Bianchi Methanol – Mid Term: by Thomas Hebestreit

BIANCHI is one of the big names in cycling. Existing since 1885, the company famous for its Celeste green bikes have been involved in countless great victories in cycling. Most of these victories have been predominantly on the road, but they are pushing hard to be successful off road as well … and their racers in the XC circuit and marathon races seem to be collecting podium finishes like others do stamps :).

Last year c_g has had the opportunity to ride a Methanol SL 29 carbon hard tail during the Garda Festival ’12 and found it to be dialed perfectly for this one purpose only – win races. Then during last year’s EUROBIKE they have released the full suspension version of the bike, the Methanol FS, which c_g has covered in full detail here. Then during this year’s Garda Festival I got to take a short ride on board their flagship model 29.1 and now we have the exact same BIANCHI Methanol FS 29.1 for a full review in true TNI fashion.

Already by appearance this bike looks mean and like no other … aggressively edgy shapes and a very purpose built bike throughout.

SPEC: One may shudder at the attached price tag of € 7499.-, but you get a very refined SRAM XX drive train on all but the cranks – those are by FSA. MAGURA is supplying the suspension with their TS8R fork (100 mm) and the TS RL 165 shock (also 100mm of travel) – each one attached to its own remote lockout mounted to the bar – and also the brakes (top end MT8s of course ;)). Wheels are the Red Metal XL by FULCRUM and all the tires are the Pythons by HUTCHINSON. The cockpit and seating is by FSA’s top components and all in carbon.

Just like it has been with c_g when he rode his Methanol hard tail, I had questioned every little detail on how I wanted my bike, and so I was pleasantly surprised to see they had executed it all, from stem length to bar width (680mm is my favorite) and setback seat post. As it was, the bike weighed a very respectable 10.5kg or 23.15 lbs. Seems the Italians really know what we racer folks dig.

FRAME: When it comes to dynamics and aesthetics there probably is no bike coming close. At a claimed weight of only 1900 grams (4.2lbs) this is not only pretty to look at but torsionally stiff as can be main frame and rear end. When pushing this bike uphill in the big ring, giving it all, I really appreciate this stiffness, and it is the first full suspension 29″er where I really feel this way.

The CHASSIS feels perfectly balanced and I am sitting just right there in the middle of all this. Even on the steepest uphill pitches, the front would stay on the ground, perfectly controlled even on switchbacks or over steps. With a locked rear end it climbs just like a hard tail. It may not be everyone’s piece of cake, but for a racing bike it is great that MAGURA’s lockout really is not only firm, but completely locked, and so even when sprinting uphill under max load, you cannot tell this is a full suspension bike. It simply accelerates and urges forward.

Handling-wise the Methanol FS is very nimble and great fun on tight courses. By its moderate wheelbase it is very surefooted at high speeds, but sure doesn’t feel slow in turns. It is astonishing to see this agility, coupled with the most extreme stiffness – providing razor sharp control till the very limit. I haven’t ridden and raced all there is in 29″er race bikes, but this sure is the stiffest of all I know.

Everything on this frame is designed for the most precise ride and the firm, but capable, suspension by MAGURA helps to keep things in control when the ride gets rougher. The FULCRUM wheels feel stiff and only when pushed very hard do they exhibit a small amount of flex, which is only detectable by a really discerning rider. The suspension can be set up comfortable but sure is in sync better with the bike when dialed direct and aggressively. When dialed not too sensitively, it primarily takes off the edges and hard blows, and it becomes a very potent weapon. One that is surprisingly capable even when the going gets rough. On such trails and descents one stays in control so much better, and still it rides in a way that feels very direct- not wasting one watt of energy. Awesome … I love it!!

We have already mentioned it before, but the suspension philosophy of the Methanol FS is so different that it is worth mentioning it again: The shock and fork both have no platform mode. Just like everything else on this bike it is “all or nothing”, “ON or OFF”. During a race where the finishing time is all that matters, you don’t have time to worry about how firm the suspension feel is or if it soaks up any energy. You either need squish or you do not. On the uphill and wherever the terrain allows for it you will run the Methanol FS locked (at least on the rear) and on the down hills, you’ll love running it full open – all by the flick of the two remote levers on the bar.

Curiously, being the hardcore hard tail rider I am, I am running the Methanol FS fully open more often than I think. But that unusual experience is something I need to dig in deeper and come back with my next update. There I will also dig a bit into the weight discussion – I mean the Methanol 29 FS is impressive, but I can only imagine how the hard tail Methanol will ride.

Mid Term Conclusions : BIANCHI didn’t want to create another full suspension 29″er when designing the Methanol 29 FS, they wanted to create “ the perfect full suspension race bike ” a very high goal and by my current impressions they hit home. Close enough to make me question my skepticism about full suspension race bikes big time … or to be more precise, pretty much throw it overboard. More in my next update.

Thomas Hebestreit