Five or six years ago the carbon bike industry was on a stiffness feeding frenzy. Tube shapes were getting bigger, head tubes were tapered, lower bearings were massive, and new high-modulus carbons were available. Many racers in the pro peloton loved it, even if it did mean they were forced to suffer through a rough, molar-rattling ride. For most riders it was simply too much. One builder in Italy agreed and offered a bike that, while a pure racer, didn’t top any stiffness charts. Instead they focused on balance, having enough stiffness to get the job done but ride quality and comfort were equally important. The result was a magical collection of tubes called the Cento1 from Wilier-Triestina. Released in 2008, the bike has almost universally been accepted as a true turning point in carbon bike design. The orgy of stiffness had to be leavened by ride quality. While bikes have continued to get stiffer and lighter, every manufacturer now recognizes these can’t be the only goals. We have Wilier and the Cento1 largely to thank for that.
Since 2008, Wilier has been reluctant to shelve the Cento1 for a new model, its reputation is that good. They released a Super Leggera version, which shaved some grams, but focused instead on a super light climbing bike, the Zero7, rather than play with the magical Cento1. In the global cycling world’s revolving door product cycle, five years on the same platform is an eternity, Wilier had to update the Cento1 and for 2013 they have finally launched an entirely revamped version, this one dubbed the Cento1SR. While the goal remained unchanged—to create the best all-around bike on the road—the bike itself is radically different.
The organic, flowing tube shapes of the original have been replaced by a much more aggressive looking bike. Some of this is due to a recent addition to the list of things an all-around bike must do—be aerodynamic. Wilier is following a path Trek and SCOTT blazed, the truncated airfoil. The seat post and the fork blades have airfoil leading edges, which are then abbreviated in a squared-off trailing edge. This fools the air into acting like it is flowing across a much longer airfoil and delivers much of the same aerodynamic improvements. It’s a win-win situation, because the truncated airfoil is also lighter, laterally stiffer and more vertically compliant than an airfoil. Wilier also seamlessly tucks the down tube into the fork crown, smoothing airflow over some of a bike’s most drag-inducing real estate.
As with the Cento1, a bike Damiano Cunego descended to victory on over the Poggio at Milan-San Remo, front-end stiffness was highlighted on the design brief right next to drivetrain stiffness. They use a tapered head tube, but instead of a 1.5-inch lower bearing, they have a used 1.25-inch lower. It’s stiff enough, without being overwhelming. This is further refined by the top tube’s subtle kink to meet the head tube. This opens up the angle at which the two tubes intersect. This, Wilier believes, improves front-end stiffness. The down tube is massive, thanks to the new bottom bracket standard pioneered by FSA, BH and Wilier—BB386EVO. The 86-mm-wide shell in itself is very stiff, but it’s the increased real estate it offers the down tube and chain stays that really delivers. The tubes can be larger diameter, which is stiffer, but also thinner walled, which is lighter. Like the Cento1 it replaces, the Cento1SR had an integrated seat post. While we are rarely fans of the increased hassle and reduced resale value of an integrated post, if Wilier deems it necessary to deliver magical ride quality we are wiling to forgive it here.
There are asymmetric stays and then there is the Cento1SR. The massive rectangular drive side drops radically from the bottom bracket before trending up to the drop out. Wilier uses the same rationale other manufacturers do: the demands on the drive side are very different from the demands placed on the non-drive side. They also claim it helps eliminate chain slap. They must have tested the bike on some very rough roads indeed to induce chain slap. The seat stays look less integrated with the chain stays than the original Cento1, but they do merge seamlessly with the top tube, running continuous fibers through both tubes.
Those fibers are very high modulus, 60 ton, like the sub-800-gram Zero7. While a generous use of these fibers keeps the bike lighter than the previous Cento1, it is still heavier than the Zero7. At 995 grams for a medium, it is not light—even including the seat mast—by today’s standards and it was actually a number we were very happy to see on the scale. It was concrete evidence that the Cento1SR has more than statistical competitiveness on its mind.
With the Cento1SR Wilier has expanded the do-it-all mandate beyond even aerodynamics. They looked at shifting and asked how could a frame manufacturer improve it? The answer was perfect cable path and easy setup for any system you want to run. A special port on the down tube, the Integrated Adjuster Plate (IAP), allows mechanical systems to run internally with integrated barrel adjusters and by removing the cable stops; electronic enters the frame at the same point. To ensure cables never touch frame walls and still exit at a perfect angle to the derailleurs, Wilier has two more unique ports. A 3D Integrated Cable Routing Plate ensures frictionless path for both cables under the bottom bracket while an integrated drop out derailleur hanger cable port keeps the rear derailleur running smoothly.
In studio, under our lights, the frame looked to be a perfect follow-up to the Cento1, but with a bike so universally praised we’d be lying if we claimed not to have felt a bit nervous during test rides. If the vaunted ride quality was lost it would be a shame indeed.
This fear vanished during the first ride, because the bike itself virtually vanished. During the first few rides on a new bike we usually experience some adjustment in handling or ride quality that either takes time to get used to or has to be accepted. We didn’t experience any of this with the Centro1SR. It was a bike that quickly became an extension of us, like a favorite pair of SIDIs or a set of Castelli bibs.
The geometry is very similar to the original Cento1—the stable, graceful feel of an Italian open-road racer that is unafraid to attack a descent with even the steepest, twitchiest bikes in the peloton. This is truly where the Cento1 shines. The increased torsional stiffness manifests itself in the ability to throw the bike down a mountain with little or no break-in period. On the very first ride we felt more comfortable and confident on the limit with the Cento1SR than we ever felt with many bikes before. Bash elbows in a tight field or grab a handful of brake to change line mid-corner, and the Cento1SR executes your commands with poise and precision.
The cable routing lets the drivetrain to shine, as we enjoyed the crisp, buttery feel we have come to love from Campagnolo mechanical. This was an area where the original Cento1 struggled, and credit is due to Wilier for solving it. What they did not solve was ease of adjustability on the road. The integrated barrel adjusters are very difficult to roll without being able to grab them with thumb and forefinger. In long finger gloves or in the rain they are impossible.
As an all-rounder, the bike is stunningly good. On the flats it has the ability to roll beautifully. Whether this is all aero or a combination of aero with the stiffer platform we can’t say, but we never felt sluggish at the pedals. It communicates road feel like a veteran United Nations translator. You learn what you need to know, but the harsh adjectives and nasty comments are completely removed. It is a bit more info than the Cento1 gave you, but still a gentlemanly ride feel combined with a scoundrel’s ability to race. Climbing, the bike is unquestionably better than the Cento1, with a livelier response to acceleration, inline with the best carbon money can buy. An all-rounder, it has to be acknowledged that it does fall short of the Zero7, a BH Ultralight or Cannondale EVO (and a few other platforms in pure climbing chops), but few of those can equal its poise in the corners or overall ride feel.
Only one build is offered stateside with Campagnolo Chorus 11, alloy FSA bar and stem, carbon FSA cranks, Selle Italia SLR saddle and Fulcrum Racing 4 wheels. Frame and fork alone are also available for $4,000, while the build will cost $5,600. For our test we swapped out the Fulcrum 4’s for the excellent Campagnolo Scirocco 35-mm wheels and weighed our size large at 16.1 lbs.
You don’t need to be a featherweight pure climber or a twitchy pocket rocket. You want all-around performance that goes all day. The road racer rider and serious century enthusiast will both find the bike to be pure joy on the road. The relaxed grand fondo rider may opt for a taller head tube and more insulation from the road. You’ve been waiting for the Cento1’s encore and you won’t be disappointed.
Price: $5,600 (as tested); $4,000 (frameset)
Size tested: Large
Weight: 16.1 lbs (without pedals or cages)
Specifications: Campagnolo Chorus 11, FSA alloy stem and bars, FSA BB386EVO carbon cranks, Selle Italia saddle, Ritchey mast topper, Campagnolo Scirocco 35-mm wheels
From issue 21. SOLD OUT!