Bianchi Methanol SL 9500 £2750

Stylish Italian performer

BikeRadar score 3/5

Italian frame meisters Bianchi are well known for their state-of-the-art road bikes, but their carbon framed Methanol mountain bike range is well worth a look if you value superlight race-ready performance without the silly pricetags that afflict some purist team offerings.

The frame’s weight-saving seatmast (extended seat tube) design may put you off but you can convert it to fit a normal post if you prefer, although the clean lines of the trim-to-fit mast will be an attractive feature to some riders.

Ride & handling: Race-ready design offers a lively turn of speed on the trail

The Methanol's carbon frame dulls the hard edges of trail chatter, assisted by the big profile tyres and small-bump performance of the fork. Sharp-kick acceleration speed is instant – as it is on most 22lb bikes – and that speed is easily maintained by the flat backed, stretched ride posture.

The SL 9500 is at its best if you’re looking for pure power advantages on the climbs, but with a wider bar fitted for more relaxed control, its direct and lively ride feel starts to produce better results on technical singletrack.

If you’re used to a heavier, less race-tuned bike it’ll probably take you a few rides to get used to the Methanol’s sprightly performance. One tester described it as highly strung in a good way, and we think that sums it up. It’s tighter and less forgiving than some other carbon offerings we’ve tried, but at times that seems to offer you an edge in terms of speed.

Frame: Well finished and very light carbon chassis

The main design and construction features of the Methanol SL frame are triplewall tubes (TWT), shock-absorbing stays (SAS) and embedded reinforcement construction (ERC). TWT refers to the top and down tubes, which are braced across their diameters to achieve extra stiffness without weight.

ERC refers to the bulged strengthening ribs that run along the side of the head tube to the top and down tubes, and continue all the way to the bottom bracket. The idea is to reduce frame twist under heavy steering and pedal loads.

The shapely shock-absorbing stays (SAS) are laminated with carbon and glass fibre so they absorb degrees of vertical shock while resisting lateral forces. From an aesthetic point of view, all these features result in some very pleasing shapes, highlighted by clever black and white colour panels and what some might consider a slightly over the top use of graphics.

As with most quality carbon structures, frame weight is well under 3lb (2.6lb claimed) and the seatmast helps to keep complete bike weight to 22lb (10kg). The seatmast is easy to cut and the Ritchey top sleeve/seat clamp offers about an inch of height adjustment for fine-tuning, or you can trim it down and fit a normal post.

The BB30 bottom bracket is a weight-saving feature too; the bearings are pressed straight into the oversized shell. But there are no compromises in practicality here, with lots of mud room around the tyres, excellent cable/hose routing, a small aluminium plate to prevent chainsuck damage to the frame, bolt-on gear hanger, reinforced aluminium disc brake bracket and two sets of bottle cage bosses. All the fine finishing detail is superb, too.

Equipment: Quality cross-country kit, including a choice of forks

Our test bike, third from the top of the range, combines Shimano XT gears with FSA’s Afterburner crankset and a Magura Durin Race fork (a RockShox SID Race or Reba SL are also options). This is a great choice, with a bar-mounted lockout lever, as much fine control adjustment as you need and 100mm of travel.

The wheels are XT hubs on Mavic X819 tubeless rims. The brakes are Shimano XT too. The saddle, flat bar and stem are all classic XC race items and there’s about 2in of stem height adjustment.

All tyres are a compromise. The Methanol's tubeless Hutchinson Cobras are a superb high-speed choice for dry conditions but you’ll probably opt for something with a deeper tread profile, especially on the sides, if you ride a lot in slimy conditions.

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