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Colnago - The Ferrari of road bikes

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 HISTORY OF A LEGEND

COLNAGO

Italian style, innovation, and engineering excellence. That's what makes Colnago one of the most prestigious brands in cycling.


The beginning

When he was young, Ernesto Colnago worked as an assistant welder in a bicycle factory. He was also a keen racer, but after he broke his leg, he decided to open his own workshop.

In 1954 he opened a little workshop in Cambiago, his hometown to the north-east of Milan. His father helped him by cutting the family mulberry to provide wood for his workbench.

Colnago was so talented that he soon began to build wheels for some of the best Italian racing cyclists of that era, including Giorgio Albani and Fausto Coppi.

 

The big opportunity

1955 – During a race Colnago met Fiorenzo Magni, the two-time winner of Giro d'Italia and the only rider to have ever won three consecutive editions of Tour of Flanders. 

The champion was struggling with chronic knee pain that was threatening his racing career. Colnago was the only mechanic who realized that the problem was caused by an uneven drive train. After he changed the cranks, Magni's pain disappeared, and the champion offered Colnago the role as a mechanic on his Giro team. That same year, Magni won his third Giro title.

1956 – Colnago experimented with cold forging to obtain more reactive and less rigid forks.

1957 Gastone Nencini won Giro d'Italia for the first time and said: "I won because of Ernesto Colnago, a young mechanic who built me an unbeatable bike. Before he joined the team, we had problems, but he solved them."

 

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Colnago meets the "Cannibal"

1967 – Colnago built the Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx (525 victories over eighteen-year career) perfect wheels for the Milan-Sanremo, and Merckx won the race. That was the beginning of an extraordinary series of collaborations.

 

1971 – Merckx joined the Molteni team and began to win just about every major title running on Colnago bikes. His victories included Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and spring Classics.

Colnago was no longer just a mechanic, but a talented manufacturer and innovator. He built Merckx more than one hundred bikes, twenty in a single season, and Merckx often went to Colnago's workshop to examine the various stages of the building.

1972 - In the most famous collaboration with the brand, the Cannibal obliterated in Mexico City the previous hour record.

Colnago knew that the bike had to be very light so that Merckx could beat the 48.65 km record set by Ole Ritter. Special alloys were developed in the United States because the technology required was not available in Europe. The new bike was ultra slim and weighed 5.75 kg. A true masterpiece. With such an innovative bike, Merckx beat the previous record by 755 meters.

 

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The legend continues

1974 – Colnago joined the SCIC team, led by Giambattista Baronchelli and for the first time the brand logo, the Ace of Clubs, appeared on the bikes of a pro team.

The 1980s – Many champions won major titles riding Colnago bikes. Maertens won the world title in '81, Zoetemelk in '85 and Saronni won the Giro in '79 and in '83.

1994-2002 – In '93 Colnago was the technical assistant of Clas. The Spanish team had some problems, and Colnago convinced the team captain Tony Rominger and other riders to move on to another sponsor, Giorgio Squinzi's Mapei. In '94 the new team was ready, and it would become the most successful cycling team of all time, with 94 victories, also thanks to Colnago's ongoing innovations.

Colnago built a bike using steel to make it more stable, and he lightened it by drilling the handlebar and the chain (the special sixty-teeth crown, made with CNC machines). He also used titanium beams with aluminium nipples. Those improvements allowed Rominger to beat the hour record twice.

 

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Always innovative

Colnago has produced some of the most innovative bicycles of all time. Since the beginning of his brilliant career, he built lighter and more comfortable frames than the ones that were built before the Second World War.

He's also collaborated with Ferrari to develop new carbon fiber technology that set a new standard of excellence. The C40 was the first frame bike made entirely of carbon fiber, and Precisa straight-stems forks, that were better than suspension forks at absorbing impacts.

The company has pioneered many technologies in the bicycle industry, and many of its innovations have been copied and then produced en masse.

Continuous research and experimentation make the brand unique, alongside Ernesto Colnago's love for bicycles. As he used to say: "Passion is the heart of the company." 

 

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(1) Ernesto Colnago
(2) Colnago with Eddy Merckx and Giambattista Baronchelli
(3) Colnago and Gino Bartali
(4) Colnago Freccia Blu

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2 comments

  • Lancelot Sanderson

    Since my desire upon Signor Ernesto’s frames , at least three now remain displayed after fifty years of pleasure after their many km. No need for those appearing from Taiwan & beyond!

  • Rachel Pousson

    I always read about Colnago since I have two of them (1970s Supers), and I learned some intriguing new things in this excellent article. I had not known he was such a great wheelbuilder, nor that his collaboration with Merckx was so extensive!

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