The Wilier Cento 1 Air Ultegra aero road bike ridden, reviewed and rated
Wilier Cento 1 Air Ultegra
We were big fans of the Wilier Twin Blade time trial bike when we tested it earlier this year and the brand new Cento 1 Air shares a lot of its shapes and similarities. But how does it perform?
Frame and fork
While not as revolutionary as the twin-forked Twin Blade TT bike, the Cento 1 Air is still a striking machine. The taper legged and steerer Integrated Fork dovetails into the deep, flat backed Kammtail-style down-tube. Cables are routed internally via a big bolt in the 3D Integrated Cable Routing Plate section on the down-tube that comes with cable adjusters and is designed to create the cleanest possible cable alignment through the frame.
The aero seatpost clamp is overbuilt too, with both an internal wedge and external clamp system holding the Ritchey-made carbon post in place. Even the rear exit for the internally routed chainstay cable is built into a super stiff, replaceable 3D dropout and there’s a Di2 wiring port alongside the conventional cable exit.
While the front end is based on chunky geometric tube shapes, the rear end seems to be clearly based on the Twin Blade. The shelved junction between deep-bladed seatstays and wheelhugger seat-tube helps to shroud the conventionally mounted rear brake. The super deep asymmetric chainstays also form a second shelf above the wide-stance, Press-Fit 386 Evo bottom bracket.
As you’d hope from the name, the Cento 1 Air Ultegra comes with a complete set of Ultegra 11-speed gears, cassette, chain and STI combined shifters. To be honest we couldn’t feel a big difference in shifting performance due to the super clean internal routing, but that’s likely to become more obvious. Wheels are smooth but heavy Shimano RS21s, wrapped in durable but sparkle-free Rubino Pro tyres.
They’re churned round by a carbon-armed FSA SLK chainset, which uses the oversized and extra wide 386 Evo bottom bracket standard. FSA also provide the Wilier branded brakes, which are OK but nowhere near as powerful or controlled as Ultegra brakes.
The other Wilier-branded kit also caused grumbles among some of our testers. The San Marco Concor saddle is very firm and super narrow, so you’re going to need an armour-plated backside (and other areas) to cope with rolling forward into an extended aero tuck on it without risking tears. The super-long FSA/Wilier stem and narrow FSA/Wilier bar also stick a straight jacket over the otherwise neutral steering.
The constricted steering and savage saddle are obvious straight away, especially if you’re used to contacting the bike via something broader at either end. Learn to lean the bike rather than physically steer though and the handling is reasonably accurate and obedient, although we always felt perched on top of rather than settled comfortably into the Wilier ride position whatever we did with spacers and saddle shifts.
Beware sudden movements, particularly if you’re standing up out of the saddle on a low-speed climb. Despite the extra flex in the long saddle, the Wilier felt sharp through our hands on rough sections too, with a properly sharp jab if we caught a pothole.
While the Twin Blade surprised us with a cultured and smooth rear-end feel, we certainly didn’t experience that with the Cento 1 Air, which testers confirmed as stiff to the point of regular harshness. The saddle and relatively wooden feeling tyres don’t help its cause on chattery surfaces.
It’s well worth noting that Wilier provides a custom build service where you can match your chosen frame with a wide ranging component menu.
Given the stiffness of the frame and its proven aero credentials you won’t be surprised to hear that flat straight-line speed is a definite strength of the Wilier. The stem and bar create a naturally stretched and narrow position for aero friendliness. The occasional savage clang through the sole of your shoe as the freehub engages after freewheeling leaves no doubt that your precious power is going straight onto the road where it should.
The high wheel-weight and relatively high overall mass means it’s not particularly keen to pick up the pace on climbs though and any kind of slope will eventually dent its speed. The frame itself is relatively light however, so it’s just a case of digging deeper into your pockets if you want a more contour competent Cento Air.
+ High frame stiffness for power transfer and steering precision
+ Naturally long and narrow aero position
– Stiff frame creates harsh ride made worse by saddle and tyre choice
– Narrow bars and super-long stem create a constrictive steering set-up