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The 1997 Bianchi Volpe

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by Sheldon "Fox" Brown
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Obsolete page!

The 1990s were a time when decent touring bikes were very scarce in the market, probably in reactionto the excesses of the mid 1980s when the touring bike market was glutted.

The Bianchi Volpe was and remains a very nice bike, but it is no longer as unusual as it was in 1997 when this article was written. Nowadays there are many more nice touring bikes availalbe from a variety of manufacturers.

See:

Harris Cyclery's Bicycle Page

Disclaimer:

Harris Cyclery is a Bianchi dealer...but I try to be objective. That aside, I am really quite taken with this bike.

The original Volpe was kind-of a faux cyclocross bike, but it has evolved into a really nice touring bike; let me tell you about it...

The wheels:

Thirty-six, count 'em 36 spokes per! They have Araya 24 mm wide rims, and the coolest tires I have seen for a touring bike: Ritchey "Tom Slicks" in a nominal size of 700-30! Measured on the rims, they are actually 32mm wide, they look a lot like Specialized "Fat Boys", but are in the 622 mm (700c) size. I like these tires so much that I put them on two of my own bikes, and bought a ton of 'em for resale! There are lots of "credit-card" tourers out there, but very few road bikes on the market with proper wheels for loaded touring.

The frame:

The frame is built from Tange Infinity tubing (CrMo), joined with Bianchi's "Superlug" system. This is an unusual joining technique which uses lugs which are made by tig welding tubular parts together, rather than casting the lugs as left & right halves and welding them together down the middle.

The tubes are butted, with an oversized downtube which is ovalized at the bottom bracket. Like most Bianchis, it uses oversized round->oval chainstays with no clearance dents. This "Superset II" construction of the drive-train area provides a very stiff, efficient drive-train area of the frame. The Volpe has horizontal dropouts (short) with adjusters, slotted cable stops on the top of the top tube for the rear brake, a slotted stop on the right chainstay for the rear derailer, a pump peg on the back of the head tube, front lowrider and rear rack eyelets, double eyelets on the fork. There is plenty of fender clearance even with the cushy Ritchey tires.

Other:

Nitto handlebars in the classic "Maes" pattern, nice smooth curves, which provide greater variety of hand positions, and accommodate small hands better than the so-called "anatomical" handlebars. Shimano RSX STI drive train with Shimano Alivio cantilever brakes.

Like most Bianchi road bikes it comes with throwaway plastic pedals for test ride purposes...you are expected to buy the clipless pedals of your choice.

Stuff I don't like:

I cannot understand why some manufacturers put out bikes that don't have any provision for fine adjustment of the brakes. On a bike like this, with STI and cantilever brakes, the adjusters belong on the housing stops attached to the frame and fork. This bike came without these essential parts, which cost about fifty cents each. A consciencious assembler will dig 'em up and install them when assembling the bike, but this shouldn't be necessary. There is no excuse for this oversight.

I would have preferred a brazed-on bridge-type cable stop for the rear brake, I really hate the klugy ones that hang off of the seatpost bolt, but lots of good bikes use them.

The front hub is some kind of Taiwan knock-off called a "Quando", with the logo arranged so that you really have to look very closely to see that it doesn't say "Shimano". I'm sure it is a decent hub, but I would rather have seen the real McCoy.

While the rear wheel was properly tensioned (120kgf) the front was rather on the soft side, 70-85 kgf. This required an extra half-turn all around to bring the spokes up to proper tension. Again, this is the sort of thing that a good mechanic will catch and correct while assembling the bike, but not all shops do this.

I would have preferred full-sized chainrings instead of the 46/36/26 microdrive setup, but that's Shimano's doing, not Bianchi's. At least the RSX crankset is the standard triple bolt circle pattern (110/74) so you can buy full sized rings for it if you wish.

More to like than not.

Despite these quibbles, I really, really like this bike a lot, and recommend that you check it out at your local Bianchi dealer if you are in the market for a reasonably-priced touring bike. I don't know anything in the price range that can touch it.

Specifications:

Gain Ratios Gear Inches
26 27.8% 36 21.7% 46 26 27.8% 36 21.7% 46
11 4.73 6.55 8.36 11 63 88 112
15.4%
13 4.00 5.54 7.08 13 54 74 95
13.3%
15 3.47 4.80 6.13 15 46 64 82
16.7%
18 2.89 4.00 5.11 18 39 54 68
14.3%
21 2.48 3.43 4.38 21 33 46 59
12.5%
24 2.17 3.00 3.83 24 29 40 51
14.3%
28 1.86 2.57 3.29 28 25 34 44

Bianchi Volpe specs

Note: this chart was scanned from the Bianchi catalogue, which has a misprint:
the actual chainstay length (C) is 430 mm for all sizes.

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Copyright © 1997 Sheldon Brown

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Last Updated: by Harriet Fell