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Colnago C40 HP Bike Review

by Greg Pelican 2/17/03

The Colnago C40 has the reputation as one of the best bikes in the world.  The C40 has won everything from Paris Roubaix to mountain stages in the Tour.  It has earned the title of “the most versatile bike in the pro peleton”.  For 2003 Colnago has taken the high tech frame one step further, by introducing a unique diamond chain stay.  I am happy to say that I recently purchased a C40 HP.  This bike is so new that it’s hard to find anyone who has much time on it, so I felt a review might help anyone who is interested in buying one.


As a shop owner and racer I have been lucky to own the very best bikes in the world.  After one month on the new C40 HP, my only regret is not buying a C40 sooner!  Well honestly I did have a few reservations.  First, it goes without saying that this frame is very expensive, even at the wholesale price.  And it certainly isn’t easy to find one to test ride, so you have to have a good deal of trust in Colnago to make this kind of investment.   Second, I wondered if the new chain stay was more for show or if it offered a true improvement in ride quality.


My final reservations had to do with the fork.  Colnago still uses a 1” steerer tube with all of their forks mated with a traditional threadless headset.  This approach is a little old school compared to the latest wave of forks with a 1 1/8” oversized steerer tube and the trend toward integrated headsets.  In the past I had a 1” carbon fork’s steerer tube crack just from hitting a pothole.  I almost crashed and the fork was only 4 months old.  I also had a bad experience on an Eddie Mercks Team SC with a very flexible 1” steerer tube fork (the current model has been upgraded to a 1 1/8” fork).  In any case I need a big frame and we have some real fast descents in our neck of the woods, so a good stout fork is important to me.


My reservations were somewhat balanced by my positive experiences with a Colnago CT1 that I owned two years ago.  It had a Flash fork with a  steel steerer tube and it was just fine.  I never had a problem with it being too flexible.  And of course Colnago’s forks are good enough for the boys of Mapai and Robobank so again, I had to just trust the manufacturer on this one.


Even though the C40 HP normally comes with the rare Star fork, I ordered mine with the Colnago Force fork.  The star fork is very light and is completely made of carbon, even the dropouts!  The Force fork is the most recent to Colnago’s lineup, has a 1” carbon steerer tube, alloy dropouts and overall is a big larger in the cross section.  I felt the 70 gram weight penalty was a fair trade off for a more bomb proof fork.  When Brian was building up the bike we were both impressed by the fork.  The carbon steerer tube was very thick and solid.  Obviously there is more than one way to get strength out of a tube.  You can either increase the diameter or increase the wall thickness.  I was already feeling good about this bike.  Brian was very impressed by how easily the bike built up.  There was no need to chase the smooth threads of the titanium bottom bracket shell and the frame was in perfect alignment.  He said “you are going to like this one”.  It’s funny but Brian has built so many bikes that he just knows.


The C40 is one of the few lugged carbon bikes that feature carbon lugs and carbon tubes.  The carbon lugs have a long overlap over the multi shaped main triangle tubes and the overall appearance is beautiful yet strong.  My C40 HP has the subtle 00F paint scheme, which to my eye has the classic carbon look and even goes perfect with our team’s jersey.  The natural carbon weave is visible though the clear coat with tasty yellow accents.  The C40 HP is available in many other paint schemes.  It’s nice that no matter what the paint scheme Colnago leaves some of the natural carbon to show through.  Check out TM10, the new Navigator bike, which is especially well done.  Overall I love the look of the C40 HP.  It’s carbon weave and diamond stay are high tech but the normal tube size, “lugs”, traditional headset and straight fork balance the bike with classic touches. 


My bike was built up with Campy Record, including the rare Record carbon crank, which looks hot on this bike.  Other tricked out parts include Kestrel’s SL carbon bars, King headset and Selle San Marco’s new Aspide FX.  The weight for my 62* cm bike was 15.9 pounds with American Classic 420 wheels (no pedals).  This is about the same as my CAAD7 and as light as anything I have ever owned. 


Despite a terrible winter I have managed to sneak in about 800 miles on the Colnago between blizzards.  The bike is awesome!  People often ask me, can you really tell how a bike’s character in a short test ride?  I certainly can, and this bike blew me away on the first ride around the block.  And on every ride after it has continued to amaze me.  For those of you who appreciate good music, it’s like getting a really good pair of speakers.  Your taste quickly rises to a new level, but they still surprise you long after the purchase. 


The C40 HP is by far the best bike I have owned.  It is super comfortable, instantly responsive yet stable.  The Diamond HP (for high power) chain stays are not just a gimmick.  This bike handles like a Ferrari with ground effects.  The immediate impression is that the bike instantly reacts and moves forward with each pedal stroke with no wasted energy (oddly I don’t find this to be true of many bikes).  Yet at the same time you can feel the extra traction during acceleration or over rough roads.  Just in case you are questioning my subjective observations, Colnago had the Politechnico Di Milano (Italy’s Department of Aerospace Engineering) conduct a study on the new diamond stay.  They found (compared to the already excellent B-Stay) the new diamond stay had 5% more vertical flex which offered improved traction, and 3.5% increased lateral stiffness resulting in better power transmission.


I find that Colnago’s approach of engineering the “flex” in the vertical plane of the chain stays better than building flex into the seat stays.  For example the radial seat stays of my Bianchi Concept Cross bike certainly do flex over bumps and when I’m jumping on the saddle when re-mounting (this is a good thing) but I can also feel them flex when I really power the bike when seated.  So there is certainly power loss when seated with the flexing seat stay approach.  Another benefit to the Diamond HP design is that it doesn’t matter if you are seated or sprinting out of the saddle for the “suspension” to help keep the rear wheel planted on the pavement.


My concerns about the fork and handling were put to rest on a 4 hour ride in the tough Litchfield Hills.  I was with some good buddies and we braved nasty conditions.  It was about 30 degrees with a very gusty and cold wind out of the Northwest.  The Colnago just floated up the Skiff Mountain climb.  There is just something magical how this bike climbs.  Out of the saddle it is very responsive, but just magic when you stay seated and spin.  I had good visions of flying up the mountain on a hot day with summer race fitness!  The descent off the mountain was as technical as it gets.  The potholed roads were covered in salt, sand and the occasional ice patches.  The gusty side wind made it even more interesting.  The Colnago just seemed unflappable.  The C40 HP tracked the road no matter how bad the conditions and gave me a very high confidence level, especially for a bike I was not intimately familiar with.  In fact, I found myself dropping my compatriots on the twisty descents and one was even on a Cyclocross bike!  The bike is so comfortable that at the end of the long hilly ride I was still had plenty in reserve.


The Colnago just seems to handle and steer better than all of the bikes I have owned over the past few years.  These are all pro level bikes with proper racing geometry.  But one common difference is that they all have integrated headsets.  We installed an excellent King (non-integrated) headset on the C40 HP.  Until now I almost forgot how a silky headset affects the overall feel of the bike.  It just seems impossible to get the same feel from today’s integrated systems. 


The C40 HP is fun to ride.  It doesn’t beat you up like most aluminum frames, and it doesn’t have that dead carbon feel like the Trek OCLV or Aegis.  The C40 HP is lively and responsive at the same time.  For a bike so light it’s amazing that it still feels like there is substance and stability to the frame.  I’ve been on some very light and expensive aluminum frames that feel like they are skipping over the road instead of tracking on the road. 


If you are looking for the ultimate bike that is not only great for racing but just a pleasure to ride look no further than the Colnago C40 HP.   


*Note: Please contact Bethel Cycle for assistance with proper bike fit.  Colnago sizing runs different than many other brands.  Don’t assume that just because you ride a 58 Cannondale that a 58 Colnago will be correct size.  Please contact the bike fit experts at Bethel Cycle for assistance with your purchase.  We are here to help you and are happy to give advice.