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Tech-Redux: Wilier Zero.7

From issue 11 (October 2011)

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Do your eyes roll back in your head and you hear a loud buzzing sound in your ears when people talk about new bottom bracket standards? We are with you. We’ve ridden standard, run-of-the-mill, external bearing bottom brackets in great bikes. We’ve raced square taper bottom brackets and never thought, “I would have won that race if only there was a new bottom bracket standard!” This, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t appreciable gains to be made with wider, stiffer, and lighter bottom brackets, it just means it’s not the primary feature that delivers performance—and it certainly isn’t sexy.

It is for this reason we think the BB386 EVO, standard in Wilier-Triestina’s all-new Zero.7, as great as it may be, has stolen some thunder from the new bike. The Zero.7 is replacing the Cento1, after all. The Cento1 was painstakingly developed by Wilier over the last seven years, becoming one of the finest and most respected bikes in the peloton. The reputation Wilier now holds as one of the best manufacturers in the world was built largely on the Cento1’s back. Replacing that with a wholly new bike is big news. So, to let a new bottom bracket standard usurp that limelight doesn’t seem right.

Creating a new standard
Wilier’s goal for the new bike was very simple: create a new standard for race bikes. We said simple, not easy or humble. We typically write this kind of talk off to hyperbole-inventing marketing men, not engineers. With the Cento1 in their back pocket, we take a statement like this seriously from Wilier. How did the Italian’s go about trying to achieve this?

The first item on the checklist was weight, and a fully painted medium Zero.7 weighs less than 800 grams, which is where the name comes from. Put it on the scale and it will say 0.799 kilos at worst while its advertised weight is 750 grams. With Cannondale and Cervélo doing battle in under-700-gram territory, this number doesn’t set a new standard for race bikes, but it does set a new standard for Italian race bikes. Wilier first began experimenting with super light weight on the Cento1 Superleggera and those lessons have been utilized from page one of the Zero.7’s design.

The primary building block of the Zero.7 is 60-ton carbon. The reality of this high modulus material is that along with its stiffness and lack of mass comes a brittle nature. To make it reliable and more rideable a lot of lower modulus carbon was blended into the Cento1’s frame, which upped the weight. For the Zero.7, Wilier found a way around this using two novel technologies, nano-particles and something called Special Elastic Infiltrated Film. Nano additives we know, Bianchi uses them, as do a few other manufacturers. They give the resin itself structure, stopping micro-cracks between carbon layers from occurring and making the bike more robust overall. The elastic film Wilier uses is laid up within the mold, between carbon layers, and according to Wilier reduces vibration and adds strength—in short, the things lower modulus carbon does but with less weight. Zipp has been using similar viscoelastic technology successfully for years in their wheels and handlebars.

While these are the key features that allow Wilier to go so light, there are a slew of other technologies at work on the bike. The bike uses Large Inflated Tube technology in place of the standard bladder typically used in a monocoque construction and Wilier claims it produces a more even compaction of the carbon layers, similar to some of the smooth interior wall technologies other manufacturers use. The rear dropouts are molded as one piece with the rest of the rear triangle, which saves weight over glued or bolted dropouts. While the steer tube is tapered Wilier found that with the stiffer carbon blend of the Zero.7 they could use a one and one-eighth to one and one-quarter steer tube instead of the more common one and one-half-inch lower bearing and still get the desired lateral stiffness with more compliance, front to back. Like the Cento1 the bike has asymmetric rear chain stays, optimized for power transfer on the drive side.

There are two features that appear to be slight retreats where technology is concerned, one we love and one we are not thrilled with. Instead of the integrated seat mast of the Cento1, Wilier has utilized a standard 31.6 seat post. We think this is a move in the right direction and more evidence that the integrated seat mast will soon be a relic of the past.

The other feature is completely external cable routing. Wilier feels any benefits to internal cables are offset by the extra weight reinforcing the drilled frame requires but we can’t help but think it looks a bit old fashioned these days.

Bottom brackets and real estate
We avoided it as long as we could, but now it’s time to talk bottom brackets. The BB386 EVO standard was created in partnership with FSA and BH bikes. It uses a 30-mm spindle like a BB30, but is a whopping 86.5 mm wide with a 46-mm BB opening. What is interesting is the new standard is designed to make frames stiffer not cranks. The wide BB shell simply provides more real estate for big down tubes and chain stays, which are really the foundation of a bike’s stiffness. While Trek has been running even wider 90-mm BB shells on their Madones for a few years, it is a proprietary standard. BB386 EVO is open standard and FSA certainly hopes it catches on.

So what does this new standard deliver on the road? It’s hard to quantify exactly what is responsible for a bike’s power transfer, and on any bike, the Zero.7 included, there are numerous factors that help create it. How good is that power transfer on the Zero.7? The best we have ever ridden, maybe the best ever made. The effect of stamping on the pedals and feeling the sensation of instant drive is scintillating on the Zero.7. We frequently say a bike delivers 100-percent of your power to the road. We won’t say that anymore, not unless we are riding a Wilier Zero.7. It has set a new bar we will measure every other bike against. There is simply no tendency for the crank to want to tuck under, even a millimeter, through the entire power phase of the pedal stroke. At efforts of up to 1,600 watts the Zero.7 asked for more power to turn into speed. Is the new BB responsible for all of this? Of course not. Is it responsible for some of it? Probably. Whatever created it, we want it.

Here’s the other thing about the Zero.7. That power came in an XXL package that weighed 14.8 lbs with pedals and cages built with Super Record 11, Fulcrum Racing Zero 2-Way Fit wheels, FSA cockpit, and unlike some of the dire predictions on the web, the bike came with Super Record cranks, not FSA. Take the power transfer, combine it with the light weight, and the Zero.7 is deadly while climbing. Throw out your compact, get rid of your 28-tooth cog. You won’t need them. What you will need is new riding buddies after you make them suffer like dogs when the road points up.

Wilier has invested this new racer with angles slightly steeper than what may be thought of as traditionally Italian, at least on the larger sizes. At 73.5 degrees, the head tube is the same angle as the Cento1 but the Zero.7 has a considerably shorter head tube and slightly longer chain stays. It creates a more high-strung feeling in the cockpit with a lot of weight forward. While perfect for the rider looking to flick from wheel to wheel in a tight bunch, or change lines quickly sprinting for the line, a rider looking for stability at high speed or a bike that will stick to its line automatically descending will find the Zero.7 requires more of a steady hand than they might like.

All of this performance would be useless to mere mortals—also known as consumers—if it beat us to pieces. The Cento1 set an incredibly high bar when it came to creating power that played nicely with compliance and the Zero.7 actually takes this even farther. The special elastic layer could be responsible for this, but whatever it is, after five hours of race simulation through Southern California mountains we had no complaints. This seems to be a trend with the latest elite-level carbon bikes; and we finally get a measure of true compliance with all of that power transfer. If this is the direction carbon development is taking we couldn’t be happier.

The rider
You want to experience what just may be the greatest level of power transfer achieved in a road frame. You like that power in a tight and aggressive package that makes no bones about being high strung and race-ready. But you’re greedy and want some long mile comfort with it and are prepared to pay handsomely to get it.

The Bottom Line
Price: $5,499 (frameset only); $12,000 (as tested)
Size tested: XXL
Weight: 14.8 lbs with TIME I-Clic pedals and Elite
carbon cages
Build: Campagnolo Super Record 11 groupset; Fulcrum Racing Zero 2-Way Fit wheels; FSA Nano-K bars and K-Force Light stem; Ritchey SuperLogic seat post and San Marco Concor Racing saddle

From issue 11. Buy it here.