Bianchi’s new Specialissima is a lightweight and reactive race bike that climbs fast and descends with assurance.
Bianchi launched the Specialissima last Thursday and we got the chance to ride the new bike the following day.
Before we get into that, though, a quick recap on the Specialissima’s key features:
• Countervail technology
The Specialissima is made with the Countervail technology that features on Bianchi’s Infinito CV endurance racing bike and Aquila CV time trial/triathlon bike.
According to Bianchi, Countervail is, “A patented viscoelastic carbon material with a unique fibre architecture that cancels up to 80% of vibrations while increasing the stiffness and strength of our carbon frames and forks.”
Countervail comes from Materials Sciences Corp and is sandwiched between layers of carbon in the bike’s construction.
With regard to the Specialissima, Bianchi says that the Countervail delivers “pure power, under control”. The idea is that it will “smooth out the inherent nervousness of ultralight frames”, and improve traction and stability at the high speeds associated with descending.
Bianchi claims that the Specialissima’s frame weighs in at a very light 780g (+/-5%), and we know that’s accurate because we put it on the scales ourselves. That weight is for the black version in 55cm size. The celeste version is a little heavier because of the paint.
The fork, which uses the same Countervail technology, is 340g.
With figures like these, it’s very easy for a complete bike to come in below the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight limit for racing.
Our ride comprised about 20km on fairly flat roads followed by a 7km climb, and then we returned home the same way – so we covered about 54km (34 miles). That’s not a long ride by any means, so this is very much a First Ride with some initial impressions rather than an in-depth review.
We’ll try to get the Specialissima in for a proper long-term test as soon as we can.
The first thing you notice when you jump aboard the Specialissima is that it’s built to a race geometry. To put some figures on that, I had a 57cm frame that came with a 540mm seat tube, a 560mm effective top tube and a 160mm head tube. The stack (the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) was 561mm and the reach (the vertical distance between those same points) was 393mm.
That’s a race configuration. You are going to be riding in a fairly low and stretched position on the Specialissima. If you want a high front end for long-ride comfort, you're not going to find one here. This is unashamedly a race-centric bike.
When it comes to the climbs, this bike is happy. Whereas some bikes climb with an ‘oh, if we must’ attitude, the Specialissima is ready to launch up the slopes. The lack of weight really makes itself felt on the steeper sections, and the bike is stiff at both the tapered head tube (1 1/8in upper bearing, 1 1/4in lower bearing) and the bottom bracket (press fit 86.5mm) when you get out of the saddle to fire a bit of extra power through the pedals.
I like the Specialissima’s geometry for climbing too. I always find it much easier to ride out of the saddle with a low front end. You can throw this bike from side to side easily and really get to work on the climb.
The Specialissima I was riding was fitted with a Campagnolo Super-Record EPS groupset that included a compact chainset (with 50 and 34-tooth chainrings). The Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 model comes with a compact chainset too. The mechanical builds get a 52/36 chainset instead and I’d say that’s probably a better choice for a bike this lightweight, although you might have your own preference. I found the Specialissima I was riding just a touch undergeared. Still, swapping chainrings is a straightforward job.
I expected the Specialissima to impress on the climbs but what I wasn’t anticipating was its descending skills. The geometry I mentioned puts you into ‘attack’ mode whether you like it or not, and I soon found myself swooping through the hairpins as fast as I could.
It’s very hard to judge how effective the Countervail technology is on a short ride over unfamiliar roads, but I will say that the Specialissima certainly stays rooted to the ground even when you’re descending at speed. Some lightweight bikes skitter about when you’re riding fast over uneven roads causing you to lose confidence or, worse, a degree of control. The Specialissima feels planted so you’re happy to go hard for that little bit longer. Don't expect some sort of miracle, though. Countervail is designed to filter out high frequency vibration, it clearly isn't a suspension system.
The only problem for me on the descents was that the brakes were set up skew-whiff, the right lever connecting to the rear brake. Remembering that is tricky when you’ve spent the rest of your life with them the opposite way round.
The other feature worth mentioning is the Specialissima’s manoeuvrability. Bianchi says that the Oltre has greater manoeuvrability than the Specialissima but I found this bike to be very reactive to changes in line and it’s super-easy to chuck it in a new direction if someone ahead does something unexpected.
Speaking of the Oltre, that bike is certainly remaining in Bianchi’s range. The difference is that the Oltres are seen as being bikes for sprinters thanks to their stiffness, while the Specialissima is a climbers’ bike. As I said above, I had no problems with the Specialissima’s level of stiffness.
The Specialissima will be available in top-level builds only: Campagnolo Super-Record and Shimano Dura-Ace, each of them in electronic and mechanical shift options.
Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite wheels come as standard although Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbons are available as an option. If you have a Super Record build you can opt for Campag Bora Ultra 35 wheels if you’d prefer, and you can go for Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR 35s if you have a Dura-Ace groupset.
We do not yet have prices or a date for UK availability.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.