BIANCHI OLTRE XR4 REVIEW

Bianchi’s Oltre XR4 continues a legacy of premium and pricey road machines

In the Italian countryside 15 miles outside the metropolis of Milan, the 137-year legacy of Edoardo Bianchi is continued at the bike maker’s eponymous factory. Business is booming for the world’s oldest bike brand, and plans are in the works to move the Treviglio-based headquarters across town with a focus on reshoring production back to Italy from the current Taiwanese facilities. Production of carbon frames will commence within the next year, and a Bianchi museum will be built on the site to attract enthusiasts. It’s an estimated 45-million-dollar investment to reaffirm the “Made in Italy” moniker.

Much like their forward-thinking plans, Bianchi’s Oltre XR4 continues the bike brand’s legacy of premium road bike offerings. Bianchi was quick to adopt many modern design cues to their road bike lineup. Compliant ride characteristics, clean internal routing and wider tire clearance have been a staple of the Italian designer’s catalog for years. The Oltre XR4 is Bianchi’s top-tier contribution to the aero road bike market. 

Feeling at home on the Oltre XR4 at high speeds in big gears.

THE FRAME

We’ve had a handful of Bianchis roll through our office recently, but none have been as intentionally designed to cheat drag at high speeds and roll smoothly on the road. Our Celeste Specialissima (RBA, August 2021) was a tame Italian road bike in the best way possible. It handled confidently on winding descents and climbed whimsically, thanks to its svelte 16.25-pound build. The Oltre XR4 takes a similar approach in a burlier and more aggressive package. 

Every tube on the carbon frame is designed with airflow in mind. From the hourglass head tube to the ovalized downtube, flattened top tube, truncated airfoil seat tube and lowered seatstays, the Oltre XR4 is purpose-built to cut through the wind with minimal turbulence to the air around the frame. Owing to the trio of Celeste, turquoise and black paint elegantly transitioning across the frame in a palindrome pattern, the Oltre received more than a few lingering gazes on the group ride. 

Starting with a 98.8cm wheelbase and 72.5-degree head tube angle, our size-55cm Oltre XR4 has a long 39cm reach and relatively low 54.1cm stack height. This makes achieving an aerodynamic position in the saddle easy and creates handling characteristics that react more like a luxury Italian sports car than a sedan. 

For the first time, all of Bianchi’s 2022 drivetrain offerings are 12-speed. The new Shimano Ultegra Di2 gruppo provides crisp, reliable shifting with improved braking performance.

As most cyclists know, aero bikes traditionally aren’t known for their smooth rides, and rough roads can compound fatigue, which leads to sore legs, backs and butts. Luckily, the XR4 relies on Bianchi’s proprietary Countervail frame tech that utilizes a viscoelastic material infused into the carbon layup throughout various high-vibration locations of the frame. This Countervail technology was originally developed in the 1970s for aerospace use in the defense industry, and Bianchi was the first bicycle brand to implement it in 2014 on the Infinito endurance bike before adapting it across their catalog. Bianchi claims the Countervail layup design reduces vibrations by 80 percent when compared to a traditional carbon frame. 

THE PARTS

We last tested the Oltre in 2017. Since then, the bike has been almost completely reimagined, parts-wise. Shimano’s 12-speed Ultegra Di2 drivetrain brings wireless shifting and disc brakes to the build. Upfront Vision’s 42cm-wide ACR carbon cockpit keeps the hydraulic lines hidden with internal routing through the headset. The proprietary carbon seatpost has 25mm of setback but remains relatively unchanged and is marked with 10cm of adjustment guides. 

A proprietary carbon seatpost is used to maintain aerodynamic profile of the XR4.

Shimano’s new Ultegra Di2 drivetrain shares many of the characteristics of its predecessor. The updated hoods are a bit more supple and easier to grip. We like the flat gray aesthetic of the cranks and the ease of setup when changing shift modes through the Shimano E-Tube app. Our bike was equipped with compact 50/34 chainrings and an 11-30 cassette. 

A pair of Fulcrum 400 alloy wheels with 25mm Pirelli P Zero tires complete the build. The 34mm-deep hoops use 24 spokes laced to sealed cartridge-bearing alloy hubs. The disc side of each hub has a wider flange to increase stiffness to reduce disc brake rub. Each rim is pre-taped and tubeless-ready. However, the 19mm internal width is much narrower than we’ve seen on many modern road bikes. Despite Fulcrum’s renown for meticulous wheel design, the spec detracted from the overall build.

THE RIDE

Initial impressions on the road were highlighted by how smooth of a ride the XR4’s Countervail frame layup provided. The Oltre rode like a traditional carbon frame on 30mm tires but without the extra rotating mass of wider tires. From the handlebar, the front end felt rigid but lacked the typical vibrations we’d expect from an aero road bike. This resulted in a planted feeling throughout our testing.

Descending, we noted how predictably the bike corners, but a rider could quickly change lines when desired. The XR4’s responsiveness is high, which allowed riders to confidently handle the bike the apex of a corner and remain in control. 

Bianchi’s lowered rear triangle design not only reduces drag, but improves compliance.

Climbing, the Oltre is a bit sluggish, as the 17.8-pound build is about a pound-and-a-half heavier than the Specialissima. The poor climbing performance can also be attributed to the heavier 1710-gram Fulcrum 400s. With the proper wheelset upgrade, the XR4 could receive noticeable improvements in the hills. 

Sprinting is where the XR4 shines. During out-of-the-saddle efforts, the bike feels planted to the road, and the stiff characteristics of the tube shapes and overall frame design keep frame flex at an unnoticeable level. We were able to deliver precision sprints without any of the disc brake rub that plagues many lighter, more flexible frames and forks. 

On our rides, we felt fresher longer, thanks to the vibration-damping effects of the frame design. The aggressive geometry allowed us to achieve an aerodynamic position on the bike, and the angled 42cm handlebar encourages a narrow shoulder profile. The drag-reducing position added up, saving watts as we pedaled along. Don’t confuse an aggressive position with a hunched over one. We were able to ride in our typical position in the drops without any back pain, although we did notice the long reach, geometry-wise, which was compounded by the setback of the seatpost.

Climbing the XR4 feels planted and quick to inputs.

THE VERDICT

Bianchi’s Oltre XR4 continues the brand’s coveted legacy of iconic road machines with its premier ride quality and exceptional aesthetics. Simply, the lines and finish of the XR4’s frame draw the attention of coffee-shop patrons and seasoned cyclists alike. However, while no one at RBA excelled in math class, the nearly 10-large price for a bike sporting Shimano Ultegra and aluminum hoops just didn’t add up. While we remain stalwart proponents of the price/performance ratio of Ultegra (the measly 200-gram weight penalty saves almost $2000!), when coupled with alloy hoops, the XR4’s price tag feels high. 

In fact, price-wise, the Oltre XR4 SRAM Red AXS build is on par with other premium builds and offers a better value as a whole when compared to Specialized S-Works and Trek SLR models. As such, for anyone with this level of purchasing power, we’d recommend the higher-end build for a better cost/benefit equation. 

For those looking for the Bianchi flare with more modest wallets, we’d suggest the Oltre XR3. The XR3 Ultegra Di2 build is priced nearly $4000 less at $5875. Oh yeah, it has the same paint job to match, but lacks the fully internal routing of the XR4. The geometry of the XR3 is a bit more relaxed with a higher stack and shorter reach, which, in general, makes it a better fit for a wider range of riders. 

One thing is for certain—the Bianchi Oltre XR4 is an exclusive platform to ride and show off on the road. It left us wanting to stay in the saddle longer than we anticipated and made handing it back over to Bianchi a bit more difficult than usual. Its forward-thinking frame design stands out in the growing segment of modern aero road bikes. As Bianchi renovates their headquarters and reimagines the essence of “Made in Italy,” we expect the coveted veneration of the world’s oldest bike brand to continue for years to come.

PUNCH LINES

Quick, predictable handling

Low, aggressive geometry

High-end price deserves higher-end parts

STATS

Bianchi Oltre XR4 Price: $9800

Bianchi Oltre XR4 Weight: 17.8 pounds

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

www.bianchi.com

THE GEAR

Helmet: POC   

Jersey: Primal              

Bibs: Nalini                       

Shoes: Specialized          

Socks: Fitter            

Glasses: Uvex     

 

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