What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Tests Colnago CLX

As a guy with the enviable access to ride a lot of different road bikes, I was long overdue in meeting the Colnago brand on a personal level. I hate to admit that I’d never actually ridden one of the most famous – even legendary – marques in cycle brands. So I was more than thrilled when Veltec Sports suggested I test ride Colnago’s new carbon CLX.

The CLX is a new bike for this year, and steps in as the ‘entry level’ carbon Colnago for the US market. Now, a $5300 bike may not be what many of us consider entry level, but for anyone who knows racing, this price for a full Campy equipped carbon bike will surely get some attention. And sure that’s pretty sweet icing on this cake, but it’s the cake that makes this ride sweet – .

Click the thumbnail at top for the BIG view.

Like all Colnagos, the CLX is designed in Italy, unlike all Colnagos- this one’s made in Taiwan at a factory that produces some of the best carbon frames anywhere. This alone is significant as it shows the forward thinking that Ernesto Colnago used to built his long and storied reputation is still present.

The ‘made in Italy vs made in Taiwan’ debate has taken up more than it’s share of chat room posts and Saturday morning ride dialogue, and while some years ago it’s true that Italian made cycling gear was the best on the planet, it’s also true that today, examples of the best and worst can be found coming out of many countries.

I suspect there’s less chance of Ernesto putting his name on a piece of crap than the ASO finding Astana’s ‘lost’ invite to this year’s Tour. The frame finish is excellent – as to be expected – but the advantage is the savings in production costs that come from the far eastern factory – which translate into a price point that Colnago hopes will appeal to a lot of riders who simply could not afford one of his bikes before. And based on my own experiences, once you ride a Colnago – you might better appreciate what makes them special.

The Build
My tester came stock equipped with Campagnolo’s Centaur groupset, which although 3rd down the line after Record and Chorus, still offers carbon brake levers, carbon in the rear derailleur body, an Ultra-Torque carbon crankset, and aluminum skeleton brakes. Wheels are Campag Zonda alu-clinchers, which not only look cool, but delivered a really nice ride. The cockpit is spec’d with FSA’s Wing Pro compact alu bars and OS-150 stem.

There’s no mistaking the spec on this bike is a tad ‘down-market’ from what we normally ride here at PEZ, but then it’s a great chance to answer all those reader emails asking our input on a bike made more affordable many of our top-line test rides. And I’m the first to admit to being spoiled by riding the latest, lightest and most expensive gear, but I can tell you that everything on this bike has performed as I’d expect from these top name manufacturers. So let’s take a closer look.

New Bike, New Look
The CLX comes in five color choices and 8 sloping frame sizes. The base coat carbon weave is accented with your choice of white, red, yellow, blue, or even more carbon weave in black. The frame sizes range from Colnagos’ versions of 42 to 59’s, and while that’s no place near the C series 20+ sizes, the geometry and range should find a match for the majority of riders.

What immediately struck me about the CLX was that it just didn’t look like any Colnago I remembered. It’s not their first curved frame carbon bike, but the CLX is an eye-catcher. I suppose it’s old news that a guy who features ‘Daily Distractions’ on his website is also a lover of curves… but my hat goes off to Colnago for serving up a healthy batch o’ bends even Sophia Loren would envy.

Nice Frame
Frame weight itself is around 1100 grams, but what this bike gives up in weight, it more than returns in ride… quality that is.

The full length rear brake cable housing not only looks cool, it eliminates two entry points for dirt that can impeded cable movement.

The carbon is Colnago’s high modulous 3k weave mix throughout, with reinforcing layers at the headtube and bottom bracket.

The top tube is arched from front to back, and shaped with bulges at the sides that not only denote Colnago’ famed cloverleaf logo, but also add strength and rigidity to the tubes. The down tube is also cloverleaf shaped in the cross section, and is as beefy as most I’ve seen. It starts full-width at the head tube and then widens as it moves to the bb.

The CLX is fast enough for the Landbouwkrediet pro team, so it’s likely fast enough for most of us too.

The headtube anchors the 1-1/8″ top and bottom head set bearings, which seem tad small compared to bikes like Trek’s Madone and Look’s 595, & 586, but there’s lots of material to keep the front as stiff as possible.

The solid looking bottom end is indeed solid at the bottom end.

The rear triangle is moulded separately from the front, and attached via bonded lugs, and as we’ve seen a few bikes lately, tube shape has been used to enhance the ride characteristics.

The curved seat stays look like a perfect extension of the curved top tube – but also serve some purpose… The stay curve bulges away from the frame center, which helps provide a more rigid platform for the brakes. Braking forces want to push the rear brake forward. This shape counteracts those forces better than stays curved the other way. The curve is also designed to add some comfort to the ride quality – along with the carbon mix and layup of the actual stays.

The chain stays hug the rear wheel as they sweep back before spreading towards the rear axle. This allows lots of clearance between frame and feet, but what really stands out is the vertical bulge in the tubes about 4 inches back from the bottom bracket. That shape, and increased volume of material allows Colnago another way to tune the stiffness of the chain stays (in addition to carbon mix and layup).

The big swoop of the chain stays is easy to see from above.

The seatpost is slightly profiled, much like Giant showed us a few years back. Unlike so many bikes this year, the CLX seatpost is not integrated with the frame, which is nice if you want to travel and still use that standard sized bike case you bought a few years back.

The teardrop shape continues down the seat tube, to a slight cut out in front of the tire. I’m not sure this is anything more than aesthetics, but it’s true that the teardrop shaped tube will disrupt airflow somewhat less that a simply round tube… so there could be some aero benefits as well – however slight.

It’s great to see compact style bars on this bike – partly because it signals an acceptance by a big name ‘race’ brand like FSA that not everyone wants a long (and uncomfortable) stretch to reach the hoods or drops. They also work well if you want a lower bar top height, without changing the height of the drops.

The curve of the bars – at the top bends and drops – fits my physiology well – and the wider platform of the tops is very comfortable. This bar/ stem combo is not anywhere near the lightest I’ve seen, but it certainly was stiff, and it’s also an easy place to take some noticeable weight off the bike.

Campy’s Centaur groupset is perfect on this bike – it works great, looks like right at home, and can you really put a non-Italian gruppo on such a Italian-branded frame?

I’ve had the luxury of late to spend a lot of time riding bikes right around the 15lb range, and admit I like the neighborhood. So I was keen to see how the just over 17lb CLX would ride, and especially climb. One thing about ride quality is (and much like other areas of life), a little ‘extra’ weight can make the ride a lot more fun. Given the right combo of materials, design and construction, a bike can be made to feel a lot of different ways, and in this case, they’re all good.

To set the stage, my CLX ‘platform’ is a carbon frame & seatpost, aluminum bars and stem, and Campy Euros wheels (mid-weight all around use), and tires inflated at my usual 105psi. I expected the alu steering controls to add a certain harshness to go with their solid design.

I swapped the wheels out for two sets I’ve spent a lot of time on – American Classic 350’s and Hed’s Jet 50 and the CLX keeps it’s character relative to them. Sure a set of 1000 gram tubulars will quicken things up and sharpen the steering and a 1600 gram set of deep clinchers will make things a bit more sluggish but hold speed better and smooth things out a bit more, but the general stability and ride quality remains relative to the hoops…

The first thing I noticed was simply how good the bike fit. Colnago is famous for offering a huge range of sizes to cover the majority of body types – and while the CLX comes in 8 of them, I felt absolutely centered on the 48 from the get go – no fiddling with saddles setbacks or stem lengths. (To convince myself I wasn’t dreaming, I fitted a 110 stem (10mm longer than my norm) just to see the difference. The 100 was right in the first place.)

The Proof Is In The Pedalling
So how’s the ride? Simple – it’s solid, comfortable, and …surprisingly fast. From the start the bike rolled along with a feeling of authority for any road surface, bumps were soaked and absorbed by the bike and not me. Sometimes a few extra pounds on the same tire pressure helps and when it’s mated with a good design from a company that’s always put ride quality at the front of design, it’s no surprise at all.

The geometry is standard Colnago (even with the sloped top tube design here, and handling is confident and predictable) the kind that you notice being neither too quick nor too slow, just very stable. I actually had to think about how to describe it because it’s responsive but without any fuss or notice. And even while other manufacturers are increasing front end rigidity by using larger diameter headset bearings, the CLX gives up nothing that all but the most savvy riders will notice – . I ride a lot of bikes and I never once noticed any front end flex.

Accept no substitutes… Ermesto’s name is right on the frame!

I’ll admit that it doesn’t accelerate from a hard jump as quickly as a 15 pounder does, but it ain’t no slug either. Hard acceleration from low speed isn’t on par with the lightest and stiffest bikes available today but it rolls up to speed quickly and actually feels like you can set a cruise control and just go. I did 4 x 45 minute climbs on the CLX, and never did I feel like I was lugging a heavy bike.

The frame is solid – like you’d expect from a well used (and well placed) 1100 grams, which also means getting out of the saddle for steep climbs or sprints is met with little hesitation and I’ll bet undetectable to most riders who’ll buy this bike. And let’s not forget that a little more weight gives you just a few more grams to bite back at the road and smooth things out.

Descending is confidence inspiring, it tracks dead straight at high speeds (okay, so far I’ve maxed out at 68kmh, but the bike easily wants to go faster) and wants to take the corners faster than I’m willing – I may never find out where the real cornering limits are on the CLX- it just wants more…

I give partial credit to the overall mass of the bike in smoothing the ride, but I suspect a lot more credit goes to Ernesto for defining the ride with his design and build. I’ve been having a ton of fun riding the CLX, and at this point can only imagine what this bike would feel like in a slightly lighter version. For $4700 it’s a well spec’d package that should surely entice more than a few buyers to either step up to Colnago, or even add one to the stable.

Don’t Take My Word For It
Here’s what our Tech Ed Charles Manantan notes:
I always thought that the only place I would see a carbon Colnago for $2900 bucks, frame and fork would be Ebay, so seeing anything with a clover at that rate retail was an eye opener. What’s not a surprise is that Colnago built in good ride quality and made it beautiful…

The CLX just puts Colnago carbon in reach for more people. And while there are those that swear that where a bike is made is critical to it’s value, I would argue the design and build quality (AKA the damn bike) certainly counts. And I don’t discount the history and product knowledge that Colnago bring to the table. It’s not common knowledge that Ernesto walked the production floor and hand selected the staff that would work on the CLX from the existing work force, but it was no suprise to me that he did.

Choose what you will and think what you like, but Colnago have a nice frame/fork at a pretty pedestrian price point (not high, not low) $2900 in the CLX. It’s got your money’s worth in “do what you want when you want” handling and there’s more confidence still in the smoothness. The 1100 grams hides well “in your hands” and reminds me a bit of Look’s extremely under rated 486 of a few years ago where people looked at a gram count and prejudged. That bike was sweet too.

The stiffness to weight ratio here isn’t like some of the top line race frames and there are a few bargain racers available at a lower gram count, rougher ride and lower “panache” factor for guys pinning on numbers and a budget. An even higher level race frame for the spec and stat crowd will be Colnago’s new CX1… There’s certainly nothing at $2900 bucks that comes with The Colnago swagger and look that you get with the CLX, and that it comes with the overall performance and ride that it does makes those dollars more sensible. As a total package for folks looking for as much style and performance combined, this is a nice one.

MSRP (As of June 8, 2008)
• Full Bike as tested: Centaur Gruppo – US$5299.99
• Ultegra – $4499.99
• Dura-Ace – $6049.99
• Frameset Only: US$2899.99

Get More Info from the US distributor and find a dealer near you: VeltecSports.com

Or Try These Fine Retailers Online

Note: If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.

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