Throughout Bianchi’s 130-year history, the Specialissima name has represented the pinnacle of the Italian legend’s road machine line-up. The brand has now resurrected the moniker for a bicycle that uses its unique Countervail carbon technology – and was recently judged ‘best super bike’ in our sibling title Cycling Plus magazine’s Bike of the Year 2016 shootout.
A partnership with US composites group MSC led to the use of the patented Countervail material being optimised for use in Bianchi frame and forks. Initially the ‘viscoelastic’ material – which doesn't completely solidify – was sandwiched between high-modulus carbon layers in a unique layup.
Under testing, both on road and in the lab, measurements have showed that Countervail reduces the length of vibrations from the road surface by up to 80%.
Less fatigue, more control
Bianchi’s Countervail technology has already been seen used on the classics special Infinito CV (which seems like the obvious place for a material that reduces vibrations), and more recently on its latest time-trial machine, the Aquila CV (on the face of it a less obvious application).
Bianchi’s design team, however, claim with the Infinito, the reduced vibration not only reduces rider fatigue but also gives improved control over rough surfaces.
The frame is infused with Bianchi's Countervail technology
On the Aquila, according to Bianchi, the decrease in vibration enables you to hold your best aero position for longer – again because you’re less likely to fatigue thanks to the improved smoothness.
With the Specialissima it’s all about using the CV tech (a new formulation of the material that retains the damping qualities of the Infinito’s composition but increases stiffness) to create a bike that exhibits handling prowess downhill, and reactive acceleration on the way up.
The key factors in the bike’s design were light weight and rigidity. Bianchi’s team tested lightweight chassis, including some of their historic designs over the last 130 years, and found that trading off stability in favour of lightness leads – perhaps not surprisingly – to a bike with nervous handling traits when descending.
The name signifies the pinnacle of Bianchi's expertise
By using the Countervail material, engineers were able to bring the weight down to a very respectable 780g +/- 5% (for a black-painted 55cm frameset), with the matching Countervail-infused fork adding just a further 340g. Bianchi claims that the CV material gives the Specialissima much improved handling and superior traction (thanks to its blend of stiffness and vibration reduction).
Up front the tapered 1 1/8-1 1/4 head tube borrows heavily from the aerodynamic lessons learned during the Aquila’s development. The tube shows a slight arrowhead shape, and the smooth integration of the fork adds another nod towards cheating the wind.
Geometry wise the Specialissima mirrors the Oltre’s pro-race set-up, so a 55cm frame features 72.5-degree head and 73.5-degree seat angles, combined with a short wheelbase and a low 145mm head tube. It’s available in seven sizes stretching between a tiny 47cm, to a 61cm.
The fork weighs just 340g
The range is noticeably high-end, with only Super Record (EPS and mechanical) and Dura Ace (Di2 and mechanical) models available. Wheel-wise you can choose between deep Campagnolo Bora Ultras, or Fulcrum’s Racing Zero carbon shallow rims. Crankset options of 50/34 and 52/36 are available.
Paint not stickers
All Specialissimas are masked and painted in Bianchi’s Italian facility; the bike is the brand’s first to not feature any decals whatsoever. The standard machine is available in either black or the eye-catching new fluoro take on classic celeste, called CK16. But Bianchi has also launched a custom project named ‘Tavolozza’ (Italian for painter’s palette) via which you can choose from more than 20 custom colours in matt or gloss finishes for both paint and graphics – or any combination you can dream up.
Our test ride’s running gear reads like a best of the best of Italian bike manufacturing. Campagnolo’s super light yet aero Bora Ultra 35s are like the L’Eroica tubular, and are also shod with Vittoria tub tyres, the legendary Corsa CX in this case.
The new 3Diamant brake surface on Campag’s Bora hoops is a vast improvement on previous offerings
The Ultra 35s feature Campag’s new brake surface, 3Diamant, and improvements over previous generation models are marked. Dry performance is powerful, yet free of grabbing, with only the occasional noise protest in seriously prolonged bouts of braking on long descents. In the wet the Ultras are among the best carbon hoops around – and that’s a lot, lot better than Campag has ever been before.
Mechanical Super Record meanwhile is precision engineering at its best. The solid, instant snap to the shifts and the vocal ‘snikt’ as the chain snaps into place, the levers’ impressive ergonomics and the combination of a 52/36 crankset with an 11-25 11spd block make for rapid performance whether going up or down.
Super Record (mechanical or electronic) or Dura-Ace (ditto) are your only drivetrain options, underlining the Specialissima's exclusivity
The Specialissima however will make that performance even better: the sheer lack of mass and the overall nimble feel made it a dream companion everywhere we took it.
On climbs it zings along, pulsing with every pedal stroke. On the descents the qualities of the Countervail frame come to the fore – the bike is impressively stiff for something so light, but you feel nothing of the noise and vibration you might associate with those characteristics.
In fact the Specialissima seems to hunker down and grip. Its cornering abilities rank with the very finest we’ve experienced, sitting alongside Cannondale’s new EVO for tractable handling when riding right on the limit.
Make no mistake, the Specialissima is one of the most enthralling superbikes we’ve ever tested. Its understated design, in a world that’s aero-obsessed, is a testament to the simplicity you can find in a great race bike. It’s a bike that doesn’t need to shout about going fast – it simply does it.