Bianchi’s pro-level Specialissima nabbed our 2016 Bike of the Year in the money-no-object ‘superbike’ category – but it also came with a supercharged price tag.
The Italian company’s Oltre XR1 isn’t exactly cheap either. But it’s worth remembering that the Oltre uses the frame that’s actually ridden by the Bianchi-sponsored LottoNL-Jumbo pro team’s riders, rather than simply being a machine that shares some of the design DNA.
Long and low with a stiff front end
The XR1 is the original Oltre, which has now been surpassed by the 100g lighter XR2. As for its peloton credentials, Bianchi told us that some of its riders opt for the XR1 over the XR2, preferring the former’s stiffer front end.
The XR1 Ultegra is built around a true pro-level frame
The Oltre has the pro rider-favoured ‘long and low’ riding position, to which Bianchi’s designers have added aerodynamic detailing. The low front end and steep head-tube also result in steering that’s seriously sharp, while the tight wheelbase and short chainstays further contribute to the bike’s ridiculously responsive feel.
We expect high levels of stiffness and seriously efficient power transfer in a pro-specific design such as this, especially one with aero features, and the Oltre doesn’t disappoint. Its pickup is instantaneous. On the flat the combination of its low riding position and impressive rigidity results in a missile-quick ride, while on climbs, whether ascending or descending, the frame simply feels alive.
Comfort boosting features
There was a time when aero road bikes lacked comfort, but that’s not the case with the Oltre. The XR1 possesses a comfort-boosting frame, and the choice of the wider-rimmed Fulcrum LG wheels and 25mm Vittoria tyres only adds to its smoothness. It also comes with soft, grippy bar tape and an excellent San Marco Concor saddle with a pressure-relieving channel.
Aero flourishes include this carbon seatpost
All this quality contributes to the Oltre's steep price tag, but the extra cost does bring with it a high level of equipment, with Shimano Ultegra headlining in its 52/36, 11-28 guise. Shifting, as you may have heard, is smooth, quick and accurate.
Bianchi has specced FSA Gossamer brakes, which aren’t at the same level as its newer, low-profile K-Force units. They use the same design as FSA’s previous top-line brakes, which means stiff and solid callipers, even if there is more lever travel before they do start to bite.
The XR1 is a remarkably able bike that manages to combine a fast and aggressive ride with impressive comfort. If you can live with what is a super-aggressive riding position then you’d be hard pushed to find a more rewarding machine.
The downside, however, is that at three grand it doesn’t represent quite the same value that some of the other bikes here do. Shimano Ultegra is its usual flawless self and the Vittoria tyres and Bianchi saddle and cockpit are all fine kit choices.
But though the smooth-running wheels are stiff, the Racing 7s do come well down the Fulcrum range for a bike at this price, which may leave some feeling a little shortchanged. We’d say forget about the label and just enjoy a sublime – albeit aggressive – riding experience.