Bianchi is that legendary Italian road bike brand isn’t it? What is it doing in the mountain biking category then? Is it making a token toe-dip in the off-road pool, or is it taking a proper plunge? We put the Methanol 29 FS2 through some traditional South African mountain biking paces to find out.
– Photos: Dino Lloyd
You can’t fault the Italians for making stylish looking bikes. Unlike some Italian brand attempts at mountain bikes, the Methanol’s high modulus monocoque carbon frame is clearly not another branded open mould offering. There’s precision and finesse in the way the tubes have been fluted and finished off. Bianchi has invested money in engineering for certain. The fairly standard four-bar linkage shock design positions the Fox Float shock beneath the top tube, making plenty of room for a downtube bottle cage mount – essential on a bike in this category really. Bianchi has shaped and curved the beefy headtube to look more than just stout and functional, while the bottom bracket is also noticeably broad for optimal stiffness.
The suspension is provided by Fox, with a 100mm travel Float at the rear and a Float 32 fork with 100mm of travel up front. They have simultaneous remote CTD cable adjustment. The wheelset is DT Swiss’ XR 1 wrapped in the Vredestein Black Panther tyres, while the gears are Shimano XT’s 2×10 speed. FSA provides the double-ring 24/38 cransket as well as the bars, stem and seatpost. Bianchi have used Formula RX hydraulic disc brakes to complete the package, which is a little unusual when Shimano’s XT brakes are so widely specced and loved, but not surprising when you consider that Formula is an Italian brand.
We found the supplied saddle a little too svelte, so fitted one of our favourites (WTB Silverado) and headed straight for Mpumalanga’s Mankele Mountain Bike Park where the slopes are steep and long and the terrain rough. Bianchi claims the Methanol is the stiffest dual suss racing performance frame available and by ride-feel can’t argue with that. It delivered unbelievable acceleration and climbing poise up short, long, smooth and rough ascents. And we hardly used the Climb setting on the suspension, only on really smooth surfaces as the Trail and even Descend clicks were quite adequate. Our Strava segment bests on our local trails confirmed the Methanol’s climbing prowess, out performing some light hardtails on ascending segments on our Strava rankings. So it’s a talented climber, but how would it be on the descents and through fast corners? Well, with shortish chainstays (442mm) and an ever so slightly relaxed 70.5-degree headtube angle, the Methanol carved its way smoothly and swiftly through tight turns. Switchbacks that normally challenge us on 29ers were taken complete charge of. Impressive. On the negative side, we found the Vredestein Black Panther tyres wanting on moist surfaces, but on hardpack they were fast rolling on the straights and grippy in the turns. The Methanol managed rough descents fine, but we felt a little unsure at times and found ourselves curtailing our speed just in case. A more voluminous tyre would help here we feel, but would then be a penalty on the climbs – the eternal trade-off dilemma… The Formula brakes worked well, better than expected actually, once we’d adapted to the lever’s motion arc, which is slightly different to what we’re used to with Shimano and SRAM. The fact that the tyres captured much of our attention means we were more than satisfied with the bike itself. A punctured front tyre resulted in 30 minutes of increasing frustration, as two grown men, experienced in tyre repair, were unable to reseat the beading. Our local bike shop seemed to manage just fine though. Had the tyres been tubeless converted from the outset, we’d probably not have had the particular frustration.
If race performance in XC or Marathons/Stage Races is very important to you and climbing swiftly is top of your want list, then the Methanol FS2 is definitely option for you. There are FS1 and FS3 models above and below it, should you want either lighter or lower-priced options. At under 11.5kg, with remarkable stiffness, the Methanol FS 2 is a thoroughbred race bike that confirms Bianchi has truly dived right into the mountain bike market – with arms outstretched.
SIZES: S (17-inch); M (19-inch – tested); L (21-inch)
TOP TUBE LENGTH: 580mm
SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 430mm
HEAD TUBE ANGLE: 70.5 degrees
SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 74 degrees
CHAINSTAY LENGTH: 442mm
PRICE: R74 950
COLOURS: Matt carbon black with celeste/white/red graphics
FRAME: High Modulus Carbon Fibre
WEIGHT: 11.48kg (without pedals)
FORK: Fox 32 Float 29 with 100mm of travel and CTD remote adjustment and 15mm through-axle
REAR SHOCK: Fox Float 100m travel with CTD remote adjustment
GEAR SHIFTERS: Shimano XTR (2×10)
FRONT DERAILLER: Shimano Deore direct mount
REAR DERAILLER: Shimano XTR Shadow
CRANKSET: FSA SL-K 24/38 2×10
BRAKESET: Formula RX hydraulic disc with 160mm rotors
WHEELS: DT Swiss XR 1
TYRES: Vredestein Black Panther, 29×2.20 Tubeless Ready front and rear
OTHERS: FSA SL-K Flat carbon 695mm bars, FSA SL-K Alloy 100mm stem, FSA SL-K carbon shaft seatpost, Fizik Tundra 2 saddle
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 28, 2014 – All rights reserved