Colnago made a big splash at the Eurobike trade show in 2012, with a disc brake-equipped version of their range-topping C59 Italia. It wasn't the only disc braked road bike at the show, but it made waves thanks to the brakes in question being fully hydraulic – no cables, no stem-mounted adapters, just pure hydraulic from levers to calipers.
The fully hydraulic brake system has taken some lateral thinking to pull off. Standard road bike levers are already full of shifting mechanism, and there's not much room in there for a tub of fluid with a piston in it. To get around the lack of space, Colnago have turned to electronic shifting.
With only a couple of buttons to accommodate, the space inside the lever body is freed up for a hydraulic system from Colnago's compatriot brake makers, Formula. In fact, the Formula lever hoods are noticeably compact compared to mechanical offerings from Shimano or SRAM, even with the brake cylinders inside.
Pre-production bikes (including our test bike) used a Shimano Di2 setup. We've commented before on the slightly suspect ergonomics of the C59's Di2 shifters. They use overlapping paddles behind each brake lever, making it all too easy to brush one paddle when you're aiming for the other.
That's become somewhat moot, as complete production bikes use Campagnolo's EPS electronic shifting, with the levers redesigned along Ergopower lines – a paddle behind the lever to shift one way, a thumb trigger on the inside of the hood to go the other – and should be more successful. We also doubt whether anyone will object much to Colnago fitting exclusively Italian components to their flagship bike.
The C59 Disc frame (available on its own for £3,799) is, unsurprisingly, very similar in appearance to the C59 Italia. It's made – and, of course, painted – in Italy, using carbon tubes bonded into carbon lugs.
The quatrefoil-sectioned down tube claims stiffness benefits, although, given how closely it mirrors the shape of Colnago's ace of clubs logo, we can't help but detect a nod to styling present there too. No matter – Colnagos have always been as much about looks as performance.
One of the big benefits about the lugs-and-tubes construction of the C59 is that it's easier for Colnago to offer a wide range of sizes. Moulded frames made from no more than three or four bits need a whole set of moulds for each size, costly enough for most manufacturers not to bother – there's no shortage of bikes that only come in S, M or L.
The C59, in contrast, is available in a massive 22 sizes. As well as 1cm increments from 52 to 65cm, there are extra small 42, 45, 48 and 50cm options, with slightly longer variants of the common 52, 54, 56 and 58 sizes rounding off the set.
Frames and forks have to be beefed up to take the very different loads that disc brakes subject them to – Colnago's C59 Disc frameset comes in at 150g more than the standard version, with the difference roughly evenly split between the sturdier back end and all-new fork.
The wheels, too, are likely to need beefing up, at least compared to the ones you'd typically find in a pro peloton. With the braking force now being applied at the hub, the spokes suddenly have more work to do – forget having a low spoke count radial front wheel. Colnago have designed a new wheelset for the C59 Disc, with the Artemis Disc hoops having 24 spokes each and deep-section carbon rims.
That extra dose of frame and wheel weight has a significant effect on the C59. At 7.2kg (15.9lb) it's pretty sturdy for a top-flight race bike, and the extra material in the frame contributes to a firmer ride.
The standard C59 prioritises power delivery over compliance, and the Disc version is distinctly unyielding. Not to the point of being harsh or uncomfortable, but it's no magic carpet.
On the other hand, it's also ridiculously fast, accelerating with a vigour that belies its welterweight build. It's fair to say that accelerating is the thing the C59 Disc does best.
Oh, and going around corners – it's pretty special at that too. 'Agile' is an overused word in bike tests, but there isn't really a better one for the C59 Disc. It'll dodge and dart with the best of them, but it sweeps and arcs beautifully too. There are no weaknesses at all in the handling and, if anything, that extra bit of chassis stiffness only increases your confidence in it.
And stopping? With tiny calipers and 140mm rotors at both ends, the C59's brakes were never going to deliver eyeball-popping power, and they don't. What they do deliver is feel and consistency – braking in the wet is largely the same as braking in the dry, except that you're likely to run out of tyre grip earlier.
Concerns about braking on carbon rims go away completely, and you get excellent feedback through the levers, making it easy to modulate your braking to keep them just off locking for maximum deceleration.
Concerns have been raised about heat dissipation on road disc brakes, what with much higher speeds compared to mountain bikes. We didn't experience any issues in testing, although we didn't get a chance to try it down any mountain descents.
Sustained braking is going to put a lot of heat into the brakes, which on a carbon frame doesn't really have anywhere to go except the pads and fluid. You'd be well advised not to drag the brakes, but to use short bursts of hard braking on long descents and let the stoppers cool between corners.
The C59 Disc is a full-bore, no compromise race bike, albeit one that you can't actually race yet. We have to applaud Colnago for pushing the envelope here. It would have been easy to sit back and wait for the big component manufacturers to come up with full hydraulic brake systems, but they've gone out and sorted their own setup.
The C59 Disc is a great technical achievement, but right now it's one for wealthy, early adopting recreational riders. When the UCI approve discs for racing, though, Colnago are ready…