Oltre XR4 Disc Super Record 12 Complete Road Bike
We get to see a lot of really nice road bikes go through the doors here at the Competitive offices, some are superbikes, pre-built straight from the manufacturer, others are customer's dream builds where every part and component is picked with an eye towards aesthetic and performance, and lastly there are the bikes where we get to play product manager and spec a complete bike from the frameset up. Sometimes the goal is a build that offers value and other times its building up a wunderbike that captures the essence of the brand and represents the pinnacle of the sport, and that's exactly what we tried to capture with the Oltre XR4 Disc Super Record 12 Complete Road Bike from Bianchi. As one of the most storied brands in cycling and one that epitomizes Italian mystique, it's only natural that we built it up with a groupo from compatriot Campagnolo and its latest Super Record mechanical shifting, hydraulic disc group and a pair of Bora 35mm wheels. Sure, it's not the same as the Shimano spec that World Tour juggernaut Team Lotto campaigns across the globe, but in our minds, hanging anything but Vicenza's finest on a Bianchi just feels wrong. In fact, this package is about as Italian as you can get right down to its Selle Italia SP-01 Kit Carbonio Superflow saddle, Vittoria Corsa G Plus clincher tires in gumwall no less, and Fi'zi:k Endurance Bar Tape.
Team Lotto might be racing the Oltre XR4 in rim guise for now but we fully expect them to make the move to discs in the not too distant future. After all, it did have a hand with the testing and development of this disc frameset. We'll occasionally see images of the team while training, revealing that many riders are choosing the disc frameset outside of the racing arena. This tells us a few things. First, Bianchi clearly supplemented the engineering side of its XR4 Disc R&D with what, for we cyclists, is infinitely more attractive: feedback from the organic experiences of some of the world's most accomplished, knowledgeable, and discerning experts on how a bike should feel. Second, the pros actually prefer the power and modulation that's afforded by disc brakes. Lastly, some teams are still hesitant to use discs in critical races where a slow wheel change due to thru-axles, or incorrect rotor sizes or axle spacing on neutral support wheels could make or break a race. We ride a lot, but we don't race for a living, so we'll gladly put up with a little more effort getting wheels in and out, as well as some additional grams for superior braking power and modulation in all conditions.
There's no doubt that Bianchi knows how to build a racing bike. After all, it has over 130 years of experience and some of the winningest cyclists of all time wore the color Celeste. To craft this disc brake version, Bianchi was already starting with its super impressive Oltre XR4, already an improvement over its outgoing XR2. Compared to the XR2, the XR4's changes include deeper, more pronounced tube cross sections, an integrated seatpost clamp design, a lower seatstay junction, and the inclusion of Bianchi's Countervail technology. Engineering aside, for now, our most important question (and the one pertaining to the Team Jumbo feedback) is: How does it feel to ride it? The answer is very, very fast. The Oltre XR4 is the team's choice in every racing scenario, save for a few cobbled, northern classics where a bit of ride comfort and surefootedness trumps oversized tubes and mega bottom bracket junctions. That's not to say the bike's stiffness doesn't upstage its comfort though, thanks to that Countervail elastomer material shielding high-frequency vibrations from reaching the high-modulus carbon fiber and thus, you. This bike obviously loves the flats, and even on punchy hills and long, grueling mountain passes, the Oltre XR4 never leaves us feeling off of 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. And of course, when it comes time to descend, the Super Record hydraulic disc brakes instill total confidence letting us push a little harder and brake a little later.
The Oltre XR4 disc does carry a few more grams than your typical climbing frame (Bianchi's own Specialissima weighs ~200g less), but we feel that just a little more mass inspires more confidence on high-speed descents and while contesting primes during crits and county line sprints on the weekly training ride. It simply winds up in an instant—no turbo lag here—and when it goes, it unleashes a fury on the asphalt. We wouldn't hesitate in the least to have this as our all-around bike, and we completely understand why Team Lotto uses the Oltre XR4 in almost every race, from Hors catégorie climbing stages to fast sprint finishes. To understand its versatility, it's important to note that climbing goat Primoz Roglic nabbed a Pyrenean stage at the Tour on it while the team's dedicated sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen, used it to a historic win on the Champs.
We'll touch on the material changes between generations (namely the inclusion of Countervail) below, but for now, we'll focus on the fact that the Oltre XR4's different tube shapes produce a claimed increase of 20 free watts by simply reducing drag. The tools Bianchi used to achieve this range from the usual (Computational Fluid Dynamics software and wind tunnel testing) to the decidedly unusual (fluorescent paint applied in the wind tunnel that mapped the flow of air across the frameset's body). Bianchi says the paint trick—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 Contre-la-montre bike, the Aquila CV.
The material changes are, of course, not apparent to the naked eye; however, they may be more important than the adjusted tube shapes. As mentioned above, the XR4 is the first of the Oltre line to incorporate Bianchi's Countervail vibration damping technology. Countervail is a proprietary viscoelastic carbon layer in the frame that devours vibration and road noise without compromising stiffness. Countervail was actually developed by a US-based firm called the Material Sciences Corporation, which developed the technology for use by NASA itself. If Countervail is good enough to help keep actual rocket ships from tearing apart at speeds of around 20,000mph, then we're happy to have it on our figurative ones. Another application that's a little close to home is its inclusion in tennis rackets where serves can often go north of 150MPH and the reduction of vibrations is proven to reduce fatigue and improve control.
Bianchi's been using Countervail in its featherweight climbing frames like the Specialissima for some time now in order to balance the harshness of the punishing moduli that tend to define those frames, as well as on endurance minded and classic taming rigs like the Infinito where comfort is king. The brand argues that it's almost more appropriate in this, the heavier aerodynamic line. We aren't sure if it’s the revised shaping or the addition of Countervail that's responsible for the XR4's weight increase of around 40g. Regardless, Bianchi assures us that the added weight is worth it—especially when the frame's claimed weight is still below 1,000g.
According to Bianchi, Countervail actually improves aerodynamics not by reshaping the frame but by reshaping the rider. Ok, it doesn't technically reshape the rider, but it does limit 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—the benefits of which are obvious. At terminal velocities, road chatter can also contribute to instability and tempt us into a self-defeating series of micro-corrections that produce speed wobbles and force us to slow down or risk losing control. By reducing chatter, Countervail reduces that risk and allows for more speed when the gap is tenuous, at best.
- An all-around road racing frameset proven by Team Jumbo pros
- Geometry is suited for fast training and racing
- High-mod, UD carbon lay-up is stiff, Countervail damps road noise
- Fittingly built up with Italian, Campy Super Record and Bora wheels
- Oversized tubes offer responsive handling and aero efficiency
- Disc brakes provide excellent stopping power and modulation
- Lightning fast in the sprints and on steep climbs
- Everything Bianchi's learned in its 133-year history shines on this bike