I’ve been asking questions about Countervail since it first appeared on Bianchi frames in 2013 at that year’s Paris-Roubaix. Countervail is a viscoelastic material that was worked into the carbon-fibre layup of the Infinito CV, the Italian company’s endurance bike. Bianchi says Countervail cancels road vibrations. So, I wanted to know where this material was exactly. Was it like different types of carbon fibre, which are deployed strategically in frame to achieve different levels of stiffness or compliance? Was it only used at certain spots on the frame? Bianchi didn’t say. When I met with Angelo Lecchi, Bianchi’s road product manager, at Interbike in 2014, he wouldn’t tell me.
In June 2015, Bianchi launched the Specialissima, a lightweight performance bike with a new, lighter formula of Countervail. Soon after I got a bike to test, I spoke with Fred Morini, Bianchi’s product marketing and communication manager. Again, I couldn’t help myself. I asked where exactly they put the Countervail. “This is a very good question, but it’s one that we normally answer in one way only. The Countervail is embedded into our carbon layup. We say it’s in the frame and fork. But, we don’t say exactly how we put it in the carbon layup. That’s something we like to protect,” he said.
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Morini reminded me that Countervail was developed by Materials Sciences Corp., a small company based in Horsham, Pa. The company has worked on millions of dollars worth of U.S. government projects, many of which involve the Department of Defence and composite materials. One project that was solicited in 2015 involved the management of vibrations that cause damage to components in missile-guidance systems used by the U.S. Army. Morini said that Bianchi started working with Materials Sciences Corp. well before 2013 when the Infinito CV using viscoelastic material first appeared. The bike company’s engineers and those of the U.S. company had to figure out how to use the product in bikes. “We are proud to say the material has been introduced into cycling by Bianchi,” Morini said. Now, Bianchi has a long-term agreement with MSC for exclusivity on the material.
So, how did the Countervail affect my rides? Well, on my long rides, I definitely felt that the micro-vibrations the road sent throughout the frame were well managed. It was great on the not-so-great surfaces beyond the city limits. (I’m afraid pothole management in the city is beyond the abilities of Countervail, but the same is true for most suspension systems.) Countervail is also supposed to offer the rider more control, especially when descending on such a light frame (claimed weight of a size 55, black frame: 780 g). I don’t have the necessary mountain descents to really put the control claims to the test, but a local screamer did seem a bit tamer, not slower, than usual. Another tester, who rode the Specialissima in Italy, told me about the confidence he gained on descents with the Bianchi compared with another brand of performance bike he’d been riding. That tester was able to go downhill faster and felt more in control on the Specialissima.
The new bike takes its geometry from Bianchi’s other race machine, the Oltre XR. Like the Oltre, the steering is very responsive. Also, the stiffness of the frame is noticeably rigid. I’ve ridden plenty of stiff bikes, but there’s something about pedalling the Specialissima. It really broadcasts its stiffness. I’m sure barely a watt was lost as I spun, or ground, up climbs and sprinted for signs. The spec on the my test bike was top-notch. Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 took care of moving the chain across Dura-Ace cogs and rings. The Fulcrum Racing Zero carbon clincher wheels, with their USB ceramic bearings, rolled exceptionally well.
The issima ending in Italian, of course, indicates a superlative, which is fitting here. The Specialissima is a superlative machine, so Bianchi was right to revive the name for this new bike. The $18,000 price tag might have some saying it’s expensive-issima . Such is the price for superlatives.