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About Italia Bici

In our special Italia Bici section, presents the finest Italy has to offer in bicycles and cycling apparel. Each feature presents a leading Italian manufacturer and its 2005 product lines, with special insights into the design and manufacture of their products, including the input provided by some of the world's leading professional cyclists.

In these pages, we also meet the designers and driving forces behind some of cycling's greatest names, and look at the history of companies that have shaped the sport in the world's number one cycling nation.

By Cyclingnews staff in Cambiago, Italy

Occasionally on our visits to Colnago World HQ, we are invited into what we call "The Inner Sanctum", otherwise known as Ernesto Colnago's office. Usually the door is closed as Ernesto Colnago is almost always in meetings with the constant stream of people who come to Cambiago to see him. Suppliers, dealers, racers, friends from the world of cycling and on Saturday mornings, even the occasional kids' racing team of young Italians who are brought to meet their team bike sponsor, Sig. Colnago himself. Occasionally, a journalist even gets past the door and on the occasion of Cyclingnews' Italia Bici 2005, we recently sat down on a cold March day with Ernesto Colnago to talk.

C50 head tube (L) Vs. Brand X (R) Colnago explains "(Brand X) is an inferior grade of carbon fibre that is sloppily bonded to an aluminum steerer tube. See the differrence in the monocoque C50 headtube?"
C50 head tube (L) Vs. Brand Y (R) Colnago explains "You can really see the difference in the weave of (Brand Y) and the carbon fibre we use in the C50 headtube."
Colnago's CNC machined Ti Bottom Bracket shell insert (L)
Colnago's CNC machined Ti Bottom Bracket shell inside the BB
Colnago's Star fork, surrounded by Brand X (L) and Brand Y (R)
Colnago notes that "you can see here with these forks, there's carbon and there's carbon. See how thick the carbon fibre is on my fork in the center, while the other two forks use a much thinner material. I simply won't take chances with carbon fibre!"

The first thing Colnago did was reach under his capacious desk and pull out a newly painted and decorated C50 frame to show us. "This is the new frame that we're sending to Oscar Freire. We'll make a limited edition production run of this frame; just 250."

Molto teams for 2005

After admiring Freire's new ride, we discussed a topic that's still near and dear to Colnago's heart: bicycle racing. "Do you know that we are sponsoring quite a few teams this season?" Colnago asked. "In Italy we have Domina Vacanze, which is in the ProTour and Ceramiche Panaria-Navigare, who will be in the Giro d'Italia. Of course we will continue with Rabobank; we have been with them since the beginning. Also in the Netherlands, we are with an interesting new team called Shimano-Memory Corp that came from a fusion of a Dutch team and the Japanese Shimano team."

Colnago continued his discourse, explaining, "We'll continue to sponsor the Navigators Insurance team from America, and our friend Gerard Bulens has re-focused the Landbouwkredeit-Colnago team this season on young riders like Maxime Monfort, Nico Sijmens and Sergy Lagutin. For the first time, we'll sponsor a team in Poland, the Intel-Action team with some experienced riders like Piotr Wadecki, Cezary Zamana and Tomas Brozyna. And we always like to support women's cycling, so we have decided to work with Team S.A.T.S. in Denmark with a mix of international riders like Rachel Heal and Danish riders like Trine Hansen."

When we remarked on the fact that these eight top level teams was a lot, Colnago laughed and said, "Oh I know... plus we also sponsor two mountain bike teams in Italy as well as amateur teams like Vellutex. It's a very big commitment this year; I can't think of anybody who is doing as much in sponsoring as [Colnago] is." We asked Colnago why the big sponsoring push this year, and he told us, "With the ProTour this year, we needed to make sure that we were well positioned and so we have two teams. The other teams fit into our marketing strategy so there you have it. Over 500 frames! Plus special bikes for riders like Friere, Hontchar, Boogerd, Sella... but we will learn a lot for bicycle development and hopefully have many wins. So we hope this big sponsoring push will be worth it."

Not All Carbon Fibre Is Created Equal

Colnago was rummaging around under his desk, a place that is kind of like an inner sanctum within the inner sanctum and suddenly pulled out a slew of carbon fibre bicycle components that had been cut in half for a 3D exploded view. "There are a lot of bicycles around today that are called carbon fiber and today I want to show you what looks like carbon fibre and what is really carbon fibre!" exclaimed Colnago. Ernesto has a long history with carbon fibre bicycles, going back to his first one back in 1986, the Concept, which had a sensational debut at the Milano bike show that year. "I wanted to do something different so I developed a collboration with Ferrari Engineering, who helped me create this first carbon fibre model," said Colnago. "The frame was developed with the same engineers who developed Ferrari's F1 cars and in the end, this model didn't turn out too badly! And it helped us learn about carbon fibre construction. Back then it was unheard of to use this exotic composite material to build a bicycle."

Colnago also pointed out to Cyclingnews that his Concept model, which became the template for his future carbon fibre bicycles, was never sold to the public, mostly because the integrated universal gear change made the Colnago Concept just too heavy to market.

Three years later in 1989, Colnago wowed the bicycle world again with the Colnago C35, a swoopy monocoque beauty that was again developed with Ferrari Engineering. The C35 was a true race bike and was used by some of Colnago top riders back then. Colnago pointed out, "It's almost 20 years that we've been working with carbon fibre and we have learned through this experience how to work with this material. It's not that simple; you have to learn by trial and error how to place the carbon fibre in such a way that it supports the rider properly, absorbs the road vibration and has all the appropriate mechanical characteristics to provide the best performance and lightest weight. I have to say I am concerned at the trend that exists now to use inferior carbon fibre to build bicycles. There are a lot of cheap frames out there."

Colnago compared carbon fibre to cloth, telling Cyclingnews, "Of course, carbon fibre is woven, like cashmere wool. There are many grades of quality of carbon fibre. To make a bicycle out of 8 to 10 layers of high modulus carbon fibre is expensive! That's why many bicycle manufacturers are willing to cut corners, to save money by using a few layers of good quality carbon fibre, then using inferior materials as filler. That's not the way we do it at Colnago; we have been working with the same Italian supplier for carbon fibre, ATR, for many years. They are the same company that supplies carbon fibre to Ferrari, Ducati and others; and in the bicycle sector, they work exclusively with Colnago."

Ernesto Colnago continued his fascinating discourse on carbon fibre, explaining, "We decided to cut open some other frames to see if what we suspected was true. And that's what we found; many of these so-called carbon fibre frames use filler material or use an inferior grade of carbon fibre material. But you can't see it from the outside; one frame looks like another but they aren't at all!" Colnago also called our attention to his bottom bracket design and construction. "To fix the bottom bracket in our C50 frame, we designed a special CNC'ed titanium insert that costs a considerable amount; just look at the way it's made. But many of the inexpensive carbon fibre frames these days just glue a threaded aluminium sleeve in the bottom bracket. That is not the way we chose to do it. This is what I mean when I say there is carbon fibre and there is carbon fibre. It might look the same, but it isn't. At Colnago, we know carbon fibre and we've been working with it for almost twenty years."

Colnago Joins the A-Team

Just back from the Taiwan bicycle show, we asked Colnago about his decision to join the Taiwan sourcing consortium controlled by Giant Bicycles called the A-Team. Colnago has become a A-Team sponsor member, joining Specialized and Trek. Colnago told us right off the bat, "we will source several mid-range models for 2006 in Taiwan. The rest of our production will remain Made In Italy and will always remain as Made In Italy. But we see that the the world of bicycles is changing. Thanks to our collaboration with A-Team, now we can obtain high-quality competitively priced bicycles that can bear the Colnago name."

Colnago further explained to Cyclingnews, "Of course, a few years ago, I would have never considered taking a partner in Taiwan. But now the time is right. I am the first Italian who has officially decided to move part of my production to Taiwan. So I've joined the A-Team because when I to do something, I always try to do it in the most serious and clearest way possible. I am not trying to hide anything here. Colnago wants to collaborate with the best Taiwanese companies. At Colnago, we go ahead by small steps; we're a company that operates in a high-end niche market are not looking to sell a lot of bicycles. Plus, Colnago is synonymous with quality and production control and with the A-Team we can produce high-quality bicycles in Taiwan that maintain the standard of quality and design I've established at Colnago over the last fifty years."

Colnago also told Cyclingnews that his Taiwan sourced product would not be available in the US. "Most of our sales in America are high-end frame sets so we don't believe that our new mid-range bikes meet the market needs. They are destined only for Europe and Asia."

The Future Is Now

As we were almost out the door of Ernesto Colnago's inner sanctum, he called to us, "Hey Cyclingnews!" and we turned around to see something very special in Colnago's hands. "You wanted to see something new?" he laughed and as Colnago revealed his latest capolavore from under his desk, our eyes bugged out at the latest creation from Il Mago di Cambiago. Ernesto swore us to secrecy about this new model, but admitted that a prototype of Colnago's newest, most innovative frameset would be in the Giro d'Italia in a few months. We'll be looking for it!

Further reading

Colnago website