Colnago celebration as Italy’s master bike builder turns 90

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Yellow is the Tour de France colour of distinction. And Colnago’s bikes, are proven winners in France. (Photo: Colnago)
Yellow is the Tour de France colour of distinction. And Colnago’s bikes, are proven winners in France. (Photo: Colnago)
  • To many cyclists, he is the epitome of Italian frame building.
  • Ernesto Colnago has spent his teens and entire adult life, perfecting the bicycle.
  • His career and achievements are unlikely to ever be equalled.

If you want to know who the greatest cyclist of all time is, there is hardly anyone better qualified to judge than Ernesto Colnago.

The Italian frame master turned 90 this week, and he has seen cycling evolve through all its eras. As a testament to the excellence of his brand, the current Tour de France champion, Tadej Pogacar, rides a Colnago.

It all started at 13, when he started welding his own frames in rural Italy. Word of his mercurial talent soon spread and Colnago was attracting a diversity of customers. Mostly commuter riders, such as farmers and labourers.

classic steel bike
The Arabesque is a must-have, for most classic bike collectors. (Photo: Colnago)

Getting all the speed out of steel

As cycling became a more popular sport and pastime, Colnago became a master technician at the Giro d'Italia.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his bikes set new standards for performance and aesthetics. His mastery at steel fabrication created a bicycle for Eddy Merckx's 1972 hour world record performance, which weighed only 5.75kg. Without a gram of carbon-fibre.

Italian steel bike
Colnago's master was a huge advance in steel tube technology. (Photo: Colnago)

A steel master - who embraced carbon

Although Colnago frames have always been synonymous with beautiful steel aesthetics, commanding significant prices in the collectors market, the brand has remained abreast of technology.

After meeting with Enzo Ferrari in 1986, Colnago recognized that carbon-fibre frames would be the future. A few years later, in 1996, a carbon-fibre Colnago won the punishing Paris-Roubaix, validating composite frames for the most demanding road races.

steel road bike
A true icon of Italian cycling. And creator of magnificent bikes. (Photo: Colnago)

Never shy, of new technology

Colnago was also an early proponent of disc brakes on road bikes, when most rivals dismissed hydraulic brakes as inappropriate mountain biking technology. The first Colnago road bike with disc brakes, was built in 2012.

As he enters his 90th year, Ernesto Colnago might not be going to the office with great frequency. Or manipulating steel tubes in a welding jig. But his bikes remain lead contenders at cycling's most esteemed races. And cherished anchor pieces, in the most meticulously curated bicycle collections.  

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