Bianchi has taken its popular Oltre XR3 and whacked a pair of discs on it for 2018. Okay, there's a little bit more work involved than that – like a new fork and a tweaked rear end for the flat mount callipers – but what it has delivered is a smooth-riding speed machine that just devours the miles. I reckon it looks good too. We might not have started off as friends but we ended on a high.
- Pros: Countervail technology reduces road buzz at higher tyre pressures, Ultegra groupset is awesome
- Cons: Not the sharpest handling for a race machine, it's up against some impressive and cheaper competition
The Oltre and I didn't bond straight away, and to get the most out of it I had to refine my riding style. I began thrashing around on it like a race bike – after all, it is part of Bianchi's Racing range – but I didn't really feel like I was being rewarded for my efforts, either from my own feedback or what showed on the Garmin screen.
It's not that the Bianchi is a slouch, but if you want an adrenaline-fuelled, grin-fest of a ride – as you'd expect from a race machine – the XR3 might not be the right one. With a more 'grand tourer' approach to my riding style, though, just backing the effort off a touch, especially under hard accelerations and climbing, I felt like I was getting 99 per cent of the performance for a lot less output.
The geometry of the standard rim-braked version and this disc model is pretty much identical, a few millimetres here and there, so I'm not saying that adding rotors has taken the edge off.
The Oltre XR3 is one of those bikes where computer data and jig testing are one thing but a bike can feel completely different out on the road.
Its handling feels more endurance than race bike, even though the stack and reach ratio for this 55cm gives a nod to the latter.
It's still a good descender, mind. You can carve a smooth line through a long, curved downhill section with confidence and ease. It's only if things get really tight and technical that the Bianchi just doesn't quite have that precision to really nail the apex or, should there be some gravel or a pothole mid-bend, it doesn't change its line with definition.
This might all sound like I had a bit of a downer with the whole experience with the Bianchi but I really didn't. It just shows how strong perceptions can be when there is talk of aerodynamics and oversized this and integrated that.
The more I lived with the XR3, the more we got on, and we had some great rides together. Four to five-hour jaunts into the hills or faster blasts across the flatlands became fun and I really enjoyed spending time on it.
One of the main benefits is the comfort, helped by Bianchi's Countervail (CV) system, and I've ridden enough of this brand's bikes to know that it isn't just a gimmick.
CV is described as a viscoelastic material that's embedded within the layers of carbon fibre and is designed to cancel out high frequency road vibration. The first few test rides I was running the 25mm tyres at 80psi, which if you read many of my reviews you'll know is quite low for me. Pumping them up to their 110psi minimum sidewall pressure, I could feel the ride had become firmer but that road buzz hadn't increased, it was still being cancelled out.
You still feel the bumps in the road and the like, it just mutes the small stuff, which means that the frame and fork still offers loads of feedback without that constant rattling you'd normally get from a bike with this size of tubing and oversized junctions.
Frame and fork
Bianchi claims that this 55cm frame has a weight of 1,150g, which for an aero bike isn't too shabby, especially when you take into account that the rear end has to be beefed up a little to cope with the braking power of hydraulic discs.
The fork comes in at 450g, which again is in the right ball park. It's a completely new model compared to the rim-braked version to accept the wider hub with disc rotor and to accommodate the internal hose routing for the front calliper. There is space for up to 28mm tyres, and 12mm thru-axles are used front and rear.
One of the main characteristics of the XR3 is its aerodynamics, with an hourglass-shaped 1 1/8 to 1 1/2in tapered head tube, which blends seamlessly into the fork crown while morphing into the top tube at the upper end.
The down tube changes profile throughout and flows through to the chunky chainstays for power transfer while incorporating the large PF86 bottom bracket for impressive stiffness. It's quite a beautiful design as each section of the frame transfers through to the next without awkward angles.
One thing that is a little odd is Bianchi's desire to hold onto the bolts for battery mounting under that down tube, when pretty much every manufacturer is now offering power sources inside the frame itself.
The seat tube is shaped to follow the profile of the rear wheel, although it's not really close enough for a dramatic effect on air flow like you'd find on something like a time trial frame.
All the cabling and hosing is run internally for a clean look, and makes it compatible with both mechanical and electronic groupsets.
Overall, the finish is top notch quality.
While the rim-braked version is available in a range of build options, the XR3 Disc comes in one build only for the time being. It's a good one, though: a Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset and hydraulic disc brakes.
Our full review of this latest groupset is imminent so I won't go into massive details, but boy oh boy is it a good 'un.
Bianchi has specced a 52/36-tooth semi-compact crankset and 11-28t cassette, which perfectly suits a bike of this ilk. If you're laying out just shy of four grand on a race machine you're probably a pretty decent rider and don't need the lowest of gears to get you up the hills.
The shifting between gears is snappier and more precise than that of the previous 6800 series Ultegra, so you still get that lightest of touch but more reassurance that the chain has shifted a sprocket or chainring.
The Ultegra hydraulic braking performance is literally awesome, and with this test bike coming direct from the Continent and therefore having the brake levers set up opposite to the UK style, you soon realise just how powerful they are... until you adapt to applying more pressure to the front brake rather than the rear.
The XR3 comes with SM-RT800 Ice Tech Freeza 160mm rotors front and rear. I've always felt that 140mm diameter discs are plenty when using hydraulics on a road bike, but I suppose you can never have too much braking power to play with, especially when you've got this much moderation. They do get bloody hot, though, so I'm not sure how this cooling technology works.
Keeping things in house
Reparto Corse is Bianchi's own component brand and it is always decent quality stuff. On the Oltre you get an aluminium alloy stem and handlebar which work well enough, although for this kind of money I'd be expecting a bit of carbon fibre.
On the plus (or minus) side, the stem has a +/-7-degree angle for a low front end, and the bar has a shallow drop to suit the majority of riders.
The XR3 uses an aero seatpost which is secured by way of an expanding bung in the top tube. It works and I had no issues with slippage at all. The alloy head is reversible +/-35mm so you can go for a more aggressive saddle position if you like as well.
Moving outside of the Bianchi parts store, you'll find a Selle San Marco Concor Startup saddle. I found it firm but never uncomfortable and really liked its minimalist shape.
Wheels and tyres
The Fulcrum 418 wheelset specced here basically looks to be the same as the 4 DBs with different graphics. With a claimed weight of 1,690g they aren't exactly lightweight but they are decent enough performers on the flat and in the hills.
They have a 35mm-deep rim which is too shallow for any real aerodynamic gain, but they are pretty solid and I certainly didn't have any issues with them when it came to durability.
They are a £300+ set of wheels, depending where you buy them, which is a little cheap for a bike of this price, but they work and I wouldn't be in a massive hurry to change them.
As for tyres, the XR3 might have clearance for 28mm tyres but Bianchi has decided to spec 25mm Vittoria Rubino Pros as standard. They roll well and I was impressed with their grip levels, happy to take a risk or two with them on quick descents without any concerns.
It's the same when it comes to durability: I had no issues with punctures or cuts, and while they aren't the most performance-orientated tyre out there, they cover all bases.
At a penny under £4,000, the XR3 Disc is right at the upper end of the price band. Giant's similarly designed and specced Propel Advanced Disc, for example, is a grand cheaper at £2,999. It does have a 200g weight penalty but it comes with deep-section wheels which are never light.
Saying that, though, BMC's TeamMachine SLR01 Disc Two comes with an Ultegra groupset and costs a cool £4,450... though it is half a kilo lighter.
The Bianchi does offer a very good ride quality, and there are some really clever design ideas behind it. It's easy to dismiss products on price, weight and paper spec sheets in this game, but it's all about the little details, and this is where the Oltre XR3 Disc goes some way to redeem itself.
It's not as quick or racy as I originally expected, but I grew to enjoy it. This is one of the reasons why I love how long our test periods are on road.cc; every bike is different and it gives you time to adapt. Sometimes you need that time to connect with a bike, for it to make sense.
Would I pay four grand for the XR3 Disc? I don't know; it would just depend how much I wanted a Bianchi I suppose, but if I did I wouldn't be disappointed.
A fast bike that doesn't feel like a fast bike, but its comfortable ride grows on even speed-loving cyclists
road.cc test report
Make and model: Bianchi Oltre XR3 Disc
Size tested: 55cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Oltre XR3 Disc carbon w/Countervail, mechanical/electronic shifting compatible, UTSS seat stays, HT with integrated fork, carbon dropout , BB PressFit 86,5x41mm, flat mount caliper, thru axle 12x142mm, sizes 47-50-53-55-57-59-61cm
Fork Bianchi Full Carbon Aero Disc w/Countervail, 1.5">1.1/8" integrated head , flat mount caliper, thru axle 12x100mm
Headset Fsa Orbit C-40-ACB
Shifters Shimano Ultegra ST-R8020 2x11sp
Rear derailleur Shimano Ultegra RD-R8000 SS 11sp
Front derailleur Shimano Ultegra FD-R8000
Crankset Shimano Ultegra FC-R8000 52x36T, Hollowtech II, Crank Length: 170mm-47/54cm, 172.5mm-55/59cm, 175mm-61cm
BB Shimano SM-BB72-41B, Press Fit
Chain Shimano Ultegra CN-HG701-11
Sprocket Shimano Ultegra CS-R8000 11sp, 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28T
Brakes Shimano Ultegra BR-R8070
Brake levers included w/shifters
Wheels Fulcrum Racing 418 disc brake
Tire Vittoria Rubino Pro G+ Isotech graphene 700 x 28
Stem Reparto Corse 3D Forged alloy 7050, rise +/- 7°, 1.1/8", Ext: 70mm-47, 90mm-50cm, 100mm-53cm, 110mm-55/57cm, 120mm-59cm, 130mm-61cm
Handlebar Reparto Corse Compact Flat Top, Alloy 2014, diam. 31.8mm, reach 126mm, drop 77,4mm, Size: 400mm-47/50cm , 420mm-53/57cm, 440mm-59/61cm
Seatpost Oltre Full Carbon Aero w/alloy clamp, adjustable and reversible head +/- 35mm, setback (25mm/+10mm) length: 250mm-47cm, 300mm-50/53cm, 350mm-55/59cm, 380-61cm
Saddle Selle San Marco Concor Startup, manganese rails, 278x134mm
Rotor Shimano SM-RT800 Center lock, diam. 160mm
Waterbottle Bianchi Loli 600ml
Water bottle hanger Elite Paron Race composit
Tell us what the bike is for
Bianchi says, " Ride beyond limits. The Racing category includes extreme racing performance carbon frames, optimized to achieve the most efficient power transmission with the best rigidity to weight ratio. The ideal bikes for the most expert riders."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nicely finished and well put together without any blemishes.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Frame: Oltre XR3 Disc carbon with Countervail technology
Fork: Bianchi Full Carbon Aero Disc with Countervail technology
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's race orientated with reasonably steep head and seat angles although just a little slacker than the professionally ridden XR4.
Full details are on Bianchi's website - https://www.bianchi.com/uk/bikes/bikes_detail.aspx?rangeIDMaster=385556&...
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
This 55cm model has a stack of 546mm and a reach of 388mm which is pretty much spot on for this style of bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, the Oltre has a very good ride quality which I put down to the Countervail technology.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, no issues with stiffness whatsoever. A great balance.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Once I adapted my riding style it was efficient but don't expect it to deliver a nail biting, racy ride.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Between neutral and lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
I've ridden race bikes with sharper steering than the Oltre but it still gives you plenty of confidence to carry some speed through the bends unless things tighten up and become very twisty and technical.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Thanks to the Countervail you can get away with quite stiff components.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels are plenty stiff enough for hard acceleration, as are the handlebar and stem.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The Vittoria Rubino tyres roll well and their grip allows you to push harder into the bends.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The latest Ultegra groupset offers excellent shifting and impressive braking power for the money.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
As I said in the review, I'd happily stick with the wheels, although something lighter would give for better acceleration and climbing.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
Plenty of grip and decent rolling resistance, a decent set of all-rounders.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It's all decent enough stuff without being overly flash. You could maybe expect a carbon bar for the price tag but it's not a deal breaker. The shallow drop of the bar makes plenty of positions usable for any rider.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Hmm... depends on the deals going on.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Oltre XR3 Disc delivers comfort and speed but in a different way to what I was expecting. If I owned it I'd happily ride it every day and not be disappointed, but that price is a bit of a fly in the ointment at nearly four grand. It is a very good bike but there is some serious competition out there for a lot less money, and that's what drops the XR3 Disc down to a 7.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.