LILLE, France (VN) — Vibration is a real pain in the butt.
Working with the aptly named Materials Sciences Corporation (MSC), Bianchi thinks it has solved precisely that longstanding problem.
“It’s a big day for Bianchi,” marketing manager Fred Morini said on Thursday with a glint in his eye. “We are changing something big in cycling.”
Changing something, indeed. The Italian brand has introduced a new composite material to the cycling industry, licensing a unique carbon layer developed by MSC and designed specifically to remove vibration while adding next to zero extra weight. Bianchi’s representatives, admittedly not a stoic bunch, could hardly contain themselves.
Originally developed for aerospace applications, the technology has since found its way into snowboards and helicopter noise isolation panels, applications in which vibration reduction with minimal weight is a high priority. Bianchi has exclusive rights to the material within the cycling industry.
The composite is called Countervail, and, if Bianchi’s claims prove true, it could and should have a dramatic impact on ride quality.
A complete redesign
Before we delve into the science behind Countervail, a few details on the bike itself.
The new Infinito CV is a complete redesign of the 2012 model, sharing virtually none of the old model’s engineering.
As further evidence that the road disc party may be about to start, the Infinito CV will be available in both rim- and disc-brake versions, and the latter will be compatible with upcoming hydraulic systems. The disc version will move to mountain-bike-standard 135mm rear dropout spacing, and will use 140mm post mount disc tabs (easily converted to 160mm or larger rotors, if required). The disc version adds about 100 grams across the frame and fork.
Total weight for the rim-brake version is said to be 950 grams for the frame, and “under 400 grams” for the fork, according to Bianchi’s marketing.
Geometry is like Bianchi’s other C2C (Cost to Coast) models, featuring a taller head tube, longer chain stays, and a longer wheelbase relative to the company’s race-oriented Sempre model. Eight sizes will roll off the production line, from 47 to 63cm, and Bianchi went with the PF30 bottom bracket standard.
Frame shapes are designed around aerodynamics up front and comfort in the rear, with an emphasis on high torsional stiffness and low vertical stiffness throughout. The head tube, a key point for reducing drag, is hourglass-shaped and flares backwards into a tall, lean down tube. That down tube transitions into a small Kamm tail around the bottle cage mounts. Bianchi did not publish any aero claims.
The rear end uses tapered chain stays and slender seat stays to add a bit of vertical compliance, as well as a carbon layup design intended to do the same.
Availability is set for late June for both the disc- and rim-brake models, and price has not yet been announced.
Bianchi’s development and use of the Countervail material is predicated on a simple concept: Vibration is the primary determinant of rider comfort. It’s a theory we stand behind at VeloNews as well, and vibration is what we test for in our annual VeloLab endurance road roundup — but the idea is still debated.
No road frame, short of one with suspension, is going to effectively remove large impacts — that’s a job better suited to tire choice. Differences in vibration attenuation of frames, on the other hand, can be quite large.
Bike brands frequently mount up prototypes with accelerometers, small devices that can measure both vibration and impacts, and ride them on rough roads during development. Bianchi is far from the first to focus on removing as much vibration as possible.
As a small aside, studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that vibration of muscles has a discernable negative impact on performance, causing additional fatigue over time. This is one of the reasons for compression gear’s popularity in other, less fashion-conscious endurance sports. So, Bianchi’s focus on vibration, rather than only vertical compliance, makes sense, at least in theory.
Now that the evils of vibration have been established, just how exactly did Bianchi seek to fight it off?
The brand has taken a novel approach, eschewing external devices like the Trek Domane’s IsoSpeed decoupler or the Specialized Roubaix’s Zerts inserts in favor of placing a vibration-damping material within the frame itself.
Unlike most internal damping systems, though, Countervail is actually a load-bearing layer of carbon fiber, which can be used just like any other layer when building the frame.
The fibers and fiber pattern of that layer create a shear layer designed to “maximize the vibrational energy dissipation by a viscoelastic damping layer,” according to MSC CEO Tom Cassin. In layman’s terms, it acts as a sort of buffer, dissipating vibration and preventing it from moving through the frame.
Because the Countervail carbon layer can function like any other load-bearing layer within the frame, and can be easily configured for strength in various directions, it adds little to no additional weight to the frame, and provides damping without penalizing the other structural properties of the frame.
Bianchi would not say exactly where it places the Countervail layers, noting only that it is present in both the frame and the fork, and in “strategic points.”
The Countervail used by Bianchi is optimized for about 60hz, a vibration frequency the company associated with riding at 37-40kph (23-25mph).
The result of the collaboration between Bianchi and MSC, which included the latter sending one of its engineers to Italy for months to assist development, is a frame that Bianchi claims removes 75 percent more vibration between road and rider, with no additional weight or performance loss.
Bianchi performed an interesting visual experiment in front of about 25 assembled international journalists in Lille. Two chain stays, one from the Infinito CV and one from some other unknown road frame, were attached to a vibrating plate, setting them in motion. A pingpong ball inside a clear tube was then placed on each stay, so that the vibration from each stay would bounce it up and down.
On the Infinito CV side, the ball moved only a few millimeters, spinning slowly. On the other side, the ball bounced 2-3 inches. The vibration input was the same, and the short demonstration was a powerful example of the Countervail material.
As always, we preface this short section with the following warning: Test riding a new bike on unfamiliar wheels and tires, and on unfamiliar roads, is certainly not the best way to truly get a feel for it. Read everything below with that understanding of the circumstances.
On our morning test ride just outside Roubaix, France, which included a passage over the Carrefour de l’Abre pavé section, the Infinito CV was genuinely impressive.
The excellent tires, a set of 25mm Veloflex Ardennes tubulars, no doubt played a significant role (even a majority stake) in the bike’s comfort, but the ride quality was nonetheless staggeringly quiet and comfortable. We have ridden on the Ardennes tires before and, while impressive, we doubt they account for the entirety of the excellent ride quality. The buzz we have learned to associate with most French roads was all but gone.
Large bumps (the entire Carrefour de l’Arbe section, for example) still hurt. There is no discernable give or vertical flex in the Infinito, as there is in Trek’s Domane. Whether the frame is removing the vibration from those big stones is frankly impossible to say; differentiating between the jarring impacts and their subsequent vibrations cannot be done.
But Bianchi didn’t really design the bike for the pave of Roubaix, did they? No, like most endurance road frames, the Specialized Roubaix included, the Infinito is for the rider that wants slightly more relaxed geometry on a fast but comfortable frame. They want no great sacrifices in speed, but a healthy dose of additional comfort. They ride on paved roads, or dirt roads in decent condition. On those surfaces, the Infinito seems to shine.
The difference between this model and the previous Infinito, a bike we quite enjoyed for its stability but found to be no more comfortable than any other regular road frame, is sizable.
As elsewhere in its line, Bianchi seems to be pulling itself out the funk it sank into in the mid-2000s, a result of additional energy thrown into R&D and significantly better targeting for its desired markets. It knows its Infinito rider — the same rider described above, not the Vacansoleil-DCM pro they had on hand for the presentation — and this bike seems to be a solid contender for that rider’s attention.
We’ll know more when we get one into our own lab, of course, and if the claims ring true they will be immediately apparent in our VeloLab Vibration test. Keep an eye out for more from the Infinito CV after it begins shipping in June.
Editor’s note: Bianchi provided a night in the ParkInn Hotel in Lille, France, for VeloNews.com reporters Caley Fretz and Matthew Beaudin during this product launch. The breakfast was pretty good, but the coffee was only average. For more on the Countervail material, meanwhile, see this MSC brochure (PDF).