Bianchi Infinito CV: A Little Something Extra in Your Endurance Rig.
Daniel Hayes, 3/2016
I'll begin by featuring the Bianchi Infinito CV, because in a way it serves as a feature for all of Bianchi's Endurance Race geometry framesets. People often talk about endurance geometry as being "slack," or "relaxed fit," and while it would be fair to say that there are frame geometries that orient the rider in more commonly accepted aggressive positions for sprinting or aerodynamics (called Extreme Race geometry to oppose the Endurance Race handle given by Bianchi), Endurance Race is not at all about being slack or relaxed. Bianchi's entire line of Endurance Race geometry frames, from the Via Nirone up to the Infinito CV possess the same fundamental geometric qualities (though there are variations in the degree of the effective changes from model to model) that signify them as a great blend of performance positioning and long milage comfort. It might be best to imagine them, instead of being the stage bike for the Grand Tours, this would be more suited to the conditions of the early season Spring Classics, which are in a number of ways just as grueling, if not more.
A head tube angle tweaked a mere 1/2 degree (on 55 cm frameset. All measurements based on 55 cm frameset) combined with the lengthening of the head tube a staggering 2.5 cm from their Extreme Race geometry on the Oltre and Specialissima frames sets the stack height higher and the reach closer in without diminishing the handling of the bike. The rear triangle runs a relatively short and fast geometry of a 73.5 degree seat angle and 410 mm chainstay length, 3 mm longer than the extreme race geometry frames. This lengthens the wheelbase, distributing the rider's position and weight over a wider area which serves to smooth out the overall feel of the ride, though the lengthening of the stay by a mere 3 mm is only subtly adjusting that distance.
Now, the geometry of this bike is part of what makes it such a stellar buy, but like I said, Endurance Race geometry is not exclusive to the Infinito CV. In fact, majority of Bianchi's road line is utilizing some version of this particular geometry. So what ELSE makes the Infinito CV so special? Of the Bianchi Endurance Race geometry frames, none is as light or responsive. The monocoque carbon frame is respectably light, coming in at close to 2.1 lb. (950 grams), and manages a pleasing 15.5 lb. (7030 grams) build (Campagnolo Chorus edition measured) and edges out many comparable bikes in the category of endurance race, and is lighter (by over a pound) than the similarly angled and equipped Intenso, which is one order of quality lower from the Infinito CV. It is in possession of features designed to make it more aerodynamic. Cable routing is internal and concise, tubing is shaped to be subtly aero. The BAT chain and seat stays plunge to barely outside the dish of the wheel in an arc that is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. The interface of the fork crown to the head tube is a masterpiece unto itself. The PF30 bottom bracket shell and surrounding build is Fort Knox: impenetrable. When you stand it pushes back, absorbing almost none of your considerable effort to power up the climbs.
Oh, and there's that little CV that keeps popping up.
CV is Bianchi's short form version of a word – Countervail – I have an article here about words like this... but I will for the moment digress. Despite how I feel about marketing firms' inability to just let something be what it is, Countervail is what makes the Infinito CV so special. Countervail is, according to Bianchi, an "integrated vibration canceling system" made from a "viscoelastic material" that is actually woven into the carbon architecture of the frame. There is this spectacularly to-the-point video below illustrating the vibration testing of two different pairs of stays: one built with Countervail, one built without. I am not a fan of the word, and it made me initially want to respond, "Well it's a decent bike and all, but still..." and then smugly explain that it really didn't make a lick of difference in the feel of the bike. I know you can't see me right now, so know that there is no smug look on my face.
I recall my first time on one just as a roll through our parking lot, a test ride for a new build. I'd ridden the sans-Countervail Infinito from the prior year in short tests as well, a wonderful little frameset now referred to as the Intenso, and saw that the geometry had largely not changed. As I push off and plant my butt in the seat I notice right away that the chatter and nervous rigidity of most lightweight frames is not present. It hums along the concrete of our diminishing parking lot, a ride that at times would seem a little more cyclocross than strada liscia. I'm waiting for the let down now. It feels supple, vaguely like a classic steel frame, but this is carbon. I know from prior experiences with carbon that when I stand and press hard with my right leg to bring the pedal to the bottom of its rotation, the bottom bracket shell is going to flex, craning the left side up and out relative to the modulus or overall density, direction and rigidity of the carbon lay up used to build this frame. After twenty feet of coasting I've already prepared myself. I have a vision of the bottom bracket flopping so hard that the left crank arm hits the seat tube. I wince as my foot depresses the pedal – then lightning. My foot smoothly descends straight as an arrow to the earth. I actually don't even believe what I've felt. After a pause I spin again. My left crank responds in kind. I'm dumbfounded. I've ridden a good handful of bikes that respond with the same veracity in the bottom bracket, but they were... race frames: stiff as nails, jittery as amphetamine spiked greyhounds in a refrigerator. What was this thing I was feeling? My teeth were pressed together and the skin of my face stretched wide in a vacant grin. Was it smug dismissiveness? Was it pain? Anger? Lust? Was I hungry? I usually test ride a bike for five minutes. I run through the shifters, check the brakes, sprint for a second or two. I spent 25 minutes just launching myself over and over again across our parking lot before I even bothered to run my diagnosis. I was feeling exhilaration.
I ride quite a variety of quality bicycles often, and will gladly sing the praises of many of them. I don't think this is the bike that everyone needs. I wasn't going to form a cult and sell off all of my belongings to denounce all that is non-Bianchi. However there is something deeply original that occurred in this particular experience: I as feeling exhilaration at the notion that I was being surprised by a bicycle. So often I hop on a bike and am aware of the geometry and how it will affect the nature of the ride, or the modulus of carbon or characteristics of the aluminum hydroforming that cause a bike to feel a certain way, how the steel might flex or the components will behave. There are always variations, but I can generally tell within a certain tolerance what it is I'm feeling. Good bikes are mostly good, and it's usually easy to tell why. The Infinito CV surprised me, and it did so in a pleasant way, not because I didn't expect it to be a nice bike, but because I expected it to fit in as a specific archetype of nice bike. It was going to punch the clock and get to work with the rest of the endurance class bikes out there. Countervail was already suspect. No one gets away with this kind of thing, setting themselves apart with a working technology then managing to be the only group producing it for any extended period of time, not if it's good. When I felt the invisibility of all the road vibration I assumed the worst and was shocked for an instant that Bianchi would even let such a creampuff out of its stable, then I was roundly and rapidly corrected.
Now here's the part where you say, "Wait a minute, jerkface. You said that Countervail is what makes the Infinito CV special, but I can clearly see from looking at their catalogue that Bianchi has two new bicycles utilizing it in their layups. What gives?" Clearly if there is more than one bike with this technology, how unique can it be? I respond thusly: All three of these bikes utilize the Countervail technology in their frames, and all three are enhanced verily by its addition, but Countervail is a material whose purpose is tailored for what the Infinito CV is built for. Endurance Race Geometry is about minimizing fatigue and maximizing comfort over long miles. Countervail pairs perfectly with this philosophy, and while it works wonders taking the edge off of the beating a time trial bicycle like the Aquilla CV might administer, and aids in facilitating blistering speed and control on descents without compromising climbing stiffness in the Specialissima, in those bikes it serves merely as a perk. If someone is racing they want the comfort and control offered by vibration damping, to be sure. But they would never entertain those attributes if it sacrificed lightness and stiff responsiveness in a climb, or aero position and whip crack rigidity on a time trial bike. Countervail is a welcome addition to these bikes, just so long as it doesn't get in the way. Luckily it doesn't: both of these bikes are amazing as well. However, the Infinito CV is paired perfectly with this technology. Countervail and the set back position facilitate each other as parts of a single concept of what an Endurance Race geometry bike should do. They really were made for each other. None of the other bikes, enticing as they are, can say the same.
So since my initial test ride I've watched Bianchi extend their line of bikes employing Countervail to the Specialissima and the Aquilla CV. I watched Lars Boom of Bianchi's Team Belkin-Wemo utterly destroy the Peloton in the fourth stage of Le Tour in 2014 on an Infinito CV: the grueling, rainy, mud-spattered pavé stage. I've even picked up my own Celeste model with Campy Chorus. I love it, though it'll never really be tested to its limits under me. Now understand, it's not magic. Countervail isn't unicorn poop. You'll still feel the hard hits. The Infinito CV is not a cyclocross bike. You'll still destroy your wheelset rolling off of curbs and hitting railroad tracks at top speed. You still have to pay taxes. It doesn't fold your laundry. What it does do is facilitate a more fatigue-free ride. It gives you more miles with less pain and stiffness. It gives you reason to doubt you've seen it all just yet, which is refreshing in and of itself.