Sept 28, 2014 – An Italian masterpiece is not the kind of thing you revise or update. No one is wondering when the Mona Lisa 2.0 is getting released or awaiting the launch of the new David SL. ‘Masterpiece’ is a term frequently used to refer to bikes but rarely deserved. Of course, now we are going to use it.
The original Wilier Cento1 was and is a masterpiece. The bike was not meant to set any records on the test bench, it was designed for ride quality, an intangible thing to hang a bike’s reputation on but the Cento1’s ride quality was so sublime it essentially put the 100 year old Wilier-Triestina brand back on the international cycling map. The response at the pedals was magic, the confident handling at speed was perfection and the road feel was spot on, just right for long days and a rapid pace. But this is the cycling world and no masterpiece is safe, the Cento1 has been tweaked five other times over the last seven years and for 2014 it has been reinvented as nothing less than an aero road platform. For a bike with a reputation built on ride quality this seems like folly.
The integrated seat mast, the flowing rear and the traditional tube shapes are history. Put the original out of your mind, the Cento1 Air is a different animal. It represents a merging of the Cento1 and the TwinBlade TT bike. This is most evident in the dropped rear stays, which Wilier found reduce wind resistance while providing a shroud for a standard rear brake. On the Cento1 Air they are as low as UCI regulations will allow. While the fork is not as outlandish as the TT bike, it has taken what Wilier learned and subtly applied it to a tapered and integrated fork with twin channels at the crown to aid airflow. The rest of the bike uses the ubiquitous Kamm tail truncated airfoils which mimic deeper airfoils yet remain within the UCI regulations and help ease the notoriously ill ride quality of pure airfoils.
Look closely though and you will find hints of that Cento1 magic. The seat stays are asymmetric and the bike utilizes obscenely light and stiff 60ton carbon in strategic areas for very thin tube walls. Thanks to an oversized BB386EVO bottom bracket the stays, seat tube and down tube can be much wider and much stiffer, 30% stiffer than the original Cento1 if Wilier is to be believed. The Cento1’s magic geometry is also evident in identical stack and reach numbers. Even the angles are unchanged, yet the wheelbase has been shortened, ever so slightly.
In the US the Cento1 Air is available as two builds and a frame set. We tested the entry-level version, entry level for Italian road bikes that is, a $5000 mix of Dura-Ace and Ultegra with FSA cranks, FSA alloy bar and stem and Shimano RS21 wheels, which tipped the scales at 16.7lbs for our XL. While we can forgive the alloy bar and stem at this price point the RS21 wheels, at 1850 grams, are a crime. Useless even for training, chuck them in the waste bin before they poison your experience and upgrade to almost anything else. We rode a set of trusty Shimano C24s for the duration of this test, at $1400 they are the best value in road wheels and a pound lighter. Wilier also offers the Cento1 Air as a full Ultegra Di2 bike at $5000, the model we would recommend except for the RS21 wheels. It might be worth starting from scratch with a naked frame for $4000 or opting for Wilier’s HED upgrade for $6900. You still get the RS21’s as training wheels, so you’ll still need to take that trip to the trash bin.
As we threw a leg over the bike and got busy pedaling we kept one thought in our mind, ‘This is a new bike, it’s not fair to compare it to the original Cento1 and its magic ride.’ But here’s the thing, Wilier has some how managed to retain the lion’s share of the magic and amazingly in an aero road platform. It has the same lively, scintillating feel at the pedals, except when the power is turned up to 11, then the stiffer platform exceeds the original in raw acceleration. The geometry feels identical, with the same ability to confidently push the envelope. It’s over long miles and rough road where the Cento1 Air really impresses. The aero road platform, industry wide, is no longer the ill-mannered beast it once was, but the Cento1 Air takes it to the next level. This aero road bike is smoother than many pure road racers and while big hits still make it through, they are not the vicious filling rattlers many aero bikes still communicate. The bike’s custom aero seat post, a partnership with Ritchey, and the lowered chain stays must allow plenty of seat cluster deflection when necessary.
Of course, as an aero platform, we have to ask the question, what are we getting out of these aero tubes? Are we saving big watts? With Wilier quiet on the subject it’s impossible to know definitively, but we do know that the Cento1 Air provides whatever aero gains it does with essentially zero sacrifice in ride quality, and that is a truly new development in the world of the aero road platform.
You prize ride quality above all else and know the original Cento1 set the standard others are measured by. It’s about performance with manners, aggression with confidence and if it gives you some aero advantage as well, so much the better.
Price: $5000 ($4000 frameset)
Weight: 16.7lbs (XL w/o pedals or cages)
Specifications: Dura-Ace 900 levers and rear derailleur, Ultegra 6800 brakes and front derailleur, FSA SLK cranks with Wing Pro Alloy bars and Energy alloy stem.
San Marco Concor saddle, and Shimano RS21 wheels.