Colnago was… and still is one of the most iconic bike brands in the world. The brand came to life in 1952 when Ernesto Colnago opened a bike shop just outside of Milan in northern Italy and started making frames. Colnago is a quintessential Italian bike brand with style and passion ingrained into the brand experience. Not only have Colnago transitioned successfully into the modern age of bicycle production, they were also an early mover, working with carbon fiber since the late 1980’s.
In Australia, Frank Fortuna is the face of Colnago. A successful rider in his younger years, Frank and his team at FRF Couriers (logistics) setup FRF Sports in 2002 out of their passion for cycling. Since then they have grown an enviable portfolio of bike brands including De Rosa, Ridley, Fulcrum, Speedplay, Pioneer and Lake. And of course Colnago, the jewel of FRF Sports. FRF have also transitioned in recent years to also include bike retail. This started in North Sydney with Bike Bug and they have now expanded with a chain of stores in five locations across Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast. In addition, their online store has fast become one of the biggest online Australian bike shops.
Most Colnago buyers however will go in-store when they buy a new bike. That is part of experience and if you go to the North Sydney Bike Bug store you will probably run into Rocky, the store manager and Franks brother. Rocky made sure that the Colnago AC-R was ready to go for review on BNA.
FRF suggested the AC-R Disc brake version with Shimano Ultegra. The disc version provides serious, but non-competitive riders access to the pleasure and benefits of disc brakes. While disc brakes are not yet officially sanctioned in competitive road racing by the UCI, it is just a matter of time before the ‘fear of change’ is overcome. Along with electronic shifting, disc brakes is one of the most significant technological advances in road cycling.
Being Italian we can assume attention is giving to the overall design, this is an attractive bike, almost subtle with the dark grew frame, black components and bright orange frame detailing. It is definitely a Colnago, the unmistakable black logo adorns the downtube so there is no mistake, but it is modern, refined and not obnoxious.
The Ultegra level groupset keeps the budget in check, this AC-R 2015 with Shimano Ultegra and Shimano disc brakes retails for $3,635. In the Colnago produce range, the AC-R is positioned as their entry level carbon fiber bike with all-round performance. While it is an affordable Colnago, the frame is in fact based upon the recently retired top-end M10 which was the flagship Colnago lightweight racing bike before they released the V1-R.
Charley Leighton was the Colnago test rider for BNA, he is an U23 rider for the development team JML-Racing and provided his insights to the Colnago AC-R disc.
“With an almost exact frame geometry to the Colnago M10, the AC-R also has tight wheelbase which ensures that it responds quickly without undercutting the ride with a twitchy feel. I felt confident on descents, able to meet and beat my PB’s (Personal Best Times) on Strava. The head tube is short enough and responsive to satisfy most criterium racers.”
To analyse the ride quality further (disc brakes aside), is this a race bike?
“The bike as built for the average recreational road cyclist and gives you all of the comfort needed on the local coffee ride or country tour. But it also provides the performance edge needed if you want to start competitive racing. It combines efficient, responsive power transfer with a plush ride and graceful handling. This is a combination which really defines the ride quality for which Colnago is known.”
The carbon fiber AC-R is constructed with the complete front triangle, the tapered headset, top tube, downtube and seat tube as one piece. The rear seat stay and chain stays are bonded into place (and wrapped with carbon fiber). The goal is a stiff and rigid frame which provides excellent power transfer (so pedaling energy isn’t lost) while allowing flex and vibration absorption through the rear triangle and forks for rider comfort. It is a balance which Colnago have carefully controlled to give the AC-R rider the best of both words – comfort and performance.
For many riders, Charley included, disc brakes can’t come fast enough. Like many of the big bike brands, Colnago has ensured that by creating the AC-R disc, they have the know-how to construct safe and reliable road bikes and ready to satisfy the demand by competitive racers by the time the UCI authorises disc brakes in competition. The AC-R disc has the Shimano Ultegra level RS685 shifters and RS785 hydraulic disc brakes which have already proven reliable… and popular.
Disc brakes overcome rim brake deficits, in particular carbon fiber wheels which are notorious for their poor braking performance in wet weather. The AC-R disc sports aluminium wheels called Artemis CXD26 Disc. They weigh 1,880 grams for the pair, are tubeless ready Alex Rims with a tesla hub and 6-bolt disc mount. While promoted as a light but stiff cyclocross style wheelset, they also lend them self as upgrade candidate to higher performance disc brake wheels. In practice the wheels performed well on the AC-R and Charley noted that the increased braking power over conventional rim brake make the disc brakes a safer braking option.
Something however was missing, while the Shimano Ultegra groupset and drive-train give the rider the feeling of riding a “professional machine”, this wasn’t enough for Charley who felt an upgrade to electronic shifting with Shimano Ultegra Di2 would be the icing on the cake.
The upgrade to electronic shifting is possible with the Di2 version of the AC-R priced at $4599, however you will have to sacrifice the disc brakes. This comes with Fulcrum Racing 5 LG wheels weighing 1645 grams and rated (by Fulcrum) as comfort orientated.
The AC-R Disc with Ultegra is not aimed at top level competition, but it is a reliable, safe and comfortable bike that comes with the quality and passion you would expect from a Colnago. Put your foot down and it will still let you be a champion in your local club rides and sportive events.
The Colnago AC-R Disc with Ultegra and other configurations including 105 ($2699) and Ultegra Di2 are available from Bike Bug stores and Colnago dealers across the country. FRF Sports have an online Colnago dealer list.