Colnago have for many years produced bikes that have been heralded as being the best of their era, bikes that are capable of winning tours and one-day classics. They are the type of bikes that are lusted after by weekend warriors and aficionados alike. A few years ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a lightly used C40 frame, a frame from the mid 2000s that was, as with many Colnagos, said to be about the best frame of its time. I bought it to see if the often talked about, seemingly mythical quality, know as ‘Italian handling’ actually existed. I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed. The lugged carbon frame of the C40 combined with the seemingly simplistic Star Carbon fork, combined to give a ride that is still to this day among the best I have experienced. In fact the C40 is the bike I ride before I hop on each and every test bike, as it gives me a great benchmark as to what a good bike should be. Colnago also seem to do something that seems to come naturally to Italians, making a high-tech piece of equipment look fantastically stylish.
Upon receiving the new Colnago CLX3.0, one thing was very evident, Colnago still make magnificent looking bikes. Often modern bikes can look like no thought has been given to style. On the CLX3.0 however, a shaped seat post, huge headtube and large chain stays aren’t allowed to detract from the overall aesthetic. The test bike came equipped with a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, Shimano RS30 wheels, Deda bars and stem, a Colnago-branded Prologo saddle and some Colnago-branded brake callipers. The dark charcoal of the Shimano’s workhorse Ultegra components sits wonderfully against the crisp white and deep red of the CLX’s metallic-flecked frame. It is testament to the quality and precision of the Ultegra components that, upon realising that all the cables for brakes and gears had been released for packaging and transport and needed to be readjusted prior to use, even a ham-fisted mechanic like myself was able to have the bike tuned and running inside five minutes, and it continued to be reliable throughout the test.
The CLX3.0 is all new for 2012. The frame has been updated with a tapered steerer and new fork, the rear brake cable is now internally routed and the chainstays have reverted to a large rectangular section. The front triangle of the bike is a monocoque construction with the tubes bearing the trademark Colnago cross section, which roughly replicates the Colnago cloverleaf. This shape not only adds complexity to the layup but also stiffness to the tubes. It also is a clear indicator that while these frames may be made in Asia, they are certainly not a generic frame with Colnago stickers applied. The sloping top tube is slightly curved adding to the beautiful lines of this frame and the subtle curve of the wishbone seat stays continues the theme. The rear triangle is bonded to the monocoque front section via a large lug that is the entire width of the bottom bracket and a great departure from the much smaller lugs on older Colnago carbon frames.
Setting up the CLX3.0 was a bit tricky due to the somewhat unusual choice of components. For a 54cm frame it came equipped with 170mm cranks and a 130mm stem which you wouldn’t generally consider to be standard issue. But after a bit of fiddling all was good and I was ready to go. It must be noted at this point that the CLX3.0 is a bit heavier than you might imagine. Colnago have never been a company to design a bike down to a weight but at a touch over 8.5kgs I must admit to feeling like it should have been a bit lighter. I think a lot of that penalty is borne by the wheels, the RS30s while being a robust and reliable training wheel, probably aren’t in the same league as the frame or the running gear and I would endeavour to haggle with your bike shop for an upgrade if possible.
Out on the road the Colnago is typically Italian. A relaxed seat angle gives a comfortable position and a slightly longer head tube makes the CLX3.0 accessible to more riders without the need for numerous spacers or skyward-facing stems. The new iteration of the CLX with its large and suitably stiff headtube did tend to transfer a little more road feel that is usually the case with an Italian ride, however the payback is a responsive front end that is super stable when out of the saddle and muscling the bars. I received the bike two days before my first criterium of the season, so apart from a quick check over with my toolkit and a tape measure I rolled to the start line with no time at all in the saddle. Within minutes I felt safe and comfortable on the CLX and there were no nasty surprises. The steering, while not as sharp as some bikes I have ridden, was quick enough without being scary and handled the local track’s 60kph bottom corner with dependable stability. The bars and stem were a comfortable combination taking the edge of the stiffness of the head tube but still remaining stiff enough to stay put when out of the saddle efforts call for minimal flex. The rear end was firm without being harsh and the curved seat stays combined well with the newly-designed box section chainstays to give a responsive ride without getting beat up too much in the process. On the open road the Colnago hums along nicely, and like any stylish Italian it was gathering praise wherever it went. The Prologo saddle, while not my usual saddle of choice, was quite a comfortable option even for longer rides. While a seat isn’t a deal breaker it’s nice not to have to change anything on a brand new bike, especially when it is branded to match the bike. When it comes to hills however, which are generally my Achilles heel, I really could have done with the Colnago being a few grams lighter. I could train a bit more or lose a few grams myself, but that is beside the point. The upside of the Colnago being a little on the heavier side is that you get a bike that feels sturdy and reliable and not flimsy or drummy like some of the carbon featherweights that are currently on sale, which if you are buying your Colnago to last a few years, will certainly be reassuring.
While the build quality of bikes coming out of Asia can’t be denied, and the design and styling input of the Italian certainly make for a great looking bike, I somehow get the feeling the engineers have had a little too much of a hand in putting this bike together. For all its positives, and there are many, it just doesn’t seem to posses that intangible Italian spark that while sometimes being hit and miss, is what occasionally gives rise to a classic.
The Colnago CLX won’t disappoint, it is a great quality, dependable bike that should provide years of enjoyment, I’m just not sure if that’s what I want or expect from a Colnago or what punters will pay a little more for.
Quality: There is no doubting nor has there ever been any doubt about the quality of Colnago bikes. The CLX3.0 is another fine example of form and function combining in true Italian style. Smooth lines and a rich paint job combine to make this a great looking build.
Performance: A solid and dependable ride that was responsive without being overly lively. Those after all-out performance might need to look at something more aggressive but for the majority of performance riders and weekend racers the CLX is more than up to the job.
Value for money: At $3,999 it is at the upper end of Ultegra build bikes. While it is debatable what a ‘name’ is worth, if it is worth anything then Colnago is one such name. Regardless of the brand this is a great looking quality bike with Shimano’s ultra reliable Ultegra build that would make it easy to justify spending a few extra dollars.
Overall: A bike that is equally at home parked outside a café amongst the other baubles or parked against the fence at the local circuit among the other racing workhorses. Add a lighter set of wheels for race or show and this bike would tick most of the boxes. Not a flat out race machine but still capable of race-winning sprints given a decent set of legs.
Frame- Colnago CLX 3.0 Carbon
Fork- Colnago CLX 3.0 Carbon
Headset- Colnago C-HS1
Stem- Deda Zero 1
Handlebars- Deda Nuova Sfida
Saddle- Colnago by Prologo
Seat post- Colnago
Shift Levers- Shimano Ultegra
Brakes- Colnago X-Brake 1
Front derailleur- Shimano Ultegra
Rear Derailleur- Shimano Ultegra
Cassette- Ultegra 12-25
Chain- Shimano Ultegra
Crank- Shimano Ultegra 53-39 170mm
Bottom Bracket- Shimano Ultegra
Wheels- Shimano RS30
Tyres- Michelin Lithion 2
Bidon Cage- N/A
Weight- 8.6 kg without pedals
Distributor- FRF Sports (www.frfsports.com)