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RBA Test: Colnago C59 Italia

July 4, 2013
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Finding a company more respected and steeped in tradition than Colnago is next to impossible within the bike industry. The company’s ace of clubs logo has long been ingrained in the racing culture, with victories ranging from Paris-Roubaix to stages of the Tour de France. As frame materials began shifting to carbon, Colnago wasn’t just following the technology, they helped pioneer it with the C40, their first production carbon frame that hit the market in 1994. A full seven years before the C40, Colnago utilized their relationship with Ferrari, one that they still maintain, and jointly developed a carbon concept bike complete with tri-spoke composite wheels.

Now, their latest premier frame, the C59 (representing Ernesto’s 59th year of frame-building), is crafted alongside their other lugged-carbon frames and the Master steel frame in the shop directly underneath Ernesto Colnago’s home in Cambiago, Italy. With so much prestige and history encapsulating the brand, we built up incredibly high hopes for the C59; could it possibly live up to our lofty expectations?

Just like any recipe, it’s the quality of ingredients that makes the biggest difference in any frame-and Colnago sources the raw carbon for the C59 from Toray, a top-shelf carbon producer in Japan. Once in Italy, the tubes are made by a company that produces parts for Ferrari’s F1 cars and Ducati motorcycles. Signature to the Colnago, both the top tube and downtube feature a unique starshaped profile. The shaping isn’t merely for aesthetic purposes; it’s meant to improve torsional stiffness compared to round tubes. While lugged frames are nearly a lost art now that most brands outsource their carbon frames to Asia, Colnago prides itself on the fact that the versatility of a lugged frame allows them to offer the C59 in 22 frame sizes, in addition to custom geometry, something that would be next to impossible with a molded frame due to the cost of molds. Due to how involved the production of a C59 frame is, 16 frames a day is the maximum number Colnago can turn out.

Such exclusivity comes at a cost, though, with a frame, fork, headset and seatpost running $5899.95. For the more modern-thinking among you, Colnago also makes a (higher-priced) C59 designed specifically for disc brakes.

Frame longevity is a huge focus for Colnago, which is why they avoid carbon dropouts in favor of heavier but more durable aluminum. The C59 also uses a proprietary semi-integrated headset design with an aluminum sleeve insert for the bearings to sit in, which allows the cups themselves to be replaced. Everyone who laid eyes on our test bike commented on its unrivaled beauty. That the flat-black color has become a commonplace finish, we’d all agree, but only the ‘House of Colnago’ would match it with beautiful lime green accents that under the bright sun reveal themselves to be filled with a rainbow of glittered highlights. Really, glitter on a Colnago? Fabulous!

When it comes to equipping a C59, there are only a few build options that can do justice to the frame. For many, running anything other than Campagnolo on a Colnago would be tantamount to sacrilege, but thankfully we didn’t experience this since it came with Super Record EPS. The C59’s electronic-specific cable routing gave the package an especially clean look, with the exception of the bulky battery box that is mounted on the bottom side of the downtube. Our only knock against the EPS group is the lack of internal battery-mounting options. The C59 rolled on Campy’s premier Bora wheels. Possibly just a bit over the top were Hutchinson’s $500 apiece ProTour tubular tires, but then again, when you’re on a bike that costs more than many new cars, it’s all over the top, right?

With such high expectations going into the first ride, we were almost nervous of being let down. We weren’t. The best way to explain the overall ride quality is, the rougher the terrain, the better. At 15 pounds, it’s not going to win the lightweight battles against many of the high-end monocoque frames on the market, but the difference in weight helps the C59 in many ways, with ride quality being chief among them. The superior damping, which we attribute mainly to the thick lugs, makes a noticeable difference over rough roads compared to thinner-walled frames. Overall stiffness and most noticeably front-end stiffness are also first-rate. The stout, lugged head tube, aided by a solid feeling 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 tapered fork, gave us immediate confidence on descents. Typically it takes a little time to get the feel for a bike’s geometry and handling traits, but the C59’s longish, 99.5cm wheelbase and geometry that have been tuned over the past 50 years provided a feel of familiarity.

Aesthetic and charging complaints notwithstanding (e.g., the battery box can but shouldn’t be removed, the charger input location is difficult to access and the charger cord is too short), the Campy EPS drivetrain delivered superb ergos, craftsmanship and performance. Being able to make 11 gear changes (in either direction) with just one momentary push on the respective shifters is not just remarkable, it’s also the only drivetrain capable of such a feat.

Unsurprisingly, long rides are a treat on the C59. Subtleties in ride comfort start adding up as the miles stretch on, helping us keep a little extra kick in the legs after a big day in the saddle. Even when we weren’t up for a big day in the saddle, the C59 could always create a group of gawkers when it was parked at the coffee shop.


The Colnago C59 of team Europcar at the 2013 Tour de France.

Few bikes possess the characteristics that make them comfortable and just downright fun to ride without reducing their capacity for performance. The C59 happens to be one of the few. Yes, the price makes it completely unrealistic for most people, but for those fortunate souls who are seeking out a bike in this range, going with anything else just wouldn’t make any sense. Not only is the C59 a modern, performance oriented bike, but each frame represents a piece of frame-building technique and history unlike any other on the planet. That the C59 remains one of the few truly Italian-made frames left is worthy enough of celebration. That the name on the downtube reads Colnago simply puts the bike in a league all its own. Thanks to all the sizes available, few ever need to get custom geometry. But if you are in the market, be sure you know exactly which size is going to be the perfect fit.

? Price has a Ferrari-like resemblance
? Made in Ernesto’s basement- how cool
? Ride quality parallels craftsmanship

Price: $15,999.95 (complete), $5899.95 (frameset)
Weight: 15 pounds
Sizes: 42s (sloping top tube), 45s, 48s, 50s, 52s (tested), 54s, 56s, 58s, and 52?65cm in 1cm increments
For more info: Colnago


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