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Road Gear

First look: Bianchi Oltre XR2, now with disc brakes

Italian bike manufacturer introduces road race frames with disc brakes for its 2014 lineup

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COLOBARO, Italy (VN) — The road disc revolution continues. Slowly.

The upcoming year will see an array of disc-ready road frames, from brands big and small. But the vast majority will be aimed squarely at the “endurance” segment, marketing code for bikes with taller head tubes, longer chain stays and other comfort-enhancing features. Most brands are keeping disc rotors away from race frames.

Bianchi is not, at least not exclusively. In addition to its upcoming Infinito CV Disc endurance frame, which was announced shortly before Paris-Roubaix, the company will offer its redesigned thoroughbred racer, the Oltre XR2, with disc brakes for 2014. With the new bike, Bianchi joins Colnago (with its C59 disc) and small brands like Culprit in an exclusive club of disc-ready, race-ready frames.

The new disc frame sits among a thoroughly revamped 2014 Bianchi lineup, 80 percent of which is either brand new or overhauled. The disc racer’s unexpected presence, Bianchi says, is no more than a requirement of the times, and of the latest technology.

GALLERY: Bianchi’s 2014 product line

That the vast majority of its customers will never enter a UCI sanctioned race has not gone unnoticed by the Italian brand, either.

“We tested and we believe that the performance of the hydraulic disc is a huge improvement over normal brakes,” said Bianchi road product manager Angelo Lecchi. “Pro riders are really well trained, skilled, able to go downhill very fast with what they have. But for normal people, the discs provide an even greater advantage to them. That’s why we decided to introduce not on only one frame, but on two frames. We respect the ideas of the UCI, but from our side we think it’s very important to provide the best for the end consumer.”

Bianchi, like other bike brands taking the plunge into road discs, expects initial sales to be more trickle than flood. But Lecchi estimated that within a year, the sector could make up a significant portion of the company’s high-end Oltre sales. He believes that consumers will need to try the technology for themselves, and if they do they’ll be hooked.

“We expect to have good sales, but of course not the same level as the normal frames,” he told VeloNews. “I think that it could be as high as 30 percent, in the super high end. This is my feeling, maybe I’m wrong. Why? Because if you try it, the discs, it’s like using an automatic in a car and then going back to manual. It’s unbelievable. I was a former professional for 10 years, I used all the normal caliper brakes from the Campagnolo Delta onwards, and I tested the discs and it’s simply incredible. There is such a huge difference. The sensitivity is not on the same level.”

UCI approval

Among a collection of roadblocks lying ahead of road disc brakes, the UCI is perhaps the most unpredictable, and unsurpassable. Until discs are approved for road racing, it’s unlikely that the industry will see any sort of wholesale move away from calipers — if such a change would ever happen at all. That’s one reason why most brands are playing it safe, applying discs only to the sort of bikes unlikely to see any racing action, and targeted away from the racing crowd.

Manufacturers, both on the component side and the frame side, having been pushing the UCI for movement on the issue. But most aren’t pressing too hard, at least not yet. At the moment, only SRAM has a hydraulic road option, and most frame brands don’t have disc race frames lined up for 2014. The UCI may not move until is perceives more brands as being on board, Lecchi said.

“There are meetings specifically to speak with the UCI. We are discussing. If there is a benefit or the end consumer, especially for safety, we have to follow up. I have the impression that they (UCI) want to … when all the key groupset players are ready and equal, at the same level, maybe they will be more open,” Lecchi said.

“If you have a caliper brake and I have a disc we have different brake distances, and that could maybe be a bit dangerous. We know the rotors reach unbelievable temperature. But, the crankset, with teeth, is not so safe either.”

For now, Bianchi and other brands have no choice but to bow to the whims of the UCI. They take risks in investing in disc projects, and on investing in bringing those products to shops without a well-defined market and without the ability to sell them via professional sponsorship. For brands interested in taking the step towards discs, it’s a perilous fence to sit on.

“We take care of the pro riders, but we respect the ideas of the UCI. From our side, it’s very important to give something more to the end consumer,” Lecchi said. “We believe that this is something that improves the level of safety to the bikes, and something that makes a better bike.”

Better or not, racers, the target audience of the Oltre XR2, are likely to shy away without a UCI badge.

The details: new Oltre XR2

Though the new disc frame is the big story, both versions of the Oltre receive a big makeover for 2014.

Both the disc and non-disc versions of the Oltre XR2 receive an updated aero shape, concentrated on the fork and head tube areas in particular. The old fork “wings,” which served to fill the space between the fork and downtube, have been replaced by a dropped downtube. The look is similar, but the material has just been moved from fork to frame.

The head tube on both models is tapered from 1 1/8” to 1 ½,” and both move to the BB386 bottom bracket standard — an unsurprising move given the company’s close ties to FSA, the co-developer of the standard. The new frames will also be compatible with both mechanical and electronic groups, using a plug system.

Cable routing is internal, and brake cable routing has been improved via a front-entry port on the head tube. The frames will also be compatible with Campagnolo’s as-of-yet unreleased internal EPS battery, a prototype of which was shown on Tuesday.

At 895 grams for a 55cm with standard brakes, the Oltre XR2 isn’t breaking any weight records. Bianchi says it is stiffer than the previous version, but did not provide any data.

The disc version features internal routing for hydraulic or mechanical brake lines, both through the fork and through the frame. The post mount disc mounts are compatible with 140 or 160mm rotors, but the company recommends 160mm. Like the Infinito CV Disc, the disc version adds about 100 grams over the standard caliper frame.

What else is coming in 2014?

In addition to its high-end (dubbed “Hors Categorie”) offerings, Bianchi updated its mid-level Sempre Pro frame and tweaked its C2C, or Coast 2 Coast, endurance range.

The new Sempre Pro, the frame used by Androni Giocattoli at this year’s Giro d’Italia, gets a PF30 bottom bracket, updated internal cable routing, and drops about 100 grams relative to the previous version thanks to new carbon layup technology. It is otherwise identical to the previous version.

The C2C range gains a new model, the Intenso, a new carbon frame that uses the same geometry as the Infinito. It also features internal cable routing, a tapered 1.125 to 1.5” head tube, and a full carbon fork. The bike is designed to replace the old Infinito, and is similar to that frame in weight — 1,200 grams — and looks.

The Impulso aluminum model will feature a hydroformed head tube and top tube for a very carbon fiber-like look.

Further down the line, Bianchi says it is looking into dropping disc options into lower price points. The hangup now is the availability, or lack thereof, of budget-oriented hydraulic brake options.

“We need to find out what the opinion of the big groupset players is for discs of different levels,” Lecchi said. “Of course, if in the future more groups are available at different price points, like on mountain bikes, we will develop other bikes. We are ready, because there is a benefit for sure.”

On the mountain bike side, Bianchi has jumped wholesale into the 27.5” camp, adding both a hardtail and full suspension bike with the middle wheel size. It has ditched the 650b moniker, too, a coup for Imperial devotees everywhere.

Most of the company’s mountain line won’t be available in the U.S., including the rather good looking full suspension Methanol FS, but the race-worthy Methanol hardtail frames will make it across the pond. The new Methanol 27 SL gets 27.5” wheels, a tapered head tube, 12x142mm Thru Axle, chain stay mounted discs, a PF30 bottom bracket, internal cable routing compatible with electronic groups (hint, hint), an E-Type front derailleur mount, and a weight below 1,200 grams.

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