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Bianchi Specialissima review

20 Feb 2018

Page 2 of 2Bianchi Specialissima review (2016)

Verdict:

A lightweight Italian thoroughbred that is as comfortable as it is fast

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Sublime handling • Outstanding Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels • Attention to detail
Against 
Bar flex for heavier riders • Non-carbon wheels don't look the part • Slightly odd gearing

 

Bianchi Specialissima review (2016)

James Spender

Bianchi Specialissima review

There’s something rather charming about a company that’s been around so long it’s forgotten what colour its bicycles are.

Could these steeds be painted the same azure hue as a Queen consort’s eyes? Or coloured like a Milanese sky in mid-summer?

However Celeste came about (a word that means ‘heavenly’ in Italian, so make of that what you will), one thing’s for sure, it’s a colour that has defined Bianchi bicycles for over a century – 131 years to be exact.

‘The official Pantone for Celeste is number 333,’ says Bianchi’s UK brand manager, Andrew Griffin. ‘However, the material it’s being used on will determine the actual Pantone. A water bottle will require something different from a titanium bolt, for example.’

It’s a problem that still plagues Bianchi painters, who still also check things by eye – a process no doubt responsible for Celeste’s slow morph over the years from sky blue towards a more minty-green.

But it hasn’t stopped Bianchi’s latest bike, the Specialissima, from embracing its native colourway, albeit with a modern twist. This is a striking beast indeed, and the ride is as charismatically wild.

Any colour, so long as it’s…

Bianchi Specialissima frame

Like an increasing number of manufacturers, Bianchi has opted for a semi-custom approach for the flagship Specialissima.

That is, while stock colours and builds are available, the Specialissima also comes as a frameset, to be painted and specced how you choose. 

This Dura-Ace-equipped Specialissima is stock, snubbing the notion that Italian bikes need Italian groupsets. It’s also dressed up in the latest incarnation of Celeste, ‘CK16’, which is a semi-fluorofied, matt-finish paint that I for one adore, but I know other riding mates detest.

If you might be a person of such disgust (but I implore you to wait until you’ve viewed it in the flesh), never fear: the Specialissima is also available in black, or, for an extra £350, any colour of your choosing courtesy of Bianchi’s Tavolozza custom paint programme, one of those worryingly addictive websites that lets you colour in your very own Specialissima.

I say ‘any colour’, but in an amusing twist Bianchi’s small print adds that it ‘reserves the right to approve your selected paint scheme’.

I raise this with Bianchi product designer, Angelo Lecchi: ‘There are some colour combinations in the programme between the frame and the graphics that we do not recommend,’ he says.

‘There are 1,422 different combinations, of which we do not recommend 178. One customer asked anyway, but we did not recommend.’ Polite but firm. 

I think if I were buying a Specialissima I’d have it in CK16, or at the very least, regular Celeste. Anything else is akin to owning a Ferrari in a colour other than red. 

Weights and wheels

Bianchi Specialissima headtube

Colour aside, the Specialissima cuts a fine profile. Its tube shapes appear modern yet with an occasional nod to bicycles of yesteryear with an almost horizontal top tube.

The aero-sculpted head tube seems to have taken cues from Bianchi’s Aquila time-trial machine. The stays and fork legs are elegantly slender – the chainstays are a joy to behold, thinning from bulbous beginnings like they’ve been extruded from molten carbon.

None of this should be a surprise, though, as Lecchi explains that Bianchi doesn’t just slap the Specialissima moniker onto any old frame.

It’s a name with provenance, dating back to the early 1950s and enduring until the 1980s, as ridden by Italy’s most famous cycling son, Fausto Coppi. As such you’d expect the Specialissima to be light, and it is.

A claimed 780g for the frame and 340g for the fork helps this 55cm build dust the Cyclist scales at just 6.52kg – and I really felt it at every turn.

My first few pedal strokes were met with sensational zing. This was probably over-exaggerated given I’d just come off the back of testing the BMC GF01, a disc brake bike nearly 2kg heavier, but it remained a palpable sensation throughout the rest of my testing.

In fact, I’d hazard to say the only bike I’ve ridden that accelerated faster was the Sarto Asola, a sub-700g frame that resulted in a sub-6kg build. 

Bianchi Specialissima bottom bracket

However, it’s not enough to be lightweight alone: quick acceleration revolves as much around stiffness as it does weight, and its here where the Specialissima impressed me most.

For such a lightweight frame it didn’t half resist my efforts to bend it, although the Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels should be commended too.

With my £7k bike snob hat on I’d almost want to deride the inclusion of alloy wheels on a bike such as the Specialissima (how terribly entry level. I mean, have they not heard of carbon, darling?), but I was nevertheless impressed by these wheels on a number of occasions. 

Short and fast

Climbing was as expected – a genuine delight. The Specialissima easily finds a rhythm and ascends with consummate ease, finely balanced from low-speed seated grinds through to high-speed out-of-the-saddle assaults. But it’s not just the stiffness and weight that aids it.

Back in the late 1970s, Rigi made a bike called the Bici-Corta, or ‘short bike’. Designer Giorgio Rinaldi’s idea was that a shorter wheelbase (with a back end so tight that the rear wheel poked through a twin-tubed seat tube) would create a better climbing machine, being stiffer at the rear and shifting the rider’s centre of gravity over the rear wheel when climbing for better traction and power transfer. The Bici-Corta had a wheelbase of just 925mm for a 56cm frame, with stays just 375mm.

Bianchi Specialissima review

While the Specialissima doesn’t push Rinaldi’s limits, it nevertheless has a short 985mm wheelbase and the back end is certainly on the tighter side with 407mm chainstays, which influences its immense climbing prowess. It also makes the bike handle with expert precision, only with one caveat.

At low speeds I found the Specialissima’s handling somewhat unsettled – nervy almost. I put this to Lecchi and he said he’d not heard such feedback, but I did share the Specialissima around the Cyclist test crew (without any prior priming from me) and the verdict was unanimous: twitchy, with a front wheel that felt like it wanted to tuck under during low speed manoeuvres.

It never did of course, and likely never would, but it took a few rides to get used to. To keep some perspective though, unless you’re constantly switching between bikes you’ll simply adapt, as I did, to the way the Specialissima handles and it will soon feel normal.

Plus, all is forgiven when you show the Specialissima a fast descent or a set of tight corners. Suddenly everything irons out and comes together, the bike taking on a new level of stability and its handling becomes exactly what you’d want and expect from a race-level bike: sharp and precise.

To that end the Specialissima warrants its title – it truly is a special bike.

Buy the Bianchi Specialissima frameset here

Price: 
£8,100 (frameset £3,800)

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Page 2 of 2Bianchi Specialissima review (2016)