Colnago's AC-R is the Italian company's newest entry-level road bike, with a £1,999 price tag and a brand new carbon fibre frame borrowing technology from the high-end M10 race bike. The AC-R is an engaging and surefooted ride. Fast and comfortable, it's an ideal bike everyone from new cyclists wanting a very sporty ride to more experienced riders wanting to make the leap to a carbon road bike. And one from arguably the most famous marque in cycling, with hundreds of race victories since 1954.
They've always commanded a high price though, ensuring they've remained bikes you crave and desire. Colnago is keen to make its bikes more accessible and this is the first carbon bike to wear the name that dips below £2k, replacing the old ACE.
Ride and performance: Competent and surefooted
Manufacturers often tailor the geometry of their entry-level bikes to who they think is the target customer, and quite often that means a tall head tube for an upright position. With the AC-R sharing the same geometry as the M10, here is an entry-level road bike with race-ready geometry. I tested the 52cm bike - Colnago measure their bikes by the seat tube, but it's equivalent to a 55cm bike with a 55cm horizontal top tube - with a 16.6cm head tube. That is very close to many race bikes.
Another key difference is the wheelbase, at 1,001mm it's longer than most race bikes from other brands. In fact it's closer to what some manufacturers use on their 'endurance' bikes (longer than a new Cannondale Synapse) and it's that which contributes to the AC-R's surefooted and stable handling. Some might label it as slow, which it can feel if you've spent a lot of time on a US designed bike, but you soon feel right at home.
Another subtle difference is the steering, which is a bit more measured than some bikes. It's a touch slower when you initially lean into a corner, before quickening ever so slightly as you continue to apply more angle to the handlebars. It doesn't take long to get used to and you're soon floating through the corners, gliding from apex to apex.
It's a measured ride, it feels a calm place to sit and I happily piloted it through five hour rides without a hint of reservation about the bike. It's a reasonably comfortable place to be as well, as that long wheelbase helps the bike to track smoothly down rutted and potholed roads. It's not an electrifying ride, though; it's a bit portly and the sluggish wheels tame speedy ambitions.
On the descents though it comes alive, and the handling really comes to the fore. There are a couple of tricky, steep descents on one of my regular loops, where exploiting the speed they offer requires you have lots of faith in your bike. I had no hesitation in letting the AC-R simply fly down these hills with only minimal braking.
Frame: Carbon frame and fork with over-the-top decals
The Italians sometimes get carried away with painting and decaling a frame, and that's the case with the AC-R. While it is undoubtedly a smart-looking bike with its white on black finish, the repetition of the Colnago decals is a touch over the top. You may like it that way though, but I do feel the removal of a few of the decals would not hinder its elegance one bit.
Underneath the paint is what is important though and here we find a full carbon fibre frame. It's based on the high-end M10, the company's lightest carbon frame and one often raced by the pros. Like the M10, the AC-R is built with a one-piece front end (the head tube, top tube, down tube and seat tube all made as one) with the rear stays bonded into place. Like the M10 is oversized in all the typical areas you would expect a modern road frame to be.
The down tube is the heart of the frame and has a gently triangulated profile tube of considerable dimensions. It's braced at one head by a tapered head tube and at the other by a substantial bottom bracket section, but only houses an external bottom bracket. Easy to service and replace however.
There's a new carbon fork with very straight blades and the rear stays are attached to the main frame with two smart wishbone sections. The chainstays are reasonably oversized but certainly not colossal like some bikes we could mention. Both gear cables are routed inside the down tube, which is compatible with Di2 and EPS electronic shifting, so there's an obvious upgrade path there. A large diameter seat tube houses a 31.6mm seatpost.
Build kit: Reliable 105 groupset but heavy wheels
Unfortunately, the one compromise of the AC-R is the heavy Artemis CW32 wheels. These are Colnago in-house wheels, and while they look the part with their semi-deep V-section black rims, their weight blunts the performance of the AC-R. They ride perfectly well, they're reasonably stiff with just a hint of flex when you lean heavily on them through corners, but they don't contribute more positively than that to the overall package. Once up to speed and on flatter roads you don't notice their weight as much, that's the beauty of momentum. You feel them on the climbs and from slow start accelerations.
With the wheels removed and a pair of sub-1,400g wheels in their place, the AC-R felt much more lively and responsive. Now I know that not everyone can afford to spend further cash on new lighter wheels after just dropping £2K on the bike in the first place, but it does highlight the very real difference that wheels make in a bike.
If I were buying the AC-R now, I would save these wheels for regular riding and commuting, and save up for some lighter wheels for summer riding when the lighter weight will be more appreciated. Even if you consider stepping up to the more expensive Ultegra-equipped AC-R, note that it comes with the same wheels.
The Shimano 105 drivetrain proved faultless. Knowing the potential customers for this bike, the AC-R has a compact 50/34 chainset partnered with an 11-28 cassette. That helps overcome the weight and you can winch up any steep hill, whether your local challenges or an ascent of Mont Ventoux next summer.
The Shimano label doesn't run to the brake calipers, a sign that costs have been trimmed to meet the price point. The Colnago X-Brake 3 branded calipers, while not quite as firm feeling as 105 calipers, produced decent stopping power. I would have preferred Colnago to squeeze in 105 calipers at this price though.
I can't fault any of the finishing kit. The Deda handlebars and stem add a touch of class to the bike. The bars provided a good comfortable shape and the stem was happily of a suitable length to acquire my desired fit. The seatpost is a non-branded carbon fibre item, with a 31.6mm diameter.
I can be fussy when it comes to saddles, I know what my sit bones like, but happily the Colnago saddle was a decent shape with just the right level of padding to make it a fine place to sit for several hours.
The £2,000 road market is a seriously competitive one. Judged on the sum of its parts, the AC-R is outshine by some better specified bikes, but based on the quality and performance of the ride and handling, the AC-R is a compelling option.
For the budding racer or serial sportivista, or just someone who enjoys their cycling and wants to experience a slice of Italian exotica, the AC-R is an appealing prospect. Who doesn't dream of having a Colnago parked in their garage?
Not the raciest bike, but one that is surefooted, stable and comfortable whether cruising along in a sportive or hammering the Sunday club run.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Colnago AC-R
Size tested: black, 52cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
BRAND NEW for 2014 is the Colnago AC-R. Born from the now famous M10 monocoque frame, the AC-R brings legendary Colnago performance to the masses. Whether a victory in the Spring Classics or winning atop L'Alpe D'Huez in the Tour de France, the M10 has proven to be a winning design. The AC-R brings this same penchant for winning in an affordable package, with similar efficiency for the steepest climbs and comfort for the roughest roads. The AC-R brings Colnago's nearly 30 years of carbon expertise to the AC-R with a ride quality that is uniquely Colnago. The same tuned geometry and quality manufacturing that bring Colnago riders across the finish lines of professional races worldwide can be found in the AC-R. Through smart design and world-class engineering, riders will no longer have to compromise ride quality and safety concerns on less-expensive carbon bikes. Now they can afford the experience that which is truly special: the ride of a Colnago carbon bike – an experience without equal.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Frame: AC-R carbon
Fork: AC-R carbon
Cranks: Shimano fc-r565 50x34t
Front Derailleur: Shimano 105
Rear Derailleur: Shimano 105
Shifters: Shimano 105
Cassette: Shimano tiagra 12-28t
Wheelset: Colnago artemis r32
Tyres: VITTORIA ZAFIRO 700x23c
Brakes: Colnago x-brake 3
Handlebar: Deda rhm el
Headset: NO.63/51E (alloy top cap 15mm)
Stem: Deda el
Saddle: Colnago vl1319
Waterbottle Cage: Colnago
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Excellent quality and finish even taking the price out of the equation.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre monocoque frame and fork based very closely on the top-end M10 model.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry gives the bike a slower, more sedate and stable quality that means it is very comfortable over longer distances.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Colnago measures bikes slightly differently, but the 52 is equivalent to a 56cm. It fitted me well.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The frame absorbed a lot of the road chatter very well. The long wheelbase helps here.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, plenty stiff enough in the bottom bracket and head tube.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The frame is pleasingly stuff in the right places and is no slouch. The build kit has more of an impact on how it transfers power.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It just felt very surefooted and stable all of the time. It's a very easy bike to ride and very likeable.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels and tyres impacted the performance the most, they just felt sluggish.
Wheels and tyres
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,