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Tech-Redux: Wilier Cento1

From issue 4 (2011)

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As we near our 100th issue, we take a look back at some of the tech we covered including a boatload of sweet bikes. This Wilier is from issue 4. FUN FACT: $3,999 (for the frameset) in 2011 is equivalent to about $4,688 in 2020 money (according to saving.org)!

With the legendary Ghisallo already in his legs, the Little Prince responded to a move on the Civiglio by the American, Chris Horner, with less than 20 kilometers to race. With the Olympic champion bridging across and the Italian, Failli, having his best day in years, the Little Prince knew he needed to reach the line alone. With only the 2.8 kilometer climb of San Fermi remaining, the Little Prince was unsure if it would prove difficult enough to inflict the suffering necessary to banish his companions to the lower steps of the podium. He decided the move had to come now, on the hellishly technical descent of the Civiglio.

Seemingly designed by an angry toddler with a bowl spaghetti, the descent off the Civiglio wraps switchback upon switchback, with ancient stonewalls and killing drops where a shoulder should be. The Little Prince, the smallest rider in the break, proceeded to create a gap by carving lines down the Civiglio that would have made Michelangelo proud. It wasn’t legs or aerobic ability, it wasn’t even a complete disregard for the very present risk of fatal injury. The Little Prince rode two of the best descenders in the pro peloton off his back wheel with a supreme confidence in his own ability and his own equipment. He created nine seconds of space, nine seconds of thin air that might as well have been an hour. He was never seen again, soloing to victory at the Race of the Falling Leaves for the third time.

The race: the 2008 Giro d’Lombardia. The rider: Damiano Cunego. The bike: the brand-new Wilier Triestina Cento1. From that moment, we wanted to ride that bike. We needed to ride that bike.

46 tons and a rear reinvented. With only a slight update since its 2009 introduction, the 2011 Cento1 has a season or two under its belt. Wilier claims it has not toyed with the design much because they got it so right with the first incarnation. While this was initially written off as marketing speak, close inspection of the bike revealed just how ahead of its time it must have been three years ago.

Wilier’s carbon choice, a Mitsubishi blend, is described as 46 ton, that’s carbon that withstands 46 tons of pressure per square millimeter. This is essentially another way of describing the carbon’s modulus, a more common term in cycling tech circles, and 46 ton is certainly high modulus, while not the ultra high mod now utilized by Wilier for the SL version of the Cento1. Lower modulus carbon from Toray is used in areas of less stress and to dial in some compliance and dampening to offset the 46-ton stiffness. The 1k weave exposed by the paint scheme is simply perfect. No wrinkles, no folds. In fact, finding where one sheet ends and another begins is almost impossible.

The front end of the bike is as traditional as the Cento1 gets. A standard steer tube resides in a head tube that is quite narrow by today’s tapered standards. The subtly sculpted tube is rounded at the top before squaring off dramatically, as it blends seamlessly with the square crown of the straight blade monocoque fork, creating a structurally unified whole.  Both top and down tube mirror this trend. The top tube is round and slopes slightly to integrate with the seat stays, but more about the rear of the bike later. The down tube is a big, square affair with a pronounced rib beginning half way down its length to provide incredible stiffness as it flows into the oversized bottom bracket shell. That bottom bracket is a very well thought out detail. Instead of jumping on the BB30 bandwagon, Wilier devised their own way. The BB is extremely wide, but still accepts standard bearings, without the external cups. It provides much of the stiffness and weight savings of BB30, with a standard crankset.

This leads to the rear of the bike, where Wilier almost reinvented the entire concept of seat and chain stays. With all the drivetrain force isolated to the right side of the bike, the loads exerted on the chain stays are not equal. This is not news to frame builders and has been attacked in various ways for many years. Wilier spent an enormous amount time determining the best way to handle this, and revision after revision lead to the most profoundly asymmetrical stays on the market. Those asymmetric stays loop down before trending up to the dropouts, but the tubes don’t end there. The chain stays and seat stays are actually the same tubes. Looped up at the dropout, the chain stays become seat stays, which then integrate seamlessly into the top tube. This means more than half the frame is essentially one long tube, with uninterrupted carbon fibers creating a unified structure that creates power, dampens road vibrations, and promotes handling as a single entity. The design of this rear end has been so closely controlled that despite the six different sizes offered, each and every one of them gets the same super short 405mm chain stay length. That was the length determined to be optimum for the system and Wilier was unwilling to compromise on that for any size.

The seat tube and integrated seat mast are presented with a simple job: add the rider to the package. The seat tube flares out laterally (significantly) and transversely (slightly) as it meets the bottom bracket, helping to create the robust power center. The seat mast itself helps keep package weight down and ensures that Wilier controls every aspect of ride quality—and it comes with a nice fail-safe. Cut your mast too short, or sell your bike, and the entire mast can be chopped off and the frame used with a standard 31.6mm seat post.

The geometry of the Wilier Cento1 is described in two words: short and steep. Even our XXL frame has a wheelbase of 995mm. That is almost overlap-your-toe short. To be fair the XXL is really more like a 59cm frame with its 58.5cm effective top tube, but it is still a tight wheelbase. Tighter in fact than a 58cm Specialized Tarmac or Cannondale Super Six, two bikes renowned for crisp handling. Upon this chassis Wilier has put a rather tall head tube, which combines with the shorter top tube to create a more relaxed riding position than we have experienced with such a racy wheelbase. It’s still a race bike, but one that forgives less-than-perfect flexibility or a few extra pounds.

The Cento1 is not the lightest frame on the block and is not trying to be. The Superleggera version of the bike is designed for the scale with ultra high modulus 60-ton carbon and the stiff ride to go with it. The frame with ISP, mast topper, and front derailleur braze on is almost 1,200 grams. Heavy, right? Actually, considering some of those sub-1,000-gram frames require bearing cups, a front derailleur clamp, seat post, and seat clamp, they can easily surpass the 1,200-gram mark when compared apples to apples. Built with Campagnolo Super Record 11 and Shamal Ultra Wheels, our XXL test bike tipped the scales at 15 pounds, 7 ounces. That weight included pedals, cages, and computer. Very impressive.

Good legs and getting on the gas hard. The relaxed riding position at first had me a little confused by the Cento1. Without being draped over the bike in a race ready position, we had a hard time understanding why the bike had a reputation for handling so well. After a few race pace corners, I had to admit the bike could draw a tight and confident line. But it wasn’t until the bike was pointed downhill, on what is our benchmark descent, that it was possible to understand what the Cento1 could do.

High speed, off-camber corners, tight switchbacks, and decreasing radius turns come in rapid succession on this descent and claim more than a handful of inexperienced cyclists and crotch rocket enthusiasts every weekend. The Cento1 stayed incredibly calm and composed on the absolute limit. Its tight wheels and beautifully balanced handling do more than go where you point them, they seem to go where you think them. It is unquestionably the best-descending bike we have ever ridden with a standard steer tube, and better than the vast majority of tapered steer tube bikes.

Only one small concern was found. At race pace, when using a descent to get back on to a group, or driving out of the final corner in criterium, you need to get out of the saddle and on the gas before you exit the corner. That is often the difference between first and fifth. Riders on the XL or XXL Cento1, with a powerful sprint, may desire a bit more lateral stiffness out of the front end to confidently get on the gas, fast and hard.

The rear end of the bike, its unique unified construction, delivers pure speed. Twist the throttle wide open and the bike’s ProTour pedigree comes shining through. It has such an instantaneous sense of drive that simply accelerating from a stop sign is more than enough encouragement to stay on the gas and turn any quick spin into a high-velocity hammer session. When the road points up, the way the seat post and the stays interact provides some of the best in-the-saddle power transfer we have ever felt. The bike moves as one, letting your motor get down to business. The fairly relaxed position also helps keep that motor happy on those long, grinding climbs. On the short, punchy climbs, the Cento1 will jump up to speed as you stamp on the pedals, making you feel powerful and fit.

Now, we’ve ridden bikes with this kind of scintillating power transfer before. A few of the top, money-is-no-object racers posses it; a few rate even higher. But every one of those bikes is a pure race bike. Comfort is not in the design brief, and any compliance exists to make sure you can deliver a sprint at the end of a long day, not go home and mow the lawn. What makes the Cento1 so special, so brilliant, so surprising, is that it is genuinely comfortable. You feel the road, but you feel the entire structure of the frame simply erase any harsh feeling. It’s not just seat stays or chain stays flexing to give you comfort while they wallow under race load. The bike is balanced so precisely, front to back, that it manages to crash over the worst the road has to offer, like a bike designed for a weekend sportive rider while managing to accelerate up to speed like a bike designed for Alessandro Ballan to win a world championship. Which it did.

We’ve all had that sensation of good legs, when you hop out of the saddle and can go a little faster, a little longer. When you can turn a bigger gear on your local climb and it just doesn’t hurt. When you take a longer pull at the front and make your buddies suffer a bit more. The Cento1 seems to deliver good legs, thanks to the magical recipe of comfort and raw speed. We would like to personally thank whichever engineer was forced to make a deal with the devil to get these two disparate qualities to play together so nicely.

The rider. You want your ProTour-level power transfer with all-day comfort. The five-hour century is almost within your grasp. You take that timing chip at the grand fondo seriously. You race, and you race to win, but you need to be able function at home after the Saturday club ride. It’s not for you if you want a slammed stem, aggressive position, and could care less about compliance.

The Bottom Line.
Price: $3,999 (frame, fork, headset, and mast topper)
Size tested: XXL
Group: Campagnolo Super Record 11
Wheelset: Campagnolo Shamal Ultra
Weight: 15.7 lbs. (with pedals, cages, and computer)

From issue 4. SOLD OUT.