Hot off the presses, Colnago introduced its first ‘C’ Series gravel bike, the C68 Gravel. This bike is only Colnago’s second dedicated gravel bike, but it’s a sure shot. The bike isn’t a soft lob at “all things gravel.” It’s a fast, opinionated, and stunning piece of handmade Italian craftsmanship, and even more importantly, it rides like a dream.
Colnago Depth in Drop Bar Dirt
Colnago has such depth in the sport of cycling that it’s easy to forget how many legendary riders once called their frames home. It’s not just road riding, though it’s hard to overlook Pogačars’ talent and tie it to the brand. Years ago, Wout and Mathieu were riding Colnago; before that, Sven, before him Adri van der Poel (MVDPs’ Dad), and before all of them, Roger De Vlaeminck.
There are too many to name (I know some of you can so leave those in the comments if you’d like), but the point I’m making here is that Colnago knows drop-bar dirt. So when the iconic Italian brand said they were making a C Series gravel bike, we knew it would be unique.
Check out our news piece here to learn more about the C68 Gravel’s construction, ethos, and overall tech specs.
Colnago C Series Treatment
The C series bikes in the Colnago line are the top; by that, we mean the very top. The UAE Team Emirates rides the V series, one below C in the lineup. Yes, the bikes are painted in Italy but are not hand-assembled in the Colnago plant like the C versions.
This attention to detail and expectation of the customer makes the C series frames something more than a carbon frame; it feels custom in a way. But, with top-of-the-line treatment comes top-of-the-line pricing, and the C68 doesn’t shy away from a hefty price tag; the frameset is $7,100. Yes — you can get the C68 in Shimano GRX for $7,999, with alloy wheels, but if you want the dentist special, you’ll pay upwards of $14K for your ride.
The big question of the C68 Gravel “Is it worth the price?” I think we can answer that…
I first saw the C68 Gravel at a press launch in San Diego with the Colnago USA/Italy crew. The design/engineering team behind the C68 Gravel was present and laid down a clear concept and performance expectation for the new machine.
In a nutshell, the C68 is meant for speed and performance, not adventuring or bike packing. The frame is modular, and each tube is tailored to the bike’s size and handmade in Combiago, Italy. The ride will feel refined, responsive, and controllable on a single track. It will feel like a powerful, balanced endurance road machine, with muted road chatter on the gravel and pavement.
When I initially saw the C68 Gravel, I thought, “Look at that paint,” and then, ” Look at the head tube.” But other than that, the bike is very subdued. It has no screaming paint job with Italian flags on every tube; it’s a little understated, elegant, and sculpted.
Ride Impressions — Colnago C68 Gravel
Did you ever get on a bike, make one minor adjustment, and feel like, “this is it”. Well, that’s what happened with me and the C68 Gravel. The bar and stem on the C68 Gravel are the Colnago CC.01 Wide one-piece bar/stem with no adjustability. Luckily, it fits me very well. For frame size. I rode the 48s (54cm) frame with a 100mm stem and felt pleasantly in control of the front end while still being low enough to be aerodynamic in the wind. I usually ride a 40c bar with a 120mm stem on my gravel bike, and this combo feels very familiar. The slight adjustment I made was the seat post height. Coming off of cyclocross season, my seat post was slightly lower for on/off the bike efforts. That height didn’t feel right on the C68 Gravel, and I raised it to my road saddle height, which locked everything in place off the start.
My riding consisted of two days of gravel and trail riding with the Colnago crew, pushing the C68 Gravel from fun group riding to race pace and “this should be OK?” territory.
We started our rides through the beach roads of coastal San Diego, then off to the pastures and gravel to test the bike, free from motorized distractions. On the road, the C68 Gravel could move. The sensation was that of a road bike with a predictable geometry you feel confident piloting. My bike was equipped with 40mm Pirelli gravel tires: a Pirelli Gravel M in the front with some extra bite and a Gravel H in the rear for speed.
Our rides were a mix of pebbled gravel climbing, techy bits, and lots of twisty new-to-me San Deigo single track. I started the ride with 35psi in the rear and 33psi in the front. At 158lbs, that felt solid for familiar territory and to ward off flats. I was happy with my tire pressure when we entered the single track. The bike could slice through the turns without washing out and climb punchy sections without slipping. I found the climbing balance point of the bike quickly and felt confident climbing loose terrain.
In the cyclocross style on/off sections of the trails, the C68 was a tick above other gravel bikes I’ve ridden. The handling and driving in close-quarters trails was like being on a shorter ‘cross bike. The comfort of the ride, however, was different. Coming from my ‘cross machine, I’m used to some knocking around and some stiffness. The C68 felt calm; the ride was clean and predictable. This could be attributed to the larger tires, but it wasn’t only that — It’s hard to put a finger on it. All the elements worked together very well, and the geometry is right where I prefer a gravel bike — a near ‘cross bike. (coming from a CX racer).
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I like riding my ‘cross bike for basically everything. The C68 Gravel feels like that but more normalized. Instead of feeling under-biked but having fun on the gnarly trails, I felt like I was on the correct bike. The sturdy frame felt rock solid while pushing through the berm and pump track sections.
On the longer steep climbs, the C68 rode predictably and had a nice kick from a push against the pedals. The feeling is like when on a steep climb with a sturdy road frame, and you can really dig into the effort.
Is this Cool?
There comes a time in every ride when you push the limits, and on the C68 Gravel, those times were flying down some techy single track and rocky/washboard-style descents. Taking a $14K bike down this terrain can be nerve-racking (fun), but the bike performed excellently. The shorter stem allows for a playful front end and helps you pull out of a tailspin if your handling is slightly off. For example; while descending some unfamiliar cracked earth features (the kind where the trail can eat your wheel up to the hub). I found myself off the line and bouncing towards doom, in a last-ditch effort I pulled to jump back on the line but prepped for a fall. The bike reacted quickly, and I was safe from the dreaded press camp crash.
Colnago C68 Gravel — Lasting Impressions
Having spent two days of mixed-surface riding on the Colnago C68 Gravel, I have strong impressions of the bike. First off, I liked the ride (not just the trails). The customer for the C68 Gravel could be (is) a more road-focused gravel rider who likes to go fast, not necessarily slogging through miles of roots and rocks. That said, the bike can handle it, and gravel is unique because everyone defines it differently. Colnagos definition of gravel with the C68 Gravel is comfortable, fast, elegant, and powerful.
The C68 Gravel is a fantastic ride, but it might not be for everyone. Colnago is cool with that. However, if you’re looking for a bike that handles beautifully, like a bike you’ve ridden for years, it is worth checking one out.
Is it worth the price? Well, that’s up to the buyer, but if you can purchase a C68 Gravel and appreciate the road feel and elegance — this is your gravel bike — this could be your only bike. If you’re looking for something to race ‘cross on and do some endurance gravel events, the G-3X might be a better fit. Either way, Colnago has entered gravel full force, and the C68 is a clear statement of intent. This bike challenges what a road-focused, “classically styled” gravel bike can be. Something more refined than ultra-wide bars, mountain bike tires, and dropper posts.