Oltre XR3 CV Disc Ultegra Road Bike
Improving on something that's already been scrupulously refined is never easy, but Bianchi somehow managed to do just that with its new XR3 disc. This bike rivals the performance of the XR4, but uses a few simple measures to keep the cost much more reasonable, like a slightly heavier carbon layup and non-integrated cockpit. Though it lacks the XR4's integrated cockpit and it's incremental aero gains, the XR3 disc is still an aggressive race bike designed for the competitive rider who's looking for a bike that's fast, light, versatile, and simply a pleasure to ride.
Our most important question is answered with an excellent answer: This bike is fast. Bianchi's perfectionism shows in the Oltre's oversized tubes, intimidating bottom bracket, and the high-modulus carbon fiber that the Countervail elastomer is designed to support. It obviously loves the flats, but even on punchy hills or long, grueling mountain passes, the Oltre XR.3 never leaves us feeling off our pedal stroke. No matter the terrain, the drive spine seems to always feel high-strung, eager to accelerate and with no noticeable mushiness or dead spots.
The Oltre XR3 does carry a few extra grams than your typical climbing frame, but it inspires more confidence at high speeds and while contesting lines in corners and sprints. Its robust body means the XR3 also approaches those sprints with the menacing inevitably of stylized violence in ironically exploitive postmodern cinema. That is to say it winds up in an instant—no gradual escalation needed—and when it goes it goes in spectacular fashion.
Bianchi says the paint tricks borrowed from the aero-obsessed motorsport industry represents the first time that this technique has been used in developing a bicycle frame. We say that it's borderline criminal to spoil a Bianchi paint job with glow-in-the-dark slop. Those drag savings do go some way toward assuaging our umbrage, though, and even to the naked eye the frame does present a noticeably reduced leading edge to the wind, with the head tube in particular bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bianchi's TT bike, the Aquila CV.
The material changes are, of course, not apparent to the naked eye; as the carbon fiber with Countervail may be the biggest influencer to this bike's ride quality. Countervail is a proprietary viscoelastic carbon layer in the frame that devours vibration and road noise without compromising stiffness.
According to Bianchi, Countervail actually improves aerodynamics not by reshaping the frame, but by reshaping the rider. It limits the punishment of road vibrations, taking some of the sting out of contorting into an aerodynamic position and letting you stay aggressively tucked for longer. That equates to less time acting as a human-shaped parachute clinging to the back of a technologically advanced frame shape and more time shedding drag. At terminal velocities, road chatter can also contribute to instability and tempt us into a self-defeating series of micro-corrections. By reducing chatter, Countervail reduces that risk and allows for more speed when the gap is tenuous, at best.