Bianchi bike test… the full protocol

In each issue of RIDE five bikes are subjected to our full test protocols. This is a process that has been refined over the years and while the application is complex, the idea is simple: we want to present as much information as possible that is useful for a potential buyer. In so doing, we have documented details on a vast number of bikes over the years and one of them just happens to be the same as the one you can win if you subscribe to RIDE before 23 May 2014* – the Bianchi Infinito CV.

 

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While we publish a considerable number of stories and photos online, RIDE Media is primarily a publishing company. One of our specialities is bike reviews and we invest considerable time and effort into making these as comprehensive as possible. For each test there are a sequence of steps that have to be taken prior to publishing and, as a means of promoting our subscription prize, we have decided to share the complete review of the Bianchi Infinito CV that appeared in RIDE #62 (published December 2013).

Beyond what appears in print, we also offer online galleries and commentary – in an audio format – from the ‘Round Table Discussion’. (Click here for the Bianchi Infinito CV example.) This is published on ridemedia.com.au during the first week of the on-sale period so if you don’t have a copy of the magazine, it’s still possible to get some great insight into what the bike is all about as well as great imagery of the product in question. Use the search option on our site to find a vast array of bikes that we’ve reviewed in the past, or click here for the full list of tests over the years.

*Please note: the subs prize offer is only open to residents of Australia.

 

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Before we get to the Bianchi test itself, here is a summary of the protocols each bike is subjected to:

• A ‘Build Report’ written by a mechanic after his fully disassembles the bike (and weighs each component) to get a closer look inside the frame and then see how it all comes back together.

• ‘Flex test jig’ – which measures frame deflection when a 40kg weight is applied to the right crank. This is a test developed by RIDE almost 10 years ago which has, more recently, been copied by other publishers… reminding us that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

• ‘Wheel test’ – when we measure flex of a rim.

• Weight list of every component… the actual weight, not just what the manufacturers want to promote.

• Full specification listing.

• ‘Round Table Observations’ – commentary from riders who go from one bike to the next in rapid succession in an intensive day of testing of all review bikes.

The review itself relates to the ride quality and characteristics of each bike as observed by someone who gets to use it for several weeks (or, at times, months). The captioning is done by our in-house mechanic.

 

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Bianchi Infinito CV review (RIDE #62)

 

– By Greg Chalberg

The Infinito CV is not strictly a comfort bike. Yes, this Bianchi is at the top the ‘Coast2Coast’ range of granfondo bikes. And yes, it has some high-tech material sandwiched between layers of carbon-fibre intended to absorb road vibration (more on that later). It even comes out of the box with my preferred fatty tyres. But at its heart it’s a race machine. It has been designed to enable the rider to enjoy long days in the saddle without a lot of discomfort – ie. it travels well over rough roads at high speed – but there’s more to it.

Juan Antonio Flecha – the respected Spanish strongman who has no fear of the pavé – enjoyed the CV enough during the Classics season that he adopted it as his primary race bike during his final year in the pro peloton. He clearly found a competitive advantage on a comfortable product.

This is a typical fondo bike in that it can be set up high enough at the front to give some a nosebleed, but it has also proven to be suitable for professional racing. Like Cancellara’s Trek Domane or Boonen’s Specialized Roubaix, the CV is a bike designed for multiple uses and two distinct groups of riders, and it handles the needs of both groups equally well.

I’ve owned a few Bianchi bikes over the years, including a lovely SLX frame in the early 1990s, an awesome 1996 Martini Racing MTB – that featured an early version of what Gary Fisher would later call “his” Evolution geometry, and a sweet bike that carried me through a woeful cyclocross season in Los Angeles. (To clarify, the bike was fine; I was woeful…)

I’ve ridden many more Bianchi bikes since, and I’m always impressed with the dialled-in feel of the geometry; it’s the right mix of agility and stability. That Bianchi has perfected handling characteristics shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, the company has been making bikes since 1885!

The ‘right’ geometry has carried through to the Infinito CV. To me, this is an impressive accomplishment. The extra height of the head tube could easily unbalance proceedings, taking too much weight from the front end. The higher frame is definitely noticeable, and the effect was exaggerated because the most recent Bianchi I’d ridden was a dedicated race bike, the Oltre XR. I found it necessary to swap to a downward angled stem to find a position that suited me, but once it was set up I found some familiarity in the ride quality to match the familiar Bianchi palette.

The real question for Bianchi was never about how to find the right geometry for endurance riders, but how to incorporate new materials and technology into proven designs?

Geometry adjustments alone do not get bike companies into the deep end of the granfondo design pool. This seems to be the market category where the industry’s biggest players are allocating significant resources, perhaps even dictating terms for traditional technology drivers – pure race bikes. Here’s the thinking: if the technology can allow less-than-super-fit-50-somethings to complete rides longer than they’d previously have considered possible, there’s a chance this could help racers to compete at a higher level for longer, not feel as fatigued, and recover faster.

 

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Looking for a competitive edge or simply a point of difference, Bianchi partnered with Material Sciences Corporation to bring the Pennsylvania company’s Countervail technology to the bicycle market.

Countervail is a vibration cancelling material. It’s layered into a variety of construction materials to absorb vibration as it travels through a structure. It can be applied to carbon, fiberglass or metal – in fact, a vast range of products from tennis rackets to snowboards to helicopters. If you can picture a standard sine curve, for a given frequency Countervail can reduce the amplitude. The Bianchi Infinito CV has the first application of Countervail in the bicycle industry, sandwiched between its layers of carbon-fibre.

Does it actually work? Countervail is patented for a reason, promising to do its job in this application without affecting pedalling efficiency, which it certainly accomplishes. High frequency vibrations are muted compared to the Oltre XR, but it remains a very stiff frame.

The smoothest bikes down the rough descent into North Bondi are usually also the most quiet, yet I won’t say that the Infinito is either of these. There was just enough constant vibration coming through to trigger some rattling of the internal brake cables. Smooth? Yep. But the smoothest? Nope. Still, it should be noted that descent times on the Bianchi are among my fastest.

One excursion took us on a wooden footbridge across Parsley Bay, followed by a short climb up a walking path featuring a bunch of switchbacks that seemed to be no more then one metre in radius. It’s like a Micronaut-scale Stelvio. You think of granfondo bikes with their longer chainstays and wheelbases as somehow being unwieldy, but that’s not the case here. The Infinito was more than nimble enough for this ascent without a dismount. Other rides confirmed that the Infinito has a fine mix of ride characteristics. Comfortable, stable and nimble.

 

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This was my first use of Campagnolo Athena, something I had been quite excited about. But I was a bit underwhelmed by the performance. It seems cumbersome. One gear, one click at a time on outward shifting for the rear derailleur makes it a significant step down from Chorus (which sits only one tier above Athena but retains most of the benefits and traits of Campagnolo’s top-spec groupsets). The hoods and brake levers retain a similar shape that I have grown to love above all others, but a slight lack of feel from the shift levers left me wishing for Chorus.

I was similarly unimpressed with the Athena brakes until I replaced the stock long-wearing but vague and powerless brake pads with a grippier option that offered more feel. With that change I was quite happy with the dual-pivot calipers.

One important note regarding my lukewarm feelings on Athena is that this group is just one of many options available for the Infinito CV. As stated earlier, this frame is designed to compete at the highest levels and as such is offered with top-tier ensembles all the way up to Super Record EPS and Dura-Ace Di2. Other than the disc brake-equipped version, frame specs are exactly the same regardless of the build option.

Each component option features a wheelset of a suitable calibre to match the gruppo. The Athena bike has the Fulcrum Racing 5 wheelset. It’s a thoroughly practical option, not particularly light, but tough enough to ride every day.

The rear wheel is redesigned for 2014 with an asymmetric rim and spoke arrangement, which should only cement its reputation as a dependable mid-range option. Personally, I’m not a fan of 11-tooth cogs: the tight wrap of the chain around such a small cog causes faster wear and more noise. But I acknowledge they’re a necessity when running compact chainrings. I found the limits of this bike’s biggest gear: 50×12, and was pedalling as fast as my legs could spin on descents.

I found the Infinito CV to be very similar in ride quality to Bianchi’s Oltre XR, with slightly revised frame geometry to differentiate between a fondo bike and a pure racer. The Oltre XR is a tad stiffer, the Infinito CV a touch smoother. But there is plenty of overlap in terms of road feel and intended usage between the top two in the Bianchi line-up. The CV material seems to have little impact on frame stiffness, while succeeding in its task of muting a degree of road vibration. Not a huge degree, but a bike like this – which will be used by the Belkin team in 2014 – will have some important races on its schedule which means it was never going to ride like a Cadillac.

The longer the ride, the more the CV’s relaxed geometry helps. I can understand why a seasoned pro like Flecha would select this option. It wasn’t built to be a criterium bike.

When you’re beginning to fatigue after four or five hours in the saddle, when concentration is gradually drifting away, that is when you really appreciate the fact that you don’t have to be so intently focused on what your equipment is doing. It should work for you, not against you. And I believe that the stable geometry of the Bianchi Infinito CV allows you to sit up, have a stretch, and remember that you actually enjoy a bit of pain on Sunday afternoons.

 

– By Greg Chalberg

 

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The Build Report…

This bike was air freighted from Italy for this review. It’s one of the earliest production models, and we’re not going to blame Bianchi for what may have been a turbulent flight from Italy. Campagnolo cranks are supplied with the thick sticker to protect the logos on the carbon during shipment, but there was a noticeable scratch outside the protected zone. No structural damage, but a shame to mark up such a pretty crank.

Ah yes, the Athena cranks: could there be a more unnecessarily complicated removal process? Three specific tools are needed for a job which usually only requires a common hex key. We had the huge 14mm key needed to take out the fixing bolt (a tool only used once before, to remove a Cannondale TT fork). I took it all down to our local bike shop, Urban Cyclist, which luckily for us had the small automotive gear puller and dedicated Campagnolo axle plug needed to remove the left crank arm. Oh, and they also had the specially designed cardboard shields needed to protect the crank arm from the aforementioned gear puller. Apparently this was only the second time this contraption saw some action, but without these tools I wouldn’t have been able to give the frame its proper inspection. The whole episode was a reminder how important it is to have a good bike shop on your side.

The finish around the tastefully sculpted fork crown was a bit untidy, but the rest of the paintwork looked great. The headset bearings had enough grease for a small fleet of bikes, but underneath the bearing seats looked clean and tidy. Set-up on the semi-internal shift cables (external from the bottom bracket to the rear derailleur) was straightforward, aided with a small access port below the BB.

A three-star prep rating is attributed to the crank fiasco. The finish was generally quite good – four stars. Quality rating is three stars – Athena is Campagnolo’s fourth-tier mechanical gruppo, but the same frame is available with premium groups and raced by professionals, which earned a bonus star.

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Additional mechanical commentary…

One ensemble that requires three specific tools for one component – the crank – is madness. It’s worth reiterating for this is an example of Campagnolo making things more complicated than it needs to. The cranks look the same as Chorus and Record, so why wouldn’t the same attachment process be used?

In recent issues, a large percentage of build reports has been devoted to cable routing: when they run inside the frame, it makes assembly and servicing more more complex and can affect the quality of shifting and/or braking. It’s done for aesthetics (mainly) although aerodynamics is cited as the reason. In this instance, it was relatively simple to set up.

 

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(Note: there is also the full specification, pricing, distributors details, company website information and footnotes on the components for each of the bikes on test in each issue.)

Author: rob@ride

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