I have spent a great deal of my MTB life riding a hardtail. After riding a Giant Anthem 26″ in the 2008 ABSA Cape Epic, I converted to a HT for shorter events shortly thereafter. In 2010 I moved onto the 29″ wheeled version with Specialized and stayed true to the HT ever since. In the spring season and well into summer I trained and raced primarily on the road, focusing on the TT for the National Championships in April. Right after that I longed to get back into MTB again, a discipline I had avoided in training in the fear of getting an injury in the lead-up to the TT Champs, but my roadie soft body was feeling the damage a HT dishes out when you are unconditioned every time I rode.
I had ambitions of moving to a FS Methanol when we started Team RAC, but Cam was adamant that we’d need HT’s to be competitive, limiting our losses on the climbs and smashing it on the descents. Cam changed tack and decided that his lifestyle couldn’t fit in with a racing schedule and we called it quits on the RAC racing scene, he bought a Santa Cruz trail bike and urged me to follow suit. I resisted the pressure to go very soft for enduro, I wasn’t done racing yet…
My search led me far and wide, but always in the back of my mind I knew what it was that I really wanted – The Bianchi Methanol 29 FS. I knew how good the Methanol 29 SL HT was already and I wanted a fast machine that was both stiff and light yet supple enough to soak up the terrain on my body’s behalf. The HT is intense, and you have to be fully committed all the time, if you relax the bike will let the trail beat you into submission. My feeling was that I needed a bike that could be ridden infrequently but still be fun and fast and smooth. I certainly found it.
I found out that Dylan Victor of Cyclelab in Westlake had one and I called him up for his thoughts on it. It turns out he’s invested in a lot of stock, he has a lot of Bianchi’s in store and rides the Methanol FS as his personal whip. I respected his feedback on the bike as his credentials on any bike hardly need introduction, he told me it was good, and better yet he offered to let me ride his! About 15 minutes of singletrack on the bike with no change in setup from Dylan’s measurements was all I needed. The order went in and soon I was building my own.
I ordered a Methanol 29.4 which is an XT specced bike so this is kind of a dual purpose review as there was no chance it would stay like that for long, but at least some details of the original spec will be here. I unboxed it and assembled it in standard form, the weight was 11.88kg sans pedals. The standard build and supplied equipment was amazing to say the least, it shipped with everything including a bell, Elite Paron bottle cage, Bianchi bidon and Time ROC Atac pedals, FSA bar and stem and a San Marco Saddle keeping things all Italian. The fork supplied was a RockShox Reba RL and the shock is a Fox Float CTD and not the Magura suspension equipment advertised, although Magura still supply the MT4 brakes, which are pretty good. Fulcrum Red Power SL wheels round out the package for a solid and reliable bike out of the box. The standard Hutchinson Python Air Light 1.9 tires are a bit skinny for the full capability of this bike and would soon need changing to something with more grip. Tubes are supplied but the wheels easily convert to tubeless with just 2 rounds of Stan’s 21mm tape and valves.
Right then… I began stripping the parts I wouldn’t need and was soon left with the bare frame, supplied cable housings that run continuously by design and pre fitted bearings. I weighed the frameset including rear shock, headset, Pressfit 30 BB, derailer cable housing, seat clamp, and including the Syntace X-12 through axle. 2.5kg exactly. I started adding my own parts kit: Rockshox SID XX WC fork, Easton EC90XC wheels which I converted easily to 142×12 with small adapters from the agent, S-Works 2 x 10 Crankset, XX rear derailer, and XX 10 speed twist grips. I was forced to keep the X7 direct mount front derailer, for now due to a technology conflict. Enve 700mm flat sweep bars and 31.6mm setback Enve seatpost took care of the cockpit and my Spez Romin carbon perch provided the seating arrangements. My Formula R1 brakes required a new longer set of kevlar hoses and bleed to fit. The result is a 10.04kg build including Time’s Atac XC8 carbon pedals and the standard supplied Elite bottle cage, S-Works Fastrak 2.0 tires front and back with plenty of sealant. It feels like its taken a long time because of the spec changes in some equipment, but eventually I got it all sorted in about 2 weeks. Initially I got a feeling of understeer from the front end, the Methanol HT was very direct with a sharp rake, and the FS is slightly slacker, but the small change from a 600mm handlebar to a 700mm sorted that out. I needed a longer stem because of the top tube being 20mm shorter, I went 10mm longer and then the extra distance in reach was taken up with the wider bars.
I pumped the rear shock to 140psi (I weigh 78kg) and I run 135psi in the Solo Air forks. 1.9bar in the front tire and 2.0 in the rear. The Easton EC90 XC carbon wheels require harder pressures as the lack of flex moves the flex point to the tire sidewalls causing them to roll at low pressure. My initial rides were a mix of Jeep track, rocky jeeptrack, singletrack, sandy singletrack and rooty and rocky singletrack – Tokai is not the smoothest place to ride a bike so it was a true test of suspension. I got the feeling in each setting of the Shock, C-Climb, T-Trail, and D-Descend, and loved how locked the bike felt in the climb mode, zero pedal bob whatsoever and standing with the fork locked as well was solid, you could feel the reactivity in the stiff BB translate into speed. I chose rocky lines on purpose and marveled at how the rear soaked them up like a kid hopping off pavements, then rear remaining supple and planted even in the stiffest setting. I switched to trail and opened up the fork on a fire road that is full of rocks and chatter; it still feels fast and stiff yet even more forgiving, anticipating the bumps and ironing them out underneath me, a hint of squat tells you you’re no longer in climb mode but the comfort is worth it as it eases over everything in your way. On the jeep tracks and fire roads I cant ever see myself needing a descend mode, but I tried it anyway and the feeling was much the same as trail only more willing to travel on bigger hits.
On the climbs it was all traction all the time, and I soon found myself needing to adjust my riding style, I was still choosing hardtail lines and using my body to eat up hits and had to make a mental effort to let the bike do the work, I sat and pedaled and the bike just went up, I felt fresher and more relaxed on top and ready for the next hill while the gents accompanying me were sweating it out on their hardtails needing a breather. I chose all the trails I normally avoid including the “Rock Garden” which I normally bypass if I’m not feeling spritely or attack it only because I know its a slog for me. It was much easier to go faster and pick lines, I soon dropped my companions and was riding lines I normally can’t take on a hardtail. I was straight lining sections that ease the flow into the next segment, I was making “hardtail mistakes” that the bike was correcting, go over instead of around. I was loving it and I was going faster than ever!
We had enough time on our hands to spin out some more jeep track and ended up at the entrance to the bridal path, we had thought to avoid it and return the same way but I was keen to give the steep and narrow switchbacks a go on the Methanol FS and see how it coped in Descend mode. It was rocky, and we were riding in the dark having started at 4:30am and it was only 6am now. My Magicshine lights were blazing a trail and I went as fast as I could even though I had only 15m of light forewarning me of the oncoming obstructions. I rode a PB time and shot up the Strava rankings, something that happened a lot on that debut morning, 17 new Segment PB’s and several top ten overall segments – the times showed I wasn’t just having fun, I was going faster than ever…Even in the dark!
The proof was there, the FS is faster, I was fresher this opened up a whole new level and refreshed my love for riding in the mountain. I have since decided I need to upgrade the front tire to something with more grip, the extra speed downhill requires new levels I’m pushing the front wheel to plus I needed to up my shock and fork pressures to compensate for the added G-forces and jump landings that I am now taking instead of missing out the fun parts… its full on!
I can’t think of enough adjectives to describe the way this bike feels, it’s amazing to say the least and I know it’s only going to get better as I become more in tune with it.
The Tech: Taken from Bianchi.com
– 100mm ERC frame 4 Bar system
– Horst link for full braking independence
– 3 different type of unidirectional carbon fibers Toray 40T-30T-T700
– Tapered Headtube
– X -12 system rear axle
– BB PressFit 30 73mm
– Full carbon dropout – post mount 160mm
– Neutral pivot positioning for no pedal kick-back
– Weight: 1970gr. (without shock)