Ernesto Colnago started his Italian frame building business way back in 1953. He has supplied frames to several generations of the planet's top road racers and almost everyone who's ever wanted to be a racer has lusted after a Colnago.Some of those lust victims would say that Colnago sold out when they started producing some of their frames in Taiwan, but realists will know that most Taiwanese-built frames are as good as their Italian-built counterparts, only cheaper.
The Ibex-C, sitting at the top of Colnago's MTB range, is a carbon monocoque structure that draws its inspiration from Colnago's CLX road frame. It has spine-like longitudinal ribs on the top side of the top and down tubes for extra strength and the sexy (yes, we are allowed to describe a bike as sexy occasionally) wishbone seat and chain stays are both a work of art and thoroughly practical. Variable wall thickness puts all the strength in the right places, but the monocoque construction allows Colnago to use thin tube walls where strength is less necessary, so the overall weight is low - our test bike tipped the scales at 23.4lb.
Detail wise, the Ibex frame is nicely finished and with some very interesting touches. We like the double bolted seat clamp, but an aero carbon seat post is wasted on an MTB and its pointy-backed shape means it won't absorb the shocks as much as other (round) carbon posts. Big tyres and a comfy saddle make up for that though, and the rear triangle of the frame has that stiff but comfy vibration-absorbing feel that characterises the best carbon frames.
We love the way the sloped and curved top tube wraps around the seat tube into the wishbone top of the seat stays, and the massively ovalised down tube adds lots of drive stiffness during sprints and on climbs Ridewise, the Ibex is very similar to many other carbon composite frames. It's lively, superb in race scenarios and, despite its very direct feel in acceleration, it's reasonably comfy across the bumps.
A long-low slung geometry setup will be good for raceheads, but the 11.5in bottom bracket height is not ideal for riders who like to keep pedalling through bends - we kept clouting the pedals on rocks and roots. Still, we suspect it'll mainly be those with a road heritage rather than hardcore mountain bikers who'll be attracted to the Ibex, and there's something to be said for the easy riding stability advantages of a low bottom bracket.
If you can't stretch to the carbon Ibex-C but you still like the idea of having half a century of road race experience stamped on your frame, Colnago's other MTBs, the alu-framed Tre Cime and Eagle, sell for £1650 and £1700 respectively and come fully equipped. Looking at the parts spec on both, and comparing the Ibex to other top quality carbon frames, it's obvious that you have to be willing to pay a premium for Colnago's identity, however you choose to look at it.