The new Bianchi Oltre XR3 aero bike benefits from Bianchi's road smoothing Countervail technology. We've tested the new celeste machine
Bianchi’s range-topping Oltre XR4 aero bike includes the company’s proprietary Countervail technology. Originally developed to dampen cockpit vibrations in US military helicopters, Bianchi adapted Countervail for cycle frames now for the Bianchi Oltre XR3 too.
Contervail includes a special carbon fibre lay-up embedded in a viscoelastic resin Bianchi says it reduces vibration by up to 80% relative to undamped carbon. There’s a layer of Countervail material embedded in all the frame’s tubes and the fork legs.
With the new Oltre XR3, Bianchi has brought Countervail to an aero bike at a lower price point, although with a range running from a Shimano 105 variant at £2800, via this Campagnolo Potenza version and a Campag Chorus machine at £4200 up to Dura-Ace at £4600, it’s still not a cheap bike.
Bianchi says that it’s developed the frame’s tube profiles from those of its Oltre XR1 and XR2 aero bikes, although in fact all the tubes are changed except for the down tube and the chainstays. The underside of the down tube still bears bolts for fixing an external electronic shifting battery.
The head tube, down tube and seat tube all have pronounced aero sections. There’s a pressfit bottom bracket and an aero carbon seat post fixed with a new concealed bolt in the top tube.
The chainstays are wide and Bianchi says that it’s been able to make the seat stays more substantial than on its older models due to the Contervail tech. This makes them less susceptible to lateral flex under load and leads to stronger braking. The rear brake cable runs internally through the top tube, while the shifter cables are internal to the bottom bracket then run externally.
Bianchi says that it’s wind tunnel tested the Oltre XR3’s frame, although its aero credentials are not quite as highly developed as the XR4’s.
The highlight of the Bianchi Oltre XR3’s spec is the relatively new Campagnolo Potenza groupset. Developed to compete with Shimano Ultegra, it provides a wider grear range than Campagnolo’s other groupsets. The XR3 is supplied with a four arm 52/36 semicompact chainset and a 11-29 cassette, giving a good gear spread. Potenza offers the option of an 11-32 cassette if you want more range.
Potenza provides the precise shifting of other Campagnolo groupsets, with a satisfying click from its thumb levers and upshifters. Campag’s hood are comfortable, ergonomic and compact too. But with the external cabling from the bottom bracket, I found I needed to lubricate the cable exit points well or shifting became fuzzy.
The aero carbon seatpost has a swappable head, allowing you to choose between a 10mm and a 25mm setback. It’s topped with a comfortable San Marco Concor saddle in frame-matching black and celeste.
The lower spec Bianchi Oltre XR3 models get Fulcrum Racing 7 LG wheelsets, while the Chorus and Dura-Ace variants get Fulcrum Racing Quattro LG wheels. The Racing 7s are a functional training wheelset, although they make no claims to aerodynamics, have a published weight of 1763g and a retail price of 199 Euro.
Bianchi’s argument is that with 80% of air resistance coming from the rider, rather than the bike, anything that allows them to hold a more aero position for longer with less fatigue will result in a faster ride.
In this regard, the Bianchi Oltre XR3’s Countervail technology is definitely an advantage. The bike has a smoother ride quality than many aero bikes, dealing well with typical UK tar and gravel surfaced roads. I felt fresher than I would normally expect after longer rides on a performance machine. The thin bar tape does detract from the frame’s vibration damping though. A quality gel tape would up comfort even more.
The Bianchi Oltre XR3 is a satisfyingly taut bike to ride too. It feels lively and has a fast, accurate ride feel, tracking well through fast corners and descending confidently, while the Potenza brakes give good stopping power and modulation.
With the short head tube the ride position is quite low, so you offer a lower frontal area to the wind. Bianchi has included a stack of 3cm of spacers below the stem, plus another 1cm above. So there’s the opportunity to lower the front end considerably to adopt an even more aero position; this would also give the bike a cleaner look.
With its history and racing heritage, Bianchi markets itself as a premium brand and you pay for that pedigree. The Bianchi Oltre XR3 marks a move to a lower price point for its Countervail tech though. This does make for more comfort than with some other aero bikes and allows Bianchi to offer a sharp ride as well.
The downside of the Bianchi Oltre XR3 frame technology is the lower component spec than other bikes at this price. Potenza holds its own against Ultegra in shifting quality. But the Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels, although good quality, don’t match the XR3’s aero features. It’s a bike crying out for a set of (expensive) aero carbon wheels to match.
The Oltre XR3 marks a move by Bianchi to offer its Countervail technology at a lower price point. It’s an attractive option if you’re looking for an aero bike, as it does make riding more comfortable on typical UK road surfaces. Elsewhere, the XR3 has plenty of aero credentials, including its teardrop seat tube and seat post profiles, the low frontal area of its forks and its concealed seat post bolt. The low front end, with the potential to make it even lower by removing spacers, should also lead to a speedy ride. The XR3’s handling characteristics are excellent too, lending confidence to ride tricky terrain faster and there’s the stopping power from the Potenza brakes to keep things under control. How you regard the value proposition of the Oltre XR3 depends on the store you put in the Bianchi marque. Many other brands will offer you a higher spec package at this price. But with over 250 members of the UK Bianchi Owners’ Club, there are many who will pay the premium for Bianchi’s prestige.