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The Rare and Stunning Colnago C59 Ottanta

Lugged carbon Colnago road bikes are already special, but add a rare paint job celebrating the brand's founder and you have a bike that will stand out from the crowd like no other.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Bikes

Lugged carbon Colnago bikes have a special effect on me. They’re beautiful. Every time I see one hanging in The Pro’s Closet, I stop what I’m doing and spend a few minutes drooling over it. But recently, one passed through our facility that was so special that everyone in the warehouse had to come over, just to get a glimpse. 

What we have here is an incredibly rare 2012 Colnago C59 Ottanta. This is the story of lugged carbon, the C59, and how this limited edition bike came to be. If you like what you see, stay tuned for a link, because you might have the chance to buy this Italian-made work of art for yourself!    

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Lugged carbon Colnago frames

Colnago’s founder, Ernesto Colnago, was one of the first to recognize carbon fiber’s potential for framebuilding. He began experimenting with the material in the early ‘80s. Before computer-aided design and light-speed Chinese manufacturing, building carbon frames was a matter of trial and error. Colnago tested different molding techniques, manufacturing processes, and carbon layups frame by frame. In 1981, he unveiled his first rideable concept, the CX Pista track bike, which featured the world’s first full monocoque carbon fiber bicycle frame. 

Colnago C40 Mapei

A lugged carbon Colnago C40 in Mapei colors.

When it came time to mass-produce frames, however, monocoque carbon just wasn't ready for primetime. To launch the carbon fiber revolution, Colnago needed a new approach. An old approach, in fact. He built frames by joining together carbon fiber tubes and lugs. This made production easier and it allowed Colnago to build carbon bikes that were light, stiff, and durable enough to compete with the top steel frames. It also meant he could offer a huge range of sizes. 

The first lugged carbon Colnago C40 arrived in 1994. In 1995, it became the first carbon bike to win Paris-Roubaix under Franco Ballerini. Then the next year, the C40 swept the Paris-Roubaix podium with Johan Museeuw, Andrea Tafi, and Gianluca Bortolami. This marked the beginning of the end for steel. Without Colnago’s vision and persistence, the landscape of modern cycling might look very different. 

The Colnago C59 

The C59 became Colnago’s flagship model in 2010 (followed by the C60 in 2014 and the C64 in 2018). It uses an internally ribbed “3PRS” tube profile. Like the Gilco tubing used on the legendary steel Master frames, carbon 3PRS tubes are star-shaped. The internal ribs allow Colnago to tune each tube to optimize the balance between stiffness and compliance and achieve the perfect ride characteristics. 

Colnago C59 star shaped tubingClose up of the C59's head tube lugs and ribbed tubing.

The lugs and tubes are handmade using top-quality Toray T800 carbon fiber imported from Japan. The frames are assembled in Colnago’s factory in Cambiago, Italy and the tolerances between the tube and lug are incredibly tight, within 0.15 mm. They are glued together and the final product can withstand extremely high flexion and torsional stresses without the risk of separation. To add durability, the C59 also uses aluminum dropouts and inserts in the head tube, meaning headset cups are easily replaceable. 

Completed C59 frames are then shipped to Tuscany to be hand-painted by local artists. Why Tuscany? Because according to Ernesto Colnago himself, “That's where the real artists are." It’s also where this C59 Ottanta received its sparkling metallic gold paint job. 

Ottanta means 80

Colnago C59 Ottanta eagle and arrow headbadgeThe vintage Eagle and Arrow head badge.

The C59 Ottanta was created to celebrate Ernesto Colnago’s 80th birthday (Ottanta means “80” in Italian). In total, 80 C59 Ottanta frames were produced, so it’s an exceedingly rare bike. When it was released in 2012, it retailed for $18,999.99. If we want to factor in inflation over the last 10 years, we get a wallet-busting price of $23,736.68. Either way, the C59 Ottanta is, as the Italians say, “molto costoso!” 

To celebrate Colnago’s legacy, it uses the classic “Eagle and Arrow” head badge that appeared on Colnago frames produced between 1954 and 1970. Colnago designed this head badge after he won a race and a newspaper headline described him as “fast as an arrow.” The painted details on the carbon lugs are also a reference to Colnago’s legendary Arabesque frame, which featured similar decorative lugs.  

Colnago C59 Ottanta Arabesque lugsThe lug details call back to the Colnago Arabesque.

Here’s a fun tidbit. In 1979, Colnago gifted a gold-plated bike to Pope John Paul II. If a golden steel bike is good enough for the supreme pontiff, then perhaps a golden carbon bike is perfect to celebrate one of cycling’s supreme framebuilders. 

No garage queen

Colnago C59 Ottanta wear and tearSome chips in the paint.

It’s clear when looking at this particular C59 Ottanta, that the original owner didn’t purchase it just to display. There are chips and scratches in the paint, indicating that it’s seen quite a few road miles. Most interesting is the groupset. Originally, the C59 Ottanta came with Campagnolo Super Record EPS and Campagnolo carbon wheels. At some point, these electronic Campy bits were swapped for a SRAM Red eTap wireless electronic groupset and Roval CLX 50 Rapide carbon wheels. For many Italian bike aficionados, this is tantamount to sacrilege. 

Colnago C59 Ottanta SRAM Red eTapMamma Mia! At least the tires are Italian.

Why swap out the original parts? My theory is that the original owner was a serious cyclist with a boatload of money. They simply rode the C59 Ottanta so much that the original Campagnolo parts wore out or broke, so they replaced it with equally high-end SRAM and Roval parts. Would I have done this? No. But hey, it’s not my bike. If you’re buying this bike, you’re buying it for the 1-of-80 frame, and not the parts. I’m guessing the next owner will rectify it if it truly bothers them.

Final thoughts

Colnago C59 OttantaI’ll admit, this C59 Ottanta isn’t my favorite C59 ever made (that honor goes to Yukiya Arashiro’s 2014 Japanese national champion C59). The gold paint is too ostentatious for me, but there’s no denying that it grabs your attention. I think it might be a good thing that the frame already has some wear and tear. It means the next owner will be more likely to actually ride the bike, rather than stash it away in some vault. The C59 Ottanta is a bike that demands to be seen, and there’s no better stage than the open road.

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