Review: Bianchi Specialissima Super Record
We’ve all heard about lively lightweight bikes that climb like mountain goats on speed with pepper up their bums and descend effortlessly, carving edelweiss-lined hairpin turns through alpine roads with switch-backs. This is all good and well, knowing a super bike can handle Tour de France-like courses, but I wanted to know how good a bike like this could be in real situations. How would it cope with potholed, frost-cracked back roads? Would those engaging ride characteristics become a drag on a tired rider after six hours in the saddle? Was this superbike the pedal-powered equivalent of a supercar – an extraordinary experience to ride fast, but utterly impractical, and suitable only for posing at the tea stop?
These thoughts, combined with the fact that I really only had one good day’s riding (and I use the term “good” loosely, as it bucketed it down), imposed a plan on me; just take the damn thing out and keep going until I couldn’t any more. So, I rode a hilly 144 km through the Marlborough Downs. It damn nearly killed me it did, but damn, what a ride.
At first glance, the Bianchi Specialissima CV is a very good-looking bike indeed. The colour is a new twist on the classic Bianchi ‘celeste’. It’s a bit more neon but with a matte satin finish to take the edge off it slightly, which leaves it bright yet not at all garish. The equipment level matches the frame, with a complete Campagnolo Super Record mechanical groupset, FSA carbon everything finishing kit and Fulcrum Zero Nite wheels. Tasty.
The next thing you notice is how light it is. Bianchi make a fuss about the effort they’ve put into making this their specialist climbing bike, and quite rightly so. Even fitted with my basic Look pedals and two bottle cages, it’s still under the UCI’s 6.8 kg race weight limit. I had to add a Garmin, rear light and ass-saver just to make it race-legal and stop it from floating away.
I’d better mention the groupset too. I’ve always owned Shimano-equipped bikes, but I was impressed with Super Record. Everything was engineered to near-perfection and rendered in sculpted aluminium and perforated carbon. The brake calipers run on ball bearings rather than bushings to give the kind of super-light feel that makes you go ‘ooohh…’ when you try it. The gear lever, by contrast, changes with a solid click. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but takes a little getting used to if you’re familiar with lighter actions. With eleven speeds as standard, you can have a wide-range cassette and still keep small jumps between ratios. Combine this with 36-52 chainrings and I knew I wasn’t going to run out of gears at either end no matter what the ride had in store.
In fact, the overall look is rather pleasing. It’s part high-tech, part retro elegance and gives the impression of form following function, but I’m rather taken with the simple lines.
It’s hard to explain, but the most impressive thing was that I never noticed the bike was there. It went as fast as I could turn the pedals, handled impeccably regardless of the road surface, it never beat me up and it looked after me when I was on my last legs. That firm gear-lever feel meant that I always knew when I’d shifted; there was none of that ‘did it just go?’ sensation. A special mention must go to the Super Record brakes, even though they were connected up the European way round (it is Italian, after all). I don’t know if it was the fancy blue brake blocks or the grooved rims, or both, but the end result was exceptional for rim brakes, with excellent bite and control despite the weather being wet and the roads being filthy.
It’s not easy to make a bike disappear. The weight helps, with Bianchi claiming that a 55 cm frame is a mere 780 grams, but that’s only part of the story. The frame and fork are a little marvel of engineering, combining large profiles and carbon fibres for stiffness, where it’s needed and thinner sections where you want a bit more give. The main frame tubes and bottom bracket are large yet well-proportioned and the seatstays are noticeably slender. Some more crafty technology is hidden inside the material of the frame itself. Sandwiched between the structural carbon layers is a proprietary vibration-absorbing material called ‘CounterVail’. This does a great job of soaking up road buzz and also contributes to the planted feel of the bike. All this frame technology contributes to an incredibly comfortable bike that you could thrash and race all day everyday.
Despite the steep geometry and long and low position, the handling was direct without being nervous and, as I’ve said, the comfort was exceptional. I’ll be honest, it was not at all what I expected from something so light and frankly rather unassuming looking. Proof that you don’t need aero-lines carved into the frame or aggressive positions to produce a fast ride; just a brand with over a hundreds years of frame-building experience.
To sum up, this superbike is not really like a supercar at all. It may be eye-wateringly expensive for most wallets, and it may be sleek and sexy and dripping with carbon bling, but it’s surprisingly practical for everyday use. Your Lamborghini and the like might get stuck on a sleeping policeman, but this thing takes all types of riding in its stride. That shouldn’t be a surprise though; it’s a pro-quality road racing bike so it goes without saying that it’s efficient and fast, but it also has to balance that with comfort to ensure its rider can perform to their best ability, while also being tough and reliable enough to handle whatever road and weather conditions are thrown at it.
If you can afford one, it would be a shame to save it for special summer rides, as I’ve just proven it’s capable of so much more. Like an eager Labrador, it just keeps bouncing back to play a bit more, no matter what you want to do with it, it just seems glad of the attention. The Specialissma is so light that you’d happily enter a hill-climbing race or head to the Alps knowing you’ve given yourself the best opportunity. It’s so agile and responsive that the local crit race will be a roll around a country park. And it’s CounterVail vibration-damping technology lets you push hard for longer, meaning that this bike will see you through everything from the local club ride, to that sportive or foreign mountain classic you’ve being eyeing up for a while.
It appears that in the world of bicycles, a superbike is not just a fast light pimpy thing; it is a bike for all your adventures, and I don’t mean it’s just an “all-rounder”, but a 10/10 for everything it does (except maybe leaning it against a fence in anything over a gentle breeze). And that’s why it gets full marks from us, and a big old Cream of Bikesoup award – yay!
The Bianchi Specialissima Campagnolo Super Record is Bianchi’s creme de la creme of bikes and will set you back around £7,000 or can be ordered with Dura Ace for the same amount. The frame and forks alone retails for £3,450.
Crispin Doyle – Hargroves Cycles RT Rider