Bianchi’s flagship sportive bike, the Infinito, had a major redesign for 2014. The new CV technology within that frame's composite construction is an expensive process, meaning that sadly the Infinito isn’t now available at below US$4,599.
But a brand like Bianchi doesn’t survive for 128 years by making poor business decisions. In recognition of the need for a high-performance bike below US$3,000 – the most competitive of price points – has meant the introduction of the Intenso. It's based on the outgoing Infinito design, including the clever infusion of vibration damping sections of Kevlar on the fork ends and chainstays, and took the 'best debut' accolade in Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year Awards 2014.
The frame itself is beautifully finished, featuring internal cable routing for both gear cables and rear brake. That gives a smooth, uncluttered appearance and also offers compatibility with electronic drivetrains.
We often criticise Bianchi for not making enough of its trademark celeste livery – in recent years its been resigned to highlights and flashes on elaborate paint schemes – which makes the Intenso's full celeste paint scheme, with a restrained graphic treatment, a true breath of fresh air.
The beauty of the bike, however, is more than skin deep. The Intenso’s semi-endurance based geometry, only marginally taller than the Oltre race machine, makes for a brilliantly balanced bike. There's more than enough responsivity to keep things exciting when you're plummeting down a descent or snapping through a complex of twisting corners.
The frame offers a sprung, compliant feel that makes short work of weather-scarred tarmac: its judged balance of comfort and speed ensures that it's one of the stars of this edition of Bike of the Year. The give in the frame is totally predictable, and as soon as we adjusted to its charms we found ourselves pushing the Intenso to ever greater cornering speeds and flick-of-the-wrist rapid directional changes.
The Intenso’s 8.32kg/18.14lb weight (57cm) proves no hindrance on climbs, even when pitched against much lighter bikes. Again we think its down to the smooth-riding frame, which ekes out every bit of traction on steep wet roads with the same ability that it roots to the surface on bumpy descents. In fact its every bit the match of Cannondale's new Synapse and Giant's reigning champion, the Defy. Indeed, it only falls short of those machines' high watermarks via choice of components.
Bianchi has partnered with suppliers to complete the bikes build, so you get a set of Fulcrum Racing Corsa wheels, which sit part way between Fulcrum's entry-level Racing 7 and the mid-range Racing 5. They’re competent for the money, but not exceptional in this company. The same can be said of the Hutchinson Equinox tyres: these are a decent set of boots with good grip levels and tough enough construction, but their slim-for-a-23c dimensions don’t bring any extra compliance to the party and the Intenso would certainly be far more at home on a 25c set of tires.
We also get Reparto Corsa branded FSA Gossamer brakes, easily the equal of the Campagnolo Veloce units that would match the rest of the groupset. With a great set of soft compound pads, they provide bags of feel and good wet weather performance. The seatpost, bar, and stem are also Reparto Corsa branded FSA items from the aluminium range, so everything's well coordinated. We’ve always liked FSA’s take on the compact drop bar with a short, shallow drop and a hook that offers plenty of room larger hands.
The Campagnolo Veloce drivetrain is every bit the equal of Shimano’s most popular choice at this price, the 105. It shifts with a positive snap and rises and falls across the 12-25 Miche block with sharp positive changes. It's paired with an FSA Omega crank – it's a capable performer, but this plain forged item is below what we’d expect on a bike of this price.
The Intenso is a bike that fully deserves its place at the top of our rankings, but one that just falls short because of a few cost-saving components. The frame is one of the very best we’ve had the pleasure to ride, and its classic beautiful finish will turn plenty of heads. To get the best from it, however, we’d want to upgrade key parts pretty quickly. Make no mistake: this frameset deserves it.