Bianchi's Oltre XR3 is nimble and sharp handling, and it offers a ride that's smooth by aero road bike standards.
One of Bianchi's key selling points for the Oltre XR3 is the use of Countervail technology, so let's deal with that up top.
We've covered Countervail many times before here on road.cc because it's something that's included in several other bikes in Bianchi's range. According to Materials Sciences Corporation, the company behind it, 'Countervail is an innovative composite material system that combines traditional vibration damping layer concepts and a patented fibre preform. Unparalleled vibration damping is derived from the fibre preform itself, where the fibre pattern maximises the vibrational energy dissipation by a viscoelastic damping layer.'
The technology has been used to deal with vibration in applications as diverse as helicopters and tennis rackets, although it's exclusive to Bianchi in the bike world.
Bianchi argues that because your body accounts for about 80% of the aerodynamic drag that works against you as you cycle, it's vital that you're able to stay in your most efficient riding position for as long as possible. The Countervail technology is designed to help you remain in an aero position by cancelling vibration and thereby increasing your control, reducing muscle fatigue, and keeping you comfortable.
It's a good argument... as long as the Countervail delivers on its promises. You'd have to say that the Oltre XR3 does provide a smooth ride by race bike standards. It feels like some of the high-frequency vibration is being damped here, but the tyres you use and the pressure at which you run them, the wheels, the saddle, the seatpost, the handlebar, the bar tape... they all have a major effect on how the bike feels too.
As far as I can tell without taking it to the lab, the Countervail does have a positive influence on the way the bike feels, but don't expect miracles here. You're going to get a little less buzz than you'd otherwise get, not a totally different ride experience. Don't expect the Countervail to do anything to soften the blow if you rattle through a pothole or hit a big bump in the road. It might dissipate vibration but it can't smooth over major irregularities.
While we're covering comfort, it seems nuts to me that Bianchi has invested so much in Countervail technology over several years and then wrapped the Oltre XR3's handlebar in tape that is, to put it bluntly, horrible. Thin and not very grippy, it wouldn't last a week if this was my bike. Still, swapping bar tape is cheap and simple so I wouldn't let it alter my buying decision.
The other factor that's going to influence comfort greatly is the geometry and whether or not it suits you. The Oltre XR3 is available in seven sizes from 47cm to 61cm. The top tubes of the various sizes are exactly the same lengths as those of the top-level Oltre XR4 models, while the head tubes are 5mm longer across the board.
To take a 55cm model as an example, the head tube is 145mm, the effective top tube is 550mm and the seat tube is 495mm. The stack height (the vertical distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the top of the head tube) is 545mm and the reach (the horizontal distance between those points) is 388mm.
The corresponding figures for the Oltre XR4 are 541mm and 390mm respectively, so the Oltre XR3 is a touch more relaxed but the difference is minor. It's very much a race bike setup.
The Oltre XR3 feels super-stiff when you dish out the watts. There's little flex either through the centre or the front end of the frame, and that's always a good start for a performance-focused bike. You get the feeling that your effort is getting turned efficiently into forward movement rather than flexing the various parts of the frameset around.
The fork is a full-carbon integrated design (the shape of the crown flows into that of the frame's head tube and down tube) with a tapered steerer (1 1/8in upper bearing, 1 1/2in lower bearing) and wide legs. It takes you exactly where you want to go no matter how hard you lean the bike into a corner.
Bianchi took the Oltre XR2 as its starting point for the XR3's design and then altered many of the tubes and features, resulting in a very different bike. Although the down tube and chainstays are the same, pretty much everything else has been tweaked or completely changed.
The head tube is new, for example, the aero design fairly similar to that of the XR4, and the seat tube is new too, although it is still cut away around the leading edge of the rear wheel.
The seatstays are beefier than the XR2's. Brands often use super-skinny seatstays to reduce vibration, but Bianchi says that Countervail does that job so well that it can afford to make the stays stronger to reduce flex. The idea is that this boosts the performance of the brakes which, unlike those of the Oltre XR4, are dual pivot rather than direct mount. I can't say that I noticed any difference on that front, to be honest.
The seatpost is aero profiled with a wedge-type clamp that's hidden within the top tube. It has an adjustable head clamp offset (the amount the head clamp is set back from the centre of the post) of 25mm or 10mm, which means you get a lot of scope for altering your riding position.
One feature that I did find a bit odd is that you still get bolts on the underside of the down tube to take an external battery for electronic shifting. Surely that could have been safely ditched.
Bianchi claims a fork weight of 370g and a frame weight of 1,110g (+/-5%, 55cm model). For comparison, the Oltre XR4 has a claimed frame weight of 980g (-/-5%, size 55cm) and a 370g fork. The complete 59cm bike I rode, built up with a Campagnolo Potenza groupset and Fulcrum Racing 7 LG wheels, was 8.06kg (17.8lb).
That's by no means superlight for a bike of this price, but the Oltre XR3 isn't designed to be. If your main priority is a light weight, check out Bianchi's Specialissima. The Oltre is designed as an aero road bike and Bianchi says that although it doesn't match the more expensive XR4 in the wind tunnel, it still puts in an efficient performance (no comparative figures have been published and we're not in a position to conduct wind tunnel testing).
The Oltre XR3 is available in various different builds:
* Shimano Dura-Ace Mix, with Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels – £4,599.99
* Full Campagnolo Chorus, with Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels – £4,199.99
* Full Shimano 105, with Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels – £2,799.99
* Full Campagnolo Potenza, with Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels – £3,299.99
I've been riding the last of these. If you want to know all about the Campagnolo Potenza groupset, head over to Stu's review. I'd agree that it's really impressive stuff and I especially like the Ergopower shifters. The hoods are super-comfy and the thumb lever is easy to push whether your hands are up there or down on the drops. Plus, of course, Potenza will please those people who believe you have to fit Campag components on a bike from an Italian brand.
The Fulcrum Racing 7 LG alloy wheels will be treated as place holders by most people. I mean, they're fine but they're entry level and this is a three grand bike. Don't get me wrong, they do a decent enough job for everyday use but they're not competition wheels and they don't have aero credentials so, in those senses, they don't suit the Oltre XR3's character.
If you intend racing you might well have your own favourite race wheels anyway, which is probably what Bianchi figured when it came to speccing this bike.
If I'd not ridden the Bianchi Oltre XR4 Super Record last year, I'd probably be raving more about the XR3... but that's not fair because this bike, in this build, is a third of the price! Just about anything is going to be overshadowed by that XR4 which was, after all, the road.cc Superbike of the Year 2016-17.
The XR3 isn't quite as light or as sparky, naturally enough, but it's still a very able performance-orientated bike. It's lively, quick to react and the ride is unusually good for a bike of this kind.
Fast-reacting aero road bike with a very good ride quality
road.cc test report
Make and model: Bianchi Oltre XR3
Size tested: 59cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Bianchi lists these details:
Frame Carbon monocoque with Countervail technology
Fork Full carbon with Countervail technology
Chainset Campagnolo Potenza 52-36T
Front derailleur Campagnolo Potenza
Rear derailleur Campagnolo Potenza
Brakes Campagnolo Potenza
Chain Campagnolo 11-speed
Cassette Campagnolo 11-speed 11-29
Wheels Fulcrum Racing 7 LG
Tyres Vittoria Rubino Pro 700 x 25
Handlebar Bianchi Reparto Course 2014 aluminium alloy
Stem Bianchi Reparto Course 7050 aluminium alloy
Seatpost Bianchi Oltre
Saddle San Marco Concor
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Bianchi Oltre XR3 is designed to be an aero road bike.
Bianchi says, "Our objective has been to extend the availability of our Oltre aero frame platform, engineered with Countervail patented technology.
"The new Oltre XR3 benefits from the same revolutionary frame-design developments proven at the highest level of racing on the acclaimed Bianchi Oltre XR4. The Oltre XR3 delivers the perfect combination of control, and the competitive advantage of advanced aerodynamics.
"The underlying technology used in the XR3 – Countervail, exclusive to Bianchi CV models – cancels the vibration resulting in increased control and reduced muscle fatigue. The result with the Oltre XR3 is a smooth ride and a racer who can stay focused in their fastest, most efficient aerodynamic position for longer.
Oltre XR3 riders retain the best possible control, a significant advantage wherever and however you ride and race, with no compromise in power transfer from pedal-stroke to pedal-stroke.
"The key technology Countervail is a carbon composite-material system that combines patented structural carbon with viscoelastic resin.
"Bianchi collaborated with Materials Sciences Corporation to develop our innovative and exclusive use of the MSC's patented Countervail® integrated vibration cancelling system for cycling.
"Countervail is a carbon composite-material system that, with special fiber architecture, combines patented structural carbon with viscoelastic resin. Countervail cancels 80% of vibrations while increasing the stiffness and strength of our carbon frames and forks.
"Countervail is embedded within the entire frame of Bianchi CV high-performance road and MTB models: Specialissima, Oltre XR4, Oltre XR3, Infinito CV, Aquila CV and Methanol CV."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's very good throughout.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Bianchi says this about the frame:
- Carbon Monocoque technology
- High strength + medium modulus carbon fibers with Countervail material
- Unidirectional carbon woven
- Aero shape and design
- BB set Press fit 86.5 x 41
- Internal cable routing
- Full carbon dropout with metal insert
- Weight in 55 size: 1110g (+/- 5%)
And it says this about the fork:
- Full carbon 1 1/8in to 1 1/2in with Countervail material
- Head crown tube 1.5in with integrated design for perfect head tube connection
- Wide blades
- Reactive geometry
- Super rigid
- Light weight
- Weight: 370g
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's a racing geometry, so low and efficient.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It's about normal for a race bike – nothing too unusual.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's comfortable, yes. Not too much vibration comes through the frame – although I'd swap the bar tape for something with more depth and cushioning to it.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, it's very stiff at both the bottom bracket and the front end.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Without a doubt, it feels every inch an efficient race bike.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
None, it just misses.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Quite lively and reactive.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It corners very well and is easy to throw around in a group of riders.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The handlebar tape isn't much cop; it's too thin to offer much comfort. That's easy to replace. Some people might find the San Marco saddle lacking in cushioning but there's quite a bit of flex in the shell to help take the edge off bumps and holes.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels are low rent on a bike of this price – they're more place holders than anything you're likely to keep on it permanently – although they're reasonably stiff.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, although the wheels and cockpit aren't up to the standard of the rest of the bike.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Fulcrum Racing 7s aren't high spec for a bike of this price and you can get complete Campag Pozenza-equipped bikes much cheaper than this. It's the quality of the frameset that keeps the value at a good level. The overall performance is high, especially from the frameset, and that's what counts most. This earns the Oltre XR3 an overall score of 8.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.