Wilier Cento Uno
101. Cento Uno. Whenever we see those numbers, we think that the noun it follows must be an introduction of some sorts. Philosophy 101, that sort of thing. 101 predates FAQ. Basic, simple, answers all the questions.
But Wilier's Cento Uno is anything but basic. It's the flagship bike of the Wilier Triestina line. 46-Ton carbon fiber cloth is utilized. The tubing has multiple shapes. The design is a cross between monocoque and tube construction. The shape is somewhere between compact and traditional. The stays are asymmetric. The dropouts are molded carbon fiber with aluminum inserts. The bottom bracket cups are built into the frame. There's a seat mast.
Like our hero Shaft, it's complicated. And when you look at the Cento Uno's palmares, it is complicated as well. It has won under team Lampre on the flats, in the mountains, in sprints, and solo.
Without a defining characteristic, the only way to gain an understanding is to ride. Even that proved complicated. When choosing the right size, we ignored the seat tube height as recommended and focused on the effective top tube length and head tube height. First the top tube, then the head tube. The Medium, where we thought we'd fit, at a middling height of 5'9", had a too short top tube, 53.8cm, for our tastes. But the Large, with the preferred 55.5cm effective top tube, had a slightly taller head tube, 15.9cm, than we're comfortable with, and our regular bike has a flat headset cap and no spacers under the stem . We went with the Large, planned on running the stem as low as possible and figured we might have to cut down the seat mast.
Amazingly, we didn't have to cut down the mast at all. But we did have to remove the tall headset cap and replace it with a flat one. Even then, we might have done better with a 73º stem. Since we think our proportions are fairly normal, we asked around about the frame sizing. Turns out that people who like a long and low front end are frequently setting up the Cento Uno with flat headset caps and 73º stems to get low enough. The really flexible might even size down and run a long stem. The ratio here of top tube and head tube seem more indicative of "century" bikes, ones that are built for high-end riders more interested in comfort than speed. You see big bike companies having separate racing and non-racing high-end carbon fiber bikes these days; like Specialized with the Tarmac and Roubaix, Cannondale with the Synapse and Super Six and so on.
Setting up a cap on a seat mast might look like tricky business. It isn't. An aluminum insert sits inside the top of the mast to reinforce the carbon fiber. So long as you use a torque wrench and hit the recommended torque, the cap will neither slide nor crush. And the Ritchey cap has a great one-key seat rail clamp that is easy to work with. Pull out the insert when cutting down the mast. And if seat masts aren't to your liking, you can cut down the mast. From here, you can either get a seatpost with an expander plug, Selcof makes one, or put on a seatpost clamp and run a 31.6mm seatpost.
Before we took the bike on its inaugural roll, we had to weigh it. With Campy 11-Speed Super Record, Ritchey carbon bars, Ritchey Carbon-Wrap stem, Flite saddle, Arundel Cages, Speedplay Zero Pedals, and Campy Nucleon wheels with Michelin Pro3 tires, the bike weighed in at 15.91lbs. We think that's pretty light for a daily bike riding setup. Swap in a lighter stem, carbon fiber wheels and the bike is at the UCI weight limit.
The first ride was surprising. The bike felt fast. Really fast. Even when going slow. Maybe "lively" is a better word. We couldn't tell if it was geometry, material or the je ne sais quoi that separates the great bikes from the rest. It wasn't that the ride is twitchy, but we weren't sure if it was quite as stable as our regular bike. It felt like the front wheel was swaying ever so slightly on the ride, even when riding on a straight road in the saddle. Turning was fast. Climbing felt great. Between the Hirth-jointed Campy crank spindle, the generous carbon around the bottom bracket shell, and the molded cups, or maybe something else, the bike responded instantly to every out-of-saddle effort, whether it was a stretching of the legs or a full-on sprint. Pounding a big gear uphill was good, too.
We went back to the spec sheet to further divine what we were sensing. The specs offered few clues. The head and seat angle match our daily bike. Bottom bracket height and fork rake weren't listed. Maybe a higher bb and shallower rake? Or a longer rake? In many respects, numbers don't matter. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it rides good, it is good.
We continued riding. Took it to an uphill time trial. Even au bloc on a rough road, the bike rode well and felt fast. We took it to a circuit race with a tight turn at the top of the course. No problem taking the 180-degree turn at race speeds and then jumping on it out of the corner. We found the steepest, most serpentine hills to climb and descend. The bike did great. We have one descent where the top is so steep and the first curve so dramatic that we can catch a car that has a several second head start at the top -- and it's a 45mph zone. We were on the car before the turn and rode its draft all the way down the 1.5-mile drop; if there had been less traffic going up, we were sure we could have passed a line of cars. Felt great, but this is exactly what we can do on our own bike, one that we know intimately.
Finally, we got around to asking Wilier about the unknown geometry issues. The bottom bracket height is 27cm. The fork rake is 45mm. Wilier has never seen a need to publish these numbers. Turns out, our regular bike has a .5cm longer top tube, .2cm lower bottom bracket, and the same fork rake. The two bikes have nearly identical geometry. They should ride about the same, maybe.
That is, about the same if it weren't for the frame material. The Wilier has sort-of answered a question that's been on our minds for a long time. What would we feel if we could have bikes built up in different materials but with the same geometry? We've long wanted to take a Sachs and get an aluminum builder to mimic the geometry, and then get either Calfee or Parlee to do the same and then ride the three bikes with identical builds on repeated runs to see which bike feels the best. We know there are about a billion caveats that could make a difference, some big, some small, so much that the comparison might be worthless, but we do wonder. We've only seen one such test, and that was with steel Torelli's built up in different Columbus tube sets. For the record, we used our regular wheels and tires. We used what should be a stiffer crank. We had carbon bars on the test bike, not aluminum like we usually ride. Still, it is remarkable how different the two bikes ride. The Cento Uno has a great ride, a much greater difference than we would have expected if we had known that the bike was so similar to what we usually ride.
For all the complexity, all the thought, all the considerations and deliberation, the Wilier Cento Uno is a kind of 101. Climbing, sprinting, soloing, riding the evil stones. Yes.