Ernesto Colnago celebrates his 90th birthday today (February 9, 2022) on February 9, it is an excellent moment to get to know the history of this amazing man, visionary and the brand created by him in 1954.
Ernesto Colnago himself is a man for whom the entire bicycle industry has no secrets, and he is famous for his opinions on all topics related to world cycling.
His 77 years in the industry, the way he has grown from a teenage wheel builder to a professional team mechanic and then into a cycling industry icon and main sponsor of the cycling team, definitely gives him the right to make his voice heard.
Despite the years and the success achieved, Ernesto still lives in the family villa opposite the Colnago offices, where the new frames are still handcrafted in the basement and garage.
“ As long as I’m alive, I will be at the Colnago factory every day – they can’t kick me out of their own company ” he says half-jokingly, half-seriously, adding: “ I’ve always been creative, a designer and that keeps me alive . I am proud of what I have achieved in my life and what I have achieved in cycling. I think I helped revolutionize the bike and sport. ”
“ It’s like a Rolex; it is timeless. We want our customers to understand that they are riding something special ”said Colnago for Cyclingnews four years ago.
“ We are not like the others who just use molds and produce five sizes, forcing people to adapt to the bike, not the other way around. We are Colnago. Some brands may win in the numbers game, but I ask: why eat canned food when you can have caviar? ”
“ I believe that the best innovations come from artisans who work from home and follow their intuition. Others have computers and marketing campaigns, but few have done what I have done in the last 60 years and still do today ”he says defiantly, addressing his Trek, Specialized and Giant brands.
Woven into the history of cycling
The history of Colnago is intertwined with the history of Italian cycling. With Tullio Campagnolo and strong sponsors, he contracted and produced the bikes that built the golden years of Italian cycling in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
He raced alone as a teenager and started working for the motorcycle manufacturer Gloria in Milan when he was only 13 years old. When he broke his leg during a race, he worked at home building wheels. He quickly realized that he could open his own workshop in his hometown of Cambiago, northeast of Milan.
In 1955, Colnago helped Fiorenzo Magni with his motorcycle problem and was offered a job as an assistant mechanic for the Faliero Masi team at the Giro d’Italia. He and his brother Paolo then built bikes for a number of great cyclists, including Gastone Nencini, Gianni Motta, Michele Dancelli, and Eddy Merckx, even if other brands appeared on the tubes. Colnago built the bike that Merckx broke the record for driving hours in Mexico in 1972, using every technological advantage it could find. One of these two bikes stands in a proud place at the Colnago Museum.
Colnago bikes first entered the professional peloton in 1974, when Giovanbattista Baronchelli nearly beat Eddy Merckx at the Giro d’Italia. Since then, many of the greatest cyclists in the history of the sport have raced on Colnago bikes decorated with the Asso di Fiore – Asa Clubs logo – including the personal discovery of Giuseppe Saronni, Del Tongo team, Joop Zoetemelk, Pavel Tonkov, the Russian national team and the professional Alfa Lum team created by Colnago. The Mapei team rode Colnago bikes because they dominated the classics in the 90s, as did Rabobank and Milram, giving Colnago a series of great wins and league titles.
In 2010, Colnago became title sponsor and supported Bouygues Telecom, Europcar and Thomas Voeckler to ensure successful performances at the Tour de France. In addition to the United Arab Emirates team, Colnago is working with Gazprom, Novo Nordisk and the female team Wiggle-High5.
Colnago has been working with sports car manufacturer Ferrari for three decades, producing limited editions of the Colnago-Ferrari and using Ferrari Formula 1 technology to revolutionize the bicycle industry.
“ I was the first to bring carbon fiber to frames in 1986 and 1987 with Ferrari ,” Ernesto points out, then showed off the quality of his carbon by tossing it to the floor in the presence of the Cyclingnews journalist.
“ My carbon fiber comes from the world of F1 because my frames have to be safe ,” he explains.
“ All carbon fiber tubes look good on the outside, but listen to my carbon fiber sound. Other people’s things sound fragile, mine is more solid. makes the difference between a great bike and an ordinary mass-produced bike. ”
Bike must be safe
Colnago has always struggled when UCI tries to curb his innovations and business interests. He has always been against the 6.8 kg weight limit and the general idea that frames need to be lighter and lighter.
„ The frame is the heart of the bicycle. It must be safe ”- argues Ernesto Colnago.
“There is no point in reducing the weight to 750 g and sacrificing its safety. You save weight by carefully selecting components and wheels. This year, I made bikes for Alexander Kristoff so that he can compete in sprints and classics. It’s crazy to give him a 6.8 kg bike when he has to put as much power aside.”
“ Other brands love to talk about computer-aided design now, but the computer spits the design out based on what you tell it, not what each customer needs. We have to get back to doing things “right”. Technological advancement – I’ve often been at the forefront of it all, and I also know that making and selling bicycles is a business – but you can’t put sales above safety and reputation. I will never do that ”.
Colnago’s sales have declined over the past decade as the Italian bicycle industry struggles in the global marketplace. Colnago hopes sponsoring the UAE Team Emirates squad – managed by Saronni – will be good for international sales, especially in the Middle East.
„ If you want to show off your hard work, you have to be in the professional peloton. This is a big investment for our company, but it would be fun to win some of the biggest races. Aru seems to be on track for a good season with UAE Team Emirates. Let’s hope it shines in the Giro d’Italia “ – he says.
The Colnago Museum is the cycling equivalent of the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence or the Guggenheim in New York. It features many historical models that Colnago has designed and built over the past 50 years, telling the history of the sport.
Unfortunately, it is not open to the public. The showroom on the lower floor is used to showcase new bikes, while on the floor there are hundreds of bikes, from the golden bike presented to the Pope in 1979 to the latest models in the Colnago 2022 range.
The walls are covered with giant photographs that tell the story of Colnago’s amazing career.