Bikes of the bunch: 2016 Colnago Arabesque living room special
This bike is gold.
Yep, that’s real 24K gold plating covering many of the components, including the rims and cassette. And no, it’s not really rideable in its pictured state.
However, this isn’t simply a story of a showy gold bike destined as a living-room talking piece, even though its owner has three dozen other beautiful Italian steeds with only this one earning a place within the house instead of the garage.
No, the real story here is that this bike-turned-artwork was actually put together with a bunch of truly trashed components. Restored, brought back to better than new, and turned into something even more timeless. More importantly, with a swap of the wheels, it can be ridden. Certainly this 2016 Colnago Arabesque is one of a kind, built for a purveyor of Colnagos, and yet another stunning example of the work Chris Howard of CycloRetro is capable of.
A true collector’s item in Colnago’s history, the Arabesque was a bike first built between 1983-1984 to celebrate the Italian company’s 30th anniversary. Effectively a round-tubed Master frame with ornate lug work, the Arabesque name became a family of Italian-made steel masterpieces, including the equally sought-after Regal. Nearly thirty years after its brief run, Colnago claim an employee stumbled across a large box of original Arabesque lugs, allowing the company to re-issue the iconic frame in limited supply (between 400-600 frames produced). The 2016-edition of the Arabesque is extremely similar to the original, albeit with Colnago’s iconic star-shaped tubing from the Master range.
As a Colnago collector, the Melbourne-based owner of this bike (who asked to remain anonymous), knew straight away he wanted to own an Arabesque, and with it, turn it into something very special. “When I heard Colnago was going to reissue the Arabesque, I decided then I’d like to get one in pearl white,” he said. “At that stage, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but I wanted something special and different. It was only after talking to Chris at CycloRetro and looking at the few parts I already had, which were some very average [condition] Campagnolo C-Record, that I knew they could be repaired and turned into something unique.”
Buying a Arabesque re-issue would make perfect sense to any Colnago fanatic, but then why turn it into a 24K gold show bike? As it turns out, it’s more a question of why not?
“The Arabesque was the reason; it’s something different. The pearl white paint with gold decals was just asking for gold parts.”
Restored parts and gold plating
As will be revealed in a future article about component polishing, Chris Howard is the sole set of hands behind CycloRetro.com and is somewhat of a master in restoring old metal components (seriously check these before and after examples). From reforming damaged parts down to smooth surfaces, creating mirror finishes, to his pantograph (engraving) work, he has a strong global customer base.
For the owner, the Arabesque build is his first gold-plated bike, but certainly not his first unique build. “I’ve done a few unique bikes before. Chris also helped me out with doing a black Colnago with copper plated Potenza and Athena parts.” And it was because of this experience with Chris that the owner knew such a show bike could be created out of parts that most would deem ready for the bin.
“Most of the parts that are on this bike were the sort of parts that you wouldn’t pay a lot of money for,” said Howard. “It was a good candidate to redo. I know this customer well, and I said, ‘Get me crappy old parts; buy the cheapest, the worst, the crappiest, and that’s the part we’ll start with.’ By doing that, the parts were actually picked up very cheaply.”
The bike’s owner had certain components in mind, but Howard took on a number of decisions, too.
“Some must-haves were Delta brakes, first-gen C-Record cranks, rear derailleur and seatpost. Chris suggested the other parts that he thought were essential like the 3T stem and bars, Rolls saddle, and a special Arabesque Colnago logo design on the Delta brakes. When the bike was coming together, it had to have gold plated wheels and cassette, then came the gold gear cables and Chris suggested gold outer cables.”
The bike is currently fitted with standard Fizik tape, but that’s likely to change to something better suited to the rest of the build.
“I want something with a gold stitch through it,” the bike’s owner said. “Something subtle.”
It’s clear that an incredible number of hours went into the bike’s creation.
“The first gen rear derailleur was completely road rashed,” Howard recounted. “The cranks had shoe rub and pitting on them. They were terrible, too. The pedals looked like someone had been riding them with football (studded) boots and the logos on the sides were gone. The stem was average, well worn and with scratches on the top. The hubs were dull and well-used. The Delta (brakes) had typical road spray and corrosion, including faded logos.”
To go from such poor condition to mirrored gold is no easy or quick task. Howard had to smooth and reform the components, slowly removing material until the desired shape was achieved. The logos or emblems were then pantographed back into the component, sometimes with a wholly new design (such as on the brakes). From there, parts had to be polished by hand until they took on a faultless mirror finish.
Once Howard could see himself in the parts, he passed them onto a local plating specialist. First, the parts were given a nickel coating to ensure corrosion resistance and proper adherence of the gold. The nickel coating was then hand polished back to a mirror-like shine prior to receiving the gold coating.
Gold is certainly not a cheap material, but without question, the most expensive part of this bike is time. For the owner, the outcome is something obviously satisfying to look at. Asked about what completes the bike, the owner says it’s the part that perhaps makes the bike one you wouldn’t want to ride. “That would have to be the gold wheels and cassette. The bike looks good with other wheels in it, but with the gold wheels in, it looks like a show bike, a work of art from the 1980s.”
Can it be ridden?
Despite the show-bike nature of this build, it was put together as a rideable steed. Its owner has test-ridden it in its pictured state (without using the brakes), and the bike is simply a wheel swap away from more use. “The good thing is it’s built as 11-speed so when I want to ride it further, I swap the gold wheels for my other modern wheelsets.”
The fact this bike has 11-speed shifting is certainly a unique detail given it uses original 6-speed Campagnolo C-Record derailleurs and down tube shifters. The trick is the friction-based shifters, which lack indexing, meaning the shift quality is only as good as the user’s control. Completing this setup is a KMC X11-SL 11-speed gold chain and modern 11-speed Campagnolo chainrings (which have been polished, of course). Riding it will still mean using the gold-plated cables, and you’d certainly not want to drop it, but short of the pictured wheelset, this is a rideable machine.
In the end, a collector’s job is never done.
“This one is definitely a keeper, but my taste in bikes is always changing, I like modern stuff, too, and weird things so who knows. Currently, I’m thinking about doing a Colnago Oval CX with 50th Anniversary maybe?”