Tom McQuillan tests Bianchi’s Intenso 105. It’s got Kevlar in the frame, but does that make it bulletproof?
For our money, Bianchi is a lot like the iconic sports car manufacturer Ferrari. Like Ferrari, Bianchi have been in the manufacturing game longer than anyone else (since 1885, in fact). Like Ferrari, Bianchi is proudly Italian, even if nowadays a lot of their frames are made in Taiwan. Like Ferrari, Bianchi have a proud racing heritage, with champions such as Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi and Marco Pantani enjoying some of their greatest successes on Bianchi bikes. And if you buy one, everyone will expect you to get your Bianchi in their famous celeste green, just as they'd expect you to order your Ferrari in red.
There are two key differences with this Bianchi Intenso though. The first is that this Bianchi is actually Ferrari red. The second is the price: with a recommended retail price of just $2,999 (and some shops willing to sell them hundreds of dollars cheaper than that), it’s way cheaper than any Ferrari that's not a matchbox car.
For a bike that’s at the lower end of Bianchi’s price range we were really impressed with the quality of the frame. The cables are routed internally, which isn’t terribly common on bikes at this price point, and the rich red paint and frame decals wouldn’t be out of place on a bike with a price take twice as high as the Intenso’s. Some of the most beautiful bikes in history have been made by Bianchi, and the fruit hasn’t fallen far from the tree with this – it’s quite eye-catching.
The frame is certainly the highlight of the bike and one of the things we liked most when we got out on the road, but unfortunately is expensive to make. For Bianchi to sell this bike at a price where it’s competitive with rivals like the Giant Defy, Specialized Roubaix or Trek Domane, corners have to be cut with some other areas of the build. As a result, you get very little in the way of a Shimano 105 groupset (only the shifters, front and rear derailleurs), pretty heavy wheels and some underwhelming bar tape.
As this is the cheapest full carbon Bianchi road bike on sale today, the component spec reflects a bike that's more of a value proposition than an outright indulgence. The frame is a carbon monocoque made for Bianchi in Taiwan, and the first thing we noticed is the tall headtube on this model. It means you’ll sit very high up on the bike if you have any headset spacers - we had a couple of spacers fitted on our tester and we were towering over our riding companions, despite being about 10cm shorter than some of them.
The carbon frame itself is made from Bianchi’s C2C (Coast2Coast) carbon fibre, which incorporates Kevlar into the fork and frame in order to help dampen vibrations coming up from the road. It’s designed to be more comfort-focused than a lot of Bianchi’s higher priced bikes without giving away any quarter in terms of handling.
The shifters, front derailleur and rear derailleur are the ever-reliable Shimano 105, but it's the 10-speed 5700 series rather than the 11-speed 5800 series on most new bikes with 105. We had no complaints in terms of performance, but the divide between 10-speed and 11-speed groupsets could make backwards compatibility an issue in future.
A lot of the other components are from FSA's Reparto Corse series, including the bars, stem, seatpost and brakes. Reparto Corse components are made for Bianchi bikes by FSA, but they're designed to colour match a celeste bike, which makes them look a bit odd on our (very) red test bike.
The wheels are Fulcrum's Racing Sport models, which sit near the bottom of the company's hierarchy, while the saddle is the Era model from San Marco. We found it a little uncomfortable at first, but eventually grew accustomed to it.
The included tyres are the Equinox model from French tyre maker Hutchinson. While the 23mm rubber rolls better than most tyres on bikes in this price bracket (it's pretty common for manufacturers to cut costs on tyres, even on bikes priced much higher than this), we were expecting a bike that's this comfort-focused to come with 25mm tyres.
Our test of the Bianchi kicked off with a loop of 110km through Victoria’s picturesque Dandenong Ranges. After meeting up early in the morning with a few mates, a friendly handicap race up Melbourne's famous 1 in 20 was proposed and what had initially started out as a casual spin suddenly became an early test of the Intenso's climbing abilities. As with all 'friendly' racing it wasn't too long before everyone was on the rivet and smashing themselves for glory and bragging rights.
The Bianchi genuinely surprised our tester with its willingness to go uphill, despite a comparatively heavy frame and wheelset. This is partly down to the gearing, as the compact crankset and 11-28 cassette means that there are very few hills that the Bianchi will baulk at. Additionally, the more upright frame geometry makes it easy to open up your airways while climbing in the saddle, and there’s plenty of stiffness in the bottom bracket region for standing efforts. A bit over 6km of climbing later we crossed the line in a new personal best time, and first place to boot.
The supplied test bike was a size too big for our tester, which makes it hard to say too much about the Bianchi's handling with certainty. What we will say is that unless you remove the spacers, the upright position means it's difficult to get enough weight over the front wheel for fast cornering. The upshot of this is that while it’s kind to anyone lacking flexibility or suffering from back problems (which is most of us, to be honest), you'll need to corner in the drops to get the most out of the bike. Fitting 25mm tyres and removing any spacers would make a huge difference to the feel of the bike, and allow the bike to show its skills off a bit better.
At La Velocita we're all big fans of the 105 groupset - we reckon that it provides better shifting dollar for dollar than any other option currently on the market. Even though the group on this bike has since been superseded, the shifting surprised us with its crispness and immediacy, especially at the front.
If we had to nitpick (and obviously we do), our biggest issue with the Bianchi was the FSA brakes. The braking performance from the Reparto Corse units could be as described as persuasive rather than forceful - they'll slow you down, but unless you grab a very big handful they won't stop you suddenly. For most normal road use they aren’t a problem, but they caused quite a bit of undue stress when an adventurous turn down an unexplored road turned into a very steep gravel descent.
On what was our longest ride in a few months, we weren’t feeling too beaten up on the Bianchi, even when riding over rough roads. Part of the reason for this is that there’s been lot of comfort built into the frame, both in the carbon layup and the design of the seatpost, which is long and skinny to increase flex and decrease vibrations being absorbed by the rider. We were a little sceptical about the effectiveness of having Kevlar in the fork and frame, but it clearly works. It helps to insulate you from the worst of rough road surfaces without eliminating feedback from the road or diminishing any feeling of speed as you go along. The overall effect is a bike that’s really, really smooth to ride, despite not being particularly light or well specced.
The Intenso is available in seven frame sizes – 47cm, 50cm, 53cm, 55cm, 57cm, 59cm and 61cm. However, if you’re going to ask around for an Intenso frameset, it’s probably better to ring the shop or distributor to confirm that they have your size in stock.
As mentioned above, the RRP for this bike is $2,999, but since this bike has since been superseded it’s pretty likely that any shops still stocking it will be prepared to haggle a a fair bit over the price.
WHERE TO BUY
We went along to the friendly folks at The Angry Butcher bike shop in Sunbury for this review after one of the guys recommended we give the Bianchi a try. They also stock bikes from Merida, Norco and Lapierre.
We weren't expecting to like the Intenso as much as we did. The frame is truly excellent, and even with a comparatively inexpensive spec it’s great fun to ride, more so than some more expensive bikes we’ve tested. If our budget ran a little further then we’d look to upgrade a few parts to get even more out of it – starting with the brakes and tyres.
If your idea of a great day’s riding is a day where you can get out and explore in comfort without sacrificing too much in the way of speed, then there’s a lot to like about the Intenso. It's the sort of bike we’d recommend to a friend who’s new to cycling. They’d get a experience out on the roads that was more comfortable and less expensive than a Ferrari, while still oozing Italian style. And if they said no we’d be more than happy to take it for a spin ourselves.
- FRAME: C2C INTENSO CARBON, BSA
- FORK: Full Carbon 1-1/8" - 1. 5" with Kevlar
- HEADSET: FSA Orbit C-40-ACB
- SHIFTERS: Shimano 105 10sp
- R/DERAIL. : Shimano 105 10sp
- F/DERAIL,: Shimano 105 10sp
- CRANKSET: Shimano FC-R565-L 50/34 Compact
- CHAIN: FSA Team Issue 10sp
- CASSETTE: Shimano Tiagra 10sp 12-28T
- BRAKES: Reparto Corse RC-471 Alloy
- WHEELS: Fulcrum Racing Sport
- TYRES: Hutchinson Equinox 2 700 x 23
- STEM: Reparto Corse AS007N Alloy
- H/BAR: Reparto Corse JD-RA35A Compact, alloy
- S/POST: Reparto Corse SP-TEC-2 alloy
- SADDLE: San Marco Era Startup Power