Italians certainly love their cycling. In Lombardy, a province known for its dynamic entrepreneurs, a whole industry has sprouted around the production of racing bicycles, parts and accessories. And among the many manufacturers in the Milan area, Colnago clearly leads the pack.
Ernesto Colnago was born in 1932 on the family farm in Cambiago. As a boy, he developed a passion for pedalling, as well as a talent for bicycle mechanics. By the age of 13, he had himself a job as a welder at the Gloria factory. He left at 19 to open his own shop, right on the family property. In those early days, he was making wheels for such legendary racers as Giorgio Albani and Fausto Coppi. Two years later, in 1954, he became a mechanic for a whole team, under the guidance of a mentor who was one of the best in the profession. Ernesto learned so well that, by 1955, he was able to build his first eponymous bike. He gave that first Colnago to Fiorenzo Magni, who won that year’s Giro d’Italia—the first of five victories for Colnago in the famous Italian race. Then came two Tour de France wins, more than 50 world championships and 15 Olympic victories … among others! Not to mention that Colnago has twice won the Hour Record for the longest distance covered in one hour on a bicycle: first with Eddy Merckx (49.43 km in Mexico City, 1972) and again with Tony Rominger (55.29 km in Bordeaux, 1994).
Colnago remains a family business, headquartered in Cambiago, although it maintains operations in 40 countries around the world. Sixty-two years in, Ernesto, the patriarch, is still at the helm, with help from family members near and far, all operating in an organized company where relationships are organic, rather than hierarchical. In this business, passion has always mattered more than predictability. Over the years, Colnago has demonstrated technical mastery, and a flair for the avantgarde. If you still need convincing, just look to Maranello, 200 km away, which is home to Ferrari, another king of the road. Together, Ernesto Colnago and Enzo Ferrari worked with carbon fibre to develop a composite that bears both their emblematic names: Colnago for Ferrari. This was the first lugged carbon frame for a racing bicycle, introducing the straight, rather than the standard curved fork. Ernesto is credited with other industry firsts: he was the first to adapt the frame to allow for disc brakes, which were heavier, and very different from regular bicycle brakes, requiring a completely different approach for installation in the middle of the wheel. He also played around with tube and stem lengths to create a new frame geometry, and invented the cloverleaf down tube, to add strength and rigidity. In fact, the clover was later incorporated in the company’s fourth and latest logo.
Colnago operates in a high-end niche: some models are handmade in Italy, and the frames are individually painted by airbrush for unique results every time. As one might expect from an industry leader, Colnago means strength, quality, comfort and maximum efficiency. Where others have been content to copy, Colnago has chosen to create. The company was the first to introduce carbon fibre to the cycling world, a historic change that is now taken for granted, but which took a great deal of courage at the time. Ernesto has every reason to consider himself an explorer and innovator. His company prides itself on high standards, never compromising, and always putting quality before quantity. For example, Colnago refuses to sacrifice cyclist safety in the quest to reduce weight. Indeed, safety specs are well above industry standards. That is no surprise, given that racers and cyclists have always been the focus of Ernesto’s concern. He listens to them carefully, and welcomes them regularly to his factory, which vibrates with all their magnificent exploits. At the cycling museum built on the factory premises, you can see all the company’s ground-breaking models, some of which still bear the traces of mud picked up on the way to victory! The Colnago philosophy—never to be a passing fad or flavour of the week—is clearly felt here. This company doesn’t follow the pack, it sets the pace. So where will the future take them? Colnago will continue listening to the beat of its own drummer, maintain a serious approach and remain patient, a most valuable virtue. Watch Colnago stick to its game plan as it pursues its goal to be recognized around the world for the quality of its products and its contribution to international cycling. After all, competition is in its DNA.