Colnago Extreme C
Let me say here and now, I'm an out and out Colnago convert. Which means the following report may be slightly skewed and clouded by my subjective judgement. Having said that, everything I've written is true!
I currently own five Colnago's. I have a Start on my turbo; a Dream as my winter bike; a C40 which is my crit bike; an E1 which I've used for racing but have "lent" to Dianne; and my current pride and joy; an Extreme C for my sportives. I also had a C50, but six just seemed obsessive, so I made sure it went to a good home. ~ Below is my steed, as tested for this review.
All Colnago's are special, but some are more special than others. The Extreme C is based on an evolution of the C50 that was originally created as a prototype for the Rabobank riders in the Tour's mountain time trial up Alpe D’Huez in 2004.
The C50 family itself evolved from the classic, five times Paris Roubaix wining, C40. Ernesto Colnago has been building quality bikes from 1953; so obviously the C40 (Colnago 40 years) appeared in 1993 and the C50, ten years later in 2003. The Extreme C and Extreme Power are discipline specific variants of the C50 all rounder, if such a derogatory term could be used for a Colnago. The Extreme C has been put on a diet and the Extreme Power has been put on steroids.
The palmares of Colnago frames surpass all, and I mean all, others. This is a fact, not just my jaundiced opinion. No other manufacturer, especially a young upstart American firm, comes near. There's a reason for that; the best riders in the world ride the best bikes in the world. When pro's retire, they choose Colnago's to ride. As my mate Bob says, that's because they're an "old man's bike". He has a point, but there's a very good reason why.
As well as the best riders, Colnago has formed technical partnerships with some of the worlds best engineering firms. Ferrari and ATR led technology and expertise, allow us mere mortals to reap space age dividends every time we throw a leg over that autographed top tube. Here's why.
The C50 frame is made using high-modulus carbon-fibre tubes and compression-moulded lugs from ATR Composites. ATR build carbon race components for Aprilia, Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Their race proven pedigree is just a hairs-breadth away from aero-space technology. Other carbon components may look the same, but trust me, they're not. I've seen inside a Colnago lug and other manufacturers lugs. Just like me and Brad Pitt, we may look the same from a distance, but close up...
The Extreme C has angle cut lugs that save weight over their previously, full-sized, straight-cut C50, counterparts.
But it seems less is more. Because angled lugs actually give a greater bonding surface area than a traditional straight-cut lug! This makes for a lighter, stiffer joint that resists torsional stress and (for some reason unknown to me) offers a greater propensity to dampen out road vibrations. How good is that?
The Master Tubeset profiles, seen on the C50 are lost for the Extreme C. The tubes are weight-saving round, and of a smaller diameter than their bigger, beefier, bi-conic, siblings. They are lighter and torsionally stiffer than fluted tubesets of a similar size. It's almost magic.
The front triangle components are also size specific with diameter and tube thicknesses honed to suit their individual task. Round tubes give a better stiffness to weight ratio than fancy shapes. For example, to get the stiffness you need for an Extreme Power, you'd have to have massively oversized (read ugly) round tubes; hence the differing tube profiles for differing structural requirements.
Also lost on the Extreme, are the HP chainstays. The C has beautiful oversized, curved Folio chainstays which may lack the armchair comfort of the HP setup found on the 50 but if it doesn't benefit you when climbing then you won't find in on the Extreme. The HP setup may be more comfortable but they're slightly heavier than the Folio arrangement, so off they went.
What does remain is the paradoxically stiff, yet dampening, B stay set up that feeds in to the top of the seat tube. Again, you'll see from the photo above, the lug is cut desperately short, not a gram of weight is kept if it isn't needed. To this end, at the bottom of the 28mm seat tube you'll find a slotted, removable, titanium bottom bracket shell. Another few grams shaved and another innovation that adds value.
The 1 1/8th head tube has a "normal" headset setup. No hidden sets here. Tradition, pragmatism and longevity are the order of the day on a Colnago. Fashion will never triumph over engineering excellence.
Firing out of the head tube there's the greatest road fork I've ever ridden. The Star Carbon forks transform a bike like you wouldn't believe. I'd often wax lyrical over the C40's 1 inch set up, but the C50's upgraded front wheel holder has to be one of the stiffest, most direct, yet compliant forks on the market today.
Nothing but nothing carves a turn like a star carbon fork. The front tyres whine with grief every time I fire the bike in to my test curve which I try to take without braking. It's my ultimate test for all my road tests. Some bike (no matter how hard I tug on the bars) have crossed the white line on the exit, others have brushed it. The C50 and the Extreme both come in a foot under the line; such is the grip generated by the rock solid fork.
At nearly £600 you wouldn't want to damage them. But to be honest, if I did, I'd replace like for like in the blink of an eye.
My "normal" sportive wheels are the gold, bling-tastic, Campag Shamals. They have to be the best alloy wheels I've ever ridden. I bought them to replace my year old Eurus wheels, which are probably the second best I've ever ridden.
The only reason I replaced the Eurus' was because the Shamal's are lighter. If you're getting a super-light, climbing specific bike, then you should, in my opinion, dress it with the best wheels you can get.
In Jersey I ride the bike with Campag Hyperons. An absolutely astonishing wheel that feels lighter than air and accelerates like you wouldn't believe. But for this test; it's Campag Bora Ultra's, supplied courtesy of Pedal Power Jersey, through their 53x39 on line shopping mall. How lucky am I?
The Bora's make you faster. It's a fact. Every time you come to a short rise or a signpost looms ahead, you feel you just have to get out of the saddle and get the "noise" going. Hyperons are probably more practical but the Bora's just seem to gather momentum the faster you get them spinning.
The more you get them spinning the more noise they make; the more noise they make the faster you want to go. It's a self-defeating dilemma that's bound to have you breathless. But trust me there is no better training aid!
Braking is almost as good as an alloy wheel, as long as you use the Campag carbon specific brake blocks. NEVER use your normal brake blocks on carbon rimmed wheels. It has nothing to do with braking efficiency, because they will stop you almost as well.
All it takes is a sliver of alloy stuck in a "standard" brake block's compound and bam! Your splendiferous, sexy, pride and joy gets sliced open like a hot sharp thing going through a soft fat thing. Carbon rims will always come off second best to slivers of alloy; never mix and match, you might live to regret it.
In my opinion, you can't put Shimano on an Italian bike. I still shudder every time I see a Rabobank photo!
I'm lucky enough to be able to ride a Record groupset. Which is lighter than Dura Ace and cheaper than SRAM, so it's a simple choice. The levers fit my hands, I can blast through up to five gears in one lever swipe and I can change up when sprinting, so top marks there then. Personally I feel the proboscis Shimano levers are a victory of form over function. Elegant they are not.
Admittedly Campag doesn't have the silky smooth change of a Shimano but there's something that appeals to the engineer in me when you get a solid, perfunctory, mechanical, "snick" as the gear changes to its desired location. You know it's in and you get instant mechanical feedback.
I've just ordered a pair of the pro-spec Record Rosso levers to stiffen up the mechanical action. Campag have offered 600 pairs for "public consumption." I'll report back when I get them.
The Skeleton Brakes are also an engineering marvel. 30 grams lighter than the previous class-busting Record set up with better modulation and control to boot. With differential braking (double pivot front, single pivot rear) you get much more control over your braking in the rain, on descents and in "panic" situations. You have to be really clumsy or unlucky to lock a skeleton rear wheel.
The Finishing Kit
I'm an ITM man when it comes to bars and stem. There's a super light magnesium The Stem, holding in place a pair of Millenium Strada bars. Everyone tells me I could go stiffer and get less flex. Why in bars, is stiffer better? Riding seven hour sportives is hard enough without taking road buzz through the arms the entire ride.
Atop the 28mm Colnago seat post is a Fizik Arionne saddle. I know it's not the lightest in the world but sometimes comfort has a place. And a saddle is definitely it. Holding the bottles is a pair of Elite Potao cages. I've ridden Roubaix, Flanders, Het Volk and a host of other cobbled classic sportives and never even loosened a bottle. And they look good to boot and come in two sizes for added sexiness.
Finally, there's my SRM, professional, compact chainset, power meter. Probably the best two-grand I've ever spent. There are other areas of this site that extol the virtues of power meters so I won't bore you with details here.
The Tech Spec
Don't ever think you won't find a Colnago to fit you. None of this, "five sizes will do, let's juggle seat pins and stems to fit" of some other manufacturers. There are 30 different stock sizes on offer and if you can't get one of them to fit, then there's a custom option.
All Colnago frames are built within the ISO 9001 quality framework. It may mean nothing to most people but to engineers it's a badge of quality honour. It also ensure that all Colnago frames have passed stringent safety tests.
You won't find a weight chart on the Colnago site but I can tell you that my bike, with a Record Carbon chainset weighs in at 6.78 kilos, with the Arionne saddle and Campag Record pedals.
Everyone tells me the traditional Italian geometry of a Colnago gives a sluggish direction change and the steering isn't the fastest. Well I'll be honest and say it's fast enough for me. No one, and I mean no one, gets past me on a descent.
Last year at La Hubert Arbes I slugged the 18k descent of the Tourmalet at an average of 58.8 kph. In a mid-week practice descent I hit 98 kph on the upper slopes of the Hautacam. Never had a speed wobble, never had a drama and never once felt out of my comfort zone. The bike is as rock steady descending as it is climbing.
The Extreme C tracks around corners like you wouldn't believe. Colnago invented the straight blade fork in 1987 with the assistance of Ferrari. All their knowledge, skill and craftsmanship is in this fork. The whole of the bike, and you, pivot around this vital piece of equipment that just oozes confidence and can bring you back from the edge without any drama. It's the heart of the bike.
There is no lateral flex and no fore and aft shudder. I don't know how it works or how its massive ridge and reinforced blades don't transfer every ripple of tarmac through your body. It just absorbs road noise somewhere and allows you to pull on the front brake until your finger nails bleed without locking the wheel or tracking off line. I think the professional writers call it sure-footed. Me; bloody marvellous!
The back end is slightly harsher than the C50. This is due to the replacement of the HP chainstays. The sacrifice of comfort over weight has triumphed in this climbing-specific thoroughbred. And to be honest it's a price worth paying. There is no discernable power loss, the bike still glides forward with every pedal rev, especially with the Hyperons fitted. But on the harshest of roads it feels different. I'm not a good enough rider, or writer, to explain why. It's not better or worse, it's just different. Besides, aesthetically the HP stays just don't do it for me.
I'm not sure I'd be comfortable riding Roubaix on an Extreme C but I did use it it for my Flanders trip last weekend over the cobbled bergs of the Peter van Petegem sportive. The svelteness of the frame, compared to its butch cousins, just makes you feel like you shouldn't be throwing the likes of the Arenberg at it. But it did take the Molenberg and others in its stride but I will be honest and say the C50 was more forgiving. Maybe those HP stays aren't just a gimmick!.
There is absolutely no more on this frame than you actually need. The passion, engineering, precision and craftsmanship that go in to a Colnago mean they can only be Italian. The finish of the paint work, the carbon weave, even inside the frame (the bits you can't see) are absolute works of art that are driven by one man's love for cycling, not a corporate's obsession for profit margin and driving cost out of a product.
Bora wheels are so sexy it's scary. They climb well, accelerate well, brake well and almost change direction as well as a Hyperon. But not quite. For a climbing specific bike you need climbing specific wheels and the Hyperons and Shamal's have it. For looks and everything else, it has to be Bora's.
As for the rest? A Colnago may not look the cutting edge of technology on the outside but underneath everything is fit for purpose and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Other bikes are lighter, stiffer, with more gizmos and swirlyer tubes but very few will get near the overall performance benchmark set in a head to head against a Colnago.
Yes they're expensive, yes they're indulgent and yes they're ridden by gentlemen racers. Ask yourself why?