The Wilier marque calls to mind super-stylish Tour de France road bikes more than trail-tuned mountain bikes but the Wilier 101XN sees Wilier catching a serious case of 29er fever. If your taste in bikes is for head-down, no-nonsense, high-speed cross-country boogie the infectiously fast Wilier 101XN should be on your list of bikes to demo before next season.
The new 101XN is Wilier's flagship carbon fibre hardtail and incorporates many of the carbon manufacturing techniques and processes used to make their road frames. Wilier are really pushing at the boundary of what is possible with carbon, their road bikes being among the lightest and stiffest in the world. They've put all this to good use in the 101 XN making it a serious contender for the hotly-contested carbon 29er go-faster hardtail sector.
To give us a taste of how the frame performs, UK importer ATB Sales built up our test Wilier 101XN with a ‘privateer racer’ spec of race-ready kit, with a 2×10 SRAM X.O groupset, RockShox Reba fork, carbon Ritchey finishing kit, Fulcrum Red Power 29 XL wheels, Geax tyres and a Selle Italia SLR saddle.
Where Wilier's coming from
There are six new hardtails in Wilier's range for 2013, though it's not certain that all of them will be available in the UK. The 101XN here is the range-topping model.
As it happens, Wilier have been making mountain bikes for a while but UK importer ATB Sales also has Whyte and Marin so has concentrated on Wilier's road bikes.
That changed with the Wilier 101 XN 29er, however. “When the whole 29er concept came in Wilier set about taking all the stuff they learnt about making high-end road frames and started working on this," said Kevin Izzard, Wilier brand manager at ATB Sales. That meant Wilier was offering a something different from Marin and Whyte, and when you get the Wilier 101XN out of the box it's obvious what that is.
At the launch earlier this year, Kevin Izzard told us: “It's a pretty fast bike which climbs incredibly well, partly because it's light - this builds up at 10.5kg, with not an incredibly light wheelset on there. It's a nice handling bike and it's quite involving. Some 29ers can be quite earnest and serious but you can forget this is a 29er quite quickly."
The ride: fast, fast and faster
Any new frame aimed at 29er-riding cross-country racers and go-faster riders has to offer a light, stiff and blisteringly fast ride if it hopes to win fans from other well known companies. What's immediately noticeable when you take off on the Wilier 101XN is that it has none of the ponderousness usually associated with 29ers. Instead it offers scintillating speed combined with handling that won't scare the living daylights out of you.
Stamp on the pedals and the frame responds with virtually no hesitation. In fact the frame is so stiff that it highlights a degree of flex in the SRAM XO chainset. Approach any hill and it'll blast and batter its way up with incredible ferocity. It might not offer the traction of a full suspension bike on very technical climbs but it makes up for that with such a light build that it will just scud across the top of roots and rocks.
When it comes to slower, steep climbs the Wilier 101XN still excels as you're able to place the tyres with pinpoint accuracy to get up and over and around any obstacle in your way.
It takes a bit of getting used to, does the Wilier 101XN, especially if you haven't ridden such a focused carbon hardtail in a while. On my first few rides I was getting all out of shape and squirrelly through the corners just because I was going so much faster than I anticipated. Dial in your reflexes and after a while you're connecting the corners with eye-watering speed.
There's a long hill on my local trail that's a bit of a drag on a heavy bike or if you're not feeling very fit. The Wilier had me out of the saddle and stomping up every metre of it, and by the time I reached the top I had recorded a new personal best. And I hadn't really been putting in 100 percent effort either, it's that quick. As a climbing machine then, the Wilier blew my socks off.
As hardtails go, this one is low and steep at the front with geometry designed around an 80mm fork. The head angle on our medium sample is 71.3 degrees with a 73 degree seat angle. The head tube is 10cm tall, the chainstays are 17.2in. The frame weight is a claimed 1.08kg (2.38lbs).
This all serves to make the Wilier 101XN fast in every sense of the word. Its responses are sharp and its handling is pointy and lively.
It can get a bit nervous and loose at high speeds on loose and very rough trails, where even the advantage of the bigger wheels isn't enough to smooth things out. As such it rattles and skips over the bumps. I ran the tyres a little softer (a tubeless setup would be perfect here) and the large volume rubber helped cushion some of the rougher trails.
The frame details
Wilier's expertise in carbon fiber really shines in the 101XN . It's a wonderfully made frame with super-aggressive looks. It's made from 60-ton carbon fibre with some interesting design features, all finished off with a daring green paint job. The colour scheme is a bit Marmite and the Bikemagic office was about evenly divided between lovers and haters.
The down tube is massive and is profiled with squared off sides. The top tube has a dramatic drop from the head tube to the seat tube, giving stacks of standover clearance, useful when you're chuckling the bike around in tight corners. It's also flattened across the top and flows into a short, tapered head tube that is reinforced with a lot of carbon behind it.
Its compact rear triangle consists of slender seat stays that flow around the seat tube, forming an oversized junction. The stays are kinked at the dropouts and the rear brake caliper bolts to a post mount inside the triangle. The dropouts are replaceable and there's scope for fitting a bolt-through axle, or even going singlespeed. The driveside dropout can be compatible with Shimano's new Direct Mount.
There's loads of mud clearance and ample space for the large volume 2.2in tyres fitted to our test bike.
The asymmetric chainstays feature a lowered drive side stay to help combat the forces that attempt to twist and deform the rear triangle when you stomp on the pedals. The seat tube is the most 'normal' tube on the frame with a traditional round profile. It flares hugely into the wide bottom bracket where a Press-Fit 92 BB is fitted. A regular clamp-on front mech is fitted.
Wilier realise you might not want to scratch your nice new carbon frame and so have fitted an integrated frame protection on the down tube. Both gear cables are routed internally, threading into the top of the down tube through a specially designed plate. An Allen bolt holds it in place and it can be removed to make replacing cables easier.
The frame is future-proofed for electronic off-road shifting systems, whenever they start to appear. The rear brake hose is slung underneath the top tube.
Wilier will be offering two builds. There's a version with Shimano XTR, a RockShox SID RL fork and Fulcrum Red Power XL wheels costing £3,999, and one with Shimano Deore XT, FSA Afterburner cranks, RockShox Reba fork and fulcrum Red Power XL wheels for £2,750. Or you can buy the frame on its own for £1,699.
The Wilier 101XN has race bike written all over it (literally, there's stickers everywhere) but I had some of my most fun trail rides in a while on this bike. The speed is addictive, and the way it delivers that speed requires focus and dedication that, if you're prepared to master, is very rewarding. It's a bike that demands that you get involved, you don't just sit back and let the bike do all the work for you, you get out what you put in. That positive return on your effort makes the Wilier a fantastic bike.
However, Wilier have put the 101XN directly in the firing line of two of the most popular carbon 29r hardtails, the Niner Air 9 and Santa Cruz Highball carbon. Tough competition indeed but we think the Wilier puts up a good fight and turns out to be an alternative well worthy of consideration.
Pretty uncompromising ride
What Wilier says about the 101XN
It is undeniable that racing is found within the DNA of every Wilier. All bikes bearing the halberd logo must perform flawlessly, built upon the same material and technology innovations, as well as characteristics of steerability and light weight.
That applies as much to Wilier off-road models as it does to our road racing machines, including our new 29er, the 101XN. This new trail speed machine boasts many of the same features that make the Cento1 SR our latest road superbike.