Bianchi's new Oltre XR is among the very best high-performance bikes out there. Lighter and stiffer than the previous Oltre, this pro-level model really sparkles out on the road.
Everyone knows the Bianchi brand – it has been around since 1885, a time when most bicycles were horses. The Italian brand has more heritage than you could shake a stick of spaghetti at. Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, Mario Cipollini, Laurent Fignon, Marco Pantani... they've all ridden Bianchis over the years.
Some people would have you believe that Bianchi relied on that heritage a little too much for a while, and took their collective eye off the ball in terms of technology and product development. If that was ever the case, the Oltre XR proves that they are fully focused once again.
The XR bit of the Oltre XR's name comes from 'extreme rigidity-to-weight ratio', so it's clear from the start where Bianchi's priorities are in this design.
Climb aboard the Oltre XR and you can feel just how stiff the frame is from the first few pedal strokes. You'll notice it especially during sweat-flying sprints and out-of-the saddle climbs when the bike remains remarkably in shape even though your arms and legs are trying to wrench it in opposite directions.
Bianchi have worked hard to achieve this level of frame rigidity – they reckon they've boosted stiffness by 20% over the previous Oltre... if putting a figure on it means anything to you. The Oltre XR is a carbon monocoque with UMS 40 and CN 60 ultra high modulus carbon fibre used in the construction. Like most other pro-level bikes these days, it gets an oversized BB30 bottom bracket and a tapered head tube – 1 1/8in at the top, 1 1/2in at the bottom – for increased rigidity in both those areas.
What Bianchi do differently is that they use their X-Tex process to increase the structural stiffness further. X-Tex, lest this one has passed you by, is a cross weave layer inside the head tube. Carbon strips are moulded on top of the existing carbon structure so it looks a bit like a waffle surface in there, the idea being to add to the rigidity without bumping up the weight much.
The Oltre XR also comes with a huge down tube and mighty-looking chainstays. That doesn't mean a lot in itself, of course, but the sum total of all these features is a frame with barely a hint of flex when you grapple it from side to side.
The handling is sharp as a nail too. That sturdy head tube works with Bianchi's full-carbon HoC fork to provide immaculate steering even when you're flinging the bike as fast as you dare through the S-bends and hanging on for dear life. The Oltre XR will end up exactly where you want it to, giving you the assurance you need to lay off the brakes just a tad longer.
Switching to the other side of the 'extreme rigidity-to-weight ratio' line, our complete 59cm test bike, less pedals, weighs in at 7.17kg (16.9lb). That's pretty light, especially considering that we have a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset on there – it's great stuff, but you can certainly get lighter. Bianchi claim a frame weight of just 895g (+/– 5%) – which is 30g lighter than the previous generation – plus 355g for the fork.
They keep the weight down partly through their wrinkleless molding process that, as the name implies, ensures the inner surfaces of the frame are as smooth as the outside. Other manufacturers have similar techniques. Bianchi reckon that controlling the walls in this way allows them to get the stiffness they want without using any more material than is absolutely necessary.
The Oltre XR certainly feels like a light bike in use – it's very, very responsive, jumping forward when you twitch your muscles that little bit faster. There's none of that lag while it mulls over the options; it just accelerates beautifully.
When you hit the climbs, the Bianchi is a worthy partner, shooting up the slopes like a Sherpa guide on EPO. We had a compact chainset (50/34-tooth chainrings) on our test bike which certainly took the pain out of the steep stuff although, to me, a standard chainset would be more suitable. I guess it'll all come down to your personal preference and the terrain you usually ride, but if any bike is crying out for a standard chainset it's this one.
As well as the stiffness and the weight, the other key characteristic of the Oltre XR that Bianchi like to shout about is its aerodynamics. Most obviously, the forks come with slim legs and a crown that flows back into the down tube, the seat tube is aero profiled at the top and cutaway around the rear wheel, and the full carbon seat post is shaped to reduce drag. The cables run internally too.
How aero is the performance? I don't know, to be honest, and I wouldn't trust the judgment of anyone who claims to know from simply riding the bike. Bianchi say they did a lot of development work in the wind tunnel with the Vacansoleil pro riders but they're not publishing any figures so your guess is as good as anyone's.
When it comes to comfort, I'm more confident in giving a verdict – my butt, wrists and back tell me all I need to know here and they all say the Oltre XR does pretty well on this score. I wouldn't say this is the most butter-smooth bike ever but, as performance-driven bikes go, it's a sweet enough ride. Bianchi reckon those ultra thin seat stays are responsible for removing a lot of road buzz and that seems like a reasonable enough explanation to me.
Of course, that assumes you're happy with a race geometry and aren't hoping for a lofty front end – this is, after all, a bike that's raced at the highest level. We have a 59cm model with a 580mm stack (vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top centre of the head tube), a 397mm reach (the horizontal distance between those two points), an 18cm head tube and parallel 73° frame angles.
There's nothing too wild there. We did, though, have FSA's Wing Pro Compact bars on our test bike with a drop of just 125mm. Whether or not you're into that is a question of taste. It works for me.
The Oltre XR is available as a frameset (frame, fork, seatpost, headset) for £3,200, or in six different builds in the UK. Here are the groupsets, wheels and colours (because we know how important that is) and prices...
* Shimano Ultegra Di2, Fulcrum Racing 3, red/black, £5,250
* Campagnolo Athena EPS, Fulcrum Racing 3, celeste/black, £6,250
* Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical, Shimano WH 9000, matt/gloss black, £6,500
* Campagnolo Super Record mechanical, Fulcrum Racing Zero, celeste/black, £7,500
* Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Shimano WH 9000, matt/gloss black, £8,500
* Campagnolo Super Record EPS, Fulcrum Red Wind XLR, celeste/black, £9,500
If you're eagle eyed you'll see that our test bike isn't quite any of these. It's Ultegra Di2 equipped but with Fulcrum Racing Zeros rather than Racing 3s, and the price would be about £5,800.
I won't go into any depth on the build because of the various options available. You'll doubtless already know whether you prefer Campag or Shimano (don't fall for the oft repeated but seldom thought through cliché that you have to have Campag on an Italian brand bike – rules are for fools, doncha know?), and whether you want mechanical or electronic shifting. All I'll say there is that the more I use Ultegra Di2, the more I like it. Oh, and Fizik's Antares saddle is a winner too.
So, as I said up top, the Oltre XR is among the very best high-performance road bikes out there. Bianchi have got things nailed with this one. Lightweight, stiff, fast, cheap... it's all but one of those things.
Lightweight speed machine that's stiff enough to stand up to the most powerful of sprinters; it absolutely flies.
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Make and model: Bianchi Oltre XR
Size tested: 59cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Carbon monocoque frame made with UMS 40 and CN 60 ultra high modulus carbon fibre, full carbon Bianchi HoC fork, 1 1/2in - 1 1/8in
Headset FSA Orbit C-40-CF-ACB + Carbon Ti X- Plug with logo Bianchi
Shifters Shimano Ultegra Di2
Rear derailleur Shimano Ultegra Di2
Front derailleur Shimano ULTEGRA Di2
Tyres Hutchinson Atom Comp 700 x 23, 127TPI, folding
Stem FSA SL-K
Handlebar FSA Wing Pro
Seatpost Oltre XR Full Carbon Aero special dimension with titanium screws
Saddle Fizik Antares rail braided carbon, shell Rilsan Carbon reinforced
Chainset FSA SL-K Light Compact BB30 50/34T
Chain Shimano Dura-Ace
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 12-25T
Brakes Shimano Ultegra
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Zero
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
It's a pro-level race bike although Bianchi haven't built binned comfort in pursuit of speed - this is a bike you can ride for hours and still be left feeling good enough to sprint.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Bianchi do the finishing in Italy and it's excellent.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
It's a carbon monocoque made with ultra high modulus carbon fibre. The Oltre XR features Bianchi's Carbon Nano Tube Tech (CNTT) meaning that microscopic spaces in the carbon are filled with carbon nano tubes and nano-powder in the resin. This is designed to stop micro-cracks from forming in the carbon and so to increase fracture resistance.
Of course, Bianchi put a figure on it. They say that CNTT improves toughness 49% over standard resin.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
See text. It's a race geometry.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, it doesn't score as highly on comfort as it does for speed but this is certainly a bike that absorbs road buzz well, leaving you to concentrate on the main matter of getting the power in.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, it's notably stiff around both the head tube and the bottom bracket.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Not on the 59cm model.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? It would be on my superbike short list.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Age: 41 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.