Bike Test - Bianchi 9-2-8
We've already done all the stuff about Bianchi being the Raleigh of Italy and how their name is etched into cycle racing's history - we tested a Nirone 7 a few months back - and really liked it. It rode well, looked cool and cost (well at least we thought) flumpence. We wanted to try one of the new, much raved about, 9-2-8 carbon frames. So, to get the full racing flavour, we opted for the non-compact drive version and proposed to give it a thorough thrashing around a few London crit circuits.
Lifting it out of the box we noted the weight (or lack of it) straight away. This is not a super-light specification by any stretch of the imagination, so with a bit of careful planning and some choice parts this carbon frame could be used to provide a pro-level weight race bike.
Frame and fork
I have to say that this colour scheme has already lost a little of it's appeal to me, I wanted the 9-2-8 to be celeste (Bianchi blue-green) again. That's the colour that evokes all those Pantani - Coppi memories and associations that pull us towards the Bianchi marque. And yes we did ask for a white one (they look really snazzy, but cost a little more) but Bianchi told us that they'd sold out for the time being, shame.
Bianchi have a couple bikes based around this frame. It takes the same semi-sloping design that's a feature of all their road racing and sport bikes and you can have it with either Centaur or Veloce. The frame is classic compact racing - long and low with little stack at the front. We had to fiddle about with stems to get the bars at a reasonable height but it wasn't really a huge problem as there is plenty of spacers supplied on the forks.
The Frame is a Bianchi designed high-modulus carbon monocoque, claiming to have very high strength to weight ratio. The higer spec (more expensive) 9-2-8 L is a lugged version and comes in more sizes but doesn't have the same smooth lines as this standard frame. Finishing around the drop outs and head tube is excellent and it's perfectly in track - it certainly looks sorted.
Out on the road the stable road geometry was instantly noticeable. Italians like their bikes to handle smoothly and so there is minimal twitch to the steering and plenty of seated comfort. It's a well behaved cruising bike rather than a full-on racer, which is no bad thing, especially if you want a bike to rack up both training and racing miles in comfort and style. Out of the saddle the 9-2-8 has a firm platform for sprinting and climbing although the wheels had a tendancy to slap a little on the brake pads in a really gutsy sprint. Also a low bottom bracket means you need to take a little extra care slinging it into sharp corners and pedalling at the same time.
Campagnolo Vento wheels aren't the lightest on the market and at the budget end they are losing ground to Shimano (e.g. the 550). The wheels retail for about £150 so you get a pretty high value hit, but they just don't feel as nice quality as the Protons or Zondas. But the Vento's Campagnolo hubs are a bonus as they run smooth and require little maintenance, when they do they are really easy to rebuild and rejuvinate.
Vittoria's Rubino Slick is a really comfy tyre adding a bit of seated comfort and extra control over rough ground, shaped up pretty well to wet road commuting too. Only a few cuts in the treads to date and little wear. Grip-wise, well they'll prefer southern European weather as they stick like glue to hot tarmac and aren't so predictable in the rainy UK.
Much of the Bianchi branded stuff is fine for a bike like the Nirone, but at this level I'd expect a little more of the complete ITM ensemble. Veloce 10 speed is a very welcome addition to the Campagnolo range. Shut your eyes (obviously I don't mean literally) and you could easily be riding on a much higher spec Campag group. The shifting is precise and business-like and the added advantage of 10 sprockets means less gear 'overlaps' and easier compatibility should you want to upgrade in time. The brakes are predictable and firm and the overall feeling is one of quality and longevity. Although FSA's Gossamer ISIS crank wouldn't be our first choice, however it worked perfectly, this deviation means that the BB is also an ISIS drive, something that you may want to change to Campagnolo to keep the theme consistant.
I don't want to go on about saddles and handlebars (yet again) too much, but ITM's carbon (it's only the centre bit that you can see that is carbon) bars and Fizik's saddle and me... well we just didn't get on. Having said that there's not much wrong with the overall extras kit on the 9-2-8, it just isn't much of a 'wow' factor set-up. As we’ve said in previous tests contact point is an issue of personal choice, so don’t judge the bike on this alone.
As on previous Bianchi's I've tried the ITM oversized handlebars were too narrow and too deep to be of any use to me, 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 too.
Bianchi have cornered the middle ground of the road market with some excellent bikes over the past few years. The 9-2-8 Carbon frame is a winner in my book but as a complete bike, I have to say that I felt a little disappointed. The Veloce 'group' is fine and the wheels are good enough, but the extras just didn't have the extra I was looking for on a Bianchi and at this price point.
I do actually feel that the Nirone 7 we tested earlier this year offered far better value as a complete bike. Thankfully there is a frame only option 9-2-8, so for £1100 (£1300 for White option) you can have a worthy road racing option to build yourself - coming with a full carbon fork too. All you'll have to do is add a mid-range groupset and a decent extras package and you'll struggle to find a better handling racing bike for around £2k. As it stands Bianchi have got caught in the 'price point trap' with the 9-2-8, trying to fit cheaper parts to keep the overall package under a certain limit.
So it was the components (and the detail therein) that let this bike down. On close inspection we felt that the ITM stuff looked a little on the cheap side and the Bianchi/FSA stuff (seatpost/cranks) did too - so perhaps the Ultegra equipped 1885 alu/carbon frame version at £100 less would have greater appeal as a complete bike. The range of sizes on the (slightly more expensive and lighter) lugged frame may be a better option for the rider with specific size choices, who is looking to build a tasty carbon Bianchi bike themselves. All that said there's no doubting that when it comes to frame geometry and building a bike frame that 'rides nice' Bianchi have a wealth of experience - they get the frame, wheels, brakes and gears prioritised, so that the rider can get a good ride for their money.
|Good: Great race frame, perfect for build-ups|
|Bad: Complete bike sadly let down by finishing kit|
Frame sizes: 50, 53, 55, 58 & 61cm
Size tested: 55cm c to c - 55cm top tube
Frame tubing: 9-2-8 carbon
Fork: Bianchi All Carbon integrated
Headset: FSA Orbit Integrated
Crankarms: FSA Gossamer 170 mm
Pedals: None supplied
Chain: Campagnolo 10 speed
Freewheel: Campagnolo Veloce 10 speed 12-26
F/D: Campagnolo Veloce
R/D: Campagnolo Veloce 10spd
Shifters: Campagnolo Veloce
Handlebar: ITM 330 Anatomica Super Oversized Carbon 42cm
Stem: Bianchi Componenti ITM 11cm
Tape: Bianchi Componenti
Brakes: Campagnolo Veloce
Wheels: Campagnolo Vento
Tyres: Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick 700x23c
Saddle: Fi'zi:k Pave soft touch
Seatpost: Bianchi Componenti
Colour: 120 year anniversary special edition
Weight: 19.8lbs/9 kgs less pedals
Price: Complete bike as shown £1600 or with Centaur 10 and Scirocco wheels £1800
Full Geometry here
Contact UK - Cycleurope/Bianchi UK: 01234 245929