First ride: Bianchi Impulso 2012
We get the world's first test ride on Bianchi's new baby… and Mat reacquaints himself with the Oltre
We saw the new Impulso for the first time at the Bianchi 2012 launch on Tuesday and we were the first journalists to take it out for a ride on Wednesday. We also put some time in on the Oltre and the Infinito, but the big news was the new Impulso so let's home in on that.
Bianchi only had one Impulso available to ride at the launch in a 55 - on paper that should have meant neither Mat nor I could ride it - in fact both of us could have (well if they'd had a longer post for Mat). Bianchi were making much of the Impulso's looks at its launch. In the end, while the look of a bike may make you fall in love with it, it's the ride that will keep the passions burning. So what is it like to ride?
I found out on an initial short group ride featuring 50 or so journalists from around the world plus assorted Bianchi types, the Impulso certainly didn't feel out of place as the only aluminium bike in a very high end carbon pack. It more than held its own… even with me riding it. We also later took it and an Oltre off for some more Italian road action.
In fact, that first ride pointed up a number of good things about the Impulso. First, Bianchi really do have their geometry dialled. On a 55cm Impulso that means a 73.5° seat angle and a 72° head angle. It also means the top and seat tubes are also both 55cm. The Impulso is part of Bianchi's Coast 2 Coast range built for distance, but Bianchi insist that means long distance racing not necessarily sportives and the position is certainly lower than many sportive-oriented bikes that I've ridden while not quite as low as the Sempre or the Oltre. Certainly, this is a bike you could well imagine rolling on in the drops for many a comfortable mile - and indeed the shallow drops help there too, as does the long bottom hook allowing you to move your hand right back if you want to raising your body at the same time.
Mixing it in the journalistic peloton, the Impulso also showed itself to be admirably well mannered. You need to pay attention when you're riding busy, unfamiliar, weather-damaged roads among a large group of riders of varying abilities and fitness levels – pros, ex-pros, wannabe racers, club riders, and guys who just like to get out and ride. You want a bike you can put your trust in. Add in the fact that 13 different nationalities were present and that some people weren't used to riding in groups and signalling hazards to riders behind and you actually have quite a good test for the Impulso in its natural environment, the sportive… sorry, Bianchi, but that is definitely where this baby is going to be playing.
Out on the road the Impulso quickly earned my trust. This is a bike that goes where you tell it without any fuss. Steering is pleasingly neutral and of the point and shoot variety. In large part that's down to the front end of the bike being admirably stiff. The head tube would be a stiff unit even without the supposed 10 per cent extra stiffness that Bianchi say is added by their triple hydroforming process. Almost all of the head tube is braced by the top and down tubes and further strength is added by the asymmetrical flare from top to bottom. The flared head tube also makes for a greater contact area with the no-nonsense straight-bladed carbon/alloy fork, again adding further strength and surefootedness. This is a bike that is not going to be bounced of its line easily by a crappy road surface, sudden pothole, or sunken drain cover... all of which the roads of Lombardy had to offer in abundance. It was almost like being at home.
Our acquaintance might have been brief, but it was long enough to suggest that the Impulso can cope with a sudden nasty surprise. If the guy in front doesn't have time to warn you about that rut ahead, or the loose gravel on the bend, the Impulso will deal with it.
While the frame may be the heart of the bike, the wheels and tyres count for a lot too when it comes to ride quality and handling. The Impulso comes with Hutchinson Equinox tyres on semi deep section own brand Reparto Corse rims. I've not ridden Hutchinson Equinox tyres before but they do have a reputation for reliability and grip particularly in the wet. They were fine in the dry too. Probably the best I can say on the wheel/tyre combo is that during our ride they didn't do anything to make me notice them in a bad way.
The other part of the handling equation is getting your power to the back wheel as efficiently as possible to close that gap to the next wheel or simply put a spurt on to the next sign. Aluminium bikes have traditionally done this well, and the Impulso is no exception. The big-boned bottom bracket doesn't mess about, providing a stable pedalling platform that combines with the chainstays featuring Bianchi Active Technology (it's all about reducing torsional flex) to get your power to the back wheel quickly with the minimum of lag between input and response.
It's been years since I last rode a bike equipped with Campag's Veloce groupset and the years have been kind to it. The shifting performance is vastly improved since last we met. I also really like the shape of the hoods: comfortable and just tall enough to add reassurance. The shallow-drop FSA alu bars were also very pleasant with a wide variety of hand positions on offer and a generous amount of length at the back of the drop. Over rough roads my hands stayed unbattered, as did the rest of me. These days riding an aluminium bike does not mean having your fillings rattled loose over rough roads. I would want to spend a lot longer on the Impulso to offer an opinion on its all-day riding comfort (the same goes for the Selle San Marco saddle), but it couldn't be described as harsh on first introduction.
The Impulso will hit our shores later this year, and from what we were told at the launch we're guessing it will be priced somewhere around the £1,300 mark,. If you are in the market to spend some money on a big mile performance machine it would definitely be worth a test ride. Production models will be available with a Bianchi Celeste paint job and I'm sure Bianchi have calculated that there are enough celeste fans out there to make the Impulso a hit – although it will face stiff compeition from the likes of Cannondale and Giant in particular. Indeed, the Giant TCR is also a bike you'd have to look at closely to see it's not carbon. I would start to fear for it should the price be any higher because then it is straying well in to the realms of entry-level carbon (even at £1,300 there will be plenty of carbon competition).
Riding the Oltre (again)
The Oltre is a lightweight, all-out race bike. It's what Bianchi call their super high end performance machine – their HoC (Hors Category) bike that sits above their simple high end bikes, which is why the 2011 Dura-Ace equipped version will set you back £6,500.
Ride the Oltre and the thing that strikes you is just how light and responsive it is. The frame is about 950g in size 55 and the bike spins up to speed and climbs ridiculously easily... which is what you expect of a high end race bike. Rigidity is up there with the best too largely thanks to the oversized (BB30) bottom bracket and the large-diameter head tube (housing a 1.5in lower headset bearing) that features X-TeX moulding on the inside – it has raised ridges in a lattice arrangement to add stiffness without adding weight.
The geometry is out-and-out race-focussed – low and stretched for efficiency with keen enough reactions to steer you away from trouble when you're riding in a group. Comfort clearly isn't as high a priority as speed here but the ultra thin seat stays do help smooth over poor roads and keep the wheels in contact with the ground over the really rough bits. It really is one of those bikes that's an absolute joy to ride.