The Colnago C35 is one of the first road bikes made with a carbon fibre frame. The C35 was launched in 1989 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the company founded in 1954 by Ernesto Colnago at Cambiago near Milan.
Hence this limited-edition bike features monograms and lettering highlighted in gold leaf and some gold-plated parts. However its sculpted frame is its most striking feature. Unlike metal frames, carbon fibre frames are generally formed in one piece, known as a monocoque. The C35 was produced in association with Ferrari, which began using carbon fibre in its Formula One cars during the 1980s. In 1986 Colnago began manufacturing carbon fibre road bikes. The Look cycle company of France and the Giant cycle company of Taiwan also produced carbon fibre road bikes at this time.
In 1989 the C35 was at the leading edge of road bike technology, which had been revolutionised only a decade earlier when the availability of TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding made aluminium frames possible. Carbon and aluminium frames are significantly lighter than the steel alloy frames in use until the 1980s; in addition carbon frames absorb some of the vibration and road shock produced by hard tyres and rigid frames. However the tube-mounted controls of the C35's Campanoglo gear set already look antique, as do the first-generation clipless pedals.
There's no doubt that the combination of simplicity and hi-tech is part of the appeal of road bikes. For a few thousand dollars one can own a vehicle with a Formula One heritage composed of similarly exotic materials - carbon fibre, Kevlar, titanium etc. With their harsh ride, high gearing and crouched riding position, road bikes are as uncompromisingly functional as a racing car.
Charles Pickett, Curator, Design & Built Environment.