BIKE TEST: BIANCHI SPECIALISSIMA

It’s true that there is no shortage of bikes on the market that can get a rider’s blood pumping with lust and anticipation. It’s true, too, that like many cyclists we’re suckers for most things of Italian heritage. Thus we have the Bianchi Specialissima, a modern version of a bike that over the years has brought the sport some of its finest hours and racing glory.

Originally rolled out of the Bianchi factory back in the early ’50s, the Specialissima was fi rst made famous by perhaps Italy’s greatest and most celebrated racer ever, Fausto Coppi. Bathed in the brand’s famous Celeste color, for over half a century various incarnations of the model (all steel) have braved the roads and races around the globe.

It is, of course, a testament to the foundation of the brand that this bike simultaneously grasps the mantle of being the oldest bike company in existence (Edoardo Bianchi founded the company in 1885) while keeping abreast of the very latest tech trends.

The Bianchi eschews all the difficulty found in the modern embrace of the integrated frame and component packages.

THE FRAME
Not unlike Ferrari’s signature use of the color red for their Formula 1 cars, if there was one trait signifying Bianchi’s powerful legacy in the racing world that rose above all others, it would be their universally recognized use of the Celeste color. While the soft, greenish-blue hue remains an ever-present nod to their racing history, everyone who laid eyes on the Specialissima was wowed by the new fluorescent matte version. Yes, we’re just talking paint here, but this modern incarnation or, more specifically, the reaction it elicited speaks volumes to what Bianchi has here. In short, powerful stuff for the geekiest of bike geeks!

Owing to the history of the Specialissima, Bianchi could’ve easily given a nod to both nostalgia and modernity by just rolling out a Columbus stainless steel version and called it good. Luckily, they didn’t. Obviously, any modern bike with racing DNA has to be carbon. The Specialissima is not just a carbon frame but one that utilizes Bianchi’s own Countervail vibration damping, which is an internal coating of the frame tubes that help damp road vibrations. Bianchi claims a 780-gram weight for a 55cm frame.

The frame itself is beautifully designed, with soft edges and gentle curves being the rule. Both the chainstay shaping and the interface between the fork and head tube are especially wondrous.

Although the complete models come spec’d with electronic drivetrains, the frames are also friendly to traditional cables.

THE PARTS
Wiring? Sure, for this price the bike is spec’d with the highest-end electronic drivetrain available— Campagnolo Super Record EPS. It must be true that for any cyclist who is willing to spend over $10,000 on a bicycle that $1500 amounts to chump change. The point? If you’re contemplating buying the Shimano Dura-Ace version for $12,500, you might as well spend the extra cash for the model spec’d with Campagnolo’s EPS drivetrain. Not only do the Italian parts look, feel and work superbly, but trust us, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by avoiding all the nagging friends and passersby who will undoubtedly complain about the disservice you did by running Asian-branded parts on a bike that speaks so deeply into the Italian psyche.

In fact, the same protest could just as easily apply to the FSA handlebar, stem and seatpost combo (versus Italian 3T or Deda parts), but we can at least take some solace knowing that the parts are well-made and lightweight. The stock spec includes the super high-end Campy Bora Ultra wheels, along with a lightweight, Italian-made Selle San Marco SuperLeggera Open saddle that was the perfect choice to top off the bike.

Owing to its racing heritage, the Specialissima preferred to be driven fast and deep into tight corners.

THE RIDE
Although not everyone appreciated the Bianchi’s fast-paced handling, even they couldn’t help but be thankful. With a bike that has the racing legacy of the Specialissima (and really, no other bike does), if this modern iteration displayed anything less than high-performance traits, well, that would be the bigger disappointment. Both the low weight, 99cm wheelbase and geometry helped contribute to a confidence-inspiring flickability at speeds that less enthusiastic bikes would balk at.

While no one felt the Specialissima was an ideal all-day ride bike, neither was it too racy as to be uncomfortable. At no time did the frame feel harsh, but some riders had a difficult time trying to parse the benefits of the Countervail coating versus similarly lightweight carbon race bikes without it.

THE VERDICT
The Specialissima is a bike like few others that speaks volumes to the soul of the sport itself. It’s a special bike that induces the wide use of superlatives after each ride. Although built in Taiwan, the frame maintains additional Italian pedigree by being hand-painted at the Bianchi factory just outside of Milan.

At 14 large, no, we can’t stomach the asking price, but when you assemble an all-star cast of components, the price will reflect it. And while $5000 for a frame is still far from attainable for most of us, it is at least in the ballpark for a high-end frame, especially one that has so much historical and heartfelt significance.

PUNCH LINES

  • Like the name implies, special
  • Frameset price makes more sense
  • Say yes to Campy’s separate shift levers

STATS
Price: $13,999 ($4999 frameset)
Weight: 14.1 pounds
Sizes: 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61cm

www.bianchi.com

BianchispecialissimaCeleste