Bianchi Specialissima Reviewed - Total Women's Cycling

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Bianchi Specialissima Reviewed

A top of the range race bike - is it worth digging deep in your pockets for?

First established in Edoardo Bianchi’s Milan based shop in 1885, Bianchi bikes boast over 130 years of heritage, yet they’ve moved with the times in terms of design and innovation too – something the Bianchi Specialissima readily demonstrates.

Bianchi were included in our TWC20 for their female friendly marketing approach and Dama Days – find out more here

Designed for out and out racing, the Specialissima is responsive, aerodynamic and full of character. The tapered frame and noticeably skinny stays and seat tube allow the bike to remain stiff and lightweight, whilst the addition of countervail technology (that’s where they’re moving with the times or arguably one step ahead!) increases the comfort without jeopardising the precision.

With models starting at £3,450 and shooting right up to £9,900 for a top end build, a bike such as this is a seriously considered purchase. However, with that you get a frame that contains N.A.S.A developed technology and a whole lot of spirit.

I had the opportunity to bike out at Bianchi’s new sportive – the Bianchi Gran Fondo – Double Devil. With 120 miles, over 12,000 feet of climbing, and some of the toughest but most exciting terrain Wales has to offer – it seemed like a good playground for a new bike day.

Made for climbing – but retains great handling

Weighing just 780g for the frame and 340g for the fork on a 55cm frameset, the Sepcialissima is somewhat whippet like up hills and I found it responded to even the slightest elevation in power both in and out the saddle. Often, when designers put their attentions into reducing the weight of a bike, handling can suffer – but I didn’t feel that was the case here. In fact, it was on long and twisty descents where I felt the bike really showed its colours.

As our big brothers at RCUK, so aptly put it, the Specialissima ‘is not good at descending for a super lightweight bike, its good at descending full stop’.

Personally, I found the accuracy in the bikes handling really ignited my aspirations on the Gran Fondo – the faster I went, the better the bike felt.  Covering a number of descents throughout the ride, some rather more technical than others, and hitting a top speed just shy of 50mph, it is, in retrospect, not knowing exactly when I hit this speed that perfectly validates the countervail technology as second to none. For those who love a good dose of speed, the impeccable handling means the ability to really ramp it up. For those who are a tad risk averse – the sureness of the handling could be a real confidence boost.

Countervail technology and comfort

Developed for N.A.S.A, Bianchi first launched Countervail technology in 2013 with the Infinito CV and later followed with the Specialissima. Bianchi have since injected the technology into their MTB range with the more recent launch of the Methanol CV. With its promise to absorb up to 80% of the vibration, Bianchi’s countervail technology is designed to take the impact, allowing you to feel the surface and contours of the road without the notoriously tiring sharp jolts. As a result, the ride offered is significantly more comfortable without jeopardising the speed, agility or most importantly the fun; instead it enhances all three. Enveloped between the carbon layers, it’s impossible to pinpoint any one part of the bike that offers this notable difference. You have to experience it to believe it and thankfully, Bianchi understand this and provide both unisex and women specific demo days as an opportunity to take their bikes for a spin.

Commuting on the Specialissima and negotiating London traffic is one thing, but it was in 120 miles of Welsh hills that the Specialissima came into its own. Most century rides can be rather brutal on the upper body, and the discomfort typically associated with endurance cycling can often be felt as early as 60-70 miles in, however even at 101 miles, I consciously noticed that not only was I comfortable but fresh, more so, this clarity lasted right to the very finish.

Did the bike actually make me faster?

Comfort and impeccable handling, coupled with a low weight are all things you’d expect to deliver speed. Yes a lot has to be said for that new bike feeling, and yes I did feel pretty awesome gliding in on the Specialissima – but it must be noted that my overall performance improved considerably and with seemingly less effort.

Hungry for proof, I used the Specialissima to race my weekly TT event. Unfortunately, the conditions were horrendous but this didn’t hold the Specialissima back; in fact, whilst most people rolled in at least 30 seconds behind their previous time I gained the equivalent, achieving this seasons PB.

Groupset and finishing kit

So far I’ve focused mostly on the frame – which is unchanged across the models. Ranging in price from £3,800 to £9,900 for a top end build, the spec will vary depending how deep you’re willing to dig. Being a very lucky girl, I had the chance to experience a high end build with Fulcrum Race Nite carbon wheels and top of the range Campagnolo Super Record group set.

As you would expect from a top of the range group build, the accuracy in gear changes could be felt immediately, smooth and clean without any jumping or slipping.

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Initially skeptical about the position of the thumb shifter, thinking that it might be at somewhat of an awkward angle when riding on the drops, I have since been converted to Campagnolo. The shifters are perfectly located when riding on either the hoods or the drops, and changing up when on the latter, which let’s face it is when you are most likely to do so, was surprisingly more comfortable than the lever shifting I am accustomed to. I have quite long fingers so did wonder how comfortable it might be for those with relatively small hands but given that the drops would be shallower in accordance with the riders frame, even here I can’t foresee any problems.

The bike comes built with a compact chainset, and 11-25 tooth cassette – and some riders might find they want to swap the rear for an 11-28 if approaching hilly terrain. However, the existing narrower ratio meant that flat sections felt excellent.

How to Choose the Right Road Bike Gear Set Up for You

The FSA K-Force and K-Force Light finishing kit adds to the Specialissima’s aerodynamics and the handlebar shape particularly benefits those whom tend climb on the flats of the bars as they encourage the rider to naturally adopt a perfect climbing position.

Bianchi haven’t scrimped on the wheel set, either – with the Fulcrum Race Nite carbon wheels. These add to the sprightly nature and yet somewhat stealth appearance of the bike and the Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation technology used certainly raises the bar with regards to the breaking efficiency. Even in the wet I felt a sureness and confidence, not something you always get with a carbon braking surface. Depending on the usage, my only alteration would be the Vittoria Rubino Pro Speed tyres. Admittedly, the Specialissima is intended to race and riding it from A-B on a London commute is something of a luxury, however, in doing the latter I found the tyres appeared to be eager to collect the scraps from the roadside and thus carried the potential to puncture noticeably quickly.

The time and dedication that Bianchi have put into developing the Specialissima is obvious from the offset. More a work of art than a bike, it seems fitting that Bianchi should name the custom colour programme the Specialissima tavolozza. Italian for artists’ palette and with an array of colour options available, the program offers the option to add your own personal touch. That said, the beautiful (matt or gloss) black or Bianchi’s signature celeste with delicately hand-painted decal as the standard colour options are perfectly justified in receiving the amount of attention they do.

A note on geometry

Italian bike brands are known for adopting slightly shorter top tubes than most American brands – which at basic level is what most will do to create a women’s specific bike. With this, Bianchi  don’t create bikes with different geometry for women. Instead they take pride in offering unisex frames and adjusting fit on some models to suit the rider.

Their ‘Dama Bianca’ range offers shorter stems, women’s saddles and narrower handlebars with this in mind, yet Bianchi do not suggest the range is limited to women nor is the general range limited to men. Offering a wide range of sizes, the Specialissima is available from a 47” frame, but not as a ‘Dama’ model with women’s specific contact points at present.

Read more about the female specific bike debate

That said, I felt very comfortable on the Specialissima from the offset; the chaps at Twenty3c, a Bianchi specialist store, set me up with a slightly shorter stem and swapped the saddle for that which I regularly use.

Verdict

Starting at £3,450 for the frameset and ramping up to £9,900 for the top build, yes the Specialissima may come with a hefty price tag, but this this doesn’t weigh the bike down at all. The Specialissima performs superbly, as you would expect from a high end bike in this price range, and makes it glaringly obvious that you really do get what you pay for, which in my opinion, is rather refreshing and something worth saving for.

Interested? See the range here. 

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