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Throwback: 2011 Bianchi Oltre Superleggera

From issue 11

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If you’ve been paying a lot of attention to Italian bikes the last ten years you’ll be aware that it has been awhile since anyone accused Bianchi of making the best Italian bike—let alone the best bike in the world. There was the impression they were playing catch-up, they were reacting, and not innovating. The 2011 launch of two new models, the Sempre and the Oltre, signaled a new focus, a new determination to not only catch up but to surpass other brands—Italian or not. We rode the Sempre last summer and fell in love with it. An entry-level racer, it provided a race-day ride that felt many notches ahead of “entry level” on the performance dial. It had us wondering: “If the $3,000 Sempre is this good, what will the Oltre be like?” We found out this winter, and we haven’t stopped smiling since.

The Oltre resides at the very top of Bianchi’s range. This is their tour-ready race bike upon which they have lavished every ounce of engineering know-how their century of designing bikes has invested in. The name “Oltre,” and its meaning, “Beyond,” has been widely publicized since the bike’s launch. But it is another slightly less romantic meaning of the word, “in addition to,” that we think fits the Oltre even better. Bianchi has taken the features we expect to find in an elite-level race bike and, in addition to those features, added unique and innovative technical details designed to truly take the Oltre beyond.

An “in addition to” way of thinking
One of those features we expect from elite-level carbon bikes is extremely exotic, high-modulus carbon. Bianchi has used entirely new carbon fabrics from Tenax for their Oltre. A blend of ultra high modulus UMS carbon and IMS carbon create a frame that is light and stiff, but like all high modulus fibers, can be brittle. Knowing professional riders demand a bike that can hit the pavement hard and keep on going they brought some of that “in addition to” thinking to the bike. Mixed with the resin are carbon nano-tubes, those tubes give the resin itself structural integrity and boost the strength of the overall composite by almost 50 percent. While we may not appreciate these nano-tubes lying on the tarmac with a panicking director-sportif screaming in our earpiece as the race rolls down the road, we will appreciate them when our bike survives a wreck on the club ride and maintains its ride quality season after season.

Carbon layup schedule, the actual nuts and bolts of putting the carefully cut carbon fabric into the mold, is incredibly important when creating a bike designed to deliver a World Tour-level stiffness-to-weight ratio. Like other high-end bikes, the Oltre has an incredibly complex layup that is obsessively controlled. And, like some other bikes, Bianchi has developed a process that keeps the interior surface wrinkle-free, ensuring maximum strength and stiffness out of a minimum of material. But again, Bianchi has used that “in addition to” thinking to invest the layup with a unique feature called X-Tex. This is the process of actually creating a pattern of grids on the inside of the carbon. Used at the head tube and bottom bracket Bianchi can squeeze even more performance out of the carbon.

While a pure road racer, Bianchi wanted to do more than deliver a bike that would perform on the climbs or during a sprint. They wanted a well-rounded bike, a bike that would take care of the climber on the long flat days and give the lead-out man an extra few watts. To achieve this they incorporated aerodynamic features from their Pico Crono TT bike. The fork blades terminate at a dramatically winged crown while the head tube makes the tapered one and one-eighth to one and one-half steer tube look as narrow as we have ever seen. The down tube and seat tube are airfoils while the seat post, which appears integrated, is actually a bladed, adjustable post. The cables are all internally routed, adding to the bike’s incredibly clean and slippery look.

The bottom bracket that benefits from all that high modulus carbon, nano-tubes and X-Tex patterning uses the oversized BB30 standard. The chain stays themselves are a tall box section and look more than up to the task of delivering big power to the rear wheel. With all this focus on stiffness does the Oltre give any quarter to compliance? That job has been left up to the seat stays. They earn their name: Ultra Thin Seat Stays. They are arrow shaft slim and oriented to flex vertically. As they reach the reinforced brake bridge they transition to a beefy mono stay. Clearly any flex is designed to occur between the axel and the rear brake, leaving the rest of the bike vertically and torsionally stiff.

The bike is emblazoned with the compound word “Superleggera.” For our money, it is the sexiest word in any language and means “super light.” At 950 grams for a 55 cm, the Oltre frame itself is not super light by today’s standards. But a bicycle frame, and certainly the finished product, is the sum of its parts. The Oltre we tested was built with Campagnolo Super Record 11, Fulcrum Racing Zero 2-Way Fit wheels, FSA carbon cockpit and a fi’zi:k Antares saddle with carbon rails. The entire package weight proves the sum is more, or in this case, less than the parts. Tipping the scales at 14.95 lbs with Speedplay pedals and an Elite carbon bottle cage, the 59-cm bike still manages to fall under the minimum UCI illegal weight. The attention to detail on the components is exceptional. Bianchi has put their celeste look on every inch of the bike and labeled it all Reparto Corse, their legendary factory race name. The bike is undeniably flashy, with a huge Bianchi crest on the down tube and numerous logos across its frame. But Bianchi has managed to be flashy while still evoking a feeling of Italian race heritage. Flashy and reminiscent, what could be more Italian?

The geometry of the Oltre, like the construction and materials, signals full-tilt race bike. Although, it is a full-tilt race bike designed for the open road, not the tight confines of the four-corner crit. The 59 cm has a short front center with a steep, but not psychotically aggressive, 73-degree head tube angle and chain stays of 407 mm. Overall, this delivers a bike with as close to the ethereal “Italian Classic Geometry” today’s bikes ever get. It provides the rider with an extremely neutral weight distribution and handing that is crisp and intuitive, rather than quick and aggressive.

Tuned to perfection
Over a long winter here on our Southern California testing grounds, the Oltre gave the impression of a bike custom designed for us and our intense club rides and varied terrain. The bike has been tuned to perfection. Each part, from fork to rear triangle, from cockpit to seat post, has just the right level of stiffness to compliment the other features. Under power, the bike is a real drag racer of a sprint bike. It lays down big power with incredible stability and predictability, the rear stays planted even when sprinting really low and forward to stay out of the wind. While climbing the bike again displays excellent credentials. It is flawless while seated. Thanks to the compliance being isolated between the rear brake and the rear axel, the seat cluster feels rock solid resulting in us staying seated longer while climbing, even when the rest of the group was out of the saddle to respond to a raised tempo or steep pitch. Happily, it still has plenty to give when the time to jump did finally come.

All of these features play a huge role when the Oltre descends. At speeds approaching 50 mph the bike’s stability is simply amazing. If you feel the need to grab a snack or pull a vest from your back pocket while dropping down the backside of a climb the Oltre will let you do it with no drama. That stability doesn’t hold you back on the wide sweepers either. Lay the bike over and it finds the apex precisely, confidently maintaining its speed. As the corners slow down and tighten up the bike gives up a bit of its prowess to the more aggressive bikes in the peloton, but as an all-day, open-road racer, Bianchi has nailed it with the Oltre.

Bianchi doesn’t brag about the bike’s comfort much, and it is certainly a race bike, but its ride did have us wondering if the folks at Bianchi have ridden a lot of the other elite-level race bikes on the market. Compared to many it is down right comfortable. Five hours at race pace on the Oltre leaves you in fine shape to unleash a sprint or an attack in the final 10 km. The bike manages to keep you fresh without muting the road beneath your wheels; it is an impressive ride quality. Bikes with a perfect blend of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance are a cliché that exist only in bad reviews and pay-to-play content. But as design and material technology improves manufacturers are making more headway in this realm than any other. They are finding ways to invest incredible stiffness with much more rideability. However, we won’t get too carried away. If you ride a Bianchi Infinito you’ll find the Oltre very stiff indeed, but it is one of the best examples of stiffness with rideability in the peloton.

While the past ten years haven’t seen Bianchi at the front of the pack in terms of bike design and performance, the Oltre has changed that. It is undeniably among the very best bikes on the road and not just the Italian road. In addition to the Super Record 11 Oltre in celeste, which retails for $10,999, a Dura-Ace build is available for $8,999. If those aren’t too rich for your blood you can get an Oltre frameset alone, compatible with Campagnolo’s new electronic drivetrain, EPS, for $4,999.

PRICE: $10,999 (Approximately $13,500 in 2021 money!)
SIZE TESTED: XXL
WEIGHT: 14.95 lbs with pedals and bottle cage
BUILD: Campagnolo Super Record 11 groupset; FSA OS-99 CSI stem and K-Force bars; Oltre full carbon seat post with fi’zi:k Antares saddle; and Fulcrum Racing Zero 2-Way Fit wheels

From issue 11. SOLD OUT!