Review: Bianchi Volpe
At first glance, the Volpe might fool you into thinking it’s nothing to write home about. Its look is basic utilitarian, not particularly flashy or eye-popping. Bianchi designed the Volpe to function across several cycling disciplines – road, commuting, touring – without catering to one in particular. Taking a closer look, one can see that Bianchi very cleverly blends the geometry and accessories on this bike to address a variety of applications. Don’t forget that Volpe is Italian for Vixen and under all that functionality is a bit of a sexy spirit.
Starting with the basics: the Volpe has a double-butted chromoly steel frame. Don’t have a chemical engineering degree? Me either. It means that chromium and molybdenum alloys have been added to the steel to increase strength. Double butted tubes are thinner in the middle and thicker at their ends, to save weight and fine-tune the ride quality.
Many road performance bikes are designed to place the rider in a lower, more aggressive, and more aerodynamic position, and to have ultra-sensitive steering and fast acceleration. For many people unaccustomed to this set-up, it’s uncomfortable, especially for extended rides. The Volpe is built for a more comfortable, slightly upright position, with a 20.75” top tube in my size 49cm, while still allowing for powerful pedaling and steering responsiveness. Yet unlike a touring bike that has longer chainstays and a long wheelbase to make it a sturdy workhorse, the Volpe has shorter measurements (16.73” and 39.5”” respectively) to even out the rider’s weight displacement and offer livelier handling with quicker tracking. This also means sacrificing some of the solidness that a full touring rig would have once loaded up with front and back panniers. One very good thing about this bike’s geometry: I did not suffer from the dreaded toe-overlap issue that can arise especially on a smaller-sized bike.
Borrowing a page from the touring discipline, the Volpe is fitted with a Sugino XD 500T SQ triple crankset (48/38/28-tooth). Having the small inside chainring gave me a lower gear range to climb hills, when combined with the SRAM 9-speed 11-32-tooth cassette, without sacrificing the fast gears. Another nice feature are the Shimano Tiagra brake/shift levers. They allow the rider to adjust cable trim with an extra “click” in the left shifter, to prevent chain rub against the front derailleur. A blessing of silence on long rides in quiet solitude.
The Volpe comes equipped with Shimano Tiagra hubs laced to WTB DX23 rims and WTB All Terrainasaurus 700x32mm tires—a good road/hardpack trail tread, albeit weighing in on the heavy end of the scale at 655g each. There is some breathing room on the fork to allow a wider tire for a softer ride if desired, but clearance around the back tire is slim. I know I’ll jinx myself by typing this, but I have sent the All Terrainasaurus tires through small rock gardens, gravel, and washed-out potholes and have not had them break loose on me. I did take them skating through a wet sandbar at one point and though it was slick, they did grab hold enough that I didn’t go down.
Since the Volpe is outfitted with mounts for a rear rack and front and back fenders, it was easy to add rear panniers to transport gear for the workday or for light touring and rail-trail rides. Adding accessories did add extra weight to the ride, but the Cane Creek SCX-5 brakes still responded nicely when I had the back panniers filled. Cantilevers were the practical choice on the Volpe as these style brakes are generally compatible with fenders, racks, and wide tires, weigh less than disc brakes and, most importantly, are easy and inexpensive to repair.
Commuting on difficult steep climbs and narrow, busy roadways, the Volpe felt responsive and “thin,” making me more comfortable on the tight sections of road where cars were a hair’s breadth away. On flat, smooth areas it was easy to open up and pick up speed.
On the rail-trails, I came across a few stretches that pushed the definition of “groomed trail,” but the bike didn’t flinch. There were a few gnarly uphill climbs over rutted, hard-packed surfaces, on which I felt stable enough to stand up on the pedals and use brute strength (what little I have) to move the bike through the mess. The steering and handling on the Volpe stayed consistent and reliable on both the asphalt and mixed surfaces. Though quick to respond to my navigation, I didn’t ever feel like the bike was getting away from me.
One small issue I did have were my small hands trying to reach for those elusive brake levers when I was on the drops. Not an uncommon problem, and something that can be remedied by adding reach-adjust shims at the lever hinges, which can be purchased from your local bike shop.
In my three-plus months of riding the Volpe, I haven’t come across any glaring issues. Sure, sometimes I would like a lighter road bike, but then how would I transport loads? Would a full-on touring rig be nice? But then how would I keep up with friends on more nimble bikes? The Volpe is a well-designed bike that is comfortable in its role as a general-purpose do-it-all, though unlikely to step out and shine in any one spotlight. Still it’s a great addition to the family if you don’t plan on committing to one cycling discipline and need versatility at a good price.
Bianchi is online at www.bianchiusa.com.
[Ed notes: This bike review by Amanda Zimmerman originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #4. Photos by Shannon Mominee. Subscriptions make these web reprints possible. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]
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