Colnago Ernesto & C. S.r.l. or Colnago is a manufacturer of high-end road-racing bicycles founded by Ernesto Colnago in 1954 near Milano in Cambiago, Italy. Instead of following his family's farming business, Ernesto Colnago chose to work in the cycle trade, apprenticing first with Gloria Bicycles at 13, subsequently taking up road racing. After a bad crash ended his racing career, he began subcontracting for Gloria, opened his own shop (1954) and built his first frames the same year. Much in demand as a racing mechanic, he was second mechanic on the Nivea team Giro d'Italia under Faliero Masi in 1955, eventually being employed as head mechanic for the Molteni team of Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx.
The company first became known for high quality steel framed bicycles, and later as one of the more creative cycling manufacturers responsible for innovations in design and experimentation with new and diverse materials including carbon fiber, now a mainstay of modern bicycle construction.
From the late 1960s through the 1970s, Colnago was generally regarded as one of the builders of the world's best custom road race frames. In 1960, Colnago saw fame as Luigi Arienti rode to a gold medal at the Rome Olympics on a Colnago bicycle. In 1963, Colnago joined the Molteni team as head mechanic, and riders such as Gianni Motta raced on Colnago bikes. A win on a Colnago in the 1970 Milan-San Remo race by Michele Dancelli for the Molteni team inspired Colnago to change his logo to the now-famous 'Asso di Fiori' or Ace of Clubs.
After the demise of the Faema team, Eddie Merckx joined the Molteni team, and what ensued was mutual innovation—as Colnago describes it: "Merckx was an up and coming champion, and I was an up and coming bike builder. So it was a real honour to work for a great champion like Merckx. It helped us to grow... when we made special forks, and special bikes." This included the super-light steel frame used by Merckx in 1972 to break the world one hour record.
With a growing reputation from their racing wins, Colnago plunged into the market for production bikes. In the U.S., the early seventies witnessed another bike boom, and Colnago "pumped out bikes as though the future of humankind was at stake." The mainstay of the Colnago line in the 1970s was the Super, followed by the Mexico, named in honor of the successful hour attempt. Other models were added including the Superissimo and Esa Mexico. While the finish on these early Colnagos could be variable, they were great riding bikes and developed a cult-like following.
In response to criticism that his frames were not stiff enough, next Colnago experimented with ways to change the behavior of frame components. In 1983, he introduced the Oval CX with an oval-shaped top tube to add stiffness. He then experimented with various crimped-tube frames which became production models as their top of the range frames, beginning with the "Master." Later "Master-Light", Master Olympic and Master Piu extended the range. Colnago built a frame from Columbus tubing used by Giuseppe Saronni to win the world professional road race championship in 1982, and afterwards a short-lived collection of bikes were badged with the Saronni name.
Since the 1980s, while Colnago continued to produce high-end steel bikes, they began to produce bike frames using material other than steel including titanium, aluminum, carbon and mixed material frames. One unique frame from this period, the Bititan, has a dual titanium down tube. Crimped and oversize tubes appeared on the Tecnos–one of the lightest production steel bikes produced, and the same oversize tubes and crimping were used on the aluminum Dream frame. In 1981 Colnago prototyped the CX Pista–a full monocoque carbon fiber bike with disc wheels that was shown at the Milan bike show. Subsequently, Colnago worked with Ferrari in developing new carbon fiber technology, and Ernesto also credits their engineers for challenging him regarding fork design, which led to Colnago's innovative Precisa straight-bladed steel fork. Colnago also experimented with multi-material frames, including the CT-1 and CT-2 constructed with titanium main tubes, carbon fiber forks and rear stays, and a similarly constructed (although short-lived) Master frame constructed with steel main tubes, carbon forks and stays.
Colnago's early attempts at carbon fiber frames were not commercially successful, but the lessons learned were embodied in their flagship frames, such as the C-40 (1994) and its successor, the C-50(2004)–respectively named for Colnago's 40th and 50th years in bike building. These carbon fiber frames set new standards of excellence. Interestingly, they were built using a modified form of traditional bike frame construction, substituting carbon fiber lugs for microinfusion cast steel, and carbon fiber "tubes" for the complex steel tubes used for steel frame construction. Similar building techniques are used in the latest offering, the C59, named (as before) for its year of production.
An interview with Ernesto Colnago in which he describes various iconic Colnagos (filmed in the factory museum) is available on Youtube here.
Colnago uses a black symbol similar to the ♣ ("Clubs") symbol used on playing cards. Colnago frames' graphics evolved from a font with gravitas to elaborate and/or creative paint.
Team and rider sponsorship
Colnago has sponsored at least one professional team every year since 1974, often sponsoring more than one. In addition, other teams in the peloton have competed on Colnago bikes. In the early 1970s, the Molteni team which included Eddy Merckx rode on Colnago bikes. Giuseppe Saronni rode Colnago bikes throughout his career, from 1977 with Scic, later with Gis Gelati and with Colnago-Del Tongo. Colnago was well known as the sponsor of the Mapei Professional Cycling Team throughout the 1990s. For 2005, Colnago sponsored the professional cycling team Rabobank. Colnago has also been the bike sponsor for the American domestic team, Navigators for whom the Australian sprinter Hilton Clarke was a member 2005-2008.
For 2006, Team Milram joined their list of professionally sponsored teams featuring well-known Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel. In addition, Colnago serves as a co-title sponsor of the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago professional cycling team that competes on the UCI Europe Tour and was the official frame supplier to Team Tinkoff in 2007.
For 2012, Colnago is sponsoring Colnago-CSF Bardiani.
Starting in the 2011 Tour de France, Team Europcar has ridden Colnago frames.
Colnago sponsored teams since 1968
All years are inclusive.
Current production overview
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Until early 2006, Colnago produced virtually all of their entire frameset range at their Cambiago factory, although persistent rumors of subcontracting out the more basic frames go all the way back to the 1970s. Alan produced some aluminum frames for Colnago in the 1980s, including single and dual downtube road and cyclocross models. In March, 2005, Colnago announced that they were joining the Taiwanese based A-Team, whose members include Giant, Merida and SRAM—the first Italian manufacturer to do so, to produce mid-ranged bicycle models for the Japanese and European markets.
Beginning in 2006, Colnago sourced the Primavera and the Arte from Giant Bicycles of Taiwan. Both received favorable reviews, although some thought the shift of manufacturing out of Italy was a matter of some regret.
There was some controversy in 2006 over whether Giant would be producing additional models, including carbon frame models, for Colnago. According to statements by Ernesto Colnago this was not the case:
- "For the 2006 model year, Colnago will be sourcing two entry-level aluminum road bike models from Giant, made to Colnago's spec and frame geometry and for sales in Europe and Asia only. All other Colnago bicycles are assembled in Italy. No Colnago carbon fiber frames are made at Giant and none will be, as Mr. Colnago has a long-term sourcing agreement in place with ATR for carbon fiber bicycle frames."
Despite this denial, since 2007 Colnago's carbon monocoque CLX frame has been manufactured in Taiwan. In 2008, a second Colnago carbon fiber model, the CX-1 was also sourced in Taiwan.
The top of the line Colnago frame, the C59, as well as the Master, and the now discontinued C50, Power Extreme, Extreme C are (or were) manufactured and painted in Italy. In a series of public statements, Colnago has insisted that all designs originate with the Italian design team, claiming that the essence of what makes a Colnago is design. The mid-range carbon offerings are currently being sourced from Taiwan, (as are many bicycle manufacturers' offerings), and as of 2011, the M10 (which stands second in the model lineup) is made in Taiwan and assembled and painted in Italy, while the CX-1 is completely made in Taiwan.
Classic steel Colnago frames
- Arabesque (1984-), steel tubing, noted for its fancy lugwork. Issued as a 30th anniversary bike.
- Super (1970s and 1980s) steel tubing. Columbus SL and SP tubesets.
- Mexico (1970s and 1980s) Columbus steel tubing. Identical to Super but with lighter gauge KL (Record) tubing in place of SL/SP and chain stays are not crimped. Named in honor of Merckx's hour record ride in Mexico City.
- Master, steel tubing Columbus nivachrome "Gilco" drawn in "star shape." ("Master" frames went through several iterations from Columbus tubing, Deda DT15V to "Ultimate Superlight" from Tange (Japan) depending on year of production.)
- Master Light; second version of Master with Precisa straight fork.
- Master Extra-light; visually similar to Masterlight. Frame was produced from 2000–2004, then dropped for 2005, and returned in 2006. It was re-introduced due to customer demand for an all-steel Colnago. It is a bit lighter than its predecessor.
- Conic SLX; early (1989) models had round tubes with internal stiffeners and curved front forks, later models had clover leaf design down tube to add stiffness to the frame, and had straight front forks.
- Altain; c1995, oversized round steel Columbus Altain tubing, with straigh forks - Sold only in Europe.
- Crystal; c1997, oversize oval section downtube and toptube made from custom built Columbus tubing, with Precisa fork.
- Tecnos; Colnago's lightest steel racing frame made from 1995 - 2000. Custom Tecnos tubeset made with Columbus Nivachrom steel, oversize top and down tubes with five-leaf-clover shaping. Chromed three point crown-tip lugs on head tube and Precisa steel fork (when not used with a carbon fork).
- Cyclocross; Over the years, Ernesto Colnago built steel cyclocross frames for individual professional riders and did not sell any steel frames to the public. Three have been identified, an early one based on the Colnago Super and built for Roger de Vlaeminck. Photos are available here. This frame sold in November 2012 on eBay for approximately $1200 US. A second frame surfaced a couple of years ago, and appears to have been built in the mid to late 90s, loosely based on the Colnago Crystal, specifically labeled "Master" on the rear brake hanger. Lugs and seat stays are similar to those on the Crystal, slightly beefier tubing than other road models (32mm OD downtube, 29mm seattube), relaxed wheelbase, top tube routing for rear brake and derailleur, traditional routing for front derailleur but no braze-on for front derailleur. Colnago bottom bracket shell. Straight mtb style threadless fork (no formal crown). No serial number stamped on dropout. Colnago factory contact unable to identify year or provide further information. Photos are available here. A third may have been built for Bert Hiemstra in 1998/1999, Rabobank rider. This was a lugless steel frame, badged "Colnago Competition" in Rabobank colors, 59 cm CtT, set up with 9 speed Dura Ace and a unicrown fork. Sold in the UK in 2012.
Early Aluminum Colnago frames
- Rapid — aluminum
- Dream road and cyclocross frames, shaped tubing. Cyclocross model came with unicrown MTB style front fork and additional bracing at headtube/downtube union.
- Cyclocross; c1980s (exact years unknown). Manufactured by Alan, stamped "Colnago" name on bottom of headtube. Aluminum tubing screwed and glued to lugs. Sizing stamped in bottom bracket, no serial number on rear dropouts. Top tube ovalized for shouldering bike on transitions. Dual downtube version also manufactured by Alan for Colnago, with different lug design from the single downtube version.
- "www.cyclingnews.com - the world centre of cycling". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. 2004-01-08. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- "www.cyclingnews.com news and analysis". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. 2004-01-08. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- "www.cyclingnews.com news and analysis". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- Sheldon Brown: Colnago
- "www.cyclingnews.com news and analysis". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. 2004-03-19. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- "www.cyclingnews.com news and analysis". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- thewashingmachinepost[dead link]
- "Colnago's entry level bikes to be produced in Taiwan | Bicycle Business". BikeBiz. 2005-03-01. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- John Crenshaw, "Colnago Rebutts Sourcing Reports," Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, August 15, 2005. Excepted here: http://business.highbeam.com/103/article-1G1-135579315/colnago-rebutts-sourcing-reports
- Italian appetizers from Colnago and Pinarello, 2007-08-08, retrieved 2010-08-03
- "C59 Italia". Colnago. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- Colnago Resurgent in the US
- Official Colnago website
- Cycling News, Historical Colnago Bikes
- Daniel Cavallari, Colnago Bicycles: Fortune in Ferrari and Fracture [hosting lost]
- Classic Rendezvous: Timeline for 1970s Colnago Super frames
- TheWashingMachinePost Colnago tribute page