The Bianchi Oltre XR4 aims to be an all-rounder that performs well across the spectrum: aerodynamic, aggressive, and comfortable
The Oltre XR4 follows its younger siblings – the XR2 and XR1 (the XR1 was the more affordable version of the XR2, so no guesses on what to expect from any coming XR3) – and the key areas of focus in the redesign were aerodynamics and comfort.
When it comes to aerodynamics, Bianchi claims that the alterations produce a 20-watt saving at 50kph when compared with the XR2 (15 watts as a result of the frame tweaks, 5 watts from the bar) and the improvements come following a plethora of tests, from analysis in the wind tunnel to ‘Formula One Flow Visualisation’ and road testing with LottoNL-Jumbo pro team riders. The redesign has added 85g to the frame weight (in a size 55), however, but in terms or raw speed the slippery frame should outrun the added grams.
The wind-cheating attributes of the frame are apparent at a glance: the down tube curves to meet the rear wheel, Vision Metron 5D handlebar and integrated stem look set to cut through the air with knife-like precision, and chunky tube profiles at the fork and down tube present clean lines.
Bianchi has made some subtle changes too, with a redesigned seatpost which is locked into place using a small wedge at the clamp, hidden from the wind, and obviously all cables are tucked away inside the frame while a custom Garmin or generic computer mount can be fitted at the front.
‘Comfortable aerodynamic road bike’ has long been considered an oxymoronic phrase, but Bianchi has aimed to provide the answer. The Oltre range is the fourth model family to feature their ‘Countervail Technology’ party trick – a frame treatment that aims to offer a notable element of spring over even the roughest of surfaces.
Countervail technology was developed by Bianchi and has been proven in the “extreme conditions of NASA aerospace operations” so it’s really space-age stuff. Experts discovered that they could embed a layer of countervail viscoelastic material across the frame, using a unique carbon-fibre architecture. It’s claimed that this increases vibration cancellation by 80 per cent – a lofty claim.
Regardless of the actual percentage saving in comfort, it’s undeniable that the result is a ride that dampens out the worst of road buzz and thus leaves a rider fresh to make the most of the wattage savings on offer.
The Oltre XR4 was designed to be a race bike – and its geometry is aggressive. The head tube on our 50cm frame measured 110mm and stack and reach stood at 499/384: the drop to the bars was notably lower than that of most steeds in the average bike shop.
Since a majority of manufacturers are beginning to offer even the raciest of aero bikes with disc brakes, it’s also worth noting that there is no option for that here. So far, Bianchi has only added discs to its endurance-focused bikes.
The Oltre XR4 is available dressed in a range of different guises, with groupsets from Campagnolo Super Record to Dura-Ace and SRAM Red eTap. Almost all of the built specs sit at the higher end of the pricing structure but framesets can be purchased, too, for £3,300.
Our model came with Campagnolo Super Record shifters and Record brakes. The top-end Italian groupset performed as expertly as expected: shifting offered immediate satisfaction, and the Record brakes were so sharp they could almost rival the stopping power of disc brakes – at least in the dry.
Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels were dressed in Vittoria Corsa tyres, in 25mm – and inflated to 80psi these certainly leant a hand to the comfort factor provided by the Countervail tech.
Bianchi has fitted this model with Rotor INpower cranks – deserving of a review in their own right, and a set that offers a stiff platform for quick accelerations.
At the front end, the Vision Metron 5D handlebar and integrated stem are unique to the build and provide a velvet-smooth ride while still packing plenty of punch when accelerating out of the saddle.
The solid feel of an integrated system won’t suit everyone, and it also makes any routine changes to stem length a much more expensive endeavour. It’s also worth noting that you’d need to chop the steerer if you were going to remove spacers, as the set up looks out of sorts with any spacers above the stem – they don’t stack neatly like a standard round format.
The saddle that came fitted with the bike was a colour matched Fizik Arione – a touch of quality, but not one I’d ever enjoy, and I swapped this from the very first ride.
Brand new for the Oltre XR4 is the option to customise your new bike using their Tavolozza colour configurator. The custom paint job scheme allows up to 2,000 colour combinations, which will be applied by hand in Italy.
It would be hard to create a bad bike with this sort of calibre behind it. Indeed, coming in at £8,350, we’d not expect to come away with anything less than an expert ride.
First impressions were good: in the initial miles the Oltre XR4 ate up the tarmac, giving an airless sense of ease. The same lightweight sensation came through on our first climbs.
The stiff handlebar meant that despite the easy flow of the ride there was plenty of aggression to be found in the frame when we wanted it to really fire. The feeling of accelerating out of the saddle was unique, the front end acting as one unit as opposed to thrusting from side to side as a standard set-up might.
Cornering also felt incredibly sure and every downward hairpin had a edge of daring: my own skills vs the bend of the road – there was no doubt the bike could always handle it.
The chunky down tube and bottom bracket shell no doubt added to the quick-footed accelerations which make this clearly a race-winning worthy machine.
The geometry was one I could appreciate, but personally didn’t suit me particularly well. It might be an unfashionable thing to say (let alone do), but I rode the bike at its highest stack and was still 0.5 cm lower than my ideal set up. This is hardly a dramatic discrepancy, and I felt fast and flat-backed on the flat, but less stable than I’d like on a long climb. Fit on a bike is clearly personal and for that reason it’s not a direct criticism, more an element to bear in mind.
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Bianchi isn’t a bike brand that’s known for its value for money. You’ll be paying for that Celeste paint job (even if you opt for the more understated black option). For £8,350 you get a bike that’s been created using innovative technology, embedded into a frame with an aero profile set to cut through any resistance in the way. This isn’t necessarily a bike created with a focus on value for money – unless you place a high value on having the very best money can buy.
Bianchi has created this to be a race-winning bike: it dampens out the fatiguing influence of rutted roads, allowing a rider to stay fresh even as the miles mount up. The aerodynamic frame might well save valuable seconds for those who are counting them, too – and the aggressive geometry and stiff front end set up mean it’s certainly no slouch. What sets this bike apart is that it provides the best of two conflicting worlds: comfort and aerodynamics, without making sacrifices on either. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that it’s a bike for a rider who knows they want to ride long and low: if you aren’t slamming a regular frame, you might find yourself wishing for extra spacers.