Colnago C68 Road review: A superb ride, but less distinctive than before
Colnago chases modernity with the new C68, and though it offers outstanding performance, it still loses something in the process.
Colnago chases modernity with the new C68, and though it offers outstanding performance, it still loses something in the process.
There’s a little town north of Boulder called Hygiene, with a well-equipped general store that’s a regular stop for road riders. The store knows its clientele well. There are two long racks for people to hang up bikes. Tables and chairs outside to kick your feet up before clipping back into your pedals. A machine inside where you can fill your bottles with ice-cold Skratch hydration mix.
I had my Colnago C68 test bike out there one day while I popped in for some calories. When I came out, there were a handful of people gathered around it — all upper-middle-aged men, presumably in their prime earning years.
“Aren’t those bikes usually lugged?”
This bike has been absolutely brilliant to ride, but that comment sums up pretty well the one thing missing from Colnago’s new flagship machine.
Just like every Colnago C-series since the C40 debuted in 1994, the C68 is made of a bunch of smaller sections of frame that are glued together. But this time around, Colnago has decided to do away with previous generations’ more traditional lugged aesthetic, instead switching to a multi-piece construction method that leaves the majority of the joints invisible. All but two of the bond lines are essentially seamless, further hidden under a generous helping of paint. And the bond joints that Colnago intentionally leaves prominently displayed at the head tube and seat cluster don’t stand out like they once did.
The old lobed tube cross-sections have also been abandoned in favor of a more aerodynamic truncated airfoil profile, and the D-shaped carbon fiber seatpost is even shared with the more competition-minded V3Rs. Down below is a T47 threaded bottom bracket, there’s a new one-piece CC.01 carbon fiber bar-and-stem with fully internal routing, and at least for now, the C68 is only offered for use with disc brakes and electronic drivetrains.
Why the dramatic change?
Colnago says this style of building frames offers more tuning flexibility and more stiffness than the C64, as well as better part consistency as compared to the modular monocoque construction favored in mass production. The multi-piece concept also retains a measure of geometry customization, which is enhanced further for customers that opt for the C68 Titanium, which uses bespoke 3D-printed titanium lugs at the head tube and seat cluster for riders that want more adjustment.
If you read between the lines, what’s apparent is that while the C64 was undeniably aspirational and unique amongst its peers, that sort of heritage and emotional play eventually loses momentum. At least to some degree, the C68 had to get with the times, even if it had to abandon its curious old-plus-new aesthetic in the process.
Nevertheless, Colnago says the spirit of its C-series flagship still shines through.
(More technical details can be found in my introduction article on the C68 here).
Set aside for a moment this whole discussion about lugs and heritage and so on, because all of that fades away when you get this thing on the road. Out there, it’s absolutely brilliant.
With few exceptions, high-end road racing bikes have been converging into one of two buckets. One of those is chasing aerodynamic gains at any/all costs; the other is mostly focused on low weight, while still including a modicum of aero shaping to help cheat the wind. The problem with the former is that they’re often heavy and aren’t very comfortable, and while the latter is very lightweight, the ride quality can still be kind of brittle and chattery.
The C68 sort of falls into that second bucket, with its more traditional profile and modest D-shaped tubing that promises some semblance of aerodynamic efficiency. But at 930 g for a 51s (that’s Colnago-speak for roughly a 56 cm), the C68 isn’t all that light, especially when you consider that figure doesn’t include paint or hardware. When comparing apples to apples, that works out to about 200-300 g heavier than a Giant TCR Advanced SL Disc, Trek Emonda SLR, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7, or Cannondale SuperSix Evo.
Weight has never been the overarching goal of Colnago’s C-series bikes, however. It’s ride quality. And in that sense, this new C68 hits the nail on the head.
Colnago supplied a flagship model for test here, complete with an ultra-posh Campagnolo Super Record EPS electronic groupset, Campagnolo Bora WTO 45 carbon wheels wrapped with 28 mm (27 mm actual width) Pirelli P Zero Race tube-type clinchers, Colnago’s own CC.01 one-piece carbon fiber bar-and-stem, and a titanium-railed Prologo Scratch M5 CPC saddle mounted atop the D-shaped Colnago setback carbon fiber seatpost. Actual weight is 7.49 kg (16.49 lb), without pedals or accessories — not bad, but not fantastic, either.
Looking past those numbers, the C68 just feels amazing. The ride is firm and full of feedback, but by no means punishing. It’s super smooth on all but the ugliest pavement even with the stock 27 mm-wide Pirellis inflated to 82/80 psi rear/front (which is on the high side for my 73 kg frame). Bigger impacts are translated into a dull thud instead of rocking your shoulders and scrambling your vision. There’s a sense of substantialness to the whole thing, and almost — dare I say it — luxury. It’s composed and comfortable, and not at all brittle-feeling or skittery like similarly minded bikes that are significantly lighter.
Overall frame stiffness is excellent, at least in my “48s” (roughly a 52 cm in conventional terms) size. It’s not blow-your-mind stout at the bottom bracket like a Giant TCR or Emonda SLR, but it’s nevertheless very solid and highly responsive to changes in power at the pedals with not a hint of mushiness. Front end torsional rigidity is also very high, delivering highly precise handling and lending a lot of confidence when diving into fast corners under hard braking.
As for the frame geometry, Colnago still models the C68 as a race bike so there aren’t any surprises here. Colnago uses the same 43 mm fork rake for each of the seven available frame sizes, so the trail varies from 75 mm on the smallest size, down to 59 mm on the largest. It’s a middle-of-the-road 69 mm for my particular tester, which also sports a relatively stubby 590 mm front center and tidy 985 mm wheelbase. The chainstays are short across the board at just 408 mm from the bottom bracket center to the rear hub, and every size also gets the same 72 mm of bottom bracket drop.
Taking all of that into account, the steering is quick and reactive, the C68 deftly carving its way down tight-and-fast downhill hairpins and flicking around last-minute obstacles. It’s eager and tossable, light on its feet. It likes to play. But yet it’s also stable and calm when you’re in a full tuck at 70 km/h, firmly planted to the ground without feeling like it’s going to get bounced off-line into the shoulder at the slightest crack in the tarmac.
Although the handling is quick and darty, Colnago has tempered the rider positioning on the C68 as compared to the V3Rs typically preferred by UAE Team Emirates riders. Reach is essentially unchanged, but the stack is a few millimeters taller for a slightly more relaxed posture. It’s a far cry from endurance bike territory, though, and there’s still plenty of weight on the front end to help with initial turn-in, but my guess is most riders will welcome the subtle change on long days in the saddle.
Campagnolo’s EPS electronic platform is long overdue for a major overhaul, but the Super Record EPS flagship groupset included here is still a treat to use. Shifts are quick and precise both front and rear — if occasionally a hair clunkier than Shimano — and since the upshift and downshift levers are wholly separated, there’s never a chance of your fingers mistaking one for the other. It also runs very quietly, and with 12 sprockets out back (and cassettes up to 11-32T), there’s ample range available.
Campagnolo’s disc brakes — co-developed with Magura — are arguably the best in the business, too, with copious amounts of power matched with excellent lever feel, a less binary initial bite, and barely a hint of noise. Even if the style doesn’t suit you, it’s hard to deny that Super Record EPS has a lot of it.
Unfortunately, none of that can mask the age of the EPS platform or its technical disadvantages as compared to newer competition. Shimano and SRAM are both wireless at the levers (although Shimano still has wires connecting the derailleurs and battery), and their companion apps are more feature-rich. There are still no remote shifter options for Campagnolo EPS, either, and somewhat amazingly, the system still requires you to attach a clumsy magnetic strap around the seatpost-mounted battery to manually turn the system off after a ride (otherwise it’ll stay in standby mode and steadily drain the battery).
And while those brakes have an ardent following within CyclingTips circles, Campagnolo’s design still offers the least pad clearance of the big three. Thankfully, both the front and rear disc mounts on the C68 were perfectly flat and square so rotor rub was never an issue. The lever blades still lack a proper reach adjustment, however, and combined with the bulky Ergopower bodies, most riders with smaller hands will likely want to look elsewhere.
The wheels are harder to fault.
They’re sleek and slippery in the wind (although crosswind stability could be better), stiff and responsive, and ride nicely. Past experience has repeatedly confirmed the hybrid ceramic cup-and-cone bearings to be some of the best available, too: fast-rolling, durable, easy to service, and easily adjustable. Build quality is just as superb as past Campagnolo wheels I’ve used, the finish quality is second-to-none, and although this particular setup was tube-type, the solid outer rim walls are a cinch to set up tubeless with no finicky tape to migrate or peel.
One thing to note: my test bike came with Campagnolo’s second-tier Bora WTO 45 carbon clinchers, not the top-shelf Bora Ultra WTO 45. Colnago lists the flagship wheels on its product page, though, so hopefully this was just a necessary substitution for my test sample.
Colnago’s decision to use a one-piece carbon fiber bar-and-stem with fully internal routing was fully expected, and while I still have lots of qualms about the concept, the execution here has at least addressed some of them.
First and foremost, it’s good to see that Colnago offers 16 different length-and-width combinations of the CC.01 cockpit to provide more fit tunability. The flattened tops also aren’t so flattened that they’re uncomfortable to hold, and the semi-anatomic drop shape should be agreeable to most. Kudos to Colnago for using a conventional 1 1/8″ round steerer tube and making the system fully compatible (both functionally and aesthetically) with some options from Deda, too. In other words, if a stock CC.01 doesn’t suit your wants or needs, you can always go with a Deda one-piece setup or even a two-piece one.
The routing itself is still kind of a pain, however, with the lines running inside the bar and stem before taking a downward curve between the steerer tube and upper headset bearing. Colnago has wisely specified CeramicSpeed’s solid-lube SLT headset bearings for supposed lifetime operation, but you still have to unbolt the front brake caliper to gain enough hose length when it comes time to clean and re-grease the headset bearing seats. And unfortunately, while the C68 ably tackles those bigger bumps in the road as I mentioned earlier, they’re occasionally accompanied by some hose and/or wire rattling in the down tube (which could presumably be fixed with some foam insulation).
Let’s not forget about the C68’s integrated multi-tool, of course, which comes courtesy of Granite Design and is neatly hidden away inside the steerer tube. It’s a neat idea (and I did use it several times, particularly during early setup rides), but you’d better hope your fingernails are nice and strong as you’ll need them to pry out the friction-fit cap. The stubby tool bits also aren’t long enough to reach some bolts, and the short tool body offers minimal leverage — which is perhaps just as well since the single-sided aluminum body will likely just bend or break if you really torque on it, anyway.
Thankfully the tool isn’t a requirement, and even without it, there’s still a nice aluminum reinforcement sleeve that extends well below the upper headset bearing to bolster the carbon fiber steerer.
There’s one last thing I want to address: the saddle. The short-and-stubby design is comfortable enough with lots of support from the higher-density foams, and the grippy CPC surface works as advertised. But on a bike with this sky-high a price tag, shouldn’t the rails be carbon fiber instead of titanium? Ok, I’m nitpicking here, but when you’re paying this kind of money, it’s only fair to expect the very best.
Turning to automotive analogies (as I’m apt to do), I think of the C68 as the road bike equivalent of a premium GT car. It’s nearly as quick and responsive as a dedicated track machine, but with most of the edges knocked off so that it’s easier to live with on a day-to-day basis. It’s supremely capable. It’s expensive. It’s stylish. People literally stop you to ask questions.
The problem with the C68 — at least in my opinion — is one of identity. In revamping the way the C68 is made to make it sleeker and more modern-looking, Colnago has also taken away much of what set previous C-series models apart. It’s true that the C68 offers performance to spare, and it’s still unlikely you’ll spot another one on your local group ride. And of course, the prestige of the Colnago brand name is emblazoned right on the down tube for all to see.
The C68 is still pretty, it’s still made in Italy, and with this kind of price tag, it’s still ultra-exclusive. It may very well be a better bike than the C64 on paper, but I’d argue that at this end of the market, buyers aren’t just comparing things on paper (and if they were, any number of mass-produced bikes out-perform this thing). It’s a fine bike, and I’ll be sad to see it go. But whether there’s still enough of an emotional play here to keep the C68 at the forefront of wealthy buyers’ minds remains to be seen.
More information can be found at www.colnago.com.