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On test: Wilier Cento, January 3, 2008

A thoroughly modern design from one of Italy's oldest

Wilier Triestina marks its hundredth anniversary
Photo ©: Wilier Triestina
(Click for larger image)

Among an increasingly wide range of bicycle designs, there is no doubt that Italy is one of the first countries that springs to mind when thinking of more traditional styles. So what would you expect from a company founded one hundred years ago? Wilier Triestina marks its centenary with the Cento, a top-of-the-range, state-of-the art bike especially aimed at the best riders and the most demanding cyclists in the world. Richard Mille takes the Cento out in sunny Provence to see if it fulfils all of its promises.

Meet the Cento

Having had the pleasure of testing the Wilier Le Roi used by the Cofidis team in 2005, the prospect of getting my hands on this year's Lampre-Fondital team machine was admittedly very exciting. At first glance, the new Wilier Cento is clearly more than just a simple evolution of the Le Roi. The company has abandoned classical style and thoroughly embraced modernism for its 100th anniversary machine and provided it with a novel and striking appearance.

The aesthetics come with some interesting design elements: according to Wilier, the monocoque Cento uses a mix of various types of carbon fiber in a "patented technique" that supposedly allows for more precisely control tube wall thicknesses to yield an improved ride quality. The arch of the top tube continues smoothly all the way through the seat stays to the carbon fiber dropouts, while 'High Pressure Carbon' chain stays help guarantee a responsive drivetrain. Perhaps the most intriguing shape on the Cento is square profiled 'Easy Driver Box System' head tube, which Wilier says delivers a more precise handling front end. Wilier fits the Cento with a threaded aluminum bottom bracket insert but the frame is otherwise all carbon.

The oversized down tube
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)
Aggressively curved chain stays
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)
Campagnolo's latest Record group
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)
The Cento integrated head tube looks normal enough from this angle…
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)
…but is distinctly squared off in profile.
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)
The Ritchey WCS Carbon seatpost
Photo ©: Richard Mille
(Click for larger image)

Claimed weight for a bare frame is just 900g, and with its accompanying 300g Mizuno fork one always has to wonder about its durability. Even though it passed the most demanding tests, I happen to know that its predecessor, the Le Roi, did suffer a few teething troubles in the Cofidis team. Let's hope that, as was guaranteed by a mechanic of Lampre-Fondital, improvements have been integrated into this latest model. At the very least, no incidents have been reported yet this season which bodes well for the Cento's reliability.

Finishing kit

The model I tested was mainly black with hints of red and pearly white which gave the whole frame quite a luxurious look, and the anodized red colour of the Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels is a perfect match. The Italian theme continues with a Campagnolo Record group, including the latest Ergopower QS shifters, D-Skeleton caliper brakes (with differential front and back force for better braking distribution), rear derailleur, compact Ultra-Torque cranks, and the accompanying QS CT front derailleur.

The ITM 101 carbon fiber stem and handlebars outfit the front end, with the latter utilizing a classic, rather than anatomic, drop. The Fulcrum wheels are wrapped with a pair of Vittoria Open Corsa Evo KS clinchers and a second generation Selle Italia Thoork saddle provides the seating arrangements. The bike would be a 100% authentic Italian product (at least in name, not country of manufacture) were it not for the Ritchey WCS Carbon seatpost and headset, and Tacx Tao bottle cage. Total weight as tested was right at 6.8kg (15.0lb), without pedals.

So what does one hundred years of history feel like on the road?

Given the frame's oversized tubing and aggressive shaping, I expected the frame to be rather rigid and a little uncomfortable but was pleasantly surprised. Similar to the Le Roi, the Cento is a lively bike that accelerates and climbs well without sacrificing rider comfort. Moreover, it remains well composed on nearly every typical road surface, so long as you push it to the limits, and the fixed-to-the-gear feeling inspired confidence in fast corners. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test it on very long descents, but it was brilliant on middle-sized mountain routes.

Not surprisingly, the top-end componentry performed very well. The Fulcrum clinchers are not only gorgeous in design and lightweight at just 1425g a pair, but also felt extremely efficient. When surging forward or diving through curves, the wheels responded in a lively fashion, without losing the "planted in the ground" feeling of security. Road holding with the Vittoria clincher was flawless in the dry - tragically the weather in Provence didn't allow for testing in the wet. Overall, the wheelset's level of performance compares well with those of other top brands often seen in amateur pelotons, but they have the advantage of being more affordable and come in a range of flashy colours for those that place a premium on style.

Campagnolo appears to have practically perfected the art of gear shifting of gears. Rear shifting was spot-on as usual, and the short front lever travel and optimised-for-compact front derailleur eliminated any hint of ghost shifting up front. The 34/50T chainrings and 13-26T allowed me to feel comfortable on all kinds of climbs, but it wouldn't be an ideal combination for competition. Buyers looking for more of a truly race-ready machine would likely want to go with a more aggressive set of ratios.

The Selle Italia Thoork saddle proved to be a very good compromise in terms of comfort and weight at 210g. The recently introduced Axial Pivot System (also found on the Signo) allows the saddle to flex with the rider's pedalling movement instead of resisting it, similar in concept to what fi'zi:k has promoted on its Wing Flex saddles for some time now. As it turns out, the system does seem to confer an added feeling of power and, quite frankly, a noteworthy feeling of comfort. Moreover, its atypical look blends very well with the curvy style of the Cento.

Does it all add up?

Wilier has managed to celebrate its centenary with a bike worthy of the company's storied history. It's a visual departure from its predecessor, but the Cento builds on the Le Roi's positive attributes while supposedly fixing its negative ones. If the look captures your emotional attention, you can rest assured that the Cento will also deliver the performance on the road to match.

Weight: 6.8kg (15.0lb), as tested, without pedals
Price: US$4299.99 (frame, fork, headset, headset, seatpost, and front derailleur clamp)
Pros: High performance matched with comfortable ride, modern looks
Cons: The design may be too modern for some
Cyclingnews rating: Click for key to ratings
More info: www.wilier.it

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Wilier Triestina

Images by Richard Mille

Images by Wilier Triestina

Images by Richard Mille

Frame: Wilier Cento, monocoque carbon fiber with carbon dropouts and Easy Driver Box System head tube
Available sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
Fork: Mizuno monocoque carbon
Headset: Ritchey WCS Carbon Drop-In
Stem: ITM 101
Handlebars: ITM 101 Classica
Tape/grips: Wilier cork
Front brake: Campagnolo Record D-Skeleton
Rear brake: Campagnolo Record D-Skeleton
Brake levers: Campagnolo Record QS Ergopower
Front derailleur: Campagnolo Record QS CT
Rear derailleur: Campagnolo Record

Shift levers: Campagnolo Record QS Ergopower
Cassette: Campagnolo Record UD steel/titanium, 13-26T
Chain: Campagnolo Record Ultra Narrow
Crankset: Campagnolo Record CT Ultra-Torque, 34/50T
Bottom bracket: Campagnolo Record Ultra-Torque
Pedals: Look Keo
Wheelset: Fulcrum Racing Zero
Front tire: Vittoria Open Corso EVO KS 700x23c
Rear tire: Vittoria Open Corso EVO KS 700x23c
Saddle: Selle Italia Thoork
Seat post: Ritchey WCS Carbon
Other: Tacx Tao bottle cage