After just over a year on the S-Works Stumpjumper, the Cape Pioneer Trek took its toll and necessitated on overhaul. Enter the Methanol.

Bianchi have stepped in where my S-Works sponsorship ended and they have more than filled the void in my carbon two wheeled obsession. With the Oltre already parked in the tool shed and having proven itself a capable weapon, I was intrigued with the Methanol and have had my eye on it for a while. I read reviews, mostly launch tests and bike show riders, journalists giving their account of its capabilities. One tester said it was not for the feint hearted, the everyman, or the weekend warrior, this was a bike built with one purpose – To Win.

Right so I was sold, I didn’t have to convince Cam (My Team RAC racing partner) much that these should be the Team bikes for the 2013 season. I pressed the detonator and shortly thereafter two boxes arrived at my door. I didn’t have much time to appreciate the un-crating and hurriedly pulled one out, looked it over and shoved it back – this was going to be good.

The Build

I normally come over prepared when expecting new toys, and build them literally the same day. I’ve either grown up or am too busy to do that, so the build took me longer than the usual few hour to complete. I needed more… more parts to be exact. My tired out but trustworthy Sram XO 9sp groupset has taken its fair share of beatings and now was unworthy of gracing the Italian whip that now needed my attention. My bars were shot, scuffed and frankly didn’t match anymore, they went into the spares pile but most of all my wheel set, though light had let me down one too many times. It seemed like every at stage race I was running around at a random water point in the middle of nowhere searching for a replacement wheel. This has cost hours, decent results and caused massive frustration, and so began the hunt for the build that now presents itself here.

Out of the box the frame is light at 1313g for a large frame, including cage bolt,s seat mast and hanger, I cut 23g off to make mine 1290g. The Ritchey one bolt topper comes in at 166g and the headset was nice and light at 45g. I only required one carbon spacer at 3g. There isn’t a single round tube on the bike besides the mast and provision for the front derailer clamp. The tubes and angles are all shaped to provide rigidity and strength in the direction needed. It’s got a huge BB with carbon through tube for Pressfit 30 bearings. The sculpted headset houses a tapered headset and provides a taut front end.  The carbon stays are fluid and have carbon dropouts and a Carbon Ti hanger. Beautiful. The red is deeper and richer than what appears in the photos and the carbon shining through the clearcoat is a stunning Uni Directional weave. Integrated carbon cable stops hang beneath the top tube and riveted stops on the stays, nicely pre drilled so you can cable tie your continuos rear end derailer housing for low maintenance.

Assembly was pretty straight forward, the pressfit BB30 simply presses in, drop in the headset and start adding parts. Time to fit the fork, I transplanted my Rockshox Reba (S-Works) WC with Brain and there was no cutting needed and bolted straight up. I added wheels to make the build easier at ground level. I sourced the best wheels money can buy, the Easton EC90 XC. A carbon set of hoops that are not only light at 1416g but also tough as nails thanks to ballistic carbon technology. The hubs are rocks solid and I hope to kiss my freewheel issues goodbye. I shod them tubeless with Specialized S-Works Fastrak tires that would be as good for training and racing. I transplanted my S-Works crankset, with XX 42/28 rings and adjusted the spacers to suit the frames dimensions with some spares I had in the original box. Those already had my Look Quartz pedals fitted so that made life easy. I was fitting a carbon railed Specialized Romin Pro saddle and replaced the stock rail clamps on the topper with the 9.6mm ones (not supplied) so that I could mount up and measure my seat mast for cutting. Sadly there is no supplied mast cutting guide and the tubing is so massive my Park tool guide was dwarfed. I engineered a system to cut and then filed it flat using a home made guide with an industrial hose clamp. I cut it so that I could slam the topper right down to my exact level.

Next it was time for the parts kit. I sourced Ritchey WCS flat bars and matching WCS Stem to complete the set with seatpost and then bolted on my Formula R1 Brakes. These are by far the best stoppers I’ve ever used and they are here to stay, I gave them a nice cleanup and fitted them with no cable adjustments needed for length, just a slight tilt of the rear caliper hose and it was good to go. The frame is set up for 160mm rotors so I fitted the Hope floating rotors I had spare. The red inners matched my hubs too.

The next few parts took a while arriving, but I had decided after wearing out my rear derailer that it was time to move to ten speed. Cam was already running 10sp and that would allow us to take one set of spares to races. XX was the only way to go, I stayed with twist shifters, I kept my existing XX Front derailer that was compatible and got a rear derailer in medium cage. I fitted a new Sram 1091 chain after measuring the wear of the old one. Spectacularly the new shifters come shipped with inners and complete Gore Sealed derailer housing. This was my first experience with Gore Sealed housing and I must say I was uber impressed with the system, it should last for years by the looks of things and should keep the shifting slick and clean. I set the gears and installed some new Blackburn Slick cages. Last item were Ritchey Foam ergo grips and the bike was ready to roll. Total weight including cages and without Garmin is 9.32kg

The Ride:

Having an integrated seatpost on a hartail Mountain bike is always going to sound warning bells… gone is the supple 27.2 unit on my old steed that was designed to flex, and in comes an incredibly stiff shaft of carbon that connects you almost directly to the rear wheel. By design it has some offset and you can see it’s gusseted in the layup to be strong and resist any movement fore/aft. The result has a small downside of trail kickback over the rough stuff that is particularly noticeable at low speeds. The good news is that you hardly spend any time at low speeds – this configuration translates any pressure on the pedals into forward motion in a way I have never feel speed develop on a MTB before… as the trail flattens and smooths out, it feels like there is a tail wind pushing you as the bike rushes forwards. Cam was looking for the motor and I was euphoric in the realization of what was happening, The enormous BB, fat stays and direct connection to the saddle locks in your power and drives you forwards like never before and to add to that during seated climbing it will do the same and it flies uphill. The stiffness is well complimented by the carbon wheels which keep flex to a minimum and all motion driving forwards.

The geometry was very different to my last bike and again when switching to Bianchi I have gone up a size. The top tube is 28mm longer effectively than the spez and I worried about it being too big but I trusted in the agents and took their advice. I dropped my stem length 20mm and kept my setback the same to achieve an overall change of just 8mm. The slightly taller head tube meant my drop was now just 2cm instead of 4cm. I feel comfortable now and have had zero lower back pain that I often got before. I’ll test out some negative rise stems and see if I want to go lower. The rake is nice and sharp, which also drew me in to this bike, Bianchi haven’t dulled the steering for stability and reassurance of the mass market – It’s sharp, direct and immediate, especially with the shorter 90mm stem I have now and narrow bars at 590mm. It descends with vigor, and I was amazed at how I was able to easily change my line in the singletrack instead of holding one I had managed to pick early on… again the Easton EC90’s help with this trait as I felt a noticeable difference on my last bike after a short ride with them fitted.

Bianchi has designed the rear triangle with asymetrical rear stays and with what they call S.A.S (Shock Absorbing Stays) but I beg to differ with their translation, the proper english  should be Singletrack Assault Stays as this machine is a pure bred racer and shouldn’t make excuses about its design. It’s an engaging ride that rewards going fast – the ride smooths out and still it begs for more power. It’s strong too and has handled the few jumps and drops I’ve taken with it so far perfectly, it seems a bit more difficult to kick off a lip than the S-Works, but that’s also down to the rear triangle design.

The only gripe I have with the whole package is the Ritchey one bolt seat post system. The carbon railed clamps I have (I didn’t even test the aluminium specific clamps) keep allowing the saddle to tilt, mostly backwards, during my ride. The clamping surfaces do not seem to mate well and even clamped to torque spec at 12nm gives trouble. It seems to be “wearing in” as I mate the surface like lapping the valves of an engine, but one would expect a quality product to work out of the box – this isn’t Bianchi’s fault but are let down but the third party parts supplier.

The new XX parts are great, shifting on the new twist grips is effortless, almost too easy as it’s possible to over-shift. The click ratio is very close on the shifter i.e requiring very little movement to generate a shift. It goes up easier than down so you wont drop gears by mistake, but it’s easy to grab a handful of gears and shift too many. For that reason it comes with a very long grip so that none of your hand needs to rest on the shift mechanism, which could ghost shift if you tug on the bars while riding. I first set up my bars with the supplied lock on grips, and then switched them out with the foam Ritchey’s, which I cut to the same length, both for weight savings and added comfort. The upside of the lightning shifts is that you can churn through an entire cassette in one handful if you really need it. something that’s impossible to do on a trigger. The front shifter now has only two positions and is configured perfectly to not require any trim. I must say I resisted going ten speed for a long time, and still run the same ratio of gears with an 11-34 cassette, but they are now closer and I don’t have the jump between rings higher up.

I’m looking forward to some longer rides and more time in the saddle and also scanning the calendar for somewhere to race it!

“Methanol acquired the name “wood alcohol” because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood”

Now I know I know why it wants to set the forest alight!

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