Colnago – Vintage Steel Bikes

Country: Italy
Founded: Cambiago

The history of Colnago Steel Bikes

Colnago today ranks amongst the most famous of the great Italian brands, having grown exponentially since founder Ernesto Colnago opened his first humble one-man workshop in the early ’50s after having served his apprenticeship with the Focesi family at Gloria Bicycles in Milan. In the late ’40s Ernesto was a determined and dedicated amateur bike racer, and had over a dozen victories in Classics to his name by the time an accident in the final sprint of the 1951 Milan-Busseto saw him suffer a severe leg break. Faced with the prospect of fifty days of immobility in a plaster cast, young Ernesto convinced his employer „Papa Focesi“ to let him build wheels from his home. His talent as a wheelsmith saw his income more than double, and Ernesto realised he could open a business of his own.

The Colnago name first appeared on a bike frame in 1954. In the same year Colnago made the acquaintance of the great Fiorenzo Magni, known already as „The Lion of Flanders“, who was among the first to promote the idea of racing teams being funded by professional sponsors rather than representing their home nation. The following year Colnago was employed as second mechanic to legendary frame builder Falerio Masi for the Nivea-Fuchs pro team contesting the Giro d’Italia. 1955 was also the year Colnago made his first custom made-to-measure bicycle frame for the powerful and fearsome descender Gastome Nencini, riding for Chlorodont, who would finish third overall in the Giro behind Magni and Coppi.

In the 1960s Colnago took the young Gianni Motta under his wing, and provided the bicycles with which Motta won a single stage of the Giro in 1964, achieved third place in both the Tour and the Giro in 1965, and rode to overall victory in 1966 Giro, to be acclaimed by the public as „the new Coppi“. From ’64 to ’73 Colnago was the chief mechanic of the Italian national team, as well as spending twelve years with the famous Molteni pro team with their champion riders Motta and later Dancelli. The Molteni bike Colnago provided Michelle Dancelli, upon which he won the first Italian victory in the Milan-San Remo for seventeen years, was lauded by the American cycling press, who acclaimed Colnago as „the Enzo Ferrari of two wheels“. In 1971 Molteni contracted the indomitable Eddy Merckx, and Colnago became his trusted mechanic. Merckx became the preeminent pro cyclist of the decade, his innumerable victories including the Hour Record-setting ride in Mexico City in 1972, for which Colnago purpose-built a bicycle weighing a mere 5.7 Kilogrammes. The innovative titanium stem had to be sent to Detroit to be welded because there wasn’t the expertise in Europe at the time.

Many notable champions rode to victory on Colnago bikes, which were sometimes emblazoned with the names of their pro sponsors. An abbreviated A-Z of the many famous champions who achieved notable victories on Colnago bikes might include Djamoldine Abdujaparov, Giovanni Battaglin, Paolo Bettini, three-time World Champion Oscar Freire, Maurizio Fondriest, Freddy Maertens, Francesco Moser, Italian national champion Enrico Paolini, World Champion Beppe Saronni, Erik Zabel and Joop Zoetemelk.

Top Colnago models

Colnago Super, Colnago Mexico, to commemorate Merckx’s Hour Record ride.

Giuseppe Saronni became World Champion in 1982 for the GiS Gelati team, atop an innovative ‘Eso-Mexico’ which would be marketed from 1983 as the ‘Master’. Distinguishing features of the ‘Master’ include the rigid ‘cross’ shaped cross-section main tubes and the straight fork blades.

“Due to its labor intensive nature, and the need to develop precision machinery to accommodate not only the tubes, but the lugs needed to join them, bikes built using these Oval tubes were exceedingly rare in the mid 1980s. In fact, Columbus allowed only one master frame builder, Vanni Pettenella, the chance to build these bikes for Colnago spanning from 1983 to 1985. Known for pushing the limits of current technology from their beginning, Colnago knew they had a different kind of bike and didn’t stop at the tube shape.

Though the science of measuring aerodynamics was still new to the bicycle industry, it didn’t stop Colnago from experimenting with frame features that are now common in any manufacturers “aero” lineup. The reverse-seating of the rear brake caliper was an example of this forward thinking attitude, pun intended. Additionally, the down tube shifters were moved in closer together to save that extra watt or two.”


Colnago Arabesque, Colnago C-35, Colnago Carbitubo, Colnago Duall, Colnago EsaMexico, Colnago International, Colnago Master, Colnago Master Krono, Colnago Master Piu, Colnago Mexico, Colnago Mexico Oro, Colnago Nuovo Mexico, Colnago Pista, Colnago Super, Colnago Superissimo

C40, full carbon frameset, pre-monocoque, glued tubing featuring the same cross sectional shape as its Master precursor. Colnago BiTitan, Colnago C-94, Colnago Decor, Colnago Master, Colnago Master Krono, Colnago Master Olympic, Colnago Master Light, Colnago Tecnos, Colnago Titanio,


Colnago frames and bicycles have always commanded a premium price, both new and used, and always feature innovative and delightful details in design and construction. Colnago has a reputation for flamboyant multicoloured paintwork, and many of the high end offerings are distinguished by signature lug castings with elaborate curlicues. The famous clover leaf logo is instantly recognizable. Buyer beware, there are many poor copies emblazoned with the Colnago name but vastly inferior in build quality. Needless to say, we only ever trade in the real thing.