This is my Colnago Dream: The bike
is a dream come true. Click to enlarge.
I'm not one for traditional
stuff. This is 2003. We judge bikes with CAD/CAM, Finite Elemental
Analysis (FEA), strain gauges, and computer modeling. Tradition
is for old guys who talk about how great it was when they made
Ernesto Colnago is synonymous
with tradition. Colnago has been making frames for over 50 years:
Probably the most famous and revered frames in the world. Most
races in the world- almost without exception- have been won
at one time or another on a Colnago. Colnago has made frames
for all the great riders: Merckx, LeMond, Moser, Museeuw, Argentin,
Saroni, Rominger, Bartoli, Dekker, Tonkov, Steels. The list
goes on and on. Talk to any cyclist, they'll tell you, "There
is something about a Colnago
" If you ride a bike
you have to own a Colnago some day.
I've owned four. I did my first
Ironman on a Colnago (Hawaii, 1986- before there were triathlon
bikes or aero bars). I enjoyed each of them, but I have to admit,
I bought the first three for the wrong reasons.
I bought those three for the
same reason most people (without knowing it) buy a bike: They
looked cool and were a "prestige" bike. Now I've learned
that's the worst way to buy a bike. I learned (the hard way)
you should never buy a bike by looks.
The interesting thing is, this
past Spring I bought another Colango. I'll tell you why:
After 23 years in the bike
business I've become a pretty good bike fitter. I went to school
for bike fitting with the New England Cycling Academy, learned
bike fit at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs,
worked as the National Tech Representative for Time Sport, U.S.A.
(U.S. distributors of Time pedals) and went on to really learn
bike fit when I went to Europe to race as an amateur for the
Nike/Velo-News/Gatorade Cycling Team. I learned the right way
to buy a bike is by fit.
Like anyone who has primarily
one tool, in my case the ability to fit bikes, I saw everything
from that perspective: If the only tool you have is a hammer,
everything looks like a nail.
A bike manufacturer (NOT Colnago)
offered to build me a custom version of their frame to my specifications
for free. The perfect bike made to my measurements. I submitted
my exact specifications. They built the bike. I put the components
on it. It sucked. There was something wrong. The bike manufacturer
followed my specifications. The bike had excellent workmanship.
There was something wrong with my approach. I learned (the hard
way-again) you can't design a bike based solely on fit. You
can only fit a bike based on fit. I am not a frame designer,
I am a bike fitter. And therein lies the fallacy of custom frames
built only to a person's measurements with no regard for handling
and road performance.
What might fit a person correctly,
may not be built with geometry that will interface with the
road correctly. That is the argument for a stock geometry frame.
If a manufacturer has a proven history of building performance
bikes, each of their sizes (provided they make one that fits
you) will interface with the road (and you) perfectly. Once
you find the correct frame for you with the proper sized components
(stem, crank, seatpost, saddle, pedal system, handlebars, etc.)
built within a reasonable range, then you will have not only
perfect fit but also perfect handling. If you design something
outside of that range, guess who's the test pilot: You.
Colnagos are tricky to fit.
They seem to have shortish top tubes and their seat tube measurement
methodology is a little odd. It takes experience with Colnagos
to fit Colnagos. I have learned a lot about fitting Colnagos
by fitting my own Colnagos and mostly from Dave Koesel of Trialtir
Colnago sizing takes experience.
Measurements are complex and unusual.
Click to enlarge.
Dave Koesel is one of the most
knowledgeable bicycle reps I know. He knows and understands
his product (and competing products) like no one else. He is
an excellent racer, but maintains the perspective of the casual,
recreational cyclist. Dave Koesel loves bicycles and cycling
technology. He is a materials engineer as well. Koesel has been
an enormous resource to Bikesport for the past year, and his
sales and technical contributions are impossible to measure.
Dave, Michael R. Rabe and I have spent many late nights discussing
the details of how Colnagos (and other bikes) are built- why
they are built that way, how to fit them, how to ride them.
I've never left a conversation with Koesel without learning
In 2001 I bought a Colnago
CT-1 Titanium and Carbon frame. I originally bought the 53cm.
size with a 53.5 cm. top tube. This frame actually measured
53cm., along the seat tube to the bottom of the seat post binder
collar (or seat clamp). The total measurement center to absolute
top of collar was 53.9 cm. The measurement center of bottom
bracket to center of top tube was 51cm. (traditional c. to c.
measurement). According to all of my calculations, and using
traditional bike fit algorithms, this bike would fit. It did
not. It was too large. The frame, although excellent, felt sluggish
and boxy, as though it was unresponsive. The center of gravity
was too high. I didn't have the standover height I needed for
aggressive accelerations and climbing. The bike didn't feel
compact and nimble. It's important to realize this was no fault
of the frame, it was my fault for ordering one size too large.
This illustrates the tragedy of missing your frame size by just
one centimeter. My position on the bike was correct: Saddle
height, reach, handlebar drop, saddle setback, etc. The bike
wasn't correct underneath me.
Koesel gave me the story: I
had sized the bike using traditional methodology: Not Colnago
methodology. Most people would have made do with the fit; some
may not even realize it wasn't optimal. But when you fork out
cash for an exotic, hand-made Italian bicycle, you're not going
for adequate- you're going for optimal. Koesel explained some
of the Colnago frame sizing methodology:
"Colnagos are designed
to use an offset seatpost and a long stem that hangs the rider's
weight over the wheels, not over the frame, which results in
a short wheelbase and fast handling. The bike is planted. They
just handle, like a Ferrari. The weight bias is perfect. That
is how Ernesto Colnago intended them to be ridden."
Koesel pointed out that I had
gone one frame size too large on the CT-1, and recommended replacing
the frame with a similar bike one centimeter smaller. I sold
the CT1 and purchased my current Colnago Dream Lux (Plus) in
a 52cm., one centimeter smaller than my previous CT1. This bike
measures exactly 52cm from the bottom of the seat collar to
the center of the bottom bracket and a mere 50 cm. from center
of bottom bracket to center of top tube along the seat tube
(c. to c.). See our photo for clarification if this is confusing.
The top tube of the bike was
4mm (that's millimeters) shorter. On the CT1 53cm I was using
a 120 stem with no spacers underneath and had trouble getting
a really good, low position in the drops (not that I use it
that much anymore, nice to have though when you're struggling
to not get dropped).
On my new 52cm. Dream Plus
I used a 130mm stem also with no spacers under the stem.
When you fit a bike perfectly
no need for headset spacers. Colnago does
not use integrated headsets. Click to enlarge.
The Dream built up very well.
Colnagos are typically a bit eccentric in assembly. The threaded
surfaces come from the factory very rough and all surfaces must
be tapped, chased and faced thoroughly before any component
installation. It is critical that every Colnago dealer owns
a full compliment of frame prep tools with sharp edges and is
fully skilled in their use. Colnago is one of few builders to
maintain adherence to the Italian threading standard. My only
problem came when I used the Colnago seatpost binder collar.
Again, partially my fault for not buying my bike earlier, but
when I got to Florida the bolt stripped on the first ride. I
reversed the nutted section and corrected the problem, but replaced
the entire collar with a Campagnolo one when I got back to Michigan.
While the finish, welds and cable
routing on the
Colnago Dream are perfect. the seatpost collar
is poor. I replaced mine with this
Campagnolo version. Click to enlarge.
Now I must confess to you,
I did a stupid thing. I built the bike and sent it down to Florida
with friend and associate Michael R. Rabe. Michael R. Rabe,
Vice President of Racing for the Wolverine Sports Club, Walden
Velodrome Board Member, Michigan State Cyclocross Champion and
cycling bon vivant, is an instructor at the Walden School of
Cycling in Florida. He agreed to transport my bike to Florida
where I would rendezvous with him and another associate, Colin
McMahon (also a State Champion), to attend the Walden School
of Cycling. Here we would log our first long miles of the season
under the instruction of the Walden School's cadre'.
I like to build my new bikes
for the season during the winter. It's easier to get parts.
There is more time to build the bike and tweek it in perfectly.
I can test the fit components on the Computrainer and be sure
every adjustment is perfect before the bike ever sees the road.
The best time to build a new bike is in the off season. I didn't
get an early enough start on my new Colnago though. No sooner
had I finished the bike, then I was shipping it off to meet
me at training camp in Florida. I didn't even have a week on
the indoor trainer on it.
Michael R. Rabe and Colin McMahon
were already in excellent form, but I was not fit. When I arrived
I put in a 300 mile week and the effects were telling. I came
back thinking the Colnago Dream was a bit too stiff for my liking.
The truth was I jumped in too quickly. I didn't have my "seat"
and I was doing a huge week on a new bike. Under these circumstances
no bike would have felt good.
Once back in Michigan, weeks
later, I was on the road on my Colnago. My form was improving
and I became acclimated to the bike. It didn't take long (even
in Florida) to learn the bike fit much better than my previous
Colnago. Another benefit was greatly improved handling. The
bike was more sure footed. It accelerated with less pedal strokes,
felt lighter and more agile. In reality, this aluminum Colnago
with full Shimano Dura-Ace is actually heavier than my previous
Colnago CT-1 with a Record 10 group. But it feels three pounds
lighter. It is a monster on hills. With my new, lower standover
height and lower center of gravity, withering attacks on uphills
are possible. I recently attacked Colin McMahon on the slope
of 5-Mile hill (not five miles long, only about a half-mile
if that, but named for 5 Mile road it is on). I was able to
instantly accelerate to 28 m.p.h., administering the coup de
grace on Colin and continuing up the climb at over 24 m.p.h.
until the top. That felt good. My fitness was coming back and
the bike felt really great. The difference in fit was amazing.
The bike is perfect.
The unique shape of the
Columbus Airplane Master profile down tube. Click to enlarge.
I built my bike with Shimano
Dura-Ace Team Issue components. Click to see closer.
The Colnago Dream is made
of Columbus Airplane 7005 aluminum; a proprietary heat-treated
tube set alloyed with magnesium, zinc, silicon and other materials
using multi-shaped profiles. The current version is refined
so that it is 200 grams lighter per tube set than previous versions.
This Italian 7005 aluminum is substantially more malleable than
more common (cheaper) Asian sourced 7005 tubes, and retains
even greater strength. The shape of the tubes is probably more
complex than any other aluminum bike, especially the Colnago
exclusive Biconic top and down tube. The chainstays are the
unique Master profile; an unusual, complex shape designed to
enhance chainstay stiffness. The benefit is a fully tuned ride
for each size. Since the tubing is size-specific a 62cm frame
has very similar ride quality to a 50cm frame. Each frame size
has different tubing sets to achieve a similar effect- larger
frames use thicker walls and different butting, smaller frames
have thinner wall tubes with shorter butted sections.
The unique Master profile
chainstays enhance stiffness and comfort simulatenously.
Click to see bigger.
You must click on this
photo to enlarge it to truly appreciate the incredible
welds and beautiful color.
Colnago bikes are about meticulous
attention to minute detail and unswerving devotion to function
and durability. The Dream Plus is case in point: the rear dropouts
are stainless steel. Most aluminum bikes have aluminum dropouts.
Soft aluminum is easily damaged and worn out when wheels are
frequently removed and replaced. The stainless steel inserts
on the Colnago Dream give the frame substantially better durability
than bikes with aluminum dropouts.
An inside look at the super-durable
dropouts that make a Colnago stronger than any other
aluminum frame. Click to enlarge.
Colnago has also stayed away
from the integrated headset. When I spoke with Dave Koesel about
Colnago's aversion to integrated headsets he stated the Colnago
company line: "Integrated headsets are mostly an aesthetic
feature. They call for going to bed with a headset manufacturer
forever. You can never switch headsets. You are married to that
headset forever. With Colnago you can buy your Campagnolo headset,
your Cane Creek headset, your Chris King headset. You cannot do
that with integrated."
I am a believer in integrated headsets however. The larger diameter
1&1/8" integrated sealed cartridge bearing headsets are
maintenance free provided they are installed correctly. On the
bikes I own with integrated headsets I have never had the slightest
problem, including never needing adjustment of any kind. The bearing
load is spread out over a wider surface area on the larger bearings,
reducing wear substantially. True, you can't replace them. However,
you'll never need to replace them either, or adjust them. It is
one less thing to worry about.
Koesel does make one point about integrated versus non-integrated
headsets that can't be disputed: "The biggest thing that's
maintenance free about an integrated headset are your choices.
It's not that its maintenance free that is the issue, its option
free. That's the problem."
I chose the Chris King Aheadset for my frame, since it has the
same maintenance free characteristics as integrated headsets and
never wears out. I've had King Headsets in probably ten bicycles.
I've never had the slightest hint of a problem. They are built
like the inside of a Rolex.
The Force fork is stiff,
comfortable and has a lightweight carbon fiber steer
tube. Click to enlarge.
It's the details: No
stupid "safety tabs" on these fork dropouts.
You can actually remove your wheel easily. Click to
Several forks are available on Colnago frames, all of them excellent.
I chose the Colnago Force carbon fiber fork. The Force is one
of a handful of truly carbon fiber forks, that is, it is all
carbon. It is a monocoque (one piece) molding with integral
carbon blades, crown and steer tube. The structure is internally
reinforced with a titanium sleeve. Because of the carbon steer
tube the fork is very light, only 420 grams before the steer
tube is cut. Another wonderful feature is no safety tabs on
the fork dropouts. Thank you, Mr. Colnago! Those idiotic protrusions
that ruin almost every fork and protect cyclists from their
own biggest threat (themselves), rendering your quick releases
useless, are gone. This is a race bike. If you own it, you better
know how to close a quick release skewer. The fork has a level
of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance that compliments
the frame, as though the Force fork was tuned specifically for
the Dream Plus frame. Much has been made of the "straight
fork revolution" started by Colnago. I don't have time
or space to fully explore the history of the straight fork,
so I will have to leave you with the assurance that it just
plain works. It corners, climbs, sprints, cruises and holds
up perfectly. Yeah, I like the way it looks too.
Another undeniable, albeit
utterly non-functional, aspect of Colnago workmanship is the
finish. It's not a good idea to buy any bike by looks, but if
a Colnago fits you, you can be sure whatever color scheme you
get will be spectacular. Each Colnago paint scheme is entirely
unique: No two are alike. Even if you bought two Colango C-40s
in 52cm with the Mapei Team paint scheme, the two bikes would
have differences in paint. There are almost no decals on a Colnago.
Almost every logo you see is painted on. The only exception
is the tubing decal, supplied by Columbus. You see very minor
flaws in the paint. Perhaps a small over spray on one of the
maskings, maybe a hint of asymmetry in one of the decorations.
I like that. It means an Italian craftsman actually touched
the frame, in a clean room in Italy. He lavished careful attention
on the bike before you got it. On some top tubes there is a
little racer painted. Some have the racer with his arms on the
handlebars, on a few; one arm has been raised in a victory salute.
Every one is unique. This is an impressive achievement especially
when you consider Colnago is one of the only ISO compliant bicycle
companies in the world.
No other paint job comes
close to Colnago color schemes. Click for a better look.
My bike is the Rabobank team paint scheme. No two paint
jobs are identical. Click to enlarge.
The Colnago Dream is not
just a road bike, but actually a family of bikes that include
a cyclocross version (as owned by friend and associate, Michigan
State Cyclocross Champion Michael R. Rabe), a track bike,
a triathlon bike and a mountain bike. Of course, each bike
is specifically designed and built for its intended purpose,
and each uses the appropriate version of Columbus Airplane
tubing. I've seen each version, and ridden the track and cyclocross
versions. We've had all four versions go through our store.
Although I do not race cyclocross (yet) or track, these versions
of the Dream appeared as impressive as my road version.
Demand for Colnagos has always
been high. Perhaps the most impressive endorsement is something
Dave Koesel and Frankie Andreu both told us: "If you asked
riders in the pro peloton what bike they want to buy with their
own money I'd say 3/4s would say Colnago. There have been several
instances where riders left the Mapei (Colnago sponsored) Team
and bought their team bikes to continue riding them." Another
reason for the popularity is size availability. Since the bikes
are sold in every centimeter from 45-65 the fit can be perfect.
Colnago lust has been fueled by increased awareness of European
road cycling in the U.S., "A big part of it is OLN's coverage,
you're seeing Colango go 1,2,3 at Paris Roubaix, winning two of
the last three world championships, winning stage after stage
in the Tour de France. Now they are involved in sponsoring domestic
teams such as Navigators, Wauters won the U.S. Pro Championships
on a Colnago." This heightened visibility has leveraged brand
equity here in the U.S. that was established in Europe more than
half a century ago.
Colnago has enjoyed an up and
down ride in the U.S. with the rise and fall of whomever their
U.S. distributor has been. When I travel in Europe I am always
impressed at how strong the brand is compared to in the U.S. Thankfully,
the current U.S. Colnago distributor, Trialtir U.S.A., under the
leadership of Massimo Bartolini, is doing an excellent job. There
is three times the warehousing space for Colnago at Trialtir,
making U.S. supply better than ever. The Houston, Texas based
company has brought shipping times down to a few days, instead
of months. There is a rumored "close relationship" or
classic Italian "combination" between Mr. Bartolini
and the Italian shipping firm that air freights the frames to
the United States. All Trialtir would tell us about that is, "The
new relationship between the U.S. distributor, their shipping
resources and Colnago Italy is closer than ever." As you
may know, more business in Italy takes place in the cafes over
cappuccino or across the dinner table than in the board rooms.
This new streamlined U.S. distribution arrangement seems to reflect
that. Colnago frames warehoused at Trialtir in Houston are frequently
in our store in less than five days. With the help of Dave Koesel,
we have nearly round the clock access to availability of colors
and sizes. Stocking and distributing Colnago frames is not easy.
There are so many frames and so many colors, each available in
every centimeter size, thousands of combinations, but Trialtir
has done a better job of rising to the challenge than any other
previous U.S. Colnago agent.
After putting in a season on
my Colango Dream I can tell you it has been just that: A Dream.
The bike is no-nonsense. It is a reliable, beautifully made, perfect
race bike. The fit, now that I've learned the Colnago methodology,
is perfect. I do feel "planted", as Dave Koesel said,
on the bike. The handling is incomparable, stable and nimble.
It does handle better than any road bike I've owned, and I've
probably owned over 40 road bikes. The advantage to this is how
well the bike performs on a group ride.
You're on a Sunday morning
ride with eight of your friends. When the pace is fast and your
conditioning not good you are hanging on the wheels by a thread.
The Colnago Dream allows me to put the bike in tight, where I
need to be, to keep that life-giving draft that keeps me in the
ride. Riding close to other riders in a group is easier on this
bike, it is less scary. You feel more relaxed. The bike simply
does what you need it to. Think turn, and it turns. Properly fitted,
the bike is an aluminum extension of your body.
This past Saturday we had our
usual ride from the store at 7 a.m. Among the attendees were Colin
McMahon, Mike Aderhold, Cheryl Klotkowski, Mark Trzeciak (Bikesport
Manager), Amy Kelly, Don Remboski and Frankie Andreu (9 time Tour
de France finisher, U.S. Postal Team Domestic Director). For an
early morning weekend ride it was an excellent group. Frankie
had just returned from the Tour de France where he did color commentary
for Outdoor Life Network (OLN). Cheryl and Amy are in the final
stages of preparation for Ironman Wisconsin and Mike Aderhold
and Colin "Calvin" McMahon are in their typical excellent
form. We were going 38 miles from Bikesport to Northville and
back. Having Frankie on the ride always adds a lot to the experience.
Despite his claim to be in poor condition, the ride started at
a business-like pace with Frankie at the head of affairs. It is
on a ride like this that I appreciate the Colnago most. I stayed
tucked in safely, took my pulls but kept them brief, and enjoyed
being a part of a well-organized group of good cyclists on an
excellent ride. By the return trip several of the riders had selected
different, longer routes while Mike Aderhold, Frankie, Colin,
Don and I were on the return leg from Northville. The terrain
is mostly flat. The return pace was much more sporting, and I
was at my limit most of the way. On a ride like this it is easy
to imagine being on a Colnago in a breakaway during the Tour de
France. With the smaller group the precise steering, tight wheelbase,
aerodynamic posture and ride comfort were critical to me staying
in the ride. Combined with fast acceleration on the Dream was
perfect in this setting. I would have been dropped on a lesser
bike. As it was the ride was one of those rare, once a year, perfect
rides. Good weather, great riders, a good road and a fantastic
bike that feels like its part of you.
Owning a Colnago is something
every cyclist should experience. There are few experiences like
it in life. It is as much feeling as it is function, and therein
lies the mystic synergy people mention when they say, "There
is something about a Colnago".
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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