New Colnago C68 flagship road bike debuts made-in-Italy modular concept
The successor to the venerable C64 abandons tubes and lugs in favor of a modular design that’s stiffer and even more customizable.
The successor to the venerable C64 abandons tubes and lugs in favor of a modular design that’s stiffer and even more customizable.
Iconic Italian brand Colnago has long been championing a two-headed approach to its flagship road models. On the one side, there’s the V3RS that Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) rode to two Tour de France victories. That carbon frame is lighter and more focused on racing with an aero shape and more conventional modular monocoque construction. It’s also made in Taiwan.
But on the other hand, there’s the C64, which is still made in Colnago’s headquarters in Cambiago, Italy. This isn’t expressly designed for competition, instead featuring a more traditional tube-and-lug construction and a distinctly non-aero shape that concentrates more on ride quality and customization.
The V3RS is better in a technical sense, and is unarguably the head pick of the pair. But the C64 is more cherished and prized, and most definitely the heart choice. And now, the C64 is being replaced by a new flagship called the C68, which aims to retain that sense of heritage and exclusivity, while also introducing an entirely new way of building frames for Colnago.
The C64 — along with the C60, C50, and C40 models that came before it — was essentially a carbon fiber analogue of a traditional lugged steel frame. Straight carbon fiber tubes and carbon fiber lugs were each individually molded, and then the whole thing was bonded together. All of that overlapping material perhaps wasn’t as structurally efficient as modular monocoque construction (in other words, it’s heavier), but it afforded more design flexibility while also offering a distinctly old-school aesthetic that more modern frames simply couldn’t provide.
There are limits to how long you can keep beating the history and heritage drum, though, and it seems Colnago finally saw fit to modernize its venerable C.
The new C68 still uses a multi-piece construction — and is still made in Italy — but it’s now somewhat of a hybrid between the old tube-and-lug setup and the more common modular monocoque layout used throughout the industry. In some ways, in fact, the concept is similar to the Enve Custom Road, or what custom builder Pursuit Cycles is doing in Montana.
Typically, carbon road frames are molded in just a few big pieces. The entire front triangle is molded as one piece, and each side of the rear end is molded as two more big pieces. Those three sections are individually cured, the joints are bonded and wrapped with additional strips of carbon, and then it’s cured again. When done properly, the end result can be extremely light and yet also supremely rigid.
In contrast, the C68 is made of six separate parts. The top tube directly incorporates the upper head tube section, while the lower half of the head tube is integrated with the down tube. The seat tube includes the bottom bracket shell and stubs for the seatstays, chainstays, and down tube. A separate seat lug joins the seat tube and top tube, and the rear end is molded in two sections as usual. All of these bits are formed and molded separately, then it’s all bonded together to create the finished frame.
Colnago says there are several advantages to this method of construction.
According to Colnago, the smaller frame segments allow for different molding techniques that aren’t possible with bigger sections, as well as better quality control and more consistent finished parts. Ride feel is supposedly more tunable as well, and at least compared to the C64, the C68 is also stiffer for a more responsive feel under power. And because of the way the two head tube sections nest and slide within each other, Colnago says the new C68 can be built with customizable stack and reach (within a certain range, that is) — an important feature since there are now seven stock sizes instead of nine on the C64.
If someone wants or needs a particularly unusual frame geometry, there’s even the option of making the seat lug and upper head tube section in 3D-printed titanium.
Perhaps most importantly from a marketing perspective, the new construction method also gives the C68 a far more modern appearance than any C model that came before it.
Colnago still pays homage to the C68’s lugged history with intentionally stepped joints at the head tube and seat cluster, but the other joints are entirely hidden from view. Tube shaping is more pronounced, too. The seat tube and down tube sport a D-profile (presumably for a bit of an aero advantage), the top tube is more trapezoidal and flared as it approaches the head tube, there’s a modest cutout on the back of the seat tube for tire clearance, the rectangular chainstays are tall and boxy for rigidity, and the bridgeless seatstays seem designed more for comfort than aero watts.
It’s an interesting visual amalgamation of old and new for sure, but at least in my humble opinion, it works.
That new method of frame construction may very well offer some distinct advantages over the C64, but lower weight isn’t one of them. Colnago’s official claimed frame weight is 930 g for a “51s” size (roughly a 56 cm in more conventional sizing nomenclature), unpainted and without any metal parts. That’s not only 100-200 g heavier than many mainstream flagship models, but also slightly heavier than the C64.
Aside from weight, though, Colnago is clearly looking forward (and even in terms of weight, I’d argue that’s not necessarily a downside if that also comes with improved long-term reliability).
Down below, Colnago has abandoned its proprietary ThreadFit 82.5 bottom bracket design in favor of a more common T47 oversized and threaded setup (though by my measurements, Colnago is using the slightly narrower 85 mm shell width championed by Trek for improved tool purchase — not a big deal at all). Up top is the same aero-profile carbon fiber seatpost used on the C64 and V3RS, secured with a tidy wedge-style binder hidden inside the top tube. And should you prefer a single-ring drivetrain, the aluminum front derailleur mount is easily removable for a cleaner look.
Colnago has fitted the C68 with fully internal routing, which is unfortunately only compatible with electronic drivetrains and disc brakes (sorry, folks, your dreams of a C68 equipped with a Campagnolo Super Record mechanical rim-brake groupset have been dashed). However, Colnago’s approach to internal routing seems fairly agreeable.
For one, the use of an oversized upper headset bearing allows the lines to pass in between the fork and headset without having to resort to any weird shapes; the C68’s steerer tube is gloriously round, and has a wholly normal 1 1/8″ diameter. There’s a channeled split ring to guide the lines, and while there’s no steel ring to guard the steerer tube from damage over time, the split ring itself appears to be made of some kind of reinforced plastic, which should presumably be easier on the composite material than machined aluminum.
Because the lines still run through the upper headset bearing, though, replacing that bearing if/when necessary will still be a royal pain. However, Colnago has equipped the C68 with CeramicSpeed SLT headset bearings, which feature a permanent solid lubricant and carry a lifetime warranty despite requiring zero maintenance. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe, but the effort is appreciated regardless.
Colnago’s conservative bent also shows in how the steerer tube is reinforced. Colnago has always used longer-than-normal compression plugs, and the one on the C68 is a reassuringly generous 70 mm in length — long enough to extend down past the upper headset bearing in most cases. It’s a beefy aluminum piece that appears to provide ample reinforcement to prevent the steerer from being crushed by the stem clamp.
Colnago has even made good use of its hollow shape: inside the plug resides a tidy little Stash RCX multi-tool from Granite Design.
Going along with that fully internal routing is a one-piece carbon fiber cockpit that Colnago calls the CC.01. Somewhat ironically given the way the C68 frame is built, the CC.01 is a true monocoque, molded entirely as a single unit instead of several pieces that are bonded together after the fact. Despite the presumably heady tooling costs associated with this method of construction, Colnago is offering the CC.01 in an impressive 16 different length-and-width combinations, with stem lengths ranging from 80-140 mm, and bar widths from 370-430 mm.
If those figures seem a tad narrow, don’t fret; the drops on the CC.01 are flared 2 cm (14 mm on the 370 mm size) so most riders should still have plenty of width down low. Either way, claimed weight is impressive at just 310 g for the 110/370 mm size.
Some of the other dimensions on the CC.01 are interesting, too.
Although the semi-anatomic drops are somewhat shallow at 122 mm, the reach is intentionally long at 80 mm. Colnago says the intent is that most riders will be able to go down a stem size from usual and still maintain the same posture while on the hoods or in the drops. However, the longer reach and shorter stem will provide a slightly more upright position when on the tops, and more positioning variation in general.
The tops themselves sport a moderately flattened profile for comfort and aero efficiency, and Colnago says that while the CC.01 was expressly designed to work with the C68’s internal routing and disc brakes, it’ll also work with external routing and rim brakes, and is explicitly compatible with the C64 and V3RS frames.
Sixteen sizes sounds like a lot (and comparatively speaking, it is). However, not everyone will find one they like (and some may just not like the shape), but Colnago has a solution there, too. The profiling of the headset and the internal routing setup has been developed to mesh perfectly with certain Deda Elementi components, such as the Superbox stem and Alanera cockpit, which will greatly expand the range of options while retaining the clean look.
As is common practice with these sorts of things, the C68 is equipped with split headset spacers so you can adjust the bar height without taking apart the entire front end, and it’s also not too difficult to run spacers on top of the stem so you can safely trial a few fit before cutting the steerer flush. And refreshingly, Colnago even includes a bolt-on accessory mount for the CC.01 that works with Garmin, Wahoo, Bryton, and Hammerhead GPS computers, as well as lights and cameras underneath. And since it’s basically just a GoPro-compatible base, that also opens up the CC.01 to all sorts of aftermarket options.
Heard about things like crypto, blockchain, NFTs, and Web 3.0 — and have absolutely no idea what any of it is? Join the club (no, really, literally please join the club). As much as Colnago banks on its heritage, the company has fully embraced the new digital world when it comes to the new C68.
Attached to the down tube of every C68 is a unique NFC tag that owners can use with the Colnago smartphone app to access data stored on the MyLife blockchain. According to Colnago, that data will include verified (and transferrable) ownership, proof that the bike isn’t an unauthorized replica, media assets of the frameset in production, an NFT of that particular C68, and even access to “selected and exclusive events”.
If this all seems like a little too much, I hear you. But to be fair, this is apparently the direction in which the digital world is headed, so if nothing else, it’s good to see Colnago be proactive about it instead of trying to catch up later. Take all of this as you will.
Although Colnago is debuting just one new bike right now — the C68 Road — that suffix is key. According to Colnago, the C68 Road is very much designed to be a dedicated road bike. It’s optimized for 28 mm-wide tires, but can easily fit 30s, and might even clear some 32s.
Coming in a few months is the C68 Allroad, which will have room for smooth-treaded tires up to 35 mm-wide and a more stable geometry. Colnago wasn’t clear on this, but it sounds like the C68 Allroad will use the same molded frame segments, but in a slightly altered configuration.
And finally, some time around the end of 2022, there will be the C68 Gravel with a more heavily modified carbon frame and room for tires “more than 42 mm-wide”.
Sounds intriguing, no?
Colnago is offering the C68 in a few different flavors — and all of them are decidedly very, very premium in cost. In a distinct departure from years past, Colnago is moving to an omnichannel distribution model whereby customers will be able to go to traditional dealers like before, but also can buy direct from Colnago online (this will be delayed until 2023 for the US market).
The standard C68 frame “kit” will cost US$7,100 / €5,650. The C68Ti (with the 3D-printed head tube and seat tube fittings) will be US$8,000 / €6,600. Want something other than one of the four standard paint finishes? That’ll be an additional €1,200. But seeing as how an NFT of a Colnago C64 recently went for a whopping US$8,592, it’s almost like getting the actual frameset for free, no?
As for complete bikes, Colnago is only offering the C68 and C68Ti in just three build kits — all at the flagship level.
Sitting at the “entry level” is the C68/C68Ti with a SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset and Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon wheels for €12,700 / €13,670. Moving to Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9200 and Shimano C50 wheels pushes the price to €14,065 / €15,590. And Campagnolo Super Record EPS with Campagnolo Bora Ultra wheels? That’ll be a whopping €15,772 / €16,780, thankyouverymuch.
The US market only gets the bare C68 and C68Ti framesets (US$7,100 / US$8,000) and the Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 model for US$16,000. C68 model availability and pricing for other markets is to be confirmed.
As for availability in general, Colnago says that standard configurations are shipping to target markets immediately, and custom frames will supposedly be 90-120 days out.
Colnago graciously sent over a Super Record EPS-equipped loaner for review, but it was unfortunately delayed in customs long enough that I haven’t had time to actually ride it yet. I can at least report that the complete bike weighs 7.54 kg (16.62 lb) in Colnago’s “48s” size (roughly equivalent to a conventional 53 cm), without pedals, but with a single bottle cage, computer mount, and the Granite Design multi-tool.
It’s also jaw-droppingly beautiful. But are its performance and feel just as impressive? Hopefully, but I’ll find out soon enough.
More information can be found at www.colnago.com.