Housed inside Colnago’s headquarters in Cambiago, just outside of Milan, is a museum charting the history of the company since it was founded in 1954. On display are dozens of bicycles, including many bearing the Ferrari name on their down tube along with lashings of red paint.
The relationship between the two iconic Italian marques stretches back 25 years to 1986, when Ernesto Colnago first met with Enzo Ferrari in the town of Maranello to discuss the creation of a new type of bicycle.
The latest fruits of that tie-up are the limited edition CF8 road bike and CF9 hybrid, built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and limited to just 150 models. First seen at this summer’s EICA trade show, both are based on the Colnago C59, with the CF8 sporting Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 electronic groupset, with an aftermarket battery hidden in the seat tube.
The CF8 is the latest fruit of Colnago’s relationship with Ferrari. Built to celebrate Italian unification, it sports a subtle red, white and green tricolor on the underside of the down tube
However, it was Colnago’s first Ferrari collaboration that had the biggest impact, both on the company’s bike production and the wider world of cycling. That revolutionary machine can be seen at Colnago’s HQ and it’s clear how ahead of its time it was. At the time, the carbon fiber frame was a novelty and the straight-bladed fork a world first. Fast forward 25 years, and both are now commonplace.
Colnago’s original Ferrari collaboration was one of the first bikes to be made of carbon fiber. It also had a straight fork and an internal gearing system
In fact, both can be found on the C59, as used by Thomas Voeckler in this year’s Tour de France. While Colnago now make many of their products overseas, the C59 (and CF8 and CF9) are still made in-house. The carbon tubes come from the nearby Veneto region and each frame is handbuilt in a basement factory that’s under Mr Colnago’s house and just across the street from the corporate office.
So while many small bike frame builders can attest to working in their garage, the Italian style of Colnago is to build it in the basement. Each C59 takes about four hours to build, where each tube is glued together, followed by 45 minutes in a jig in an oven. There’s only one jig per size, meaning that production is slow yet also precise. Frames are constructed and then sent to a painter outside of Florence before being returned to Milan.
The C59 as it’s being assembled. Each carbon fiber tube is hand glued at Colnago’s basement factory in Cambiago, just outside of Milan
The room that once saw the production of thousands of steel frames is now used to simply store nearly completed carbon fiber frames. The assembly line for steel is only used a few times a year when the company produce their annual output of 800 or so metal frames.
While Colnago are proud of their heritage, they’re looking to change the “Italian way” in one notable aspect. Rather than shutting down for the entire month of August, which is common in this region, they’re instead going to stay open for two weeks to continue production and allow employees to take vacations at other times of the year.
Ernesto Colnago hard at work