Founded by Ernesto Colnago in 1954 near Milano in Cambiago, Italy. Ernesto, a promising junior cyclist was forced to quit the sport after a terrible crash caused permanent back and pelvis damage. He began his mechanical apprenticeship with Gloria Bicycles early on in his life, and after the end of his short cycling career, opened his own shop in 1954 and built his first frames from steel the same year.
Though Ernesto’s frame design and manufacture was innovative, sleek and quality work, it was his mechanical expertise that made him very much sought after. He was employed on the Nivea team namely for the Giro d’Italia under Faliero Masi in 1955, and was subsequently employed as head mechanic for the Molteni team of Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx.
By the 1960’s. Colnago was regarded as one of the builders of the world’s best custom road race frames. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Luigi Arienti rode to a gold medal on a Colnago bicycle. Ernesto also provided many riders on the Molteni team with custom made frames. Including a young, upcoming champion named Eddy Merkcx
A win on a Colnago in the 1970 Milan-San Remo race by Michele Dancelli for the Molteni team inspired Colnago to change his logo to the now-famous ‘Asso di Fiori’ or Ace of Clubs. This came after Dancelli declared he had “an ace up his sleeve” riding the custom frame set.
Colnago’s rise closely mirrored the rise of “The Cannibal” Eddy Merkcx. Colnago developed specialty frames and forks for Merkcx. This included the super-light steel frame used by Merckx in 1972 to break the world one hour record.
With a growing reputation from their racing wins, Colnago plunged into the market for production bikes. The mainstay of the Colnago line in the 1970s was the Super, followed by the Mexico, named in honor of the successful hour attempt. Other models were added including the Superissimo and Esa Mexico. While the finish on these early Colnagos could be variable, they were great riding bikes and developed a cult-like following.
By the 1980’s, Colnago had already began experimenting with carbon fibre. In 1981 Colnago prototyped the CX-1–a full monocoque carbon fiber bike with disc wheels that was shown at the Milan bike show.
Subsequently, Colnago worked with Ferrari in developing new carbon fiber technology, and Ernesto also credits their engineers for challenging him regarding fork design, which led to Colnago’s innovative Precisa straight-bladed steel fork. They also experimented with multi-material frames, including the CT1 and CT-2 constructed with titanium main tubes, carbon fiber forks and rear stays, and a similarly constructed (although short-lived) Master frame constructed with steel main tubes, carbon forks and stays.