02 July 2013

I Raced On This Bike: Colnago Arabesque

After reading some of my other posts, some might argue that the bike of which I'm going to write in this post is the best racing machine I ever owned or rode.

In future posts, I'll tell you why it wasn't--at least, not for me--and which bike was.  Still, it was a great bike and I sold it to buy my next racing bike (Mondonico) only because I thought it might be a better fit.

If I do say myself, though, it's hard to deny that my Colnago Arabesque was pretty, or at least had an interesting style. If nothing else, it didn't look just like other Italian racing bikes of its time.  Although it was essentially the same in geometry as the Colnago "Master", the Arabesque had a few nice touches the Master lacked:

Like my Mondonico, my Colnago Arabesque was constructed from Columbus SL tubing:  the lightest available from the company at that time.  Many other riders I knew, and rode against, at the time were convinced that bikes built from Columbus were stiffer than those made from Reynolds, Ishiwata, Tange or Vitus tubings.  That may well have been true, but I found that bikes with short wheelbases constructed from Columbus SL tubing gave a harsh enough ride that I might not have ridden as fast as I might have on, say, a Reynolds 531 or 753 bike. (853 wasn't yet available).

Plus, I have to say that while the bike's workmanship and finish were pretty good, they weren't quite up to the standards one might expect from other top-flight bikes. Given that the Colnago was my first elite-level Italian bike, I was surprised at how easily the paint chipped.

Still, I must say that the Colnago Arabesque was a fast bike and its harshness was mitigated at least somewhat by the tubular (sew-up) tires I usually rode on them.  Most high-pressure racing clinchers of the time rode harshly; tubulars were more resilient.  I used one of Vittoria's less expensive models for training rides on Mavic GP4 rims; for races and other fast rides, I rode some nice French Wolber "Course" or Czech Barum tires on Mavic GEL 330 rims.

Now, given the criticisms I've made of this bike, I still can't say that it's not the reason I wasn't a better racer!

I sold it to a guy who called himself Joneszy.  He was a bike mechanic who claimed that chrome-moly tubing was actually aluminum and called cogs "clogs".  Still, he knew enough to know that the Arabesque was a good fit for him, as he had a longer torso than mine.

I didn't see him again.  I didn't see the Arabesque for a few years until Tammy and I were walking along Flatbush Avenue near the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  A middle-aged black man stopped for a traffic light; his bike caught my eye.  Yes, it was my old Arabesque.

"You bought that from Joneszy, didn't you?"

"Yeah...How did you know?"

"I sold it to him."

Of course, he wanted to know how I knew it was the same bike. I pointed to a decal I placed on the downtube, just behind the head tube lug.  The paint chipped there; the silver and black decal--which came with someone's Huret Success titanium derailleur--was at least tasteful, and just big enough to cover the chip.

What were the chances of anyone else having a Colnago Arabesque with a Huret Success decal in the exact same spot?


  1. I raced on the same bike from 88-89, and it was a great bike. Yes it chipped easily, but what a great ride. I raced against olympians on this bike, and the bike alway made me feel fast.
    Years later after riding modern bikes, I dug my old arabesque out of the garage and took it for a 20 mile ride. It felt heavy compared to a modern bike, but it still felt fast.

    Forever a great bike.

  2. Anon: Your comment reminds me of something most people who started riding within, say, the past decade do not understand: A bike's weight only matters so much. Sure, everything else being equal, you can go faster on a bike that's lighter. But Colnago as well as other classic Italian, English and French and Japanese builders understood geometry and other aspects of design in ways that even many "custom" builders today--let alone "design teams" who e-mail or fax specs to Chinese factories--do not understand.