Colnago Arte review£1,799.95

Truly a beautiful – and affordable – work of Arte

BikeRadar score4/5

Colnago is a legend for a very good reason. The Arte is far from the marque's most expensive bike, but this £1499.95 still has the smoothness and precision for which the framebuilder to the equally legendary Eddy Merckx is famous.

After years of Italian production of what some say is the ultimate racing machine, with a fierce dedication to race bred design and development, Colnago’s Arte represents a desire to allow more people to experience its legendary marque through more accessible pricing.

The Colnago mystique

Colnago’s photo gallery begins with shots of road racing legend Eddy Merckx and his hour record machine and continues with numerous photos of Ernesto Colnago proudly standing next to neat rows of gleaming custom team bikes, ready to do battle on various classic stages or single day races.

As you click through this two-wheeled pageant, it becomes obvious that Colnago exists for one purpose only: to bless this jaded world with the existence of one of the most beautiful and useful objects in existence, the racing bicycle.

Moving the closely controlled production to Taiwan might have caused a stir in some traditionalist circles, but it shows Colnago’s determination to stay squarely in the fray in the global battle for attention.

Sitting in between the £849.95 105-equipped aluminium Primavera and the £2399.95 Ultegra-equipped all-carbon CLX, the Ultegra SL-equipped Arte has a carbon and aluminium mix frame, and fulfils its brief with panache at the reasonable price of £1499.95. Along with the above complete bike range, UK importers Windwave also brings in the full complement of Italian produced framesets, which are available solo or as custom builds.

Ride & handling: like Guinness, smooth but stout

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be the little ball in one of those oil bath compasses, protected from vibration and always pointing steadily and reliably in the right direction, you’ll find your answer with the Arte.

Just a few feet along a typically rough road surface will make you appreciate the high frequency damping qualities of the carbon bladed fork, complemented by the bowed carbon seatstays and rear triangle.

This smoothness, combined with wonderful balance and perfect poise, makes for glorious handling; the contemporary sloping geometry based on 73-degree seat and 73.5 head angles accounts for some of the alchemy. The Arte displays great stability at speed, helped by the fork which has just enough fore and aft and lateral give to absorb shocks and potholes while negotiating breakneck corners.

The stiff frame is tempered by the supple grip of the Rubinos, keeping things steady and surefooted. A very robust main triangle imparts a solid and luxurious feel to the bike, while stomping on the pedals results in an immediate forward response.

Although partial to curved forks for reasons of aesthetics and comfort, I was quickly won over by Colnago’s straight fork; it provides pin sharp changes of direction and a clarity of purpose when making the kind of split second decisions that riding a bike at speed or in traffic tends to force upon you.

The only minor note in this major symphony is that medium and big hits do slip through the net with the occasional jolt – a result of the very rigid main triangle, a stout and broad wishbone rear stay configuration, and an unyielding seatpost.

If you’ve ever wanted to buy into the Ferrari mystique but only have an Alfa budget, the Colnago Arte is your machine. Your £1499.95 allows access to the race bred mythology carefully nurtured by one of Italy’s foremost bicycle creators. The Arte is a wonderful all-rounder, suitable for anything from sportives to full-on racing.

Specced with performance and reliability in mind, with a nod to tradition, it keeps in close step with the price point tyranny that dominates the market now. It’s also classy and nice to look at: I’d happily have an Arte on my wall, (but don’t be afraid to ride it!).

Frame: art and passion for everyone

In terms of design and art, this 6000 series aluminium main frame and carbon rear triangle really stands out.

Great attention has been paid to the graphics and paint, and smoothly welded top and down-tubes display the unique cloverleaf cross section made famous by Colnago’s Master and Dream frames.

Stout wishbone seatstays arc gracefully towards sinuous chainstays to finish the rear triangle.

The carbon incarnation of the straight fork, originally brought out in the early 1990s and now a Colnago signature, complements the Arte’s looks, while a BSA 68mm shell, 1 1/8in standard headset and slotted cable guides for continental brake routing make it technically universal.

Equipment: known values with a twist

Shimano’s Ultegra SL group, a bit lighter and beautifully anodised in a smoky grey, provides core braking and drivetrain duties. However, Colnago shows some of its break with tradition and equips the Arte with a compact chainset by FSA, injecting a little extra carbon into the mix over last year’s Ultegra. The FSA cranks' Q-factor was a full 1.5cm wider than Campag or Shimano, and at times the broader foot stance interfered with a smooth high cadence.

Although the compact gearing is user-friendly for the occasional cyclist and for hilly riding, it’s not ideal for more rolling topography, and for incremental changes in output there’s a big jump down from the 50 to the 34. Those of you with a little more fitness are unlikely to need such a wide range at the rear, and might find an 11-23 cassette more useful, with smaller one-tooth gaps in gearing for maintaining a smoother cadence.

The usual silky STI gear changing suffered a bit on the Arte: the lack of frame-mounted barrel adjusters on the down-tube means these were inserted along the cable outers, increasing the number of flexy and inadequate nylon ferrules and contributing to vague gear selection and ghost shifting (when the gears slip up or down a cog on their own) at the rear.

Rider contact points of stem, bar, and burly carbon wrapped 31.6 aluminium seatpost are again FSA, with the alloy Wing bar supplying the love/hate element essential in art: the flat tops were nice on the palms, but too wide for the grip. Finally, Colnago’s Prologo saddle, while providing the opportunity to colour match with switchable covers, and beautifully made, is simply too narrow and hard to be comfortable. Pay homage to Picasso’s Head of a bull, and mount it on the wall with an old pair of handlebars.

Wheels: reliable and functional

Let me confess to my old school views and make the highly prejudiced claim that Vittoria Corsa CX tyres, either tubular or open, are the world’s best riding and most beautiful tyre. This will explain why I really liked the Rubino Pros that graced the Arte’s Mavic Aksium wheelset. A variant on the classic diamond file tread, with dual compound and more contemporary synthetic casing with a high thread count, they provided sure-footed grip and low rolling resistance in all conditions.

My prejudice also extends to Mavic, another classic brand known primarily for its efforts in advancing that most elegant of inventions, the tensioned bicycle wheel. In this case, the Aksium Race wheels are excellent, if a little dull. Although fast, they did not produce as sweet a note as Ultegras or the pricier Ksyriums, due to the thicker walls and shallower profile of the machined rims and a little more steel in the hub internals.

The slight extra weight does make them super solid, though, with reliability in all the right places: reinforced eyelet zone, standard long brass nipples, accessible with a normal spoke wrench, stainless bladed spokes, sealed cartridge 6001 series bearings, and chromoly axles.

Summary

If you've ever wanted to buy into the Ferrari myth but with an Alfa budget, the Colnago Arte is your machine. Your £1499.95 allows access to the race-bred mythology carefully nurtured by one of Italy's foremost bicycle creators. The Arte is a wonderful all-rounder, suitable for anything from sportives to full-on racing. Specced with performance and reliability in mind, with a nod to tradition, it keeps in close step with the price point tyranny that dominates the market now. It's also classy and nice to look at: I'd happily have an Arte on my wall, (but don't be afraid to ride it!).

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