Can Wilier's latest offering live up to its astounding looks?
The main attraction seemed to be the ‘snakeskin' carbon weave that really gives this Wilier a special and unique appearance. Wilier claims this outer 3D wrap has more than just aesthetic qualities, as it supposedly brings vibration damping and impact resistance to the table too.
It's hard to say categorically how successful each of these other attributes is, but there's no denying it's a very elegant frame. The top tube flows organically into the seatstays, which in turn gracefully sweep through carbon dropouts into the curved, asymmetrical chainstays. The front end is much more boxy and industrial looking, but equally attractive all the same.
Our test bike came with a Campagnolo Super Record groupset and top of the range Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR wheels. FSA has provided Wilier with a custom Plasma one-piece carbon handlebar/stem, tastefully bearing the brand logo and matching Cento Uno graphics too. It's little wonder the bike received so many admiring glances.
Structurally, Wilier uses a more advanced moulding process - termed LiT - for the Superleggera frame, setting it apart from its previous best Cento Uno. Using highly pressurised silicone bladders in the moulding process maximises compaction and greatly reduces imperfections in the internal tube structure which, basically translated, means greater control over wall thickness, facilitating lighter weight while increasing strength.
Nanoparticles by numbers
Thirty-ton high-modulus carbon is used for resilience in low-stress areas, with stronger 60-ton applied where loads are greatest. Nanoparticles of zinc oxide are mixed into the resin to increase the structural integrity of voids.
Wilier's process is more a variation on a theme than groundbreaking technology, but it's putting a personal stamp on its top of the shop frame all the same. And 920g is certainly a very respectable weight considering the integrated seatpost.
One area where Wilier is creating its own solution is within the oversized bottom bracket. It uses pared down Campagnolo Ultra Torque BB cups inserted into the BB shell as part of the moulding process. The result is very clean, with nothing visible externally once the cranks are fitted, and ironically could easily be mistaken for BB30, even though it's not compatible.
This system is also compatible with Shimano and SRAM cranks, via shims, but given so many key players are choosing the BB30 route, this seems like an unusual solution for Wilier to have adopted.
The ride feel does not seem appreciably stiffer given all the extra manufacturing processes, compared with other conventional bottom bracketed bikes, and it's not packing the same punch as some BB30 bikes we've tried of late. We'd also suspect this method is heavier than a BB30 set-up, so while it gets the job done amply well, it's left us scratching our heads.
The front end makes more sense, with headset bearing seats moulded directly in the carbon, eliminating the need for alloy cups. This is a significant contributor to the 130g saving over the standard Cento Uno frame.
Returning to an external rear brake cable routing also saves a few grams, and no doubt saves the ProTour mechanics a bit of faff looking after the Lampre team bikes.
The large size tested has a 55.5cm top tube and 15.9cm head tube - arguably a tad taller than average for a top-end race rig, albeit spot on for my preference for a less aggressive riding position. More manufacturers seem to be going in this direction and we certainly prefer this approach to a stack of spacers, both structurally and aesthetically.
Team riders like Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Petacchi preferred a version with a longer top tube and shorter head tube to lower the front end. If that sounds more like it, then you'll be interested to know that for next year Wilier plans to add a ‘Racing' version of the Superleggera to the range, with precisely those modifications.
Easy on the pizzazz
Given the almost insurmountable level of spec on this test bike, and low overall weight, we would have expected a bit more pizzazz on the ups. The Superleggera is no sloth, far from it, but equally it lacked that electrifying ‘jabbed with a cattle prod' urgency in its accelerations. It's horses for courses though, because there are absolutely no jitters on the descents.
The Superleggera is as surefooted as they come. Maybe it was just bad timing for Wilier, but this test coincided with a string of other top-end tests, Cervélo S3 and Parlee Z5 to name two, and it just failed to excite me in the ways I'd hoped, by comparison.
The Cento Uno Superleggera is best described as a master of all trades but champion of none. While the ride quality and experience is hard to fault, it's not the lightest, nor the stiffest, nor the best handling bike out there. It just does everything very well, which is obviously no bad thing, but sometimes I want a bike to show me something a little bit extra special, and for me the Superleggera didn't feel like it had a cheeky glint in its eye.
£4,299 for the Superleggera frame does rather make its predecessor, the standard Cento Uno - now some £1,500 cheaper - look like a great deal. The Superleggera seems like a lot more money to get a fancy 3D weave and save 130g.
FSA Plasma Integrated compact
60ton Mitsubishi UD carbon monocoque, Toray T800 3D weave
53/39 and 12-25
Campagnolo Super Record
Selle Italia SLR
XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Vittoria Corsa Evo CX
14.4lb (6.5kg) Frame weight 920g
Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR
ATB Sales 01424 753566, www.wilierbikes.co.uk