Colnago has been one of the most sought-after, most coveted brands in cycling for longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve managed this in spite of themselves. Most riders I know who’ve owned a steel Colnago also have a story about a broken dropout or chainstay. Brazing has not always been as up to snuff as their painting.
That Colnago has succeeded in spite of this shouldn’t surprise us. Witness brands like Toyota that have suffered quality control issues and endured, with little scuffing to their reputations.
What has made Colnago a lasting symbol for bike lust has been the company’s ability to stay ahead of trends, trade on a quintessential expression of Italy’s che passione and associate itself with many of the world’s finest teams and racers. This last may be the single most important ingredient in what Colnago has achieved. The company’s ties to racing virtually ensure that every bike magazine on the planet will run a photo that shows a Colnago each issue.
Colnago has tried more ideas than any other bike company I can think of. Some of its more adventurous designs elicit guffaws of laughter that even a 1980s mullet can’t conjure. But some of those oddball designs paid off as well. I have two friends who still sing praises for the Bi-Titanio—the titanium double-down tubed frame that was supposed to offer increased lateral rigidity without creating a more vertically harsh ride. Those who actually rode one concede it wasn’t super light, but the design worked as advertised.
My time on Colnagos has been limited; I simply haven’t had many opportunities. When the occasion to review one came, I leapt at the chance.
What I received was a CLX 2.0, a few rungs down the evolutionary ladder from the company’s flagship C59. Generally speaking, what I see on the road are C59s, EPQs and Master X Lights, so I was hoping to ride something representative of what so many cyclists around the world covet.
The CLX 2.0 features construction that was state-of-the-art in 2002, but today is a bit OTB. A monocoque carbon fiber main frame sports lugs into which wishbone seatstays and chainstays are plugged. And despite asking for something in the 57 or 58cm range, I was told I would get a 56cm frame, but as it turns out Colnago doesn’t make that size in the CLX 2.0; what I received was a 54.
So when I tell you that this bike was plenty stiff and I had no trouble getting enough weight on the front wheel to descend, but felt cramped, even with a 13cm stem installed, understand that each of these three aspects of the frame’s design were irrevocably influenced by the fact that this bike was too small for me.
I’ll grant that Colnago is honest with the consumer when they admit that the CLX 2.0 is meant to be more affordable than their top-of-the-line stuff, and also weighs a bit more as well. No harm there.
What I had a harder time trying to understand was why one of their staffers fed me a cock-and-bull story about why the construction of this bike was more advanced than anything the competition is doing. Really? I’ve probably seen more carbon laid up than this guy has and was pretty surprised that he’d lie to my face. Terminology in their brief marketing materials did little to tell me—or anyone else—more about the bike. I still don’t know what “alfa carbon” or “leaf-shaped seatstays” means—and I read the entire site.
I made numerous attempts to get the fork rake for each of the forks used on the CLX 2.0. Most responsible companies will spec two different forks over a range of six sizes. By using a 43mm and 45mm rake fork, they can achieve more consistent trail through all the sizes. However, I’ve seen plenty of companies spec one fork rake for six sizes, with all sizes sporting a different head tube angle. The upshot is that every bike handles a little different. And the difference in handling from the smallest size to the largest can make the bikes unrecognizable in character. I make a point of it to get both head tube angle and fork rake so that I can talk about how your experience riding a bike might differ from mine, based on changes in geometry.
I never got those numbers.
I rode the bike for about a month. The one aspect of ride quality that I can report on, the one dimension that wasn’t thrown off by being on a frame too small, was the bike’s road feel. The CLX 2.0 felt like every bike I’ve ever ridden that was constructed of 100% intermediate modulus carbon fiber. While the bike handled quickly enough (thanks to a wheelbase shorter than I’m accustomed), the frame felt fairly dead. It just didn’t possess that lively character that is present in an increasing number of bikes.
Is there anything wrong with the CLX 2.0? Nope. The paint was good, the workmanship seemed to be good and I didn’t experience any red flags, such as tracking left or right when riding no-hands or, worse, developing a speed wobble when going downhill.
The bike is perfectly fine. But it strikes me as heavier than necessary and deader in feeling than I’m apt to get excited about. That curving top tube and those swooping transitions from head tube to top tube and down tube don’t do much to increase torsional stiffness or improve ride quality, but it does add weight.
I’ve yet to ride a bicycle in which an oversized seat post or a seat mast design contributed anything positive to a bike’s feel; this is just another one of those occasions.
The real problem I have with this bike isn’t that it’s ordinary. An ordinary carbon fiber bike is an extraordinary thing to most cyclists in the world. But making an acceptable bike isn’t what’s at stake here. We’re talking about Colnago, a company that has done more to inspire bike lust than any other maker on the planet. I hold them to a higher standard. Making a lesser Colnago so the serfs may also ride one dilutes the brand. It’s not a pig in lipstick, more like a really good-looking golden retriever in lipstick.
So I’ve drawn my line in the sand. Perhaps the best rebuttal to my view should be presented Colnago, to wit: the company offers four models (a mountain bike, two fixed-gear models that aren’t track bikes and a hybrid) that seem utterly wrong for the line. Were I the product manager, I’d axe all four of them for the U.S. market. I don’t see hipster fixie kids with ironic handlebar mustaches ogling the Super, but Colnago seems to be selling plenty of bicycles. My opinions may be missing the message behind the brand.
So other than bitching about how bike reviews ought to include information about fork rake for each frame size (which I’ve been bitching about for more than 10 years), I don’t know that this review has provided any service to the reader. It’s not going to make anyone want to rush out and purchase a CLX 2.0 and it has done nothing to illuminate why people want the C59.
Back to that issue of service: This isn’t a bike you need to be warned about. It’s not a bad bike, but it’s definitely not a great one. The fact that I was sent a bike that was too small for me and then told it was plenty big shortchanged not just me, but you and Colnago. A bike that fits gets a better review. Every. Damn. Time.
As I’m not in a position to review every bike out there, I feel better about picking and choosing just what I’m going to review, based on those bikes that I think are a real cut above or at least worthy of mention—that’s why up until now every bike I’ve reviewed has gotten a pretty stellar review. It would be a different story if my whole job was reviewing bikes for a magazine. My feathers would be clipped from saying some of the more pointedly negative observations I have, but I’d also have a responsibility to get through as many different bikes out there as possible. But that’s not my mandate.
What I like least of all is that in concluding this review, I feel I’ve done nothing to inspire you to go for a ride. And that, dear reader, IS my mandate. I can accept that lack of inspiration if I’ve been on a tear about doping, but when I write about equipment, it should get you to thinking about riding, about your own riding and how the very next free moment you have needs to be on your beloved bike.