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by Dave Everett
June 25, 2019
Photography by Dave Everett & Wilier
Italian brands evoke a sense of history, sometimes at the expense of jumping on the latest trends. But Wilier’s new Zero SLR mixes that trope up. The new bike ticks all the boxes, throwing in all the tech riders want from a bike now: fully integrated cable routing from the bars onwards, disc brakes, and a build that doesn’t sacrifice bulk for these added features. That’s right, the Zero SLR throws in the lightweight card too. That combination of integration and weight weenieism make it somewhat unique.
The Zero SLR sticks firmly to Wilier’s rich racing heritage, dating back to 1906. The question is, do these new on-trend tricks detract or add to that racing performance base that the Italian brand is well known for?
For a lightweight bike test, you need excellent roads with plenty of ‘up’. As luck would have it, Wilier is based in the foothills of the Dolomites, only a short ride from some of the famed climbs used in the Giro d’Italia, including the monstrous Monte Grappa. It’s a perfect ‘up’ for a new all-around lightweight racing bike.
Wilier claims the Zero SLR is the world’s first lightweight, fully integrated disc brake road bike. Depending on how you define those terms (a Specialized Venge is 960 grams, has disc brakes, and fully integrated shift and brake lines – does that count?) they could be right – or not. There are indeed no other mass-produced, weight-focused bikes with fully integrated cables and disc brakes currently available.
The Zero SLR isn’t Wilier’s lightest bike – that award goes to the Zero.6, at 680 grams. The Zero SLR adds 100 grams to that, at a claimed 780g. Those 100 grams cram a lot of added benefits in over the wispy light Zero.6. The idea is simple: take some of the lessons learned the aero road world — cockpit and cable/hydraulic line integration, tucked away disc brakes – and apply them to a more traditional, stiffness-to-weight ratio focused road frame.
For the Zero SLR, Wilier has quite literally returned to the drawing board. From the ground up, the bike doesn’t obviously take any cues from the previous Zero.7 or Zero.6. This includes construction. The new frame uses a new blend of fibres that, unsurprisingly, Wilier wouldn’t provide much detail on, other than give us a name: HUS-MOD. Wilier also added a high resistant multi-directional fibre mesh and a product they call Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) to improve rigidity and impact. A quick little snooping reveals this is likely Vectran fibre (or similar), the same material used by Continental for puncture protection in some of its high-end tyres. Journalists wanting to test the implications of an impact resistant layer aren’t usually very popular, so I can’t personally speak to the effectiveness of that treatment.
The new composites have allowed the Zero SLR to gain a claimed 24% increase in stiffness to weight value relative to the Zero.7 and Zero.6 models. The bike I used, a 54cm (medium) matte black frame with the top spec build of Dura-Ace Di2 and Wilier’s own carbon tubular wheels tipped the scale at just 6.5kg (excluding pedals).
Many aerodynamicists in the industry suggest that an integrated handlebar setup like this will save you 8-10 watts (at approximately 45km/ph) compared to a regular round handlebar and external cable setup.
Integrated bars and stem aren’t new to Wilier or the cycling industry as a whole. Routing the cables (for disc and shifting) neatly and cleanly also isn’t exactly groundbreaking, we’ve seen this on several bikes already. But generally, such integration is found on aero models, not a lightweight climbers bike. Wilier’s very own Cento 10 Pro falls into this category — aero, integrated and disc ready.
You’d have thought that Wilier’s engineers would have just taken the Alabarda cockpit currently found on the Centro10Pro and meshed it with the frame of the Zero.6. But that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the Zero SLR has a proprietary cockpit (though the Alabarda, Stemma and Barra from Wilier will all fit). The bar setup is super clean, and I found it quite comfortable. The drops aren’t too deep, and the tops are broad yet not aggressively contoured, better than many integrated aero bars I’ve tested. They provide a stable place to rest the hands on an all day ride. Weight for the cockpit is 330 grams for a 100x42mm. Cables route through the bars and fall between the bearings. It’s simple, effective and at no point did I find the routing affecting handling performance. I did not take the whole thing apart, but any fully integrated system is going to be a bit of an occasional pain for the home mechanic.
The good news is that, like many integrated set-ups, Wilier provides the ability to adjust handlebar height without disconnecting hydraulic hoses or removing cables. Clam-shaped spacers allow for a relatively easy and quick adjustment. There’ll be no slamming the stem on the Zero SLR either as the cockpit needs the top and bottom spacers to allow for a proper functioning headset. There is 3cm of adjustability in the stack height and five bar/stem combinations to choose from.
There’s no denying the clean aesthetic that such a handelbar provides, but it also locks you in to specific component choices.
If you’re a fan of mechanical shifting (as I am), then stop reading now. Unfortunately, due to Wilier pitching this as a full-on race machine, they’ve decided that everyone who wants top end performance also wants electronic shifting, be that wireless from SRAM or wired from Shimano or Campagnolo. Because of this choice they’ve only built the bike around electronic cables alongside the hoses for the disc brakes. I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed by this design choice. Similarly, there are no provisions for external cable or hose routing, and so you must use Wiliers integrated cockpits (or similar) with this bike.
The fork and the rear end are both asymmetric, with the rear’s drive-side chainstay having a slightly sharper angle than the non-drive side. The fork’s asymmetric design is noticeable to the eye, with the left leg carrying a little extra width and bulk to resist the forces of the flat mount disc brake. The fork’s aerodynamic properties are further improved by a widening of the width between the legs. This design is nothing new, Wilier have used it on their TT and tri bikes. Fork weight is a claimed 340 grams for the matte black option, putting the frame and fork weight for the Wilier Zero SLR at 1,120 grams.
The frame and fork are designed to fit up to a 28mm tyre, and although that’s plenty wide for most racing pursuits, it still feels a touch narrow for a disc-equipped bike carrying a 2020 model year. We rode 26mm Vittoria Corsa tubulars on the day.
Mavic’s Speed Release thru-axle system are not only fast and easy to use, they’re one of the lighter axle options and also feature a built-in torque limiting function.
As with all new disc bikes, the Zero SLR has thru axles. But these, from Mavic, are a bit different. The Mavic Speed release stays in the hub when the wheel is removed; a quick turn is all that is required to tighten and loosen. The trick is an open dropout on the non-threaded side which allows the axle to drop past.
The integrated seatpost expander bolt isn’t the prettiest set up we’ve had on a bike and doesn’t fit with the rest of the frame’s clean lines. But Wilier does offer two seat post options, a 0 and 15mm setback. Both posts are slightly truncated in design, for aero purposes, and with a clamp that is compatible with Ritchey one-bolt seatposts – one of the few one-bolt designs we don’t mind using. Lastly, the frame uses a standard PF86 bottom bracket (Shimano press-fit style).
The sizing consists of six options, XS through to 2XL with no frame-only option. There are 12 build choices with prices starting at €7700 for the SRAM Force eTAP AXS groupset rolling on Wilier’s ND38KC Carbon clincher wheels. The top-end model will leave an €11,200 dent in your pocket. This comes with a full SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset and Wilier’s own ULT38 KT Carbon deep section wheels; these are only available in tubular. A top-end model that only comes with tubulars? I suppose you have to applaud the dedication to the core roadie cause.
All models, no matter if it’s the base version build of the super-fly option, all come with the exact same frame, fork and cockpit. All groupsets are either Shimano compact or SRAM’s equivalent. It is also possible to upgrade to a power meter option for eight out of the 12 build options; this will set you back a further €1000.
The Zero SLR’s geometry figures prove its racing intention with a low stack. Note that the seat angle, head angle and chainstay length all change with each size. Fork rake is 47mm across all sizes, while bottom bracket drop ranges from 75mm to 68mm across the size range (70mm on 54cm).
Roads that turn up is where this bike excels and Wilier’s route for the two test days sure threw us up a few slopes. We couldn’t have asked for better roads to test the bikes on — the weather, on the other hand, could have been a touch warmer, but you can’t have everything. To cut to the chase, the Zero SLR is a race machine. It ticks all the boxes for what a race bike should be. It’s light, impressively stiff, dives in and out of corners like a spring, and in the two days didn’t cause any ill-comfort.
The standout ride qualities that I took from my time on the bike was its cornering ability at speed. The handling was a personal highlight, descending down the Monte Grappa on my own with little traffic on a cold and slightly slippery second day of testing had me grinning with pleasure, the Vittoria Corsa 26mm Tubulars threw up bags of confidence, and the geometry allowed me to throw my weight in the right direction with ease. Point the bike where you want it, and it dashes there.
Wilier has done an excellent job with its handlebar design. I’m usually a bit picky when it comes to bars and stem when climbing, I like a certain spring to the front end when climbing out of the saddle, and usually, a one-piece bar is too stiff. However, the whole front end of the Zero SLR offered a nice natural flow to it when out of the saddle and digging deep. Surprisingly they managed to feel plenty stiff when sprinting in the drops, yet relatively comfortable on some of the rougher roads we tackled.
Unfortunately, as with any bike, there’s always a few little niggling parts that I’d loved to have seen refined to remove any doubts. Fortunately for the Zero SLR the niggles, on the whole, could in most cases be rectified with a swap of parts. Not ideal when buying a new bike (and one that isn’t available as a frameset) but still a possibility.
I’ve recently been using a lightweight (custom) built carbon frame, and with a 16km Grand Tour climb rising from my backyard, it feels exceptionally light under me. However, the Wilier lacks that same feel, and it certainly isn’t from the frame. I have to put it down to Wilier’s own ULT38KT carbon tubular wheels (made by Miche). They’re a lightweight wheel at 1,390g, but somehow they felt a touch sluggish when trying to whip them uphill. I’d love to test the bike with a different set of wheels at some point to see if my first impression is right.
Wilier’s own wheels are produced in collaboration with the classic Italian wheel company Miche.
The other major niggle that had me scratching my head was that seat post clamp. The bike looks clean and flows nicely; it has a pretty silhouette until your eyes hit the small Lego block size piece of carbon that sits below the top tube. This is the housing for the (what looks to be) fiddly seat clamp. Surely they could have found a prettier and not so intrusive design. It’s a shame as it’s not really in keeping with what you’d class as an Italian flourish. Personally, I feel it spoils the otherwise clean looking frame, even if it is technically more aero or allows for more seat post to be exposed.
Phone storage on a bike? Oh wait, that’s the seat clamp.
Sure, many Italian bikes come under fire for being a little left of centre when it comes to their design. For instance, Colnago still sticks to using a lug/tube construction for their C64 model, Pinarello for just being Pinarello, with functionally useless kinks and curves all over the place, and the same goes for De Rosa or Bianchi who also churn out wild looking bikes on occasions. Then there’s Cipollini, who plow everything into the stiff, aggressive ride camp.
Yep, it’s fair to say that Italian bikes are, generally speaking, a cut apart from the many computer engineered, board-room brainstormed, conservative designs that we often see rolling out of factory doors. They usually forgo something for that “Italian stallion” ride. And it works for them; they don’t fade away into the background, they slap you demanding an opinion, not just on the ride quality but the look and sign of the bike. Be it love or loathe.
The Zero SLR though feels like it forgot some of this Italian zaniness. It rides lovely, it climbs nicely, it’s a modern race bike. It just feels a bit conservative in design. That’s not a slight, in fact, you could praise the Wilier engineers for producing a clean, unfussy bike that stacks up nicely to many other benchmark brands out there. But it’s just that I’m a sucker for a design choice that I can get passionate about, be it for better or worse. Give me a little more Lambo, a little less Lexus.
There’s nothing to dislike about the Zero SLR, except maybe that seatpost clamp. Its ride is what you’d want from a top end race bike. It’s beautiful. But it’s just that I want a bit of Italian flamboyance to my Italian bikes. It’s deeply on trend, one of the first bikes we’ve seen that has many features people are looking for wrapped in a lightweight package. It’s not bland, it’s calculated. Precisely calculated. This is what we expect of some brands, but for an Italian brand, it oddly feels unfamiliar.
My advice: If you are contemplating the Zero SLR, make sure you opt for the metallic red or blue options (especially the red, it’s eye-poppingly handsome). Sure, you add a bit of extra weight over the matt black version, but it’ll make you smile every time you throw a leg over.
As tested, my sample included full Dura-Ace Di2 R9170 and Wilier’s mid-depth tubular wheels.
Don’t worry about the extra weight, the blue and red options are eyewateringly lovely.
The matt black vesrion is the lightest option avaliable at 780 gramms for the frame and 380 for the fork.
The red is lovely in real life….and it’s faster.
Mavic’s Speed Release requires a specific frame design, but it offers real benefit to racers.
We’ve seen similar spacer design on several bikes over the past few years.
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