Bike Test: Bianchi Nitron 9.3 Carbon Hardtail
Bianchi Nitron 9.3 Carbon Hardtail
Bianchi is most recognized for its road bikes and rich Tour de France history. Sponsoring icons such as Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani made the brand a household name in the road racing world, yet Bianchi is an overlooked company in the American mountain bike industry. At the global level, Bianchi is a powerhouse, with a cross-country legacy built on the careers of Julian Absalon and Jose Antonio Hermida. Between the two of them, every prestigious title in cross-country is accounted for. Absalon achieved victories in the World Cup, World Championships and Olympics, while Hermida won World Championship, World Cup and European Championship titles. These two legends dominated the sport on their Bianchis. Bianchi is the oldest bicycle manufacturing company still in existence, celebrating its 125th anniversary. It is hard to believe how much Bianchi has transformed from the days of steel-and-wood penny-farthings (the first machines to be called bicycles) to the carbon rocket ships that we ride today.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Nitron 9.3 is a traditionally designed cross-country mountain bike. With the huge growth of NICA, it might just be the perfect time for this affordable race machine to hit the U.S. market. The Nitron loves to climb, and it climbs well. Performing best on smooth terrain, the more the trail ramps up, the more this bike wants to go. Lean cross-country racers will feel most at home on this bike, along with cross-training roadies. The Nitron gives you that sense of being a pure climber; imagine yourself as a juiced-up Marco Pantani as the bike thrusts forward and accelerates under you. The Nitron allows you to power down on the steepest climbs and leave your friends in the dust.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Bianchi developed its Infinito CV carbon from the patented Countervail integrated vibration-canceling system for cycling. This carbon fiber layup cancels vibration while increasing the stiffness and strength of the entire frame. The unique tubing shapes make this frame both functional and sexy, exactly what you would expect from an iconic Italian brand. This compliant layup is matched to a Fox Rhythm 32, 100mm-travel fork with remote lockout. There are plenty of internal cable routing options that will make adding an internal dropper post a breeze in the future.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The Bianchi Nitron 9.3 is a carbon hardtail; there is no mistaking that. It has one sole purpose—to power down on the pedals and go fast. With traditional cross-country geometry, it is basically a trail-worthy road bike. The SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain is exceptional for a budget-priced group. We were impressed by its accuracy and did not experience a single mis-shift or mechanical issue.
It is paired with Shimano brakes. One of the bigger surprises was the choice of Kenda Honey Badger tires. Our first visual impression made us think the bike was lightweight but that it might have compromised traction. This was not the case at all. The rear tire hooked up really well on extremely steep climbs without breaking loose; we are talking about 30-percent grades and steeper. Mind you, this is with a tube at 30 psi, not a tubeless setup with less pressure and far more compliance. The front-tire traction held confidently on all the hard-pack turns we sent it through. In the sand, these tires come up a little short, but that is not what these low-knobby cross-country tires—or this bike for that matter—were designed for.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Setting sag: We started by setting the sag of the fork at 25 percent, but blew through the travel constantly during our first test session. On the second ride we abandoned the sag measurements and added 10 psi. This was considerably better, but we still experienced a consistent bottom-out of the fork through rougher terrain. On the third ride we added an additional 15 psi and it finally felt right. The rebound was set fast—at 10 clicks from the slowest setting—which seemed to work well with our higher air pressure.
Moving out: On smooth trails, this bike is a dream. The seatstays flex well, making the ride compliant, especially for a hardtail. On short-track courses and steep climbs, this bike was at home and did an amazing job. The Nitron has “traditional geometry,” meaning a taller standover height and shorter top tube. It uses a long, 90mm stem to extend the reach. This allows for proper bike fit, but made the steering seem a little fast, which resulted in less stability at higher speeds.
Ethan Carter runs the Nitron through the turn, NICA style.
Climbing: The Nitron is a capable climbing machine with an ergonomic and comfortable fit. The bike surges forward with every crank and carries momentum well. The bottom bracket height provides a low center of gravity, but not so low that you constantly strike your pedals on the ground. The short chainstays seem to make this bike feel more efficient while climbing and keep the rear wheel seated under you with minimal traction loss.
Cornering: Long stems have typically been the standard in cross-country. Our Nitron came with a 90mm stem and an extremely narrow 720mm-wide handlebar. This combination is very twitchy, and it becomes more noticeable the faster you go. This became even more apparent on loose sand and gravel. The Nitron corners best on hardpack and smooth terrain, but requires its rider to load the pedals for additional traction. When you are on the brakes diving in a turn, the confidence diminishes due to the bars being far in front of the head tube, which places the majority of rider weight on the front tire.
Descending: The Nitron actually descends decently for a hardtail with traditional geometry. The 29-inch wheels are advantageous, as the pneumatics of the tires and the bigger radius lessens the small bumps and bridges over the bigger ruts. The lack of a dropper post is a huge hindrance while descending. This bike would absolutely be more capable, especially while descending and cornering, with a lowered saddle. We found the rigid seatpost forced us to ride with our torso elevated, which eliminated our confidence while attacking rooted, rocky or steep descents.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Wider bars would be the first thing we’d add to the Nitron. We’d even recommend shortening the stem 10–20mm for handling purposes. There is a fine line between climbing efficiency and descending ability. A compromise on either side will have to be made. Second, we’d invest in tubeless valves and sealant so we could convert the wheels to tubeless. This would allow us to run a little less air pressure without the risk of pinch flats and would provide a much more compliant ride. A dropper post is a musthave these days. It allows riders to get lower during corners and descents.
The Nitron is made for riders who love climbing more than they enjoy descending. It’s more than capable of handling rough terrain, but it requires extra attention and care to do so successfully. With that said, the Nitron is a rocket ship on mellower cross-country courses, thanks to its efficient pedaling platform. Considering the components, weight and styling of this bike, we believe a rider looking for a traditional hardtail will be more than pleased with Bianchi’s Nitron 9.3.
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