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It’s Bianchi’s top-of-the-line race bikes that make the headlines: the ultralight Specialissima or the WorldTour-winning Oltre Xr4. We’ve ridden them both and they live up to the hype—sexy, expensive and “Oh, so fast!” What Bianchi gets less credit for is making some of the very best entry-level racers in the peloton. We fell in love with the Sempre a few seasons ago, and Bianchi has done it again: a new racer that’s diminutive on price but big on performance.
The Aria is an aero platform; and Bianchi knows that just because its prospective rider is working with a smaller budget, that doesn’t mean he or she wants a detuned, laid-back pseudo-racer. The Aria is stiff and aggressive, both in its angles and its rider position. Its aero qualities are derived from the Oltre Xr4 and the Aquila TT bike, following the now industry-standard dropped-seat-stay design, but instead of the ubiquitous truncated airfoils the Aria features more traditional complete airfoil cross sections. The forks transition smoothly into the down tube and the aero shapes extend thorough the custom seat post. What is very nice to see is the full carbon steer tube on the fork—no guarantee at this price point.
Obviously, materials truly set this bike apart from the top-of-the-line Bianchis. The carbon recipe is not as hightech, and the bike does without the Countervail vibrationdamping material that so effectively smooths out the Oltre Xr4 and Specialissima. One of the results is more weight—the Aria frame is 1,100 grams compared to the 990-gram OltreXr4 frame.
What the bikes do share is geometry. In disc-brake form, the numbers are admirably aggressive, with low head tubes, steep angles and 410mm chain stays on most sizes—just a touch longer than the rim-brake Aria. Even on the big Aria Disc we tested, 59cm, with 412mm chain stays the wheelbase is just a touch over 1,000mm and the head tube is just 175mm.
Of course, an OltreXr4 frameset alone is $5,900, and the entire Aria Disc Ultegra is just $3,400. The build definitely puts a premium on cost savings, with a Shimano 105 cassette, KMC chain and Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle. The cockpit is Bianchi’s own Reparto Corse alloy and the wheels are alloy as well—Fulcrum Racing 6 DB with Vittoria Rubino IV 28mm tires. The price-conscious build hit 8.4 kilograms (18.5 pounds) in size 59, a less than inspiring number for climbers. But climbing is not what this aero platform is all about; in Italy, it’s actually called the Aria Triathlon and can be purchased with Vision Team clip-on TT bars.
On flat and rolling rides, the Aria truly stretches it legs, showing that this is the terrain it is designed for. It’s noticeably quick, rolling comfortably at 50 kph, although we couldn’t help but wonder how much faster it would feel with some deep carbon wheels. It’s not the liveliest bike at the pedals under quick accelerations, but keep pouring the watts on and its stiffness through the bottom bracket, rear axle and bars shines through. It builds speed efficiently at high wattage, confidently putting the power down with no groaning, torsional flex. The Aria is a phenomenal bike to launch your sprint from a fast-moving group or close a 500-meter gap at warp speed. Thanks to the aggressive fit, the rider is both in a position to deliver big power and stay out of the wind, two features that amplify each other.
As we’ve said, this is a race bike, and Bianchi has made it unapologetically stiff. Yes, it’s stiff in the saddle too. It’s not a century cruiser and has no Countervail vibration-damping material, which would take the edge off of a rough ride. Bianchi has gone for the old-fashioned, but no less effective strategy: tire volume. The bike is spec’d with 28mm tires, and would fit some 30mm tires. With that kind of volume, much of a nasty road surface’s impact can be mitigated without high-tech materials and the accompanying price bump.
In the hills, the bike’s solid power transfer keeps it moving well at high tempo, but there is no hiding the extra weight when it’s steep or the pace changes are rapid. It’s simply not a bike intended to be good at dropping the hammer on a 12-percent pitch. However, we assign much of that blame to the almost 1,700-gram wheels. With a set of 1,500-gram wheels, much of the bike’s perceived lack of liveliness would be mitigated. But, if you happen to be going down that 12-percent pitch, the bike is indeed designed to drop the hammer. The stiffness that delivers so many good vibes under big power, keeps it tight and tidy at high speed on technical routes, with the big rubber delivering gobs of traction and limit-pushing forgiveness.
The Bianchi Aria Disc is not just a worthy stable mate to the Oltre Xr4 and the Speciallissima, it is a worthy successor to the Sempre, reinforcing Bianchi’s reputation as one of the premier entry-level race bike manufacturers in the world. Any rider serious about performance, and serious about keeping a few bucks in the wallet for race entries, will find a willing ally in the Aria—just save a few of those dollars for a wheel upgrade. Something deep and carbon ought to do the trick.
8.4kg/18.5 lbs (size 59, w/o pedals or cages)
Build: Shimano Ultegra 11-speed disc, Reparto Corse alloy bars and stem, with custom carbon seat post; Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle; Fulcrum Racing 6 DB wheels and 28mm Vittoria Rubino IV tires
This review originally appeared in issue 86.