Colnago has joined the aerodynamic arms race with the brand new Concept, a full blooded aero race bike that is a serious step forward from the Italian company's first aero road bike, the V1-r, from a couple of years ago.
I've heard some people accuse Colnago of being a traditional company, and when you look at the C60, the company's current flagship road bike, it's easy to see why. Lugged carbon frames look dated compared to the smooth and swoopy moulded carbon frames that populate the road bike market.
But the company has a pioneering drive. Way back in 1986 Colnago developed one of the earliest carbon fibre road bikes in collaboration with Ferrari no less. It was called the Concept and while it never actually went into production, the lessons learned did eventually find their way into its first production carbon road bike, the legendary C40.
Launched in 1995, the C40 paved the way for carbon fibre race bikes. It won the tough Paris-Roubaix at the first time of trying and effectively helped to end the reign of aluminium and steel race bikes in the professional peloton. The latest C60 can trace its DNA back to that model, right down to the carbon lug and tube construction that provides its increasingly rare aesthetic in a world of moulded carbon.
Fast forward 30 years and the new Concept takes the name of that early design, and is as state-of-the-art as it gets from the company. It has been extensively tested in the wind tunnel and proven to be faster than both the current C60 and V1-r. So let's take a closer look.
Ride and handling
The new Colnago Concept aims to rival the latest aero road bikes and faces some extremely tough competition from the likes of the Canyon Aeroad, Specialized Venge ViAS and Trek Madone to name a few, in a rapidly maturing category that is favoured by WorldTour professional cyclists and keen non-racing amateurs alike.
Without a doubt, the Concept has all the capability to dice with the fastest in a race situation. The Concept's stiff frame, Vision deep-section wheels and 7.2kg weight give the Colnago an insatiable appetite for speed. It's quick in all circumstances: climbs, descents, flat and undulating roads – everywhere, the bike really shines. It's an exciting bike to ride fast, and like all good aero road bikes encourages you to ride flat-out.
That firm ride, and frame and fork stiffness ensure the Concept accurately follows your inputs, whether through the handlebar or pedals. It reacts very positively to your body language, whether you're blasting up an uphill sprint finish or bombing through a curving descent.
But all-out speed isn't all the Concept is about, and it's not just a bike for racing. The Concept provides adequate composure and comfort, allowing you to tackle long distance rides at a few notches below race pace and not be dealt a hammer-blow to the lower back the moment the tyres encounter anything but a billiard-smooth surface. The front end of aero race bikes can often be overwhelmingly harsh, but the special headset and fork steerer tube that Colnago has developed (more on that later) mean it's smoother up front than would normally be expected on an aero road bike.
It's certainly not too stiff for even the most deteriorated Cotswolds roads, but make no mistake, it's a firm ride. If comfort is your top priority, an aero road bike likely isn't on your list anyway, but at least with the Concept you can have aero and a hint of comfort.
Comparisons with the C60 might be a bit unfair, but I'm going to make them anyway. The C60 offers one of the finest and most sweetly balanced rides of any bike I've yet tested. It's one of my faves. The Concept is a different beast. It's clearly better at slicing through the air and records faster times on flatter roads, but it lacks some of the liveliness and sweetness of the C60. It's more efficient and effective but for me lacks some of the sparkle that makes the C60 such a joy to ride.
The two bikes have a similarity in handling, and that's down to the two bikes sharing nearly identical geometry, including the relaxed 71.92-degree head angle which contributes to the nicely balanced and stable ride. This is most notable at the higher speeds the bike is capable of, and especially on descents where the Concept is insanely fast and planted. But while at home on big, fast roads with the big ring fully engaged, the Concept is surprisingly nimble at lower speeds. It handled tricky narrow country lane descents with ease, and is a splendid companion on steep and long climbs, even though it's not really designed to be a climber.
In Colnago's own wind tunnel testing, and compared with the C60 and V1-r, Colnago tell us the Concept is faster. At 50kph the Concept saves 20 watts over the C60 and 4 watts over the V1-r. It doesn't provide any comparative data with other aero road bikes.
Validating the aerodynamic performance of the Colnago is impossible without a wind tunnel to do some comparative testing, but riding familiar and regular roads and comparing times to other aero bikes I've tested, it's clear the Concept is no slouch. It winds up to speed very effectively and maintains pace with an ease that makes riding any good aero race bike an intoxicating experience. If you like riding fast, you'll love the Concept.
Frame and equipment
Aerodynamics and the understanding of how air flows around a bicycle frame is an increasingly understood area of bike design, and to develop the Concept the Italian company went through some 41 design iterations and extensive wind tunnel testing before rubber-stamping the final production bike.
And yes, it bears a resemblance to other aero road bikes on the market. That's really no surprise, given the limitations of aerodynamics: there are only so many ways to produce a tube shape that reduces drag while satisfying the UCI rules for a race bike.
Much of Colnago's focus was on the front end, in particular the fork, head tube and handlebar, parts that are critical to the aerodynamic performance of a bicycle because they are the main frontal surface area of a bike, the first part of the bike that hits the air.
Colnago developed a new fork based on the one already used on the V1-r, with proven NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) profiles for the blades, and space increased to accommodate 28mm tyres. The fork crown then sits flush with the down tube of the frame, intended to smooth airflow in this area. The small gap behind the fork crown is said by Colnago to help disrupted airflow from the rotating front wheel to develop into turbulent air with no negative impact on the aero performance of the down tube. The down tube is a truncated aerofoil shape with a fat profile and flattened top edge on the lower portion to shield the water bottle from the air. There are two cage mounting options, the lower providing improved aerodynamics.
The head tube shape is inspired by Colnago's k.zero time trial bike. It's a shape that Colnago claims allows air to flow more cleanly around it and reduce drag. It has still incorporated a 1 1/4in to 1 1/8in tapered head tube to provide maximum frame stiffness.
Aero road bikes, especially early generation models, are commonly accused of sacrificing comfort for the pursuit of speed. To attempt to provide a smoother ride, Colnago has developed a special headset with replaceable cups made from carbon composite and a special polymer (a mix of nylon and elastomer) aimed at isolating the fork from the frame. The Concept's fork steerer tube also receives a special carbon layup to allow it to flex a little. It's a similar idea, but different in execution, to Trek's Isospeed decoupler on the Domane SLR.
At the back, the seat tube is wider at the bottom bracket and curves around the rear wheels. Dropped seatstays form a compact rear triangle to reduce drag. The aero seatpost is a proprietary shape and is held in place by an internal seat clamp. Although that recess at the top of the post looks like it might be for providing additional flex, it serves no functional purpose.
In the face of ever-increasing integration, the Concept bucks the trend and opts for a user-friendly approach. There are no one-off bespoke brake callipers, instead, direct-mount brakes are fixed in the regular positions, front of the fork and top of the seatstays, making adjustments (especially on the fly) much easier. Another nod towards user-friendliness is the TheadFit 82.5 bottom bracket. First used on the C60, it uses a patented design that combines the benefits of a press-fit bottom bracket with the ease and reliability of a threaded system.
Being compatible with mechanical and electronic groupsets, all wiring or cables are routed inside the frame.
Like most manufacturers offering aero road bikes, Colnago has developed a one-piece aero handlebar and stem, but unlike the Specialized Venge ViAS, for example, the cables are simply routed externally. The Concept is compatible with a regular handlebar and stem, as is fitted to the review bike.
Lastly, in a dose of real-world usability, the Concept also provides clearance for up to 28mm wide tyres. Interestingly, Colnago says it tested 25 and 28mm rear tyres in the wind tunnel and found little drag difference, citing the seat tube as effectively shielding the rear wheel from the airflow.
First generation aero road bikes came with a sizeable weight penalty, but Colnago claims a weight of 990g for a frame and 400g for the fork, and with the SRAM eTap build of the bike tested, the complete weight is a very respectable 7.23kg (15.9lb).
Colnago's UK distributor doesn't sell complete bikes, only framesets. To allow us to test the Concept, it kindly built up a bike with a smattering of top-end equipment, the sort that a £3,500 frame should really be dressed with.
Helping to create the estimated £7999.95 build was SRAM's excellent eTap wireless groupset. I reviewed the groupset, and apart from the shift speed being ever so slightly slower than Shimano Di2, I'm a big fan. I particularly love the shift button layout and the sequential-style shifting.
Departing from the SRAM theme is the FSA K-Force Light carbon fibre chainset, but the chainrings meshed very well with the eTap groupset and I experienced no downgrade in shifting performance.
SRAM doesn't make a direct-mount calliper, and with the advance of disc brakes it's highly unlikely ever to do so. Instead, Colnago has designed its own direct-mount calliper. They work just fine, though they don't have quite the same reassuring bite and consistency of Shimano's Dura-Ace version.
Wheels are from the Vision stable, an offshoot of FSA: the popular Metron 55 in a carbon clincher guise. I've previously tested the shallower Metron 40 and found them a very impressive wheelset, fast and stable with good braking performance. The Metron 55s, with their extra depth, are noticeably faster. The whooshing sound that deep-section carbon rims make is also amplified.
Vision also supplied the Metron aero handlebar and stem, the former providing a comfortable shape whether on the tops, cruising along looking at the countryside, or in the drops staring at the wheel in front of you.
Rounding out the build kit were the new Hutchinson Fusion 5 tyres – excellent; grippy, supple and fast-rolling – and Prologo Kappa Evo saddle, firm and not an agreeable shape for me.
The new Concept is, without a doubt, a stunning bike with awesome speed and the excellent handling that is synonymous with the legendary Italian brand. Based on my own experience and testing, the performance is comparable to many other aero road bikes on the market right now, though it trades some outright aero performance (integrated brakes and cables concealed in the handlebar) for real-world usability, which to my mind, unless you're a professional racing cyclist, is a smart move.
If there's a downside, it's that the usual high Colnago price makes it prohibitively expensive for many, and there are many good aero road bikes that cost a lot less (I'm looking at you, Canyon, Giant, Scott, Trek). But if it's a slice of Italian exotic fused with ultra modern aero design you want, the Concept delivers.
Superb performance and fine handling from Colnago's latest aero race bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Colnago Concept
Size tested: 52
Tell us what the frameset 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?
Colnago says: "This frame has been developed to be as fast as possible, and represents continuity with the original Colnago Concept project – the first carbon fiber frame, developed by Ernesto Colnago in collaboration with Enzo Ferrari in 1986. It is the combination of pure power and speed. Every detail has been studied to bring the aerodynamic performance to a higher level. Superb ride quality and efficiency transform this bike into a real weapon with which to fight your competitors!"
State the frame and fork material and method of construction
Monocoque carbon fiber construction, designed for optimal aerodynamic integration with the frame. The straight blades are thinly shaped over 90% of their overall length to offer excellent aerodynamic qualities, and the rake is designed to offer precision handling in comparison to a traditional design.
Aerodynamic shape – perfectly integrated with the seat tube. The seatpost clamp is an almost invisible, integral part of the top tube – resulting in maximum aerodynamics as well as clean lines.
The main advantages of these brakes are derived from their ideal integration, structurally and aerodynamically, with the frame and fork. In terms of performance, the dual-pivot design results in a more rigid system compared to center-mount, single-pivot brakes. Along with aerodynamic advantages, they also offer better modulation, lighter weight and a superior aesthetic.
The ThreadFit bottom bracket system is a result of Colnago's impeccably high standards and desire to continue to produce the best bicycles. It combines the reliability and practicality of a threaded (BSA) bottom bracket with the added width and rigidity of a press-fit shell. From a technical point of view, the system consists of two threaded lightweight alloy cups, easily removable in case of need (as a result of wear, for example), inside of which the two bearings are pressed. It combines great functionality with safety, durability and ease of maintenance.
Each element of this frame is designed to achieve top performance. Thus, routing the cables internally becomes a must for a clean look and maximum aerodynamic performance. The route of the cables is designed for maximum smoothness, thus improving the both the punctuality and crispness of gear changes. The frame is compatible with both mechanical and electronic groups.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Yes, it's not made in Italy, but it's finished in Italy and the quality of the frame is first class.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's based on the C60 and that's a good thing, as the C60 is one of the nicest handling bikes. Not as razor sharp as some, but the slightly relaxed numbers ensure it's massively stable and balanced and is a wonderful descender.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The fit was perfect; it's obviously quite an aggressive geometry, it is designed for racing.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Compared with other aero road bikes it's a comfortable ride, with the special headset that Colnago has developed damping front-end feedback nicely. And if you want even more comfort, you could fit 28mm tyres.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's not lacking when you snap it out of a slow corner or power up a steep climb.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Relaxed.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
There's no scenario where the Concept doesn't shine, its all-round ability is top notch.
How did the build components work with the frame? Was there anything you would have changed?
The build kit was first class and complemented the frame very well, it's the right set of parts for the frame.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Very much.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's not an affordable aero road bike at all, but the performance and ride handling is excellent.
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, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.