Bianchi mountain bikes are quite rare in Australia, but they do stock the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team with frames to build, so you do get to see them around more than you might otherwise. I’ve spent the past two years racing both a Bianchi Methanol 29 SL hardtail, but also a Bianchi Methanol 29 FS – their 100mm dual suspension frame.
Will Hayter and I took possession of frames in time for the 2013 Cape Epic. While that race was pretty eventful as I didn’t start day 2 with a terrible stomach bug, and Will finished with a broken hip… the bikes were top notch. You can read Will’s first impressions of his bike before he ventured to South Africa.
Here’s a look at my own ride. As we have frames to build up, each rider’s bike is a little different, although they stick with similar themes like Fox suspension, Mt Zoom finishing parts, Maxxis tyres and Shimano components. Chosen as much for reliability as for sponsor agreements.
The frame is full carbon, and uses a four bar linkage and Horst link. That means it works all the time, and pedals very efficiently. Stock bikes use Magura shocks but we use Fox CTD units with an aggressive tune. I have mine mounted ‘upside down’ as it gives more clearance for running an 800mL bottle. You’ll note the cable above it too – while there’s internal routing for a remote lockout, I’ve opted to port the rear derailleur cable through there for a more direct line from the shifter.
The fork is Fox too, a 2014 model with 2015 internals, including the 7 step CTD adjustment. When you have 100mm to play with, and use about 20-25mm as sag, tuning is pretty important. 2 clicks in on the CTD trail setting is perfect, with 60psi in the fork. I run a pretty light rebound.
Italians love graphics, and I have some of the excess ones covered with a bit of electrical tape. Just a silly aesthetic thing really. The top tube ones remind you that you’re on a 29er full suspension bike, but also of the tube profiles. The main tubes have reinforcing ribs in them, and the down tube has a titanium mesh layed into it where rock strikes might occur. That’s a little extra reassurance when racing in loose rock. I’ve never known the relevance of the Italian air force insignia.
Mt Zoom provide the team with handlebars, bottle cages, custom top caps, handy straps, replacement jockey wheels, lightweight tubeless valves and seat clamps for relevant bikes. These are the XL bars, which are now discontinued. They are 740mm stock, but these are cut to 725mm. They have 9 degrees sweep and weigh about 150g.
I run a 110mm -10 degree Easton EC90 stem. It’s stiff, light, and fairly ugly. But it’s the exact fit for what I needed, having found -17 degrees too low, and -6 too high. You can see the Mt Zoom top cap too, in a custom made MarathonMTB version.
Your contact points count. I’ve used Fizik Arione saddles for a few years now and find the R1 the most comfortable model – and the most reliable. I snapped two R3s on my hardtail. Along with the Syntace P6 post it’s a light setup that doesn’t slip, groan or creak. I use a Mt Zoom handy strap to hold a tube and tyre lever under the seat. Sometimes I move this lower, or to the top tube if it’s muddy. I lose a set of spares once a year usually.
I’ve run Shimano XTR on my bikes since 2012. I dabbled with SRAM XO group sets but found Shimano easier to service and maintain world wide. Having upgraded to M9000 for the shifter, derailleur, chain and cassette – that might not be the case for a little while. But the performance of the latest parts from Shimano are fantastic – and I will change from the M987 race brakes to the M9020 trail brakes at the first opportunity. Their feel and power is just a world apart and worth the very minor weight gain.
Bianchi Methanol frames are PF30 – which is a pretty shit standard for mountain bikes to be honest. The shell is narrow, and they’re hard to seal. So bearings wear out pretty quickly. It does mean that you can run a wide choice of cranks. I moved to Cannondale SI (or SI SL) cranks when I built this bike up as they are light, stiff, and have removable spiders so it’s easy to change ratios. I’ve run direct mount Leonardi 25/39 chain rings, and XX spider with 25/38 BOR chain rings, and an XX spider with TA Specialties 26/40 chain rings. All on the one crank. This is a 34t Absolute Black direct mount ring. No worries with it so far in terms of chain retention. Oval rings are hip again and I’d be interested in trying one for the Cannondale direct mount fit if they produce one. I have a 32t and 30t ring in the toolbox for hillier courses – but suspect the 30t won’t see use. I run a 128mm Leonardi axle in there, just a bit narrower than the 132 standard unit. When I have a Stages unit fitted it just clears.
The M9000 rear derailleur is pretty amazing. It sits well out of the way, and you can tune how firm the clutch is, which helps a lot with how firm it feels at the lever. The XTR cassette is 11-40. 10-42 would be nice but this shifts very smoothly with no crazy jumps in ratios. Note: that’s not scuffing from foot rub, but rubbing from air travel. Highly unfortunate.
It’s not pretty, but the more direct cable routing helps keep the cable up out of harms way, and shorter. It just involves some zip ties.
The M987 caliper is nice and neat, and it’s direct mount on the frame, also 160mm specific – no option to run a 140mm here. I’ve got Miles brake pads in which are working really well so far, despite only 150km on them as yet.
I also use a set of Kappius KW-1.5 wheels. You can read the review of them. They’re wide, light (1400g) have an insane sound and take up, and feel great. They’re a little more F1 than say a set of Hope hubs, but it’s worth it. I use some light 72g rotors and 3 ti bolts to hold them on. No, they’ve never sheared off. Yes, it does cause a problem if one bolt comes loose. In part it’s a weight thing, but really it’s just faster putting rotors on and off for travel this way.
I used to always run Maxxis Ikons, but now use an Ardent Race up front more often than not. It has a little more bite and a broader performance window. It’s not light, but it rides really well. The EXO casing is very strong and the tubeless ready models inflate on the Kappius rims with just a basic track pump.
I still run an Ikon out the back as they roll so fast, and the EXO casing again as it’s just so strong. On the 30mm Kappius rim these tyres look massive.
Shimano, I like your old stuff better than your new stuff – for pedals anyway. The more recent models don’t have long service intervals, and my XTR models have never truly been resurrected. These might become Look MTB pedals in time, but until then XT are always reliable.
With a weight of about 10kg I’m pretty happy with this setup. The handling isn’t too slack, and the bottom bracket is fairly low. It corners really well, and is very stiff through the frame. There are lighter bikes out there but the handling on this one is divine, and so is the reliability.
You can rad about the Bianchi Methanol 29 FS Imogen Smith rode to victory at the Crocodile Trophy right here.