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Colnago Concept review

9 Jun 2017

Page 1 of 2Colnago Concept review

Verdict:

Colnago's first true aero road bike is a whisker away from sensational

Price: 
£3,500 frameset, £7,499 as tested

I was once told that Ernesto Colnago lives over the road from his facility in Cambiago so that if an idea comes to him at 3am he need only don a dressing gown and run a short way before he’s sitting at his draftsman’s desk.

True or not, I choose to believe it, as the idea of Ernie hot-footing it through the Italian night clutching his night-cap fits exactly with the maverick inventor I’ve always believed him to be.

There is very much the traditional framebuilder about Colnago: he’s Italian, he raced a bit and his most coveted creations are steel, but look closely and he and his company have done some cutting-edge things that border on revolutionary.

He invented straight blade forks when all around him were curved; he introduced non-round tube profiles with the crimped ‘Master’; he injected wild ‘Art Décor’ graphics into an age of the single pantone; he struck one of carbon fibre’s earliest blows when his C40 won the 1995 Paris-Roubaix; he developed some of the first disc brakes for road bikes with Formula, and he gave us the Concept.

No, not this one, the one from 1986. Yes, the one with the gearstick.

The original concept

That’s right. The 1986 Colnago Concept had a gearstick in the down tube, which controlled a seven-speed gearbox in the chainset.

It also had a press-fit bottom bracket, internal cable routing, hydraulic rim brakes and was made, with the help of Ferrari no less, out of carbon fibre.

It was therefore red, but unlike most red things it sadly wasn’t the fastest. It weighed 13kg (5.3kg for the gears), was flexy, cost a fortune and never made it to production.

‘It nearly bankrupted the company,’ says Colnago’s design engineer, Davide Fumagalli, ‘but it taught us a lot. It was the first bike we designed using computers, and we still use material technology from that bike now.’

While the original Concept had some aerodynamic traits, and there have been others since thanks to the V1-r, it’s this new Concept ‘2.0’ that is arguably Colnago’s first true aero-road bike in the modern sense.

That is, it conforms to UCI rulings on tube ratios and fairings (those wishing to see what Colnago did prior to these rules should search Colnago C42 for a truly outrageous looking machine), and it has been designed using CFD and wind-tunnels. 

‘Tests show the Concept saves 20 watts over our C60 and 4 watts over the V1-r with a medium rider pedalling at 50kmh,’ says Fumagalli, although he adds that Colnago has ‘decided not to share’ how it compares with the competition’s bikes.

Desert flights

I’ll reserve judgement on the distance between Colnago’s chest and its cards, except to say that I have definitely ridden faster bikes than the Concept – the Specialized Venge ViAS and the Trek Madone come immediately to mind.

Significantly faster. But those bikes are part of an über-group of aero bikes where no springy flap or hidden cable has been left unturned, and they do make concessions to ride quality.

The Concept, by contrast, is kind of normal. It has several cables on show, an absence of one-piece bar and stem, and – horror of horrors – regular brakes.

Direct mount, but in traditional positions, with Fumagalli diplomatically adding that the under-stay rear brake of the semi-aero Colnago V1-r ‘had a few downsides’. I had no reason to expect the Concept to be that fast, so the fact it possessed a palpable lick of speed was surprising.

Even on its first ride back from the Cyclist office it sprung into life with joyful abandon every time I gave it some welly from the traffic lights, the paddle-shifting interface of the Sram eTap groupset only adding to that race-car thrill.

However, while I was certain there was little I couldn’t find out about the Concept from a 10km commute across London, just to be doubly sure I thought I’d take it on a trip to the Israeli desert. And I’m so glad I did. 

For starters, I finally cracked a sub-three hour solo 100km. OK, it was 90km but I averaged nearly 37kmh and could have easily done another 10km had it not been for lack of time.

Moreover, when I got off the bike I felt fresh as a daisy, and so too after every other ride. The Concept was genuinely comfortable over distance and on some less than perfect roads to boot. 

Sibling rivalry

According to Colnago, the comfort factor derives in large part from the headset bearing cups.

These cups are made from a carbon-reinforced polymer (interestingly, the same material used on the carbon lugs of the original Concept) whose springy nature, together with special shape, allows the headset bearings to ‘float’. 

‘The inside of the cups have a saw-tooth profile so the bearings have liberty to move,’ says Fumagalli. ‘It’s not suspension like the Specialized Roubaix, nor damping like the Trek IsoSpeed, but it helps.’

I found there was indeed a distinct lack of road buzz at the front end of the Concept, yet happily this didn’t manifest in flex or wallow when putting in big efforts and hauling on the bars.

However, this isn’t the headline feature here. Yes, the Concept is fast, but not that fast. Nor is it that comfortable or that stiff. Rather, what the Concept does is blend three jack-of-all-trades attributes into a master of one: ride quality.

The C60 remains to this day the best-handling road bike I’ve ridden, and the Concept is within spitting distance – something that’s doubly amazing when you consider this is an aero bike.

It owes a lot to the borrowed geometry, which is nearly identikit to the C60, but also to whatever magic is going on in the carbon layup and tube shapes.

The result is almost like two bikes in one. On the flat or through lazy corners the Concept feels cruisy and planted, but turn the screws in a sprint and rag it through some twists and it roars into life.

It’s not quite on the snappy level of the Bianchi Specialissima, say, but it is readily more stable and feels incredibly robust without feeling slow or heavy.

Yet, for all its mastery, the Concept falls just short of being a masterpiece, and it’s down to its behaviour at the extremes.

It’s not quite punchy enough up steep ramps, and lacks a little stability when descending over 75kmh, where fore aft wobble through the frame is detectable. However, these things shouldn’t detract from what a highly capable bike this is for everything in between.

The Concept is a step closer to the Holy Grail of fast, stiff, responsive, stable and comfortable, all at once. We don’t ask for much. Oh wait, beautiful too – although I think we can add that one to the Concept’s list already.

Verdict: Colnago's first true road bike is a whisker away from sensational.

Spec

Colnago Concept
Frame Filament-wound carbon with 3D printed titanium lugs
Groupset Sram eTap 
Brakes Colnago B1-r direct mount 
Chainset FSA K-Force Light 
Cassette Sram eTap 
Bars Vision Metron 4D
Stem Vision Metron
Seatpost Colnago Concept Aero
Wheels Vision Metron 55 clinchers
Saddle Prologo Kappo Evo Pro T 2.0
Weight 7.48kg (56cm)
Contact windwave.co.uk

Page 1 of 2Colnago Concept review

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