Words Rob Hoyles | Photos Daniel Gould
When it comes to heritage and history, there are few brands to rival Colnago. Winners of myriad prestigious races since its foundation in 1952, Ernesto Colnago’s eponymous firm has since gone on to collaborate with the likes of Ferrari; the shared passion for engineering and aesthetics pushing the boundaries of cycle design with both innovation and an open mind.
As for its customers, well, the calibre doesn’t really get much higher than the numerous pro teams, nor does it get much holier than Pope John Paul II — in 1979 Colnago built a gold-plated bike for the head of the Catholic Church. For any Italian supplier it’s hard to overstate the scale of such an honour.
These days, Colnago’s stable of thoroughbreds has diversified somewhat with the top-end machines rightly tagged as race bikes, while those with slightly less aggressive angles and gentler geometry fall under the endurance banner.
The AC-R is the first step on the carbon-fibre ladder in this category. Sharing much of the same monocoque frame design and geometry as the ultra-exotic M10 — if not the exclusivity of being hand-built in Italy — the AC-R’s design brief is to bring Colnago handling and ride quality to the masses, the complete bike costing a cool £500 less than the M10 frameset.
Dressed with much of Shimano’s mid-range 105 groupset, there’s no shortage of function to match the AC-R’s stunning form. Costs have been kept to a minimum, though — the non-series Shimano chainset and Colnago own-brand brakes give the game away — and a deeper look into the AC-R’s spec sheet reveals that the cassette comes courtesy of the lower-spec Tiagra series.
With the diminutive size 50 weighing in at a less-than-svelte 8.77kg, your two-grand certainly isn’t going towards col-conquering lightness. We’ve recently seen bikes costing half as much tip the scales at close to 8.5kg and at this price-point we’d expect to see an all-up weight a lot closer to 7.5kg.
Much of the AC-R’s heft is carried in its wheelset. The Artemis wheels roll well once up to speed thanks to the semi-deep 32mm rim profile and, it would appear, good quality bearings. But they lack acceleration and make the bike feel lethargic on steep climbs — and the rider thankful for the compact chainset and a cassette that includes a 28-tooth sprocket. It’s a real shame, because fitted with a lightweight wheelset the AC-R really comes alive, its sluggishness replaced with a more energetic response to each turn of the cranks.
The handling is excellent. Despite riding a frame a size smaller than I’d usually choose — compensating for the lack of top tube length by fitting a 120mm stem — the sweet-steering AC-R never feels unstable or nervous. Much of this is doubtless down to its heritage; the unequivocally race-focused M10 geometry combines with a relatively long wheelbase to give a surefooted yet sporty feel when pressing on through sweeping bends and swooping descents.
Although the geometry is derived from an out-and-out racer, comfort isn’t an issue. Compliance through the rear end is good without sacrificing too much in the way of stiffness and the straight-bladed carbon forks seem to eliminate road buzz on all but the very worst of road surfaces.
The AC-R’s head tube height does reflect its racing pedigree though, and the amount of uncut fork steerer is less than generous, meaning there’s not too much scope for adjusting the height of the handlebars. If you’re used to the high front-end typical of many modern ‘sportive’ bikes, then make sure you factor that in when choosing your frame size. It could be the difference between spending a little time working on core strength and flexibility and spending way over the odds for a bike that simply doesn’t fit.
Like so many premium brands, whatever the product, the further you look down the range the more the ‘buying into a brand’ maxim rings true. It would be harsh to say that you’re paying purely for a name, or that Colnago has cheapened its reputation by churning out a donkey that relies on its stable’s past form and pedigree for credibility.
But there’s no escaping the facts. Sure, the AC-R is a good-looking bike. It drew admiring glances and prompted praise from many here at CA, doubtless drawn in by the classy, simplistic paint job and beautifully sculpted tubes and stays. But when you take a deeper look under that carefully applied make-up, what you’re left with is a slightly overweight and underwhelming look-alike of its supermodel sibling.
The AC-R is not a terrible bike, far from it. Colnago’s biggest problem is that the competition at this price-point is nothing short of fierce. With so many lighter, better equipped bikes available under the two-grand mark, anything less than excellent — whatever the maker’s name on the down tube — simply won’t cut the mustard.
Colnago AC-R 105 £1,995.95
Frameset: AC-R carbon-fibre
Gears: Shimano 105
Chainset: Shimano FC-R565 50×34
Brakes: Colnago X-Brake 3
Wheels: Colnago Artemis CW32
Tyres: Vittoria Zaffiro Slick 700×23
Bars/Stem: Dedacciai RHM
Size range: 42, 45, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58cm
Weight: 8.77kg (size 50 without pedals)
Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 £1,899
While we’re all for supporting your local bike shop, there’s no disputing the value of buying direct. German brand Canyon has used this business model for a long time and means it can offer bikes like this stunning, full Ultegra-spec, carbon-fibre road bike equipped with lightweight Mavic wheels, Fizik saddle, Ritchey finishing kit and a claimed all-up weight of less than 7kg — and all for well under two grand. www.canyon.com/_en