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Colnago Dream.
By Tom Demerly.

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 real bicycles.

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 USA.

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 something.

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 there is
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 stainless steel
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 see.

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 Inc.
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