Bianchi E Road 1

Eternal Youth on two wheels

By | Bianchi, Bike Reviews | No Comments

Words by: Richard Bowker       Pictures: Richard Bowker, Bianchi, Adobe Stock

E Bikes are not cheating. They are technological wonders that make things possible without compromising the purity of what cycling is; being able to get out, do something healthy, feel the wind on your face and enjoy the sensation of simply being alive. I am now likely to go riding far more regularly than I have been for a long time thanks to this bike.

That's not cheating, it's emancipation. Welcome to the revolution.

Confessions of a cyclist

I have a bit of a confession when it comes to cycling. Actually, I have two. The first is that as much as I love cycling (and I really do) I am one of those people that tend to reflect on what a wonderful time they’ve had after the ride is over. The anticipation bit, the sense of a great ride ahead is not, for me, the most motivating of things. I’m not sure why. I think it’s partly because I live in the Staffordshire Moorlands near the Peak District. Personally, I find the first 20 minutes of any ride a challenge to warm up ageing muscles, and since the lane that masquerades as the B-Road near our house quickly delivers a mini Alpe d’Huez after just 3 minutes (OK, I exaggerate a bit), I usually find the easiest thing is not to go out at all. Shame on me.

The second confession is that I am a really nervous descender. That’s definitely an age thing. I have found (recently to my cost) that as we get older it takes longer to repair self-inflicted injuries. I do run a lot since it only involves trainers, a pair of Skins and a running vest and I can usually organise that. Recently, on the morning of a long training run, I was multi-tasking trying to get an after run recovery shake into a bottle whilst eating a piece of toast and drinking an espresso, all simultaneously. I wasn’t taking any notice of my feet when suddenly my left foot decided to have a wholly unprovoked fight with our oak kitchen bench. The bench won and the whole episode put both a metaphorical dent in my marathon training and, as it turns out, a literal one in a metatarsal in my left foot. 6 weeks later and it still hurts like hell.

So for me, the perfect bike is one that feels really solid like its hewn out of solid granite, yet is lightweight on climbs, gentle on my joints during the ride and assured and confidence inspiring in any descent. Sadly, I’ve never really found one that does all that. Until now.

Infinito CV (the last bike)

But before I get to that, I must stop moaning and admit my last bike was a cracker in so many ways. Seriously, I really loved it. One of the joys of owning a bike shop is we do get to try out fantastic gear and then talk about it a lot. And this definitely applied to my last bike, a Bianchi Infinito CV. It was super light, super fast and the Countervail Carbon frame meant most of the shocks were dissipated long before they reached my bum and / or wrists. When you’re the wrong side of 50 and starting to creak a bit, that’s bliss, trust me. However, two things were still a problem. Despite being light and having plenty enough gears, I still had to pedal the thing uphill. And since you now know a bit about where I live, you’ll understand I had to do that a lot. Plus, as much as I thought the brakes were terrific, I often had that sense on a fast descent that I was on a bike that was slightly twitchy with a nervous back end. And nobody likes to be slightly twitchy with a nervous back end.

Bianchi Infinito CV
Bianchi Infinito CV Velo Birmingham

All change

Anyway, as is so often the way in my world, last October I got a call from my brother Paul (who is the expert when it comes to selling bikes) to give me both good news and ‘even more’ good news. The good news was that he had sold my Infinito to a customer who really wanted it, so hopefully that was OK but if it wasn’t it was tough because the customer already had the bike. It was with understandable trepidation therefore that I asked for the ‘even more’ good news. “Oh that’s easy” said Paul. “You can now get a new bike and I’ve got just the thing – the Bianchi E Road that I saw on the Bianchi dealer trip to Italy last summer”.

This was a surprise on two accounts. First, I never thought Paul would suggest an E-Bike for me and second, I was surprised he remembered anything from the Bianchi Dealer event in Italy. A well-known Danish beer brand often suggests in their ads that if they were to turn their hand to doing ‘something”, it would be the best ‘something’ ever done, if you get my drift. One can’t fault their self-confidence but even if they did go into the business of putting on bike dealer events, I’d be just as confident myself they still wouldn’t be as good as the one’s Bianchi do. However, what goes in Bergamo stays in Bergamo I suppose and since I digress, let’s get back to my new bike…..

Bianchi Dealer Event 2016
Bianchi Oltre XR4

“Seriously” said Paul, “it’s perfect for you. Fully Hydroformed aluminium frame, carbon fork and steerer, disc brakes with 12mm bolt thru axles that will really inspire confidence on descents (good) and of course a 250W Polini motor to help you up the hills”. I didn’t hear anything else after that. “A 250W motor?  Are you kidding?” I said. “I’ll be flying past Steven Kruijswijk on his Oltre XR4 with that at my disposal”. “No you won’t” said Paul. “It’s good but it isn’t that good with your fat lump on it”. Then after the briefest of pauses; “It’s still brilliant though. LOL.” Feeling understandably slightly deflated but curious at the same time, I said “OK” and sat back to await the rival of my new uber bike……

Bianchi E Road

Fast forward 6 months and here it is at last. On first look, I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something ugly but whilst it’s still obviously an E-Bike  with a battery unit mounted on the down tube and a substantial looking motor where the bottom bracket resides, it’s all done in a very stylish and thoughtful way. It is an imposing bit of kit certainly but the whole package is very well resolved and looks classy in its matt black finish with celeste highlights. From a design perspective, it’s clear Bianchi didn’t fall into the trap of the bike designer finishing his bit before handing it over to the electrical engineers with a cheery “Ciao” and whatever the Italian is for “over to you now, boys”. No, this one looks like the bike designer actually stayed in charge to the very end of the process.

Bianchi E Road 2

This being the first of a number of blogs on this bike during its long term test, I’ll just give you an overview of the technical bits at this stage, although even at a summary level, the spec is impressive. By the way, if your eyes tend to glaze over at technical stuff, just skip the list and go straight to the next para.

  • Fully Hydroformed aluminium frame in Bianchi Endurance Geometry with carbon forks and steerer
  • Ultegra shifters, derailleurs and brakes (with Shimano Freeza rotors for superior heat dissipation)
  • Bespoke FSA crank (to mate with the Polini 250W motor)
  • Fulcrum wheelset with 12mm bolt thru axles, front and rear
  • Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres (32 mm)
  • Plenty of clearance for full length mudguards (which my bike is fitted with)

Now, if you are anything like me (middle aged and technically challenged) you’re probably thinking “Gosh, what an interesting list of stuff. But what I really want to know is what it’s like to ride and why I should I even think of buying one”. And if that is what you are thinking, then those are excellent questions. So here goes.

First, what’s it like to ride. For a first ride I thought of something easy but with a couple of cheeky hills thrown in; Mini Alpe d’Huez and Froghall Hill. I mention Froghall because it’s a bit of a monster to throw in near the end of a ride. It’s not long, probably less than a mile in length, but it’s about 13.5% at its steepest and has a couple of nasty bends. You know the kind of bends where you are grinding away at 3 mile/h in the lowest gear you have left but behind you, some young chap in a cheap suit and a tragic haircut is hunched menacingly at the wheel of a Vauxhall Astra, almost nudging the rear wheel of your bike. He’s desperate to get past but he can’t quite see enough of the road ahead so he sits there brooding and impatient. Meanwhile, you feel terribly sweaty and threatened all of a sudden which makes you even more nervous. Well, Froghall is that kind of hill. Perfect for an E-Bike I thought.

The First Ride

I set off on a glorious April afternoon and first impressions were very positive indeed. Other than the aforementioned battery pack sitting flush on the down tube and that crank / motor, the only other really obvious sign this is an E-Bike is a triangular sort of control unit atop the bar that looks like it came straight out of the original Star Wars prop basket, in terms of design at least. It is in fact really simple to use, though for my first run purposes, I was only interested in the + and – buttons (and I wasn’t planning to use the – button all that much either). The LCD screen was backlit and clear and at no time during the ride was I unsure as to how much ‘motor power’ I was calling upon. I thought I’d start mid way through the power range and see how I got on. Halfway up mini Alpe d’Huez though, I cracked and turned it up to max. Instantly, the bike urged forward but the power delivery was fluid and just kept coming. Never hurried or snatchy, just constant and smooth, like someone very strong putting their hand on your back and pushing purposefully. It was, quite simply, brilliant and in no time at all we’d cleared the summit of mini Alpe d’Huez.

Bianchi E Road Cockpit

I wasn’t done with the hills though and by the time I got to the summit point (where I took the picture below) I had climbed 500 feet, all absolutely effortlessly. Remember though, you are still pedalling all the time. This is not a moped, it’s a bike with a motor assist. You are still cycling and you are still getting a good workout, just being helped when the help is most needed. Cycling along the ridge was also the only time I really thought about a slight downside of this particular E-Bike. Once above 25 km/h, the motor stops assisting (it’s a legal requirement for the motor to be speed limited to 25 km/h so that the bike remains a bike and not something else) and at that point, you do notice the weight of the bike a bit. This one weighs around 18 kg and I did notice it a little bit especially as I was cycling into a headwind at that point. But it’s a very small issue and of course, you are still cycling above 25 km/h so you’re hardly dawdling. And I forgot the point almost as soon as I had thought of it anyway.

Bianchi E Road 1

Going downhill was a joy. I am, as previously indicated, a nervous descender but not on the Bianchi E Road. The Ultegra disc brakes with their Shimano Freeza rotors are brilliant. No noise, no fade, just dependable and confidence inspiring braking. I could almost say I enjoyed the downhill, not something I would normally ever contemplate saying!

But then (at around the 14km mark on the Strava screen grab below) it was time for the hill at Froghall. I didn’t really know what to expect but I put the power boost to max and set off. At no point did I drop below 25 km/h and I was almost disappointed that it was over when I reached the top. The white transit van that had followed me up was clearly very surprised and I smiled inwardly to myself as he whizzed by when it was safe for him to do so at the thought he was probably oblivious to the fact it was an E-Bike he’d just seen. Perhaps he had thought I might be Dan Martin’s older brother out for a leisurely afternoon ride. OK, probably not, but I could see he was still surprised.

Strava Screengrab

Reflections

I arrived back home all too quickly and as I dismounted asked myself for my overriding sense of what I had just experienced. That was easy. This bike is, quite simply, the most brilliant piece of new technology I have seen in years (and I include my iPhone when making that statement). It had put a genuine smile on my face without ever making me question whether the simple pleasure of cycling had been fatally compromised in the process. It had not. This is the best of both worlds, pure and simple.

So should you consider buying one of these? Well, I would and without a moment’s hesitation, even after just one ride. If I lived in a city, I’d sell the car. I wouldn’t even think of commuting any other way and the cost : benefit of that decision alone would make me very happy. And let’s be clear, this is a genuine alternative to a car. It’s that good. OK, I realise that statement works mainly if you are driving your car with just yourself in it but sadly, in 2018, that’s true of far too many of us. And if I lived in the country (which I do) I’d buy it just for the fact it makes the hills disappear. I still pedalled up them but with a feeling of pleasure, not dread. And for that, I love it.

Congestion Charge
Commuting by bike

I am nearly 52 and reasonably fit, thanks to plenty of running. But I know I am getting a little slower each year. I know this because my ten year old beat me in a sprint for the line at the Hanley Park Run on Christmas Day and still won’t let me forget it. My wife is a very good cyclist and more “bike fit” than me but no longer will I need to feign injury when she asks me if I want to go for a ride with her. I now know I have a fighting chance of keeping up. And that’s one of the real benefits of a bike like this. It’s a great leveller. It allows those of us who are older to keep up with those who are younger. It allows us to keep doing the things we love doing for longer and that makes it an absolutely brilliant, wonderful thing. It’s eternal youth on two wheels. Who would have thought that would be possible, even just a few years ago.

The E-Bike of 2018 is a very different proposition to just 5 years ago. Technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Not that long ago, a typical E-Bike would have had a really unreliable hub mounted motor, a battery pack the size of a breeze block but twice as heavy mounted on a pannier rack (thus making the bike unstable) and with a range to get you to the local village store but not back. Not now. In the same way that it is really very hard to buy a rubbish car these days, E-Bikes are also going through their own coming of age. The Bianchi E Road is not only great tech, it also looks great and it works. I’ll know more about the battery range over longer rides for instance but already the signs are good. I rode 19km on this first ride, climbing 411m at an average pace of 26.7 km/h. I didn’t hold back on the power and yet the battery still said it had around 75% charge left. That’s impressive in anyone’s book and something I’ll be studying more in the coming weeks and months.

E Bikes are not cheating. They are technological wonders that make things possible without compromising the purity of what cycling is; being able to get out, do something healthy, feel the wind on your face and enjoy the sensation of simply being alive. I am now likely to go riding far more regularly than I have been for a long time thanks to this bike.

That’s not cheating, it’s emancipation. Welcome to the revolution.

Criterium Cycles stocks an extensive range of E-Bikes from Bianchi and Trek starting from £2,000. The Bianchi E Road featured in this article starts from £4,000. For further information or enquiries, please do call Criterium Cycles on 0131 663 6220

Be Enlightened Lights Blog banner Image

When riding in the dark this winter make sure you ride enlightened

By | Buying Guides | No Comments

words and pictures – Paul Bowker

Over the years, we have read many reviews of lighting systems for cycling. Some are really good but often, they can be overly complex. We think that misses the point a bit as to what is relevant when considering a new light system.

At Criterium Cycles, we do a lot of night riding across a wide range of cycling disciplines. Over the years we have learnt that the demands of a road rider and off-road rider tend to be very different. The best manufacturers know this too so at Criterium, we partner with brands who cater specifically for different disciplines and adapt their products accordingly. Even so, choosing between on road or off road is still just the tip of the iceberg.

To find the lights that are right for you, we start by asking the big questions.

5 Crucial questions

1 – Do I need a light to see or just to be seen?

This is the first question because if you just looking for a daytime visible light (which is really important by the way) what follows in Question 2 onwards is not for you. In this blog, we are going to focus on riding safely in the dark. Since we’ve mentioned daytime visible lights though, it’s worth a bit more info. They tend to be small compact lights that pack a big punch. They usually have off an beat strobe setting that is based on the emergency services patterns. This system gets you noticed and gives plenty of notice for other road users to react to your presence during the daytime.

But if you require a light to be seen whilst at the same time when the sun goes down be able to see…..then read on.

2 – Am I spending 80% of my riding on or off road?

The reason for asking is to get the best light spread for the type of riding you are doing most of the time. On-road specific lights tend to have long and narrow optics to shine the light over a narrow field but far in ahead of the front wheel. This helps give you a better chance of reacting to hazards on the road ahead. Off-road specific lights on the other hand tend to have optics that ‘flood’ the area in front of the front wheel. This is because seeing more height, width and depth will help to pick out technical trail features and line choice.

3 – How many hours will I be riding for?

This will dictate the battery capacity required. Many lights will have both the required spread of light as well as the power necessary for your intended use. However, to save cost and build a product with an what appears an appealing selling price, the battery often only gives a limited usage life on its most powerful setting. Most quality manufacturers will quote a run time on specific light output settings, but be careful; don’t forget that batteries will not run for their quoted run times in colder conditions, so it’s always best to over specify to avoid disappointment and being caught out.

4 – What is the best; helmet mounted or bar mounted?

Very simply, if you are road riding and only want one light then bar mounted will be good. Unless you are a chameleon or similar, your vision is mostly directed forward so if your light has a good spread of light, you will be able to see the detail on the road. Off road riding however has very different challenges to road riding. Tight 180 degree switchbacks and fast 90 degree+ berms require the rider to be able to see around corners (if you know what we mean) and way down the trail. Helmet mounted lights give the rider vision in these circumstances, as the light is following the direction of your head. For faster trails, the addition of a high-power bar light will give extra depth of vision.

5 – What is my maximum speed whilst riding at night?

We think this is one of the most important questions. Why? Because your maximum speed will dictate how much distance you will need to see with your light, to have time to slow, stop or avoid obstacles in the road or trail.

To put this into context, the chart below shows how much time it would take to travel 10 metres at various, constant, speeds. Note: This table does not consider any reaction times or other externalities – it is purely to show how far you would travel at a certain constant speed.

Distance Travelled (Metres) Constant Speed (KM/H) Time to Cover Distance (Seconds)
10m 5 7 sec
10m 10 3.6 sec
10m 15 2.4 sec
10m 20 1.8 sec
10m 30 1.2 sec
10m 40 0.9 sec

Travelling at 5km/h would give you 7 seconds to travel 10 metres. Therefore, in most cases a light that has a reach of 10metres would give enough time to react to an obstacle in your way. However, the same light with a reach of 10 metres but travelling at 20 km/h would cover those same 10 metres in under 2 seconds. Would you be able to react in that time?

A picture paints a thousand lumens

Our two intermediate markers are Bob the Bunny at 5 metres, and Tyrone the Sheep at 10 metres. These are hazards that all cyclists must avoid on a regular basis. The two photos below those of our intrepid heroes were taken from the same point – the fence line at the back of the photo is 20 metres and the side fence line is 5 metres to the left and right.

Bob the Bunny - 5m Marker
Tyrone the Sheep

Bob the Bunny (Our 5m marker)

Tyrone the Sheep (Our 10m Marker)

Bontrager Ion 350

This image was taken using a Bontrager Ion 350 light. With 3-5 metres of good vision, at 15km/h, you would have around 1.2sec to react.

Exposure Toro 2000

The Exposure Toro 2000 on the other hand has a light spread of over 30 metres, giving you 7.2sec to react at 15km/h

So you can see that the choice of which light to buy is not just a case of “which has the biggest number of lumens”? Instead, a number of other questions need answering before deciding on the right product.

The Criterium approach and our brands

Since 2013, we at Criterium Cycles have prided ourselves in giving great advice and following these 3 simple values:

  1. Only supply high quality products, from reputable manufacturers, who give great aftersales support
  2. Make every effort to understand what it is the customer needs the product to do and, with our increasingly wide experience, offer a product that will meet or even exceed our customers’ expectations
  3. Give a comprehensive handover to ensure that all the functions and method of use and maintenance is explained and understood.

With lighting systems, we supply two main brands:

Bontrager

Bontrager is not just the Trek parts, accessories and clothing division. Instead Bontrager, as supplier to the world’s best bike frame manufacturer, design and build some of the best developed complementary products we have seen.

Their daytime lights are excellent, and go up to 800 lumen day and night lights.

Exposure

Exposure have a relentless R&D and quality control programme. The innovation and functionality of these lights has to be seen to be believed and for night time riding, they are pretty hard to beat

Once we show you what these lights are capable of, you will be as passionate about them as we are!

Compare and Contrast

Below is a simple table of some of our recommended products (and their most appropriate application), all of which we keep in stock. We have a much larger range in store, and if you are looking for anything in particular from either Bontrager or Exposure, it can be quickly ordered for you.

We do hope this blog has been useful and look forward to seeing you in store soon. And if you live outside Edinburgh, it’s absolutely no problem – just call us on 0131 663 6220 and we will be delighted to assist you and ship the product directly to you.

Manufacturer Model Max Lumens Expected Run Time Hours (Hi-Lo) Terrain best suited Approx. max light distance (metres) Helmet / Bar mount Who is it for? SRP
Bontrager Ion 350 350 1.5 – 6 On/Off road 5 Helmet / Bar Helmet light to back up brighter bar light, or slower speed leisure rider on short riding hours £44.99
Bontrager Ion 800 800 1.5 – 6 On/Off road 20 Helmet / Bar As per Ion 350; however, mid mode is 450lumens, for 3 hours, so will give longer run time, or brighter boost when required £89.99
Exposure Joystick 1000 1.5 – 24 On/Off road 25 narrow beam Helmet / Bar Off road helmet light / bar mount commuter light £159.95
Exposure Axis 1150 1.5 – 24 On/Off road 25 narrow beam Helmet / Bar Off road helmet light / bar mount commuter light (features Tap Technology) £184.95
Exposure Diablo 1500 1 – 24 On/Off road 20 flood light Helmet / Bar As per Exposure Axis. Brighter, with more LED’s for greater flood light £209.95
Exposure Strada 1200 3 – 36 Road 25 + wide angle Bar Fast road or over night endurance rides. £289.99
Exposure Toro 2650 (Reflex+) 2 – 36 Off Road 30 flood light Bar Technical off road or endurance events £294.95
Exposure MaxxD 3300 (Reflex+) 2 – 36 Off Road 40 flood light Bar Technical off road or endurance events £374.95
Bontrager Ion 350
Bontrager Ion 800
Exposure Joystick - static

Bontrager Ion 350

Bontrager Ion 800

Exposure Joystick

Exposure Axis on Bontrager Ralleye Helmet - static
Exposure Diablo - static
Exposure Toro

Exposure Axis on Bontrager Rallye Helmet

Exposure Diablo

Exposure Toro

Choosing a Children’s Bike

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Seeing your child riding their bike for the first time must be one of life’s great moments! Some of our staff at Criterium have had first-hand experience not to mention plenty of fun teaching their own son’s, daughters, nieces and nephews to ride. However, before you get to this point, you need to purchase the bike in the first place. It can seem like a bit of a daunting task choosing your child’s bike, but it doesn’t have to be. What size, do we need gears, do we go for stabilisers or balance bikes? We can talk you and your child through the entire process step by step from initial sizing to the final set-up of the new bike. One thing we always make clear though is Criterium Cycles sell proper children’s bikes not toys! The brand we have chosen for our kid’s bikes is Frog Bikes. Frog are a family owned firm based in Wales and are fairly unique in that they only do kids bikes. With their entire range purely focused on younger riders, they apply a level of attention to detail in the design and build of the bikes that is a cut above most other brands. From toddlers to teenagers there is a bike to suit.

The key to any bike is Fit. Bike Fitting is one of the pillars that we have built our reputation on, and we extend the same attention to detail in Bike Fitting to our younger customers too. A bike that is correctly set-up and fitted for the rider will be more stable and comfortable which in turn will give your child more confidence when riding. Frog share this approach when designing their bikes which is one of the many reasons we at Criterium decided to stock Frog Bikes. Frog make their bikes in a far bigger range of sizes than most of their competitors, which means we can get your child onto the biggest bike that fits thus giving a greater usable lifespan of the bike. As another brief example of this fit led approach, Frog has designed their own custom made crank arms that position the rider’s feet closer together. This helps to ensure children push more directly downward when pedalling, which helps in stabilising the hip and leg position ensuring more pedalling effort is converted to forward motion, and making the bike easier balance and ride. Other little touches further enhance the riding experience. Things like higher quality gears and brakes which require less finger pressure to operate further enhance the riding experience. The brake levers on all models are fully adjustable for reach meaning smaller hands can still operate the brakes effectively. For all kids bikes purchased from Criterium Cycles, not only will we make sure to get your child onto the correct size of bike, we will also spend time setting up every aspect of the bike to suit the rider concerned. When that is done and dusted we will also show your child the easiest way to get on and off the bike, and also how to correctly use the brakes and – if fitted the gears too.

We want all children to experience the joy of cycling. By spending a little more time and applying a level of attention to detail we aim to give your child the best possible start to their lifetime of cycling.

Visit us in-store to see the range of Frog Bikes today.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 available from Criterium Cycles

Bianchi Oltre XR3 – A stunning first impression

By | Bianchi, Bike Reviews, News | No Comments

words and pictures – Paul Bowker

Bianchi – a legendary Marque

Since 1885, Bianchi has been a byword for quality. From design to materials innovation, Bianchi have built up an extraordinary body of technical know-how and race-honed real world experience to produce some of the finest frames the world of cycling has ever seen. Oh yes, and there’s that colour – the mere mention of Celeste has many grown men (and women) going weak at the knees.

In July 2016, Richard & I  went to Italy for the launch of what was at the time Bianchi’s latest creation; the Oltre XR4. With CFD designed and wind tunnel tested aero dynamics, the XR4 was always intended to be uber fast. Yet, with the inclusion of Counter Vail carbon, the XR4 frame assumed a level of comfort and control that confounded all those who said comfort and aero optimised geometries were incompatible bedfellows.

So fast forward to May 2017 and Bianchi has now launched the XR3. One’s immediate assumption is that 3 being a lesser number than 4, the same is going to be true of the bike. And just the like the XR4 before it which confounded the critics, that turns out to be a wrong assumption. A very wrong assumption.

Bianchi Oltre XR3 with Countervail

Bianchi Countervail

To understand how Bianchi achieve this counter-intuitive outcome of aero racing geometry and comfort / compliance we need to look at the Bianchi Countervail range of road frames (excluding the Aquila CV as that is really a dedicated TT bike.

  1. Specialissima – Ultra light and ultra stiff frame intended for attacking the climbs. Inclusion of Countervail for control and fatigue reduction
  2. Infinito CV – Light weight, with an extensive use of Countervail vibration cancelling carbon to enjoy all day on those long epic rides
  3. Oltre XR4 – Light weight with the latest generation of aerodynamics. Fast, agile and stiff for very high average speeds.

Yet there are some apparent contradictions when it comes to deciding where the XR3 fits in that list. First, it has the same extreme racing geometry of the Oltre XR4 but dispenses with some elements of the XR4’s aero technology. Then it has an extensive use of Countervail carbon within its frame but does not seek to replicate the endurance racing geometry of the Infinito CV. And finally, the frame weight is heavier than all three exiting Countervail bikes, so it appears it is not intended to be a flyer on the climbs. So the big question is – what is it trying to be? And I decided that the best way to answer that was to ride it.

Scottish Road

The Ride

At Criterium Cycles, we try and make buying a bike as simple as possible. To do this, we ask three very simple and straightforward questions using the 80% – 20% rule:

  1. For 80% of the time, what terrain is the bike going to be used on?
  2. For 80% of the time, how many hours do you intend to be in the saddle?
  3. How much have you budgeted to spend?

With the answer to these questions, plus a few other details, we can guide customers towards the correct style, geometry and type of bike that is going to suit the vast majority of their riding at a cost that is comfortable. After this, we size you correctly and include a bike fit to ensure you really are comfortable.

However, when it came to testing the Bianchi Oltre XR3, I decided to put a spanner in our own works. Why? Well, for a 40 year old guy of average weight and average flexibility, the racing geometry of the Oltre XR3 would normally lead to a lot of really hard work when riding in excess of three and a bit hours. With a laterally and torsional stiff aero frame like the Oltre, the fatigue over longer distances would normally render the rider a squishy organic mess. Even more of a squishy mess than usual. So I was nervous when I headed out for the first, big ride.

On a day off that also managed to be sunny and 23 degrees, I decided to do my first 100mile ride of the year! Taking in the delights of Dumfries and Galloway, then through to the Scottish Borders and back to Dumfries and Galloway, the loop was just over 100miles in length with just over 1600m of climbing. The roads were the usual Scottish fare, i.e. a bit rubbish, with wash board sections, cattle grids and gravel in the middle of the road on fast descents. But none of that mattered;  I was on a Bianchi, in the sunshine and surrounded by the some of the most beautiful landscape imaginable.

Coffee, Cake and Celeste

Coffee, Cake and Celeste

50km in and I stop at a café in Newcastleton. I reflect on the journey so far, and can’t quite believe how fresh I am feeling. The riding position is spot on, the miles are clicking by in a relentless and near effortless way.

Just under 100km and I find myself in Hawick after riding some stunning climbs, where the stiffness of the Oltre XR3 shone through. Every pedal stroke was converted into forward thrust, yet the Countervail was eliminating the road buzz that would normally have my hands, feet and backside running in the opposite direction. The descents were fantastic, again with a riding position that asked to be pushed and the frame stiffness, combined with the vibration cancelling, felt safe and stable.

The last 60km was an undulating sprint through the Ettrick valley, where the aero advantage of the Oltre really kicked in. The bike travelled along the tarmac with the same effortless poise that I had enjoyed through the entire ride.

Summary

Well, in a nutshell, this is a very fast and well accomplished sportive bike for the rider looking to attack the course instead of just being another number in the event. Yes, you would be less fatigued on an Infinito CV. However, if you are looking for that perfect 60-80 mile sportive bike that climbs, descends and batters the flats whilst putting the biggest grin on your face imaginable, then the Oltre XR3 is just about the fastest way to do it.

In a word? Stunning.

Call Paul on 0131 663 6220 to discuss further details and options on the Bianchi Oltre XR3 range.

Spec of the Bike as tested

  • Oltre XR.3 frameset
  • Reparto Corse Carbon aero seatpost
  • Reparto Corse Alloy bar and stem
  • Full Shimano 105 11sp Groupset
  • Base price £2,899.99 with Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels

Additional items fitted to test bike

  • Bontrager Aura 5 wheels
  • Bontrager R4 320 tyres
  • Bontrager RXL carbon bottle cages
  • Bontrager medium seat pack and Flare City tail light
  • Bontrager XXXL Paradigm Carbon saddle
  • Garmin Edge 1000 computer
  • Shimano Ultegra Pedals

You only get one head

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by Natalie Milne – Team GB and Team Scotland Triathlete

Recently I got a new mountain bike (Trek Fuel EX Project One) and as I got a new bike I thought it was only fair that I got some other bits of kit to complete the new package. I’ve never owned a mountain bike specific helmet and when I saw that Criterium had the new Bontrager Rally MIPS in the same colours as my bike I just had to buy it! Little did I know that when buying this helmet, I’d get to test out its level of protection a little sooner and in more dramatic style than I would have hoped!

Bontrager describe the Rally as raising the bar for comfort and protection in MTB helmets. The Rally has been around in Bontrager’s range for a couple of years now, but for 2017 has been updated with the MIPS Brain Protection System. I can say that when I tried the helmet on in the shop it felt and snug as a bug on my head. I’ve worn Bontrager road bike helmets for the past 3 years and found them to really suit my head shape, so when the time came to get a new mountain bike helmet Bontrager was the go-to brand for me to try.

The helmet has plenty of venting with deep channels that allow good airflow even at low speeds. The flat lock straps also help ensure the straps sit flush against your head and don’t get tangled. The design of the shell also gives greater coverage down the side and rear of the head for added protection. If you ever ride with goggles the adjustable visor is designed so as you can push it up out of the way to allow your goggles to sit neatly on the helmet (under the visor) when not in use. The headmaster fit system used on the Rally has a very fine degree of adjustment to help achieve a perfect fit. There is also enough space between the base of the helmet and the headmaster dial to allow a pony tail to slide through, which is a feature I have found lacking on other helmets in the past.

So, to the main event. Having been riding with the new helmet for all of an hour, I clipped my handlebar on a tree, resulting in me somersaulting over the bars and my head and shoulder taking a good whack. A landing hard enough to knock me unconscious and dislocate my shoulder. I daren’t think what might have happened to a lesser helmet judging by the damage sustained. In the end having endured an ambulance ride to A&E I was diagnosed with concussion to go along with my dislocated shoulder. Having learned in a slightly more painful and dramatic way than most, I know that I will certainly be paying even more attention to the quality of helmets (and other protective gear) I buy in future. After all you only get one head!

Check out the video from Trek that explains a bit more about MIPS and how it reduces the damaging risk of rotational forces on the brain in an impact.

Natalie

Natalie Milne races in Rabat

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Natalie Milne, Team GB and Team Scotland triathlete is sponsored by Criterium Cycles. Natalie is working hard for qualification to represent Team Scotland at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. She recently raced in the ATU Cup in Rabat, Morocco. Here’s her race blog from Rabat.

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