Unpacking the new Bianchi Oltre RC: We have questions and some answers

The curious case of the new Bianchi Oltre hyperbike.

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Unless you’ve been sleeping on a different rock for the past week, you’ve probably seen Bianchi’s new range of Oltre aero bikes, including the company’s so-called “hyperbike,” the Oltre RC. The bike is the long-awaited replacement for the ageing Oltre XR4 and has generated quite a stir over the past seven days.

Given my performance and aero interests, CyclingTips readers may have found it odd we hadn’t yet covered the new bike. Listeners to the CyclingTips podcast will know we hadn’t yet seen the new bike when the embargo lifted last week. With so many questions about the new bike, we decided to take some time to speak with Bianchi and get some answers.

Here we take a deeper dive into Bianchi’s new Oltre range and the design philosophy behind it, those bold performance claims and how they might translate into real-world performance, and what it all might mean for the future of aero bikes.

What’s the difference?

Bianchi announced three new models of the Oltre last week, the top of the range Oltre RC, the Oltre Pro, and the base mode Oltre. 

While visually, all three frame offerings appear identical, with just the usual groupset and spec differences between spec levels, these are three unique frames with very different suggested benefits and ideal riders.

The Oltre RC is Bianchi’s new flagship offering and features “advanced high modulus carbon fibres,” Bianchi’s new proprietary handlebar, which is said to create low-pressure aero vortices, and patent-pending “Air Deflectors” reduce drag on the frame while amplifying the work of the handlebar. Bianchi claims these features combine to reduce the total drag on the bike and rider combined system. There is a lot of aero to unpack there, but we will return to that in a moment.

The RC derives its name from Bianchi’s historical racing division, Reparto Corsa, dating back to the 1950s when it was active in both motorbike and bicycle racing. Reparto Corsa is also Bianchi’s in-house components brand, and the RC is decked out with the new RC 65/50 wheelset and 3D-printed saddle said to aid the rider in maintaining an aero position. The new RC is available with Dura-Ace Di2, SRAM Red Etap AXS, and Campagnolo Super Record or as a frame, fork, seat post, and handlebar-only option.

Bianchi suggests the RC is for the rider looking for the absolute top level of performance and modern innovation. When a superbike is not enough, Bianchi has the hyperbike.

The Oltre Pro comes from the same mould as the RC, and while Bianchi wasn’t exactly clear on the exact carbon make-up and how it differs from RC to Pro, we believe the Pro features a slightly lower-grade carbon. 

The main differentiator between the two top-tier frames is the inclusion of Bianchi’s Countervail ride-smoothing technology in the Pro. Countervail is carried over from the XR4, and Bianchi claims it “cancels 80% of vibrations while increasing the stiffness and strength” of its carbon frames and forks. Countervail has many fans, with the XR4 said to be one of the best riding bikes of its generation, but it was presumably dropped from the RC range due to some associated weight penalty.

The Pro is decked out with the same Reparto Corsa integrated handlebar and the new Oltre’s pièce de résistance, those head tube Air Deflectors. The Pro does get the shallower RC 50 (mm) wheelset, and the saddle is not 3D printed. All told, the Pro gains a claimed 450 grams in total package weight compared to the RC, 50 grams of which can be accounted for in the claimed weight of the RC 50 wheelset, with another 50 grams in Bianchi’s claimed frame weight and ten grams in the forks. The extra paint on the Pro will also add some weight.

Bianchi says the Oltre Pro is for riders chasing performance with added comfort. Bianchi was quick to draw comparisons from the automotive industry during our call, so I will do the same. If we use BMW’s road-legal performance range as an analogy, the Oltre RC is the Competition, Sport, Lightweight (the CSL), the Oltre Pro is the Competition, Sport (CS) with no L. It’s not that Bianchi says the CS is heavy or lacking performance; its concessions were made in return for a little added comfort. In the mid-2000’s M3 CS had a radio. The CSL did not; the Pro has Countervail, the RC does not. 

Lastly, coming from a dedicated mould and featuring a “mixture” of high-modulus carbon fibres bringing the frame weight up to a claimed 995 grams, the simply named Oltre is the gateway to Bianchi’s new aero range. The Oltre misses out on many of its sibling’s aero tweaks, including the new integrated bar and stem, in favour of a two-piece setup and the air deflectors on the head tube also make way. 

In return, the Oltre is the only model to get a full coating of Bianchi’s Celeste paint job, and, as such, if you ask me, it looks the best.

The Oltre is also delivered with lower-tier groupsets, and the top-spec Reparto Corsa wheels are replaced with Velomann carbon rims. All told, the Oltre gains over a kilogram in claimed weight figures compared to the top-tier RC model. Unfortunately, the Oltre is not available as a frame-only option. 

It is also worth noting all three frame options offer 32 mm of tyre clearance. That wider clearance might be a welcome addition to the less performance-focused rider Bianchi suggests the Oltre may suit. Another question is whether that 32mm of clearance fits the “hyper bike spirit of the RC”. I feel a tighter fitting, lighter, more aero setup limited to the 28 mm tyres is probably best suited to the claimed performance characteristics and most target events for the Oltre RC. 

Speaking of size and fit, anyone who has taken a quick look at the geometry chart for the new Oltre will see some slightly odd stack and reach figures. Bianchi pointed to its vast experience working with riders at all levels in developing the geometry and explained that once the positive angle stem is factored in, the geometry closely reflects that of the popular XR4.

Bianchi will offer just five combinations 90×400 for the 47/50cm frames, 100×420 with the 53cm frame, 110×420 with the 55/57cm, and 120×440 for the 59 and 61cm frames. The sizing will limit some rider’s fit. While the widths on the larger frames fly in the face of all the aero claims made elsewhere with the new Oltre.

Claimed weights are 8.1 kg for the Oltre, 7.3 kg for the Oltre Pro, and 6.85 kg for the Oltre RC.

It costs how much?

The new Oltre RC is not cheap. This hyperbike has a hyper price tag of €15,149 for the SRAM Red AXS model. In fact, even the RC frame-only option at €5,749 will cost you more than the complete Oltre-level 105 Di2 bike at €5,400. 

That price tag is beyond the bonkers levels we have seen even of late, let’s just hope it doesn’t set a precedent for other brands to follow.

To Bianchi’s credit, the RC is the hyperbike. They happily compare it to a hypercar or track day car offering high performance, radical design, and a hyper price tag to match. The RC is not for everyone, and Bianchi has other less expensive offerings. Unlike some other expensive bikes of late, the new Oltre RC does at least come with a power meter.

In turn, for its moderate weight gain, the Oltre Pro is a little less expensive. In fact, if the RC pricing does achieve anything, it at least makes the €12,199 Bianchi is asking for an SRAM Red AXS Oltre Pro seem only mildly hyper in comparison. There is also the Oltre Pro Ultegra Di2, which, at a euro under eight grand, is not exactly a bargain, but not out of line with other new Ultegra aero bikes such as the new Cervelo S5 and significantly less than the new Madone.

Furthermore, the “gateway” Oltre model is reasonably well priced by today’s carbon aero big brand standards. At €5,400 equipped with 105 Di2, 50mm carbon and tubeless-ready rims, adjustable two-piece bar and stem, the price could almost be considered reasonable compared to the rest of the market. Plus it’s from a heritage brand, and fully clad in Bianchi’s beautiful celeste blue/green colour. There are cheaper, similarly-spec’d bikes out there, but there are also much more expensive options.

Light, aero, cheap: pick two

Bianchi claims the Oltre RC is just above the UCI 6.8kg weight limit, quite the achievement, if accurate, for such an aero-focused bike.

While it may not be light on the wallet, the new Oltre RC’s 6.8 kg claimed weight is impressively light for a dedicated aero bike with 65/50mm wheelset, electronic groupset and hydraulic disc brakes. We often criticise the ballooning weight of some top-tier bikes, so again, credit where it is due. Bianchi is at least claiming to have an aero bike that hits the UCI weight limit.

Or do they? The claimed 915 gram size 55cm frame, 420 gram fork, and 1540 gram wheelset are not the numbers we would expect in a build coming so close to the UCI weight limit of 6.8 kg. Bianchi does suggest actual bike weights are subject to a +/-5% variation and I dare say the +5% seems the safer bet. We’ll weigh one ourselves as soon as we can.

Head turner

If internet comments are anything to go by, the new Oltre is not Bianchi’s prettiest bike. Yes, I am trying to be polite. The Oltre has generated quite the reaction in some quarters of the internet. Truth be told, though, it is growing on me. 

Stick with me here. Picture the Oltre-level bike without the pointy stem for a second: it’s got the horizontal top tube, aero profiles, the symmetry of the wheels and frame cut-outs, the Bianchi celeste. It looks like it must be restrained just to take the photo. It is really growing on me.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and I appreciate it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, Bianchi claims it has had almost entirely positive feedback. Of course, they kind of have to say that. 

I questioned whether a traditional brand like Bianchi should have taken such an innovative approach on last week’s CyclingTips podcast. I did, at the time, forget that Bianchi has actually been at the forefoot of innovation since its inception in 1885. First with the “safety bike,” the brand was also one of the first to mount Campagnolo’s lever-actuated-gearing, the C4 time trial bike in the 1980s was among the first carbon fibre monocoque bikes, and more recently with disc brake time trial bikes and Paris-Roubaix specials in the 90s. Bianchi may be one of the oldest bike brands still in existence, but rarely has it been a purely traditional brand.

So what’s the problem? It might not be Bianchi’s prettiest bike ever, but the new Oltre is about performance and seemingly nothing else. It’s said to be light, fast and in keeping with Bianchi’s innovative history. The difficulty for many seems to be with Bianchi’s aero interventions, claims, and if any of it translates into real-world performance.

Is it fast?

That’s a question I can only answer by riding the new Oltre, and we are expecting a review bike from Bianchi soon. In the meantime, we can dissect Bianchi’s claims. The brand clearly thinks it has created one of the fastest bikes ever. Bianchi claims the new bike saves a huge 17 watts at 50 kph compared to the XR4, and offers a 5% reduction in CdA, said to be worth 45 seconds over 40 kilometres. Bianchi even claims the new Oltre RC offers a 30% advantage over the best aero bikes on the market in variable wind conditions.

To be clear, these are enormous claims.

While Bianchi would not divulge aero testing results or which of the “best aero bikes on the market” the Oltre offers a 30% improvement over, they did tell us all their results are CFD tested and wind tunnel validated.

The brand also pointed to its mention of “variable wind conditions,” suggesting that while many bikes might test fast in a precise set of circumstances, the new Oltre performs well across a full range of yaw angles.

Each movement refined and every tube and angle considered.

Bianchi on its bike and rider system integration aero philosophy

Still, though, these are not marginal gains. If even half of these savings transfer into the real world, the new Oltre RC will be one of the fastest bikes on the road. Assuming Bianchi’s claims are accurate for a second, how is the Oltre so fast?

On the face of it, the new bike doesn’t exactly tick all the aero boxes we have come to expect in a modern aero bike. The front forks, head tube, down tube, seat post, and seat stays all feature shapes and curves said to optimise airflow, but for the most part are pretty standard depths. This perhaps indicates the bike was designed before the UCI relaxed the 3:1 aspect ratio. Furthermore, the down tube seemingly does little to hide the bottle and cage, and, as mentioned earlier, with 28 mm tyres, the gap from the down tube cut out to the tyre is wider than presumably ideal.

That said, the seat tube wraps around the rear wheel better than most, and that shelf-like seat stay head looks like it might provide some aero gains. Long story short, the new Oltre is clearly an aero bike, but it doesn’t scream hyper-aero. That is kind of Bianchi’s point, though.

Peak aero?

Vortex-generating cavities and air deflectors create low pressure zones and reduce the drag on the rider, in theory. Is this the direction we can expect with all new bikes?

Regardless of how aero the bike and components are, the rider on top still accounts for about 80% of the total drag. Bianchi recognised this and claims to have kicked off somewhat of a revolution in cycling aerodynamics with the new bike specifically designed to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of both the frame and rider as a whole rather than the frame alone. This is something we’ve harped on about for quite some time, and so it’s good to see such a focus. Vortex generators, flow control, manipulated air flows, and low-pressure zones – as manufacturers close in on peak aero frames, expect to hear these terms a lot more often as the focus turns to new overall-drag-reducing interventions and marketing speak.

So how can frame design reduce drag on the rider? According to Bianchi, that’s where some of the curious design ques on the new Oltre come in. Bianchi has focused much of the aero development on the new front end and specifically on controlling the airflow, creating low-pressure zones, and leading it to specific locations on the frame and fork. 

Again, the design builds on the idea that while a specific component may test slower, it has a drag-reducing effect on the system as a whole.

But that’s also where things get confusing. Take the proprietary handlebar, for example. Bianchi suggests the “proprietary design of the cockpit reduces drag.” Bianchi suggests the integrated handlebar and stem, and the four aero nodules on the tops, reflect the airflow over the bars for an aerodynamic improvement. The graphic presented suggests the bars smoothen the airflow with nice, clean, fast lines. But, Bianchi also claims the vortex-generating cavity (in other words, that hole in the middle of the bars) creates low-pressure vortices in the same area and reduces the air pressure hitting the athlete’s legs, so “less power is needed to generate more speed.” 

However, former F1 aerodynamicist Dr Barnaby Garrood, now of Aerosensor, told us, “creating a vortex necessarily generates drag by itself, so to then use that vortex to reduce drag further down the bike is at best very inefficient.” Barnaby further explained he believed it most likely is possible to use flow deflectors to channel low-energy air from one part of the bike to another or the body to reduce drag. He also believed it would be quite difficult to achieve either aerodynamic intervention.   

I would be surprised if you could do that to reduce drag overall.

Dr Barnaby Garrood

I am by no means an aerodynamicist, perhaps that is why I struggle to picture how any vortices generated along the centre of the frame can reduce drag on the legs, which sit much wider than the top tube for most riders. More interestingly, though, unless I have misunderstood, it seems Bianchi is claiming the bars create both turbulent low-pressure vortices and smooth laminar airflow in the same place. It seems to me both can’t be true.

What then of the Air Deflectors? Bianchi claims that “the Air Deflector simultaneously reduces the drag against the frame and amplifies the work done by the handlebar by protecting the low-pressure area it creates for the legs.” Bianchi’s graphics clearly show a whirl of low-pressure vortices hugging the dynamic shapes of the top tube, which Bianchi also claims is an intentional “considered, analysed and refined” design to harness every marginal gain. The words say legs again, but the graphics show a top tube. I find myself wondering how a single aero intervention can have multiple effects in both wider and narrower locations already inherently difficult to optimise.

Bianchi explained it is targeting the aggregation of truly marginal gains here, and while our eyes may be drawn to one aspect of the design, it is the interaction between every element of the design that gives the new bike its hyperpowers.

But it’s illegal

Yes, the air deflectors are illegal under UCI rules. That was never in question given that article 1.3.024 of the UCI regulations states, “protective screens, fuselages, fairings or any other device that is added or blended into the structure, and that is destined or have the effect of reducing resistance to air penetration, are prohibited. Aerodynamic assemblies and protuberances on the head tube or elsewhere are prohibited.” Bianchi knew the deflectors would fall foul of the UCI regulations, and, as such, could not be used in competition, that is why they are removable.

Aerodynamic assemblies and protuberances on the head tube or elsewhere are prohibited.”

Article 1.3.024 of the UCI regulations

That of course, raises many questions: Why then make an illegal hyper aero bike? Who amongst us mere mortals will be hitting 50 kph outside of UCI races? Who is this bike designed for? The only answer I can provide is, why not? Remember, Bianchi has described the Oltre RC as a “hyperbike.”

Let’s unpack this hyper theme for a second. Bianchi was happy to engage with my suggestion hyperbike is a play on “hypercar.” Considered through the same lens as a hypercar, perhaps the Oltre RC makes a little more sense, even if that just means it intentionally makes no sense.

While there is no set definition for what constitutes a hypercar, TheDrive.com suggests a hypercar is “a limited-production, top-of-the-line supercar with a price of around or more than US$1 million.” Autocar lists the Ferrari La Ferrari as the tree-topping-hypercar of 2022. With a 789bhp 6.3-litre V12 assisted by 161bhp of electric power, capable of propelling the La Ferrari from 0-62 in 2.6 seconds and to 186 mph in just 15 seconds. Not only is there no justifiable reason for having such power and speed in a car on public roads, but which of us mere mortals could drive such a car either at those speeds on a track? A hypercar is capable of such feats, I can agree with Bianchi when they say it isn’t necessary to always push its capabilities.

Oh yeah, the La Ferrari also cost over a million pounds, a tad expensive, in anyone’s books.

Expensive, law-breaking in the wrong hands, and arguably completely insane, what even is the La Ferrari? If that question sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also been levelled at the Oltre RC. The answer: It’s a hyper-thing, it makes no sense, that’s the point. It’s for anyone who can afford it and likes it. It’s designed to be fast, but the speeds are almost entirely unachievable. The Air Deflectors are illegal, so use them for unregulated enjoyment.

Much like the La Ferrari, the Oltre RC may be capable of breaking rules, but it’s also capable of complying with the rules, and Bianchi confirmed a World Tour squad will race with the Oltre RC, sans removable air deflectors, next year.

Of course, whether or not all the aero gains translate to real-world performance is an entirely different matter. That World Tour squad might offer some indication next season, in the meantime, CyclingTips has been promised a review bike, so we will endeavour to bring you an answer before that.

The Air Deflectors are removable, in which case the Oltre is UCI legal.

Flow control… watch this space

Has Bianchi got the new Oltre right? I don’t know, I have yet to ride it. It is growing on me aesthetically. I’m still struggling with that stem angle, but I applaud Bianchi’s risk-taking and UCI rule-breaking. Too often, we complain about restrictive UCI regulations. Let’s not also complain when a bike brand is bold enough to think outside the UCI box.

Will Bianchi’s aero interventions work in the real world? Again, I don’t know. The eye test alone makes for a very bad wind tunnel. Aerodynamics are a relatively new phenomenon and selling point in cycling. Until now, new aero bikes and components were most often simply faster versions of the previous generation. We complained about rider-less aero testing and real-world repeatability. Who knows if Bianchi’s take truly optimises the bike and rider system, but they have brought a new focus on that approach. Look hadn’t mastered carbon fibre when they brought the TVT frame to the Tour in 1989, but that decision was a big step on the path to where carbon fibre bicycles are now.

I doubt Bianchi has mastered bicycle aerodynamics with an Oltre RC-shaped silver bullet, but let’s reserve judgement on how good, bad, or indifferent the new Oltre is until we have actually ridden the bike and even then, let’s see how history judges the Oltre RC.

At the very least, Bianchi has just created an excuse for every bike manufacturer to come up with an updated take on their aero bikes to sell us in the coming years.

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