Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
In this Bikes of the Bunch, we take a look at a well-loved, and well-used Bianchi Oltre XR2 that was recently given a new lease of life. The bike’s owner Adam Marshall hails from the UK and is the owner of boutique clothing brand We Can Be. In the following article he writes about his decision to renew an existing bike over buying something new.
Sometimes you fall in love with a bike like you never have before. It’s not just that it fits you like a glove, you like looking at it, is comfortable or simply makes you feel fast. Sometimes the whole package connects with you in a way that you struggle to comprehend.
It’s probably about where the bike has taken you. What you’ve been through together both on the road and in your life. This bike, my bike, has always been the one.
In 2014 I bought a size 57 Bianchi Oltre XR2 frameset. For five years it was ridden to death all around the world in all conditions. Sometimes 20 miles, sometimes, (well, once, and never again) 350. It fast became part of my cycling life unlike any bike I’d owned before.
I’d loved bikes in the past for a variety of reasons. My Raleigh Burner taught me how to crash with style. My first drop bar bike, a Raleigh Arena that was too big for me when I was 11, provided previously unknown levels of freedom. A Ritchey Road Logic did it all and always made me smile. A Tommasini Super Prestige just rode beautifully and felt bespoke. And even a budget Ridley Orion that was built like a tank but unfailingly carried me all the way from the UK to Greece in 20 days.
This Bianchi was different though. It had everything and always felt one step ahead of me. We’ve never quit on each other. One day, in driving snow and -10ºC temperatures, my saddle fell off climbing the brutal Great Dun Fell in Cumbria. With hands too cold to re-attach it we exchanged words (the bike silently) and eventually made it through together.
I’ve ridden it for 24 hours solid. I’ve done double and triple centuries on it. Poked the front wheel first across finish lines with it. It was with me when my son came into the world. And it helped me clear my head in my darkest moments when I lost my father. I know it’s an inanimate object, but this bike somehow became a friend.
A time for something new
By 2018 the miles had taken their toll and my Bianchi was looking extremely tired. I’d abused it, no question. But like all good friendships, we’d been hard on each other from time to time.
I never bought it to look at, but the paint was dulled, clear coat stripping, covered in chips, scratches and cable rub. It was absolutely battered. That it was looking shoddy was the reason the search for a new frame began.
There was space at the top of the tree for a new number-one bike, and the Bianchi’s disrepair had me thinking, perhaps mistakenly, that I needed a fresh ride.
A torturous six-month search began. I did test rides and contacted custom builders but nothing I touched had the intangible appeal of the Oltre. No matter what I tried, all of the bikes I tried had something missing. Perhaps I was simply feeling that I was disrespecting my dearest friend.
After exhausting all avenues, I was seconds away from buying a Wilier Cento 10 Air in Cromovelato. It rode sublimely and looked stunning, but there was still a nagging doubt in the back of my mind.
It was mid-2018 when I finally understood the situation. I got an Instagram message from Tom at Kustomflow and we got talking about kit, bikes, customisation etc (I own We Can Be, an independent cycling clothing brand also based in the UK). It was at that point that I realised I didn’t need a new bike, I needed to give my old bike a new lease of life.
When I saw what he could do, my mind was made up. I wasn’t just going to restore it, I was going to create a design that reflected both our brands and stand out in any group ride. As with my brand’s kit designs, I didn’t hold back. I wanted it to look like nothing else and have people talking, good or bad.
The colours were easy to pick, I knew I wanted Bianchi celeste in there and so I started from the back with that, fading into midnight blue and hot pink at the front. These are the colours that got my business off the ground in the first place, and were the right amount of bold. I did the easy part, and then handed the design to Tom to get busy.
More than paint
It wasn’t just the frame that got a refresh though. I saw it as an opportunity to have fun with the whole build. I always buy a frameset as component choice is a huge part of the fun for me. I was treating this as a new bike purchase and I wanted to play with the limits of weight. Now I know my limitations — I know the barely noticeable benefits of watching the grams, but that wasn’t the point. I love artisan, boutique items and wanted to make it special.
The budget wasn’t unlimited, so despite the flamboyance, there were limits. My son is two, I have a business to run and a family to provide for, so I wasn’t going to launch money out a cannon. I may have desired brands like THM, Schmolke and Mcfk, but I just couldn’t justify them. This was a weight-weenie build on a budget.
The bike had spent most of its life wearing FSA finishing kit, Campagnolo Chorus, and either Campagnolo Shamal or Bora wheels, depending on the ride. All of it was excellent and more than good enough for me, but the bike weighed over 8kg. I wanted to strip that away. I wasn’t looking for performance gains, I just wanted the paint job to be complemented by a different build.
It has been huge fun — I got to buy components from small companies with incredible ethics, approaches to business and manufacturing that I love.
Whilst I’d been very happy with Campagnolo Chorus, and knowing that functionally it is completely identical, I opted for mechanical Super Record, if only because I felt the frame deserved the prestige. However, I kept the Chorus front derailleur, and by replacing the bolts with Ti and removing the Chorus logo with acetone, it became the same weight and exact same performing item anyway.
For the crankset I opted for Rotor 3D+. It’s a crank I’d become fond of due to its combination of light weight, durability, stiffness and ease of service. With Extralite’s Octaramp compact chainrings, from a brand I admire, the crankset came in lighter than a Super Record or Dura Ace crank.
Another brand I had long admired was Berk. I had watched the amazing things they’d done with fabricating all-in-one-seat posts and saddles for a few years and loved the DIY attributes of the business. I opted for a Berk Lupine saddle, and I don’t know how, but this is the first lightweight saddle that has ever worked for me. It is supremely comfortable yet only 97g.
Budget dictated the cockpit and I got an excellent deal on the Deda Superleggera / Superleggero bar and stem combo, and the RHM shape is something I’ve really liked on other bikes. It was not the original plan, but Tom ended up painting the stem, too.
I’ve always opted for mid-range items where things wear. That said, there was no point being reserved once I’d seen the first coat of paint on the frame and so I picked up a gold KMC X11 SL. The cassette is an EDCO Monoblock. Similar to the Recon cassettes it’s machined from a single piece of steel and is both parts astonishing and mind-boggling to look at.
It cost me a third of the price of a Campagnolo Super Record or SRAM Red cassette and it’s lighter than both. Plus I just had to see its construction first-hand after watching it get machined with a sense of awe on YouTube.
The wheelset is my existing pair of Campagnolo Bora One 50s. I could have saved more weight here, but much like the frame, I feel they provide me with absolutely everything I need with no real compromise. I’ve owned many wheelsets over the years and these continually hit the perfect combination in terms of performance, comfort, braking, weight and looks. If I had to use just one wheelset forever, it would be these.
Likewise, my tyre choice, Schwalbe One, has never let me down. These tyres are quick, supple, comfortable and durable.
I pushed the boat out a little further on skewers and cages with the Wassertrager 2.0 and DC100 /130 from Tune. I felt the bike deserved those little finishing touches of lightweight, aesthetically pleasing boutique bits which, despite their supremely low mass, perform brilliantly.
By the time I’d piled up components in my spare room, Tom had nearly finished the paint. We added a couple of finishing touches, the first being my son’s name on the top tube. We all need time to ourselves occasionally but if I go for a ride I tend to feel guilty about leaving him behind. Having him there on the bike keeps him with me and reminds me what I’m racing home for. It also keeps me reigned in when I have the opportunity to take risks.
Tom was also bringing ideas to the party. He added the We Can Be lightning bolt device into the clear coat — an incredible detail that you can only see in certain light conditions.
The finished frame arrived in February 2019 and was quickly built up. It blew my mind when I saw it — Tom is a master. Everything on it is paint, no transfers or vinyl. I knew he was good from seeing other people’s bikes and glasses, but this? I was gobsmacked.
I’m good friends with the guys at the Pedalling Squares cycling-themed cafe near me in Gateshead. They share my passion for bikes and doing things a bit differently. Attached to them is a spanner named Patrick who wrenches under the name of Brassworks Bikes. Patrick has an eye for the ridiculous that is close to mine.
We had a lot of fun weighing every single bolt and part, figuring out ways to cut even more weight and marvelling at some of the parts I’d acquired. It was a fun day in the workshop and he built it up immaculately.
Within seconds of being revealed, the bike was getting comments, mostly positive. Some people just prefer black bikes and that’s up to them. Others like to point out that it’s too good or too flashy for someone like myself who is basically now a hobby rider. But I don’t entertain that opinion. Any bike over £1000 is likely more than enough for the majority of people who aren’t elite racers. I’m of the opinion you can ride and buy what you like; it’s your choice.
The bike’s diet bore fruit, ending up at just under 6.4kg — right where I was aiming. The frame and wheels are certainly not lightweight by current standards, but it’s to be ridden without compromise first and foremost. Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that the paint only added 21g to the overall weight. That’s an artist at work to achieve that, especially considering how elaborate the design is.
Like my brand, this bike is different from the norm — gleefully in-your-face and there to raise a smile. It gets people talking and turns heads for sure.
The project is complete, and old friends are reunited. Unless it explodes I’ll never get rid of this bike. We’ve got a lot more to go through together and I’m sure we’ll share many more good and bad times.
Frameset: Bianchi Oltre XR2 (57cm), painted by Kustomflow
Headset: FSA Orbit
Wheelset: Campagnolo Bora One 50 wheelset.
Crankset: Rotor 3D+, Extralite Octaramp 50/34T chainrings
Bottom Bracket: Rotor PF30
Shifters: Campagnolo Super Record
Brake calipers: Campagnolo Super Record 11
Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Chorus, modified
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo Super Record 11
Cassette: Edco monoblock, 11-28T
Chain: KMC X11 SL
Tyres: Schwalbe One tyres.
Handlebar: Deda Superleggera, 40cm
Stem: Deda Superleggero, 110mm
Saddle: Berk Lupina
Seatpost: Bianchi Oltre
Cages: Tune Wassertager 2.0
Skewers: Tune DC100/130
Bar tape: Lizard Skins DSP 1.8mm
Build by Brassworks Bikes
Photography by Eric Murphy at Pedalling Squares Cafe