Bianchi Arcadex gravel bike review | Ugly duckling or future classic?

Freda Walters

The Bianchi Arcadex is a full carbon gravel bike from a storied Italian bike maker better know for its premium road racers. It’s equipped with a Shimano GRX 1× drivetrain and aluminium wheels and, while the geometry is somewhat conservative and the spec isn’t stunning for the money, it successfully […]

The Bianchi Arcadex is a full carbon gravel bike from a storied Italian bike maker better know for its premium road racers.

It’s equipped with a Shimano GRX 1× drivetrain and aluminium wheels and, while the geometry is somewhat conservative and the spec isn’t stunning for the money, it successfully blends road and gravel bike traits in a package that looks like nothing else.

Bianchi Arcadex frameset

I have a confession: I thought the Arcadex was hideous when I first saw it in press photos.

Its carbon frame is distinctly angular, with a curious kink at the back of the top tube, a boxy bottom bracket shell and a dramatic slash through the head tube.

The tube profiles are boxy for the most part with truncated aerofoil sections here and there (Bianchi makes no specific aero claims about the bike), but the front end is more organic, and the fork legs are hugely wide in profile but very slim viewed from the front.

While it’s fair to say it’s a challenging piece of design, I’m pleased to report that it looks much better in person and is, dare I say it, almost handsome.

Some elements of the frame are familiar – dropped seatstays are a feature of so many modern bikes, and an easy route towards improved rear-end comfort that does not compromise on lateral stiffness – but more curious is the frame’s huge bottom bracket area.

Is it an ebike? No, but it will be.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

Most notable is a filled-in section between the down tube and seat tube that has a mysterious access hatch. This looks like something you’d see on an ebike.

That’s not by chance – there’s going to be an electrified version of this bike at some point.

On this bike, however, it’s entirely nugatory. While it looks like it might serve as storage, anything you put in there would be resting on the bottom bracket sleeve, which is not something we’d recommend.

There’s been a definite trend towards greater levels of integration in bikes, particularly at the higher end, with brands adopting a variety of methods for tidying up cables and hoses. Bianchi is no exception and the Arcadex uses a neat cable cover under the stem to keep things tidy, routing cables through the top of the headset.

Split headset spacers make it possible to adjust the stack without removing cables, but it’s worth noting that, as with many modern bikes, you aren’t strictly speaking supposed to run extra spacers on top of the stem, and the standard top cap doesn’t allow this in any case.

If you want to lower the bar, you’re supposed to cut the steerer to match. During testing, I temporarily fitted a standard round top cap and spacers on top of the stem so I could reduce the stack, but I should mention that Bianchi emphatically doesn’t approve and doing this may affect your warranty.

If there’s one feature really worth highlighting, it’s that the Arcadex has mounts to accept full mudguards and at the rear an optional bridge can be bolted across the seatstays.

A quirk is that the eyelets at the fork dropouts are not threaded, so you’ll need nuts and bolts to secure your mudguard stays.

Bianchi claims the frame weighs 1,100g for a large, plus 480g for the fork.

Finally, while the bike ships with skinnier rubber, it has clearances for 700×42mm or 650×47mm tyres.

Bianchi Arcadex sizing and geometry

There’s little consensus about what constitutes ideal gravel geometry and the Arcadex takes a relatively conservative approach.

Other than a head angle that’s slack at 71 degrees (size medium), its numbers wouldn’t look totally out of place on an endurance road bike from the more laid-back end of the spectrum.

The reach for a medium is modest at 374mm and that entails a roadie-esque 100mm stem. This contrasts with some recent gravel bikes like Canyon’s Grail and the Focus Atlas, which take a more mountain bike approach, combining a long reach with a short stem for better handling off-road, particularly in steep terrain.

Head tube area

The Arcadex has a tall front end.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

The stack is seriously tall at 595mm (the equivalent sized Canyon Grail has a stack height of 579mm), so it’s likely many riders will want to lose a few headset spacers from the stock arrangement which, at my saddle height of about 72cm, brings the bar more or less level with the saddle.

At 174cm tall, I was very comfortable on the medium, but definitely preferred the fit with a couple of headset spacers removed.

Incidentally, Bianchi considers the Arcadex unisex, there are no gender-specific versions of the bike.

Bianchi Arcadex build

Bianchi Arcadex rear 3/4 view

The Arcadex gets Shimano’s top-spec mechanical GRX components.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

Bianchi offers the Arcadex in three builds, with this bike being the middle option. While the frameset has provision for a front derailleur, all are equipped with 1× drivetrains, with a choice of Shimano GRX RX600, RX810 or RX815 Di2.

The mid-spec option gets you GRX RX810 (Ultegra-equivalent) shifting components and brakes plus an RX600 (105-equivalent) crank. Bianchi opts for an 11-42 cassette and a 40t chainring.

The wheels are unpretentious Alexrims aluminium clinchers riding on Shimano RS470 hubs. They’re not remotely exotic, but the rims’ 21mm internal width is well suited to gravel and Shimano’s hubs are invariably durable if you look after them.

These are fitted with tubeless-ready 37mm WTB Riddler tyres with fetching tan-walls.

The Arcadex’s finishing kit is fairly low key. The bar and seatpost are in-house Reparto Corse branded items, while the stem is FSA, and the whole lot is aluminium.

The stem is part of a package with the headset spacers and cable cover, so if you want to change the length you’ll be best off sourcing a matching item from your dealer.

The saddle is plusher than typical roadie offerings without being excessively squishy, and at 250mm long it’s fashionably short, although not quite as abbreviated as popular models like the Specialized Power.

My size medium test bike weighs 9.8kg without pedals. That’s a bit more than the Canyon Grail CF SL 7.0, but very similar to the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon.

Riding the Bianchi Arcadex

Riding the Arcadex in the woods

The Arcadex is a fun bike on- and off-road.
Max Wilman / Immediate Media

The immediate impression when you jump on the Arcadex is of a comfy, armchair-like riding position, similar to that of the Specialized Diverge.

While you can of course lower the front end as discussed above, the default position is really quite upright, conducive to a chilled-out riding pace and less intimidating on technical terrain.

While I still have mixed feelings about flared bars, Bianchi has nailed the width for mixed riding here.

Rear view of bars

The flared bar isn’t too extreme and works well for mixed riding.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

The Arcadex’s bar measures a hair under 42cm at the hoods (on a size medium bike), so it feels quite normal on the road, but the drops open out to 50cm at their tips and are shallow enough that they’re quite usable on steep technical terrain.

On tarmac, the Arcadex feels like a tall endurance road bike. Its 37mm WTB Riddler tyres don’t hold it back particularly – they’re fast rolling for something with a bit of tread – and the bike feels stiff under power and accurate with it.

Off road, the bike retains some of that roadie personality, but the riding position and choice of bar mean it doesn’t feel horribly out of its depth when you’re tackling tougher terrain.

I mentioned earlier that the Arcadex’s geometry isn’t exactly progressive. Bianchi hasn’t gone for the long top-tube and short stem combo that gravel bike designers are increasingly borrowing from the mountain bike world in search of better handling. In real-world riding terms, though, these are subtle differences and the bar and stem combo doesn’t feel unduly tiller-like.

If there’s one meaningful consequence, there is a tiny bit of toe overlap (size medium bike, UK size 9 feet), but it’s so slight it really doesn’t matter and never caused alarm in slow-speed manoeuvres. It’s something to think about if you are fitting mudguards, though.

The Arcadex definitely isn’t the plushest gravel bike out there and the ride isn’t terribly relaxing on rooty or washboarded trails.

Aluminium seatpost and Selle Royal saddle

At this price level, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a carbon seatpost rather than aluminium.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

There are a couple of factors I think are likely contributing to this, one of which is Bianchi’s choice of a 31.6mm seatpost rather than a skinnier 27.2mm.

Slimmer posts are inherently more flexible, but the larger size offers more options for riders who might be considering a dropper post in future.  In any case, it would have been nice to see a carbon post at this price level for a little extra give.

The other element is the ultra-wide fork blades – the shape of which are inherently resistant to fore-aft flex.

Obviously there’s considerable scope to add comfort by going tubeless and running lower tyre pressures (and you should), but the Arcadex is never going to rival suspension-equipped gravel bikes for comfort and it doesn’t have as much built-in compliance as some of the competition.

WTB Riddler tyre on wheel

The WTB Riddler tyres are good all-rounders.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

The WTB Riddler tyres are a good all-round choice for typical UK gravel conditions. While they’re not aggressive enough to qualify as true mud tyres, they are noticeably better in slop than the semi-slicks many gravel bikes are specced with, while still feeling fast and reassuring on true gravel.

The Arcadex is simply a fun and unintimidating bike for riding that mixes up road, fire road and the odd bit of singletrack. I like how it combines a bit of road bike feel with a more upright position that makes it more capable off-road.

It’s a refreshing alternative to some of the very race-oriented gravel bikes on the market, without going fully mountain bike-adjacent and being overly compromised on tarmac.

The 1× gearing is fairly well suited to mixed riding too. I wouldn’t mind a front derailleur, but the choice of a 40t chainring – the smallest size Shimano offers for these cranks – means you’ve got a useful spread of gears that won’t leave a lot of riders wanting.

Those looking to haul significant amounts of bikepacking luggage up steep hills may feel differently though, and if you do want lower gears with the same basic drivetrain you’ll need to look to the aftermarket because Shimano doesn’t go any lower with 1× GRX.

Bianchi Arcadex overall

Seat cluster and top tube kink

Whatever you think of the Arcadex, there’s no question it stands out.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

The Arcadex isn’t stunningly light, stunningly cheap or particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable bike to ride and whatever your feelings about the looks, it’s undeniably eye-catching.

Gravel is such a fast-evolving category and it means different things to different riders, so no one bike can excel on all fronts.

If you’re happiest at the road-adjacent end of the gravel spectrum but want a relaxed riding position, the Arcadex could be the bike for you.

Like many gravel bikes, it can take on more than you think too, the rider is the limiting factor.

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