2021 BIANCHI SPECIALISSIMA REVIEW

The Bianchi Specialissima continues to impress

When it comes to the myriad of drop-bar bikes we see out on the roads, there are only a few that have consistently attracted as much attention as a Celeste-colored Bianchi. Sure, being the oldest bicycle brand in the world (founded by Edoardo Bianchi in 1885) has a lot to do with it, but their iconic Celeste finish and striking lines that seem to be present on all their bikes remain a consistent head-turner. 

So, when we had the chance to test their pinnacle-level Specialissima, we insisted that it be painted in what is assuredly the most highly recognized color in the road world. 

THE FRAME

The Specialissima, like the rest of the industry, has made the transition to disc, but Bianchi still offers a rim brake version for those old-school holdouts. The bike’s clean aesthetic is no doubt enhanced by what you don’t see—cables. Beyond the wireless SRAM drivetrain, the frame uses the FSA ARC system that hides all the brake hoses and shift wires/cables (if we had them) internally from the bar all the way into the oversized 1.5-inch head tube. This allows the focus to stay fixated on the shapely, aero-refined carbon frame.

SRAM’s wireless 12-speed drivetrain offers a wide range of gearing choices though we would have preferred a larger chain ring on a bike of this caliber.

Our size-55 test bike has a 14cm head tube, but when you include the mandatory ARC top cap, it’s bumped up to 15cm. The geometry is race-oriented but has a good balance, and unlike many race-bred Italian stallions, doesn’t leave you filled with anxiety and holding the bars tight at speed. Instead, the 98.8cm wheelbase and 72.5-degree head tube are confidence-inspiring. There is a frame reach of 38.9cm and a stack of 54cm for an almost perfect fit for our test crew that is between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1.

The frame has short 41cm chainstays but seems to still leave room for 32mm tires. For us, another plus is the use of a PF86 bottom bracket instead of the problematic 30mm option that many companies use. The carbon frame and fork use 12mm axles and flat-mount caliper standard. The fork also runs the brake hose internally until it exits just above the mount. Bianchi claims a frame weight of only 750 grams, but that is likely without the CK16 (Celeste) paint and Mermaid Scale graphic, both of which are completely worth whatever weight they might add.

THE PARTS

Looking at our build is where we got a bit confused. Sure, it is spec’d with SRAM’s top-tier components—Red eTap AXS—that uses wireless shifting, but with further inspection, it might be lacking at this price point. To start, there is no power meter, and we think any proper race bike over $8000 in 2021 should ship stock with power. 

Hydraulic hoses are hidden in the handlebar and stem as they are internally-routed through the headset into the frame.

 

Next was the gear selection that left us confused, with the 46/33 crankset matched to a 12-speed/10-28 cluster. In our opinion, a bike of this caliber should be fitted with the 48/35, and either the 10-28 cassette for speedsters or the 10-33 for a more climbing-oriented setup, which would offer an easier ratio. There is an alloy FSA NS ARC stem paired with a carbon FSA K-Force bar that makes the internal routing possible.

Instead of a basic one-piece thru-axle handle, the Specialissima uses Bianchi’s proprietary lever which is stored in the axle itself.

The last head-scratcher is the Vision SC 40 Disc wheelset. We like that they are tubeless-ready, have a hook bead so you can run any tire, and are fairly modern with a 19mm internal width. The confusing part is that they are an entry-level carbon wheelset that weigh in at over 1600 grams and are 40mm deep. The retail price for the wheels is $1000, and for a bike that is over $12,000, this is a significant letdown. Things do get better, as they have chosen the Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0 tire in size 25mm that measures 28mm on the wheels. We also like that a standard 27.2 round FSA K-Force Light carbon seatpost is topped with the Fizik Argo Vento R1 carbon-railed saddle to finish things off.

THE RIDE

The Specialissima is a tame Italian race bike. This in our opinion is a good thing and is an example of experience and evolution as a brand. The handling is tight and responsive but doesn’t feel like it’s cornering on a razors edge. Instead, it easily dives into tight corners with a stable feeling allowing you to lean more when needed.

When it comes to driving power through the frame in the saddle or out, all our efforts had near-instant response. The frame is stiff and responsive as you would expect from a top-level model. In-the-saddle efforts left us impressed with the level of overall comfort since there is little design emphasis on comfort other than inherent flex of the 27.2mm seatpost. 

One of our biggest issues with the bike doesn’t come from the Bianchi factory but instead with their choice of components. The bike is fast, and we repeatedly would run out of gears any time we pointed it downhill after an epic climb. The max gear of 46×10 was just a little too small for a bike of this style and caliber. 

The bottom bracket drop is not as much as we would normally get on a race bike at only 68mm, but that likely aided in the ability to pedal through the tight turns. The only time we really truly noticed it was when
we were static at a light trying to remain on the saddle with our toe on the ground; it was a reach.

THE VERDICT

Just judging by the reaction that the Specialissima got wherever it was ridden, Bianchi definitely got the bike’s aesthetic nailed. The number of compliments, questions and just general interest in the Celeste-lathered bike was impressive and a true conversation starter. If you’re not one for that much attention, there are three other color options, but this assuredly is the one that best represents Bianchi’s storied racing legacy. We just wished the Bianchi team had chosen a more appropriate gear for a bike of this caliber. 

The selection of entry-level carbon wheels left us wondering how it all adds up to $12,250 since other bikes at this price point roll on wheelsets that retail near $3000.

Any way you look at it, you are getting a sweet ride, and maybe down the line the Bianchi will update their component spec. There are for sure consumers that will be happy to see a 46-33t crank and will just opt for a 10-33t cassette for the ultimate in steep climbing gear options on the road. For us, the color and attention the bike attracted were validation enough to move it up our short list of dream bikes.

PUNCH LINES

Iconic in every way

Who picks the components?

A modern but pricey classic

STATS

Price: $12,250

Weight: 17.25 pounds

Sizes: 47, 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61cm

www.bianchi.com

THE GEAR

Helmet: POC  

Jersey:  Gore Cancellara            

Bib: Gore Cancellara                     

Shoes: Gaerne G. STL        

Socks: Pearlizumi           

Glasses: 100% Speedcraft   

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