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Colnago Ernesto & C. S.r.l. or Colnago is a manufacturer of high-end road-racing bicycles founded by Ernesto Colnago 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 in 1952, building his first frames the same year. While building frames, he remained 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 in 1963.
The company first became known for high quality steel framed bicycles suitable for the demanding environment of professional racing, 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 rose to fame as Luigi Arienti rode to a gold medal at the Rome Olympics on a Colnago bicycle.
While Ernesto was the head mechanic of the Molteni team, 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 (1987). 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, the most sought after bicycle (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. While we take for granted the spread of carbon frames, their success was not a foregone conclusion:
“When we built the C40 we were the only ones to build carbon frames and all the mechanics and competitor technicians were saying that they would be too dangerous to use on cobbled roads, especially with the straight carbon forks. There was a company that wanted to fit suspension forks on the bicycle, but I wasn’t going to have suspension forks on the C40. The night before Paris- Roubaix I had Mr. Squinzi, the Mapei boss, on the phone to me raising his concerns about using such a delicate-looking thing. I told him that we’d done all of the tests that we could on the frame and the fork and we were certain there would be no problem. I had to take personal responsibility for what was going to happen and I spent all night worrying about it, barely able to sleep. But when I heard that there were 4 Mapei riders in the break, I knew I could relax.” 
The C40 went on to win 5 editions of Paris-Roubaix in 6 years.
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.
Colnago sponsored bicycle racing teams since 1968
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. Probably the most famous was the Molteni team which included Eddy Merckx, but the world champion, Giuseppe Saronni also rode Colnago bikes throughout his career, from 1977 with Scic, later with Gis Gelati and with Colnago-Del Tongo. Colnago was well known as a sponsor of the legendary Mapei 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. Starting in the 2011 Tour de France, Team Europcar has ridden Colnago frames. For 2012, Colnago is sponsoring Colnago-CSF Bardiani.
A full list of teams is provided below. All years are inclusive.
- 1968 - 1973 Molteni
- 1969 - 1978 SCIC
- 1975-1976 Zonca-Santini
- 1975 - 1979 Kas Campagnolo
- 1977 Ijsboerke-Colnago
- 1977 Kanel-Colnago
- 1978 Mecap-Selle Italia
- 1978 - 1979 Miniflat-ys-vdb-Colnago
- 1978 Intercontinentale
- 1979 Sapa
- 1979 Inoxpran
- 1979 Lano-Boul d'Or
- 1980 Boule d'Or Colnago Studio Casa
- 1980 Gis Gelati
- 1980 - 1981 Sunair Sport 80 Colnago
- 1980 Splendor
- 1981 Gis Campagnolo
- 1981 - 1983 Boule d'Or Colnago Studio Casa
- 1982 - 1988 Del Tongo Colnago
- 1984 Kwantum Colnago
- 1984 Safir Colnago
- 1985 Kwantum Hallen
- 1985 Safir van den Ven Colnago
- 1985 Tonissteiner Saxon
- 1986 Kwantum Sport Shop
- 1986 Miko Tonissteiner Fevrier
- 1986 Roland van den Ven Colnago
- 1987 - 1988 Roland Colnago
- 1987 Superconfex Kwantum Colnago
- 1988 - 1989 Superconfex
- 1988 Panasonic Isostar
- 1989 Panasonic
- 1989 Malvor Sidi Colnago
- 1989 - 1990 Alfalum
- 1990 - 1992 Buckler
- 1990 La William
- 1990 Diana Colnago
- 1990 Clas
- 1991 - 1993 Clas Cajatur
- 1991 - 1993 Ariostea
- 1991 Colnago Lampre Sopran
- 1992 Lampre Colnago Animex
- 1993 - 1994 Word Perfect
- 1993 Lampre Polti
- 1993 - 1999 Tonissteiner Colnago Saxon
- 1994 - 1995 Lampre Panaria
- 1994 Mapei Class
- 1994 Novell Software
- 1995 - 1997 Mapei GB
- 1996 Panaria Vinavil
- 1996 - 2008 Rabobank
- 1996 - 1997 Casino
- 1998 Mapei Bricobi
- 1999 - 2002 Mapei Quick.Step
- 1999 Lampre Daikin
- 2001 Coast
- 2001 - 2006 Landbouwkrediet Colnago
- 2001 - 2007 Navigators
- 2005 - 2007 Panaria Navigare
- 2005 Domina Vacanze
- 2005 Action
- 2005 Skil Shimano
- 2005 - 2008 Milram
- 2007 - 2008 Tinkoff
- 2007 - 2010 Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner
- 2010 BBox-Bouyoges Telecom
- 2010 Team Type 1
- 2010 Colnago-CSF Inox
- 2010 Pendragon-Colnago
- 2011 Team Europcar
- 2012 Colnago-CSF Bardiani
- 2015-onwards: Gazprom–RusVelo
- 2017 UAE Team Emirates
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, Extreme Power, 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.
The current top of the line frame, the C60 is the only carbon frame still made fully in Italy.
- Super (1968 through 1988) steel tubing. Columbus SL and SP tubesets. Early evolution discussed on Velo-Retro.
- Superissimo (1982–88) Super with chrome head lugs, later with SLX tubing (1988)
- Mexico (1975-) Columbus steel tubing. Identical to Super but with lighter gauge KL (Record)/ Columbus 4/10 tubing in place of SL/SP and chain stays are not crimped. Later Nuovo Mexico and EsaMexico (1988) were made with proprietary SL Record six ribbed profiled tubing, the latter with chrome details.
- Arabesque (1984-), steel tubing, noted for its fancy lugwork. Issued as a 30th anniversary bike.
- Master (mid-1980s to present) Mainly constructed with Columbus nivachrome "Gilco" shaped steel tubing with top, seat and down tube 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. Variants include the Master Più (1988-) with internal cable routing on top tube and more chrome, Master Olympic, Master Light (with Precisa straight fork) and the Master Extra-light (2000–2004, dropped 2005, reintroduced 2006) that was visually similar to Master Light. It was re-introduced due to customer demand for an all-steel Colnago and is a bit lighter than its predecessors. An excellent summary of the Master family tree can be found here: compiled research for the steel-loving tifosi: colnago master/mxl family tree
- 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, oversize round steel Columbus Altain tubing, with straight 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). Last iteration was labeled 'Tecnos 2000' including the tubing label.
- Mega Rapid—steel tig welded oversize Genius tubing, teardrop shaped top tube, oval downtube (late 1990s)
Other steel models include the Export (1982-3), the C-97 (Thron tubing Decor era), the Elegant (mid '90s EL-OS tubing) and the Classic (~2000; a descendant of the Super/Superissimo in Zona tubing).
- Duall—(1988) Double downtube aluminum tubes bonded to aluminum lugs manufactured by Alan for Colnago, lug design from the single downtube version.
- MegaMaster—welded Columbus Altec aluminium alloy profiled tubes with mega downtube and a "master" profile top tube.
- Asso—(2000s) Altec Zonal triple butted tubing; master profile top tube.
- VIP 2000—Altec Zonal Columbus 7005
- Dream—(2000s) Welded Columbus Airplane aluminum tubing; shaped Tecnos-style top and down tube. Later incarnation added the HP carbon rear stays.
- Active—(2004-2005) Columbus Altec2 aluminum teardrop shape tubing with carbon B-stay and carbon fork, Italian threaded bottom bracket
- Active Plus—(2006-) Similar to Active but made in Taiwan with English bottom bracket
- Colnago Mix—(2004-2006?) Aluminum with oversize aluminum chain stays and carbon fiber seat stays; Master shaped top tube and a Dream shaped down tube.
- Rapid—Tig welded oversize proprietary Columbus "Custom" 7003 aluminum alloy tubing
- Master Titan—Welded 6AL/4V titanium alloy tubing with profiled top tube and down tubes
- Oval Titan--oversized ovalized top and down tube welded titanium
- Bi-Titan—Welded dual titanium down tube
- Titanio—(mid-1990s) Single downtube standard profile (1"), all titanium welded frame, steel fork
- CT-1--Welded titanium main tubes, monostay rear with bonded carbon fiber stays, 1" carbon fork
- CT-2--Like CT-1, but with HP stays and 1.25 carbon fork
- Volo—(1988) Carbon fiber reinforced with Kevlar monocoque frame
- C35—(1989) Full carbon monocoque frame.
- Carbitubo—(1988-1991) Carbon tubes bonded with aluminum lugs, double downtube.
- C40—(1993/4-) Full carbon with Master profile carbon tubes bonded to carbon lugs. A great list of the C40 model evolution can be found here: C40 Family Tree
- CF1—(2000) Colnago-Ferrari collaboration, Carbon monocoque. Several iterations of the Ferrari CF frames followed.
- C50—(2004) Similar construction to C40 with 1.125 fork.
- Extreme C—(2006) Lightweight full carbon climbing bike, carbon lug and round carbon tube construction with shorter lugs.
- Extreme Power—(2007) Similar construction to C40/C50 but stiffer construction also using round carbon tubes.
- CX1—(2007) Carbon monocoque front end bonded to carbon stays. It is also the first Colnago to feature an integrated headset
- CLX—(2008) Carbon monocoque; rear triangle is molded separately from the front, and attached via bonded lugs
- EPS—(2009) Lug and tube construction with integrated headset and new fork design
- EPQ— (2011) Redone Extreme Power (EP) tube and lug construction with more square profile rear stays ('Q-Stay') that adds stiffness, shared with the M10 and C59. Semi-integrated headset.
- C59—(2011) Carbon tube and lug bonded frame like C40/C50 (2011) with profiled tubes similar to the Master.
- M10—(2011) Monocoque construction with similar geometry to the C59 but with a slightly shorter top tube and longer head tube.
- CX-Zero—(2012-) Full monocoque frameset, integrated headset, first to Colnago feature pressfit 86.5 bottom bracket
- V1-r—(2014) Replaces the M10 as the top Taiwan-made monocoque carbon frame. Developed in collaboration with Ferrari Engineering.
- AC-R—(2014-) Entry level carbon monocoque compatible with electronic and mechanical groupsets
- C60—(2014) carbon tube and lug bonded frame like C40/C50 but extends Colnago’s signature faceted star shape the full length of the tube and through the lugs, also using larger tubing diameters and slightly thinner walls for a frame that is slightly lighter than the C59
Special Purpose Frames
Over the years, Ernesto Colnago built steel cyclocross frames for individual professional riders and did not sell any steel frames to the public. A handful 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.
Three or four additional Super CX bikes have also been identified.
Another 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.
Colnago built a couple of bikes for the Italian cyclocross and MTB champion Luca Bramati. Bramati rode a yellow steel, lugless Colnago cyclocross bike in the '96 Worlds in Munich, considered to be one of the most exciting races ever, where he placed third. His bike had a front fork with a traditional brazed fork crown, and full front/rear gear cable brazings. The tubing looks just slightly oversized, and overall the bike looks quite similar to Bramati's Colnago MTB that he raced in Atlanta in the '96 Olympics.
Another 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.
- Cyclocross (c 1980s) 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.
- Dream CX—Production aluminum like the Dream Road with unicrown MTB style front fork and additional bracing at headtube/downtube union.
- World Cup—
Although not very common or widely available in the American market, Colnago did produce a number of mountain bikes. Some featured the Master profile tubing found on the Colnago road bikes.
- Master--Gilco shaped tubing like the Master road bike, unicrown fork hard tail mountain bike
- CF series CF12 Ferarri collaboration
- See www.colnago.com\history.
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