike is one. Take your pick on machines from £3,999 to £8,499.
Ultimately, the greatest testament to Wilier and the Cento10 is simply that it exists. In a world where new bike brands are cropping up regularly, the old masters still hold a special place in the hearts of cycling enthusiasts. And as old masters go, Wilier are among the best – and the Cento10 is a fitting flagship for the modern day brand.
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