The 2008 product year is just shifting into top gear and there's a whole lot of action going on around the £1300 mark.
Why? First, it's one of the most popular price points among bike buyers, so manufacturers all want a big slice of the pie. And second, it's about this point that full carbon frames become a realistic option. Yes, you can lay your hands on cheaper carbon bikes, but it's here where you can start demanding it - if that's what takes your fancy, of course.
We've been to Italy in search of the perfect £1300 road bike... or, more precisely, Italy has come to us in the form of a full carbon framed bike from Wilier.
The Wilier's frame is absolutely first class. It's a two-piece carbon construction, beautifully put together with smooth, flowing lines where the tubes meet and an integrated headset up front. The frame angles on the Wilier are slightly steeper than you'll find some competitor bikes, although in use you'd be hard-pressed to notice much difference.
The top-tube and down-tube are considerably oversized to produce a taut mid-section, while the bottom bracket is encased in a chunky, unyielding shell. The overall result is a stiff, efficient frame with just the right vertical compliance for long-ride comfort.
One of our testers complained that the white finish cheapens the Wilier's appearance, favouring the 'if you've got it, flaunt it' approach to carbon. Everyone else thought it looked chic and sophisticated. Decide for yourself.
Rolling duties on the Wilier are taken care of by Fulcrum's entry-level Racing 7s. They're a reasonable weight and the build quality is impressive, while we know from experience that the cartridge bearings have an exceptionally long shelf-life.
As with direct competitor bikes, the front wheel is radially laced, this time with 20 stainless J-spokes, while the rear has 16 three-cross spokes on the drive side and eight radially laced on the non-drive side. Traditional-style nipples at the rim allow you to straighten them up with a normal spoke key should they go out of true - not that we had any worries.
To our eyes, the Racing 7s don't have the same robust good looks as the Mavics you'll find on some competitor bikes but they perform at about the same level as the Aksiums you'll find on some others.
The price of the Wilier's exceptional frame means that the component spec is lower than some of its competitors. That said, it's still impressive.
The Campagnolo Mirage groupset isn't as lightweight or as race-orientated as the Veloce you'll find on a similarly priced Cinelli, but it's solid and reliable and comes with a dash of Italian style. The compact crankset and 12-25 cassette provide sportive/long ride-friendly gear ratios, while shifting is hearteningly positive whether you're going up or down the block. When it comes to braking, the Mirage units don't have the modulation of their more expensive Campag siblings but they're fairly punchy and rarely leave you short-changed.
The Wilier's bar and stem are from lower down the ITM ranges and are consequenltly considerably heavier than those found on some direct competitor bikes, although the Ritchey Carbon Pro seatpost adds cachet and the Selle Italia XR saddle provides a perfect combination of both cushioning and support.
Although it doesn't perform quite as well as the Veloce version we tested last year, our Mirage-equipped Wilier displays most of the same fundamental traits. The overall ride feel is fairly aggressive and when you push harder you get an instant response whether you're on flat roads or climbing. Put the hammer down for an all-out sprint and the Mortirolo is up for that too, and it takes on corners in the same assured manner. On top of all that, descending is sure-footed enough to inspire bags of confidence, the steering is bang on and it smooths out rough surfaces without ever a second thought.
If we do have a negative comment, it's that the Wilier is under-specced for the quality of its frame. The positive spin on that, though, is that if you do decide to buy this bike, you could gradually upgrade the components as they wear out without much danger of out-classing the chassis.
We're not saying that alloy frames with carbon seatstays have had their day but, as we've seen, the bar has been raised at the £1300 price point and any bike of this genre needs to come up with something special to compete. The Wilier's frame is superb but the Mirage-based spec lets it down in the company of similar bikes found at this price.