Product courtesy of Pass:one Bicycles

Introduction

Taking the cue from its proven range of time trial (TT) and triathlon bikes, Wilier Triestina have rolled out an aero road bike frameset for the new year – one touted to be the last word when it comes to mating aerodynamic efficiency with handling and compliance. The Imperiale is a cumulation of the Italian manufacturer’s quest to design a bike “that rides as well as it slices through the air”.

With input from aero bike guru John Cobb, the Imperiale fills the gap between Wilier’s road and TT line of bikes using a philosophy that is not merely content with ‘ovalizing tubing and hiding components’ in order to cheat the wind. Attention to aerodynamic fundamentals and a ‘start from scratch’ approach have resulted in a frame that sports an integrated seattube & seatpost, mated with a completely new tapered-steerer fork.

The 2010 Imperiale will be available in six sizes and two colours – White/Silver and Carbon/Red.

First Impressions

The Wilier Triestina Imperiale frameset has unique lines and features not found on any other bikes in the Wilier road stable. But a quick glance at Wilier TT and triathlon line (The Cento1 Crono and Tri-Crono) reveals the inspiration behind overall frame shape, particularly the cut-out on the leading edge of the downtube. A rear wheel cut-out on the seattube further enhances the TT-like appearance of the bike.

It is somewhat surprising to find that shifter cable routing is external, given the TT influence. All cable mounts blend seamlessly with the frame’s unidirectional carbon finish, reflecting a well thought-out layout for minimal shifting friction and enhanced aesthetics.

For drivetrain stiffness, the Imperiale sports a beefy 94mm bottom bracket (BB) shell, optimized for the newest line of Campagnolo and Fulcrum ‘press-fit bearing’ BB cranksets. Wilier has not forsaken cross-brand compatibility, and have adapters and proprietary bearings available for SRAM and Shimano cranksets. From the BB, the carbon tapers, then widens again to an equally impressive fin-like chainstay. The alloy rear-derailleur drop-out is replaceable while the non-drive side dropout is carbon. The elegantly curved and aero-profiled seatstays join the toptube at the seattube junction at what can best be described as a massive wedge-shaped block of carbon fibre – the seattube junction.

The fork is aero-profiled and would not look out of place on a TT bike. Taking the cue from increasing numbers of manufacturers (for both their mountain and road bike lines), the Imperiale fork has a tapered steerer tube that is mated to the frame via an integrated 1⅛” to 1¼” integrated headset.

Our test ride was a small-sized frame in a racy-looking red and black paint scheme. It came fitted with Campagnolo Chorus 10-Speed kit – with upgraded Swissstop brake pads, colour-complimentary Fulcrum wheels, and the excellent San San Marco Regale Racing Team saddle. The already ample front end stiffness was further enhanced by an alloy Deda handlebar and 120mm alloy stem. A bonus feature was the front derailleur-mounted K-Edge chain catcher (to be reviewed separately in an upcoming article) – a welcome widget that prevents the chain from causing scratches on the bottom bracket shell in the event of a dropped chain – with eye-catching, red-anodized aesthetic appeal to boot.

The Ride

We were impressed by the integrated aero seattube, which was capped with a Ritchey WCS rail-type saddle clamp. Because of this, adjustability of fore/aft positioning and saddle angle is a cinch and very convenient. This also allows the Imperiale to have two levels of saddle fore/aft adjustability – allowing it to go from a traditional 73° seat angle to a steep triathlon-style 78°+, even for saddles with short rails. The seattube itself widens out the closer it gets to the BB, despite the rear wheel cut-out.

The monocoque tubing construction and curves on the frameset give the Imperiale very centred and well-behaved handling, especially on poor-quality roads. Painted lines and cracks on the road feel non-existent; on gravelly, uneven surfaces, the Imperiale soaks up the chatter without losing its footing. This rear triangle compliance is balanced with acceleration prowess. Energy loss and BB flex can be a problem when frames are built too lightly – not so for the Imperiale. It may not be the lightest frameset out there, but by virtue of its 40.5cm-long chainstays and its ample BB seattube junctions, the Imperiale’s power transfer characteristics ensures it will not come up short during frantic bunch sprints or sustained climbs up heady mountain roads.

Kudos has to go to the fork, headset and headtube construction with regards to the Imperiale’s precise handling. The fork blades are wide, plus torsionally and laterally stiff enough to not feel noodle-like. This is something that other high-end road bikes seem to neglect in the interest of weight savings. The S-sized Imperiale’s headtube is short (and race-oriented) at only 11.5cm – but its robustness and the tapered steerer really enhance steering responsiveness and confidence during sharp cornering, as well as off-the-saddle efforts during climbs and sprints.

A long day out on the Imperiale is a joy thanks to the compliance of the frame, coupled with the San Marco Regale saddle. This is a bike one could ride day-in, day-out – through an entire week – and not feel beat up at the end of it all.

Conclusion

Discerning Italian-bike aficionados take note: Wilier’s Imperiale is a workhorse that will allow one to gobble up the kilometers in comfort and style. This is not a bike built merely for straight-line, into-the-wind efforts; nor triathletes preoccupied wholly with time trial-style riding – it is a machine that can do so much more with a more experienced pilot. Doubtless, there are those who will appreciate the John Cobb aerodynamic detailing of the frameset; but it is truly a frameset that can climb as well as it sprints, with the added bonus of unique tubing shapes that are effective as they are eye-catching.

Extremely versatile and at home at the local sprint triathlon or criterium as well as all-day rides with big mountains and high winds, the Imperiale steps up to the challenge of integrating superior ride comfort with excellent handling and aerodynamic characteristics.