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Bianchi Infinito Athena EPS (2013)

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Price: $2,499.00

Manufacturer: Bianchi

Website: http://www.bianchi.com

"The frame that the vast majority of amateur, recreational riders should want"

by Ben Atkins

Bianchi is the World’s oldest bike company, established, as it was, in Milan, in 1885, and is most famously associated with the great, iconic victories of legendary Italians like Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi and Marco Pantani.

In 2012 Bianchi supplied frames to Vacansoleil-DCM, Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela and Colombia Coldeportes - although the Colombians will switch to Wilier-Triestina for 2013 - and took several prestigious victories, including Thomas De Gendt’s Giro d’Italia stage won on the Passo dello Stelvio.

The Infinito sits at the top of Bianchi’s C2C (Coast to Coast) range, which is designed to make the covering of long distances more comfortable than its out and out racing frames. In essence, it is a carbon fibre monocoque, made with ultra high modulus fibre UMS40, but comes with a few Bianchi tricks up its sleeve to achieve that comfort.

A slightly taller head tube (the 55cm frame has a 170mm head tube compared to 145mm on the Oltre XR) and the seat stays and fork blades feature kevlar inserts to improve the absorption of vibrations. Longer chainstays and slightly shallower fork rake than the Oltre give the Infinito a longer wheelbase, which - as well as providing more vibration absorption - makes the frame handle better at speed, and more stable on rougher surfaces.

Built-in double-compatibility for either mechanical or electronic groupsets means that it can be fitted with just about any components you choose.

While it’s not as light as its more glamourous Oltre cousin, the 55cm Infinito weighs just 1080 grams. The name “Infinito” comes from Bianchi’s belief that you can keep riding for ever.

Most of the riders on Bianchi’s sponsored teams ride the HoC (Hors Categorie) Oltre XR, or B4P (Born for Performance) Sempre Pro, but several from Vacansoleil-DCM - including two-time Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Stijn Devolder - opted for the more forgiving Infinito in the Cobbled Classics of the spring.

My frame came with a very attractive white, silver and matte clearcoat finish, with the 3K carbon weave visible on the top, down and head tubes, and the fork blades, but it’s also available in red and white, as well as Bianchi’s iconic blue/green Celeste. While I very much like the white/silver/black, if it were my money I’d certainly want the Celeste; why would anybody want a Bianchi in any other colour?

Campagnolo’s “entry-level” electronics, but with upgrades

The test frame came equipped with the latest addition to Campagnolo’s EPS range, Athena, but Bianchi also offers complete bikes with Ultegra Di2 and mechanical, Chorus, 105 and Veloce, or as a frame only, so take your pick.

The standard Athena chainset is aluminium - either in black or polished finish - but Bianchi has spec’d the bike up with the optional carbon version. The standard wheelset for this bike is also Fulcrum’s aluminium Racing Quattro (as in the main picture); another upgrade made on my test model was a set of 50mm carbon/aluminium Fulcrum Red Wind XLRs, with USB ceramic bearings.

These are supposed to be shod in Hutchinson Fusion 3 tyres, but the rear wheel on my bike came with a slightly lighter and more expensive Atom Comp; both feature puncture protection, and both proved very grippy.

Athena doesn’t actually have its own cassette or chain, so these come from the Chorus groupset, which is the next one up in the Campagnolo hierarchy [although Chorus is not yet available in EPS - ed].

FSA SL-K seatpost and stem, and Wing Pro compact bars; a company with Bianchi’s prestige and clout is able to get its own custom colourscheme, so these come with Celeste graphics instead of the usual red. These are topped off with some classic-looking Eolo bartape from Bike Ribbon, and an Aliante Gamma saddle from fi’zi:k.

The Infinito frame comes in competitively priced at $2499 in the USA, £2000 in the UK, $3499 in Australia, and €1990 in its home nation Italy; this compares favourably with the Oltre XR, which retails for €3150 in Italy, as well as most other Italian brands’ top carbon frames.

The only compromise made with Athena EPS - as compared with Record and Super Record - is purely one of exotic materials, meaning less carbon, no titanium, and steel bearings instead of ceramic. The most visibly obvious manifestation of this is the use of aluminium instead of carbon in the ergopower levers; is this isn’t something that bothers you then there’s no problem.

Super quality riding, all day long...

Unlike Messrs Devolder et al, I didn’t get to ride any cobbles, but some of the road surfaces around my home are even worse. Even with the stiff-but-not-too-stiff Red Wind wheels, the Infinito handled these very well; this is no ‘soft tail’ by any means, and you still get to feel the bumps, but the light irregularities in the road surface are where this frame comes into its own.

The more relaxed angles of the frame, combined with the kevlar inserts in the fork blades and seat stays work together to take a lot of the harshness from the road buzz that can wear you down after a number of kilometres. The bike still felt stiff on long and short climbs - not perceptively giving, even in out-of-the-saddle efforts - and true enough to take on fast descents, but I found myself feeling far less fatigued at the end of long rides.

Through this, the slight compromise made against Bianchi’s out-and-out race frames seems more than made up for by your ability to happily stay in the saddle all day. While WorldTour riders favour the stiffer/lighter Oltre and Sempre - and so those are the frames than we naturally covet - this, in my opinion, is the frame that the vast majority of amateur, recreational riders should want.

Not only does it give a fantastic ride, but it comes in at less than two-thirds the price!

I’d just want a Celeste one, that’s all...

Continuing the price theme, the Athena EPS groupset is comparable with Super Record mechanical. Obviously the name “Super Record” carries more caché than that of “Athena”, and this frame is certainly worthy of it; if you don’t need the electronic shifting then this could be an option, or you could even save some money and go for Record.

Before having spent extended periods with the EPS groupset, I might have taken this option myself, but now I’m not so sure. Outside the very, very upper echelons of the sport, electronic shifting definitely comes in the luxury category - of things we want, rather than need - but isn’t this the case for virtually everything..? Even after several hundred kilometres, and several hundred shifts, the shifting still blows my mind a little; I’m pressing a button and it’s changing gear, it’s amazing!

The rest of the bike performed with the excellence you would expect; the Fulcrum Red Wind XLR’s whooshed along with the aerodynamic advantages of a 50mm deep section rim, but with the convenience - and sure braking - of an aluminium clincher rim; the FSA bars, stem and seatpost gave me no problems whatsoever. I bought my first fi’zi:k Aliante back in 2002; I loved it then, and I love it still.

In conclusion, Bianchi has built a truly beautiful frame in the Infinito, which is more than capable of being raced hard; more importantly though, it’s even more capable of being ridden all day. The Infinito is certainly worthy of the EPS groupset, but is equally deserving of one of Campagnolo’s - or Shimano’s or SRAM’s for that matter - higher status groupsets.

You may drool at Thomas De Gendt’s Oltre as he flies around the hairpins of the Stelvio, but take my advice: buy an Infinito.

Here are some more photos of the Bianchi Infinito.

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