Happy birthday, Ernesto! – News from PezCycling
On February 9, a milestone was reached by one of cycling’s iconic figures as Ernesto Colnago celebrated his 90th birthday. Neither a Tour de France winner nor an Olympian, Signore Colnago is one of sport’s great entrepreneurs and innovators and continues to lead the company he founded in 1954 to this day.
The story began in 1945 when young Ernesto (really young Ernesto!) faked his date of birth and started working at the Gloria bicycle factory in Milan as a welder. Getting into racing, this potential career path ended in an accident and, forced to rest while recovering, he rode wheels at home. These were in such demand that he earned double what he earned at the workshop and decided to go out on his own. The first bikes bearing his name rolled out of his small shop in Cambiago in 1954 and the same year he was drafted by Fiorenzo Magni to help Magni’s Nivea sponsored racing team. It was there that Colnago met another Italian frame-making legend, Faliero Masi, from whom he learned a lot. But Colnago had their own ideas and were the first to cold bend the forks in order to improve their performance.
While operating his own store, Colnago continued to work with professional teams and was the chief mechanic of the legendary Molteni team, a team he helped sponsor in 1970, after recognizing the talents of a certain Eddy Merckx. , someone who thought a different bike was needed for every race. Of course, Colnago built the bike the Cannibal rode to claim the one-hour record in 1972, a bike that used shaved Columbus tubes, a titanium stem (made in Detroit!), and 80-gram tubular tires. to arrive at a total weight. of 5.75 kg. Today we think more in terms of aerodynamics for the hour record, but half a century ago it was a huge achievement – and it took 200 hours to build!
Colnago’s list of innovations is remarkable, including straight-blade forks, star-shaped steel tubes, compact geometry and carbon frames. Colnago began a collaboration with race car manufacturer Ferrari in 1986 and the end result was the first full carbon bike to enter commercial production with the C35 in 1989. This was soon followed by the marvelous C40, which was ridden by the Mapei team for four Paris-Roubaix victories in five years, between 1995 and 2000. In 2012, the C59, the first racing bike with disc brakes, made its debut at the Taipei Bike Show. The company already saw the future in 2005 when it realized that mid-range bikes could no longer be produced competitively in Italy, moving production to Asia. The only frameset actually made in Italy today – although all of the engineering and design for all Colnagos takes place there – is the C60 tube and dropout, a carbon frame that can be customized. And for those who still believe that Steel is Real, the company will always sell you a beautiful Master, with its star-shaped tube, or an Arabesque.
With such a long history, it’s no wonder the company can boast of having won so many professional races: 62 World Championships, 38 One-Day Classics, 21 Grand Tours (including the last two rounds of France) and 18 Olympic gold medals. In step with the times, Colnago is now leaning into gravel racing as it emerges as a popular sport.
Ernesto Colnago has always been active in supporting up-and-coming riders and competitive teams, but he is clearly someone who lives for the bike, still crossing the street from his home to the office every day, even as a nonagenarian. No one can top the Broom Wagon of Time, of course, and so in 2020 the decision was made to sell a majority share of the business to an Abu Dhabi investment fund.
As one of his first documentaries under his “Science and technology” them, GCN+ produced a 35-minute video on Colnago, the man and the history of the company, in “Colnago: the art of bicycle design. » While Colnago is what the Germans call a “Traditionsfirma,” it has had a remarkable history of constant change and boasts one of the most prestigious names in the industry.
Happy birthday, Ernesto!
# Photos via Colnago Ernesto & CSrl and Global Cycling Network/GCN+ #
Colnago’s Personal Museum