My latest project was a frame built with Columbus EL-OS (Over Size) steel tubing. Columbus steel tubing has long been the preferred steel tubeset for Italian framemakers. There have been quite a number of improvements and innovations through the years resulting in a large number of different tubesets. The framebuilder typically applies a Columbus frame decal to indicate the tubeset he used. These are very helpful in identifying the quality of the tubeset, and in the case of an older frame, identifying the approximate period in which it was built. The oldest frame decal, in foil, looks like this:
On this page I will continue to add photographs of the various Coulmbus frame decals that have been used.
First some history that appeared at one time on the Columbus website:
1919: "I want to do business in iron and steel and make a fair and honest profit" wrote Angelo Luigi Colombo, aged 27, to the lessee of what was shortly to become A.L.Colombo's small factory, the parent plant of the current Columbus. Angelo Luigi had started work for a metallurgical factory in Milan when he was just 12 years old and, in 1919, after gaining sufficient experience, had decided to establish himself, seeing the cycling sector as fertile ground for the enormous innovative potential and obvious entrepreneurial vocation that inspired him. His first customers were mostly small manufactures obtaining supplies of metal tubes for saddle pillars, bent tubes for frames and handlebars, saddles and fork blades and tubes for pedals. Supplies were also aimed at the first leading cycling factories: Edoardo Bianchi,Umberto Dei, Giovanni Maino and Fratelli Doniselli. Five workers, an annealing furnace, a 10 ton draw bench and a great desire for success: that was the first A.L.Colombo plant in via Stradella, Milan, 1,300 square metres to produce.
1931: With 10 draw benches, one fixed-hearth electric furnace, tanks and auxiliary equipment, the company was able to manufacture welded and seamless steel tubes used for the production of bicycles and motorcycles(Guzzi was winning on world circuits at the time with frames made of Colombo tubes), cars and airplanes. Cooperation with Gianni Caproni goes back to the period. Using Colombo tubes, the bearing frames of the aircraft of De Pinedo and Cesare Balbo were produced to make the first Atlantic Crossing. From the story of aviation to the story of modern furniture: Colombo started to produce rational, tubular furniture made of chrome steel. This proved to be a real commercial success, building an image which is today recognized among the design leaders. Colombo worked with the best rationalist architects at the time: Giuseppe Terragni, Giuseppe Pagano, Piero Bottoni, Mario Pucci and Ercole Faccioli.
1950: A.L. Colombo became a joint-stock company and Colombo's son, Gilberto, joined the company. Appointed plant manager, Gilberto Colombo began designing car chassis, setting up the company Gilco whose customers include Maserati, Ferrari and Lancia. The passion of cycling throughout this context remained alive and strong, the ideal ground for experimenting in the mechanical and metallurgic field (the first news of coopertaion between A.L. Colombo and the Polythecnic of Milan goes back to 1935). The main prerogative was always the same: to market products of superior quality in terms of finish and precision, following and complying with customers' wishes, solving technical problems.
1977: It was Antonio Colombo, Angelo's youngest son, who made a simple mark, Columbus, into the leading company for the production of tubes for top-of-the range frames. Antonio left the position of Chairman of A.L.Colombo and separated Columbus from the parent company to concentrate on the production of bicycle tubes. The automobile and aeronautical experience provided an ideal support for the new company, Columbus S.r.l., and there have been constant innovations since it was set up: the steering column with a tapered screw was introduced and Cyclex steel was launched, specificallydesigned for cycling use, followed by Nivacrom, one of Columbus'greatest innovations. Patented by the company, this steel was produced in the laboratory with the aim of reducing the decline in themechanical characteristics of the material during welding. The best designer worked with Antonio Colombo designing the new bicycle of the Eighties, the new mission of the new Columbus. Before making a series of11 totally aerodynamic tubes (AIR, 1980) Columbus placed its experience at the service of Moser for its Time Trials records, then passing through Oersted and Rominger. MAX (1987) was the first tube-set to break tradition of conventional diameters (25.4 mm for the top tube and 28.6mm for the down tube) with its 31.7 mm (top tube) and 35 mm (down tube). Max was a revolution in the frame construction system, allowing very tall or very heavy men to have a light but extremely strong frame and introduced the concept of oriented ellipses and differentiated sections, applied to each of the 11 tubes, to give the frame greater rigidity.
1991: The Genius tubing, made of Nivacrom steel, was an unprecedented success. For the first time in the history of cycling, the concept of"Differential Shape Butting" appeared, which only Columbus technology, now the master of the know-how connected with the strain of a frame could design. In 1994, to celebrate 110 years of Bianchi, Columbus strengthened the friendship that born between the fathers of the two companies, making MEGATUBE solely for the Treviglio company, the first oversize tube for high-performance, strong and lightframes. Megatube has become a must and is now one of the strong pointsof the Milanese company, with more than 14 different shapes. In 1995, the Columbus adventure also began in the mountain bike sector with the OR tubing for Cinelli and the custom series for Tom Ritchey (the first fork blades with a variable thickness). With the CYBER tube set (1994), specifically for mtb use, with subsequent forms, and then with Genius mtb, Columbus began accumulating World Championship mtb victories: from Brentjens with American Eagle to Acquaroli with Bianchi, to the Sunn Team and their multi-medallists Vouilloz, Martinez and Chausson. The competitive sector is obviously not the least: from Coppi and Bartoli who were the first to use the Columbus tubes, passing through Merckx, Gimondi, Hinault, Lemond, Argentin, Fondriest, Chiappucci, Roche, Rominger, Pantani, Chioccioli, Armstrong, Rijs, Bartoli and Olano to Tonkov, Brochard, Zuelle and Virenque.
1996: NEMO emerged and is the most sophisticated expression of cycling engineering: from a study on stress applied to the frame, produced using a portable recording system and with the subsequent FEM calculation (Finished Elements Measurement) the map of stresses in the frame and the ZBC technology(Zone Butted Concept) emerged. Reinforcements were located and adjusted to the actual work load.
1998: from Columbus S.p.A. to Columbus Division of Gruppo S.p.A.: it is the new image of the company that - from the historical plant in Milan in Via dei Pestagalli - has moved to Caleppio di Settala, together with Cinelli and 3T. Top-of-the-range frames production, customer oriented: Columbus designs and produces special solutions for its customers; production and design quality, technological innovation and creativity are the leading characteristics of the company. Today Columbus introduces Thermacrom the latest generation steel alloy. The future in bicycle frame manufacturing is here. The new Gruppo plant is in Caleppio di Settala, a few kilometers from Milano Linate airport, 10 Km from the centre of Milan. The grounds extend over an area of more than 26,000 square metres, 8,000 of which are occupied by the plant while the offices are situated in a separate building. The Caleppio plant cooperates with the Mathi Canavese (TO) plant, where handlebars are produced. Antonio Colombo, President of President of Gruppo S.p.a. :
1999: Columbus introduces THERMACROM the most innovative cycling purposed steel: It gives incredible lightness and the most durable, high performance mechanical characteristics.
2000: Columbus introduces STARSHIP: a 6000 series aerospatial HT light aluminum alloy that will allow the lightest frames ever made together with the highest mechanical characteristics. Starship sets itself at the top becoming the reference point for any superlight, superstiff road racing or mtb frame.
2002: Columbus launches XLR8R a new 7000 alloy. As good as Starship, XLR8R introduces the concept of Multi Shape Damping Effect.
2003: Custom made frames in carbon fiber are no longer a dream. Columbus introduces XLR8R Carbon, a serie of carbon tubes made for road racing competition.
2004: Columbus introduces Spirit. Steel is coming back in the cycling field with this innovative, high performance tube-set. In the mean time, the range of carbon fiber frame kits (rear stays and forks), widens and becomes a core business of the Columbus production.
Photos: images of Columbus decals (the Z one is for Zeta)
Information from 1989 Columbus catalog:
MAX: Tube set for special racing bikes made from the exclusive Nivacrom® steel with exceptional strength characteristics.The elliptical cross-sections are oriented in such a way that the major axes are directly opposed to the highest active and passive stresses.This set has been designed to optimize efficiency under the demands of extreme bads: sprint, time trials, climbingand strong centrifugal acceleration when descending. Nivacrom Steel - Weight: 1900 g
EL: Tube set for time trials over even terrain, climbs and triathlon events. Super-lightweight thanks to the reduced thickness of tubing made from the exclusive Nivacrom" steel with a very high yield point.Double-butted tubes and oval, butted unicrown fork blades. Nivacrom Steel - Weight: 1670
EL-OS: Drawing on the experience with the EL set in the toughest professional competitions, this set features tubes of comparable lightness but with increased diameters for greater rigidity thanks to the use of the exclusive Nivacrom* steel.Nivacrom® Steel - Weight: 1800 g
Here is a brief description of the technicalities involved in this amazing tubing:"It is how and where the steel is put in the tubeset that gives a tubeset its particular feel. By making the tubes oversize or standard, thick-wall or thin; these are what make the difference. Higher tensile strengths give the maker the versatility to put the steel where he wants, in the quantity he wants. An EL-OS tubeset made of Nivachrome is thin, light, and strong. A bike made of it has a superb ride because its excellent specifications allow Columbus the freedom to make tubes that were impossible a few years ago.In the 1970's and 1980's when Columbus' SL and SLX tubing were the state of the art, the top tube was 25mm in diameter and the downtube was 28mm in diameter. The tubing wall was 0.9mm thick at the ends and drawn down to 0.6mm in the center of the tubes. This is what is meant by "double butted". The internal diameter of the tube varies so that the tube is thicker at the joints, where the stress is greatest.In the early 1990's, steel tubes underwent a small revolution. The top tube changed from 25mm diameter to 28mm. The down tube went from 28mm to 32mm. This increase in diameter allowed the tubing makers to make the walls thinner and still get a stiffer, lighter frame. An additional bonus was the profound improvement in the feel of the bike. The new bikes became more stable (mostly because of the bigger top tube) and gained a fluid, beautiful feel that is impossible to describe, but wonderful to experience.With these bigger diameter tubes, the wall thickness at the thinnest part of the tubes went from 0.6mm to 0.5mm and even 0.4mm. Columbus' Brain Oversize (or Brain OS) was 0.8mm at the butt and drawn down to 0.5mm in the center section. People loved the feel of Brain OS bikes, especially since the price was so reasonable.But...there was something truly special waiting for those that bought bikes made of EL-OS. EL-OS was 0.7mm at the butt and drawn down to 0.4mm in the center section. First of all, there was a reduction in weight, about 1/4 pound. That's always nice. The biggest bonus was in how the bike felt. Anyone who has ridden an EL-OS bike built by a good builder understands what a supple, beautiful, wonderful bike really is.The problem was that getting a 0.4mm tubeset bike was expensive. Even now, almost a decade later, there are tubing companies that do not even have the technology to draw a 0.4mm tube. Even though Columbus can now draw 0.385 (a reduction of 15 thousandths of a millimeter from 0.4mm), I think we can safely say that 0.4mm is still the state of the art.(Courtesy of Smartcycles.)
TSX: Tube set for professional use, coupling maximum performance with reduced weight. It is particularly suitable for stage races of more than 150 Km over mixed terrain. In addition to butted walls, this set has five helicoidal internal reinforcements, thus giving greater rigidity against tube flexing and torsion.Cyclex Steel - Weight: 1945 g
SLX: "Superbutted" tube set specially designed for professional cyclists, featuring five spirals for greater rigidity in the joint area or the bottom bracket.Double-butted tube ends. Cyclex Steel - Weight: 1966 g
SPX: "Superbutted" tube set with increased thickness for professional cyclists. Ideal for larqe frames. Double-butted tube ends.Cyclex Steel - Weight: 2325 g
MS: Multishape, special tube set developed in collaboration with Gilco Design. Each tube profile is shaped to withstand specific stresses.Designed for competition use, it requires a precise riding style, and improves frame response to sudden shocks.Cyclex Steel - Weight: 1930 g
SL: All-purpose, high-performance tube set for road races over even terrain. Double-butted tubes. Cold-rolled fork blades.Cyclex Steel - Weight: 1925 g
SP: Heavy-duty, high-performance set, especially recommended for large frames. Double-butted tubing. Cold-rolled fork blades.Cyclex Steel - Weight: 2215 g
CROMOR: Built of cold-drawn, chrome-moly butted tubing, this set is for the more demanding riders who favour versatile, high-performance light frames, but can also be used for larger frames. Cr Mo Steel - Weight: 2190 g (Note: Columbus Matrix was the first name for Colombus Cromor; Matrix became Cromo when Trek asserted their right to the Matrix name.)
GARA: Road set especially suited for amateur and touring cyclists who demand stout,lightweight racing frames. Cr Mo Steel - Weight: 2300 g
AELLE: Set for amateur and touring cyclists, built of cold-drawn, microalloyed-steel thin-wall tubing which makes it especially lightweight.CMn Steel - Weight: 2345
MAX OR: Set exclusively designed for the toughest off-road races. The oversized oriented elliptical cross-sections have thicknessesof as little as 0.5-0.6 mm, thanks to the exceptional characteristics of the exclusive Nivacrom® steel.The oversized unicrown fork blades are cold-rolled for greater elastic strength and resilience.Nivacrom® Steel - Weight: 2180 g
NIVA OR: Tube set for off-road competitions and high-performance riding.It combines the excellent performance of Nivacrom' steel with the traditional diameters.Nivacrom Steel - Weight: 2220 g
NIVA OR OVERSIZE: Set built of oversized, round-section tubing for maximum off-road performance. The butted tubes are in the exclusiveNivacrom® steel, which has made it possible to increase diameter while reducing thickness, and hence weight.These features, and in particular the oversized tube cross-sections, ensure excellent rigidityand good handling over rugged terrain, making this set idea for competitions.Nivacrom Steel - Weight: 2000 g
CROMOR OR: Set for off-road experts who want to take on any terrain, regardless of difficulty,enjoying the maximum safety and dependability of an indestructible vehicle.The cold-drawn, chrome-moly tubing has butted ends.The butted unicrown fork blades have increased thickness in the weld areas.CrMo Steel • Weight: 2495 g
CROMOR OR OVERSIZE: Chrome-moly set specially designed for the most demanding mountain-bike enthusiasts.Oversized tube diameters give the frame excellent rigidity and stability,offering both pro and amateur cyclists a good measure of safety coupledwith the characteristic lightness of Columbus butted tubing.CrMo Steel - Weight: 2580 g
GARA OR: In addition to the advantages offered by the GARA set, different diametersand thicknesses in the three tubes of the triangle make this MTB set highlyshock-absorbing and resistant to stresses on rough terrain.CrMo Steel – Weight: 2740 g
Columbus frame tubes for track races:
PL for pursuit or record races tubeset weight 1845 gms
PS for sprint and 6-day races tubeset weight 2435 gms
Note: Columbus KL: 1670 (from undated catalog showing Moser in his record attempt, and has MS and SLX tubesets listed, as 'new')
"Columbus Air was the Italian manufacturer's initial attempt at an aerodynamic tubeset. It dates from the early 1980's. The intial version used a teardrop shaped down tube, seat tube and seat stays in conjunction with an oval top tube and chain stays, and a round head tube. Later versions had teardrop shaped chain stays. The tubeset was designed primarily for time trials and aerodymanic efficiency and therefore it is not practical to compare it directly to other round, Columbus tubesets. However, based on tube thickness, the seat stays were equivalent to KL and the chainstays, seat tube and top tube were equivalent to SL, while the down tube was equivalent to SP. Due to the teardrop shapes the resulting frames weighed more than SL, but had less strength. The rear triangles in particular had a reputation for being whippy, due to the thin seat stays. However, this was considered acceptable given the intended TT use and aerodynamic advantages.Of particular note, the seat tube came in two versions. One with a standard round top end, to accept a normal seat post and another which carried the teardrop section right to the top, requiring a teardrop section seatpost. If you have the latter, you may have some difficulty finding a seatpost, unless it is being provided with the frame.Regarding componentry, most frames built with this tubing were outfitted with Shimano Dura Ace AX, or less likely, 600AX. Campagnolo did not have an aero group at the time and the Italian farme builders did not want to miss out on the aero bandwagon, in the event it turned out to be the latest craze."
TUBING:(MOST COMMON WITH AVERAGE WEIGHT FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES).MAKE TYPE WEIGHT (IN GRAMS):
REYNOLDS 501 2025
In cooperation with Trafiltubi and Aubert & Duval, the new Columbus seamless tube set in stainless steel named XCr, was created. Starting form a specific request of the military industry, looking for a valid substitute for cadmium plated temper hardening steels which could no longer be produced because of their highly polluting manufacturing process, a new martensitic stainless steel with high content of Chromium and Molybdenum and Nickel as alloy elements which increase the mechanical and weldability characteristics, was created. The martensitic main structure contains traces of austenite that reduces the possibility of crack formation especially during the welding process. The great weldability properties of the new XCr stainless steel, together with its high fatigue resistance and its extraordinary geometrical stability at high temperatures, make this material the natural element for welded structures, such as bicycle frames. Thanks to the high stiffness/weight and UTS/weight ratios (better than titanium and aluminium alloys) together with the elevated characteristics of corrosion resistance, it is possible to manufacture triple butted tubes to build extremely light and indestructible frames.