Colnago and Pope John Paul II: the Man with the Golden Bike

It’s 1979, and Ernesto Colnago is at the peak of his frame-building powers. He’d made bicycles for the likes of Gianni Motta, actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and cycling’s greatest, Eddy Merckx

How do you top that? Well, by creating one for God’s vessel on this Earth. 

“I knew that Pope John Paul II was an avid cyclist in his youth, so I decided to prepare a special bike for him, a unique creation,” Colnago says.

His audacious idea? A gold-plated bicycle. Making such a machine required experience from a different milieu. The finishing on the frame was entrusted to specialists more accustomed to decorating church furniture and ornaments.

“The percentage of gold used is minimal, so there were no major problems in finding the necessary amount of precious metal,” he says.

They used 18-carat gold for the 56cm frame with some choice custom details – well, it was hardly going to be off-the-rack.

There are “Ernesto Colnago” pantographs on the chainring and a Colnago motif on the toe clips. The bicycle has white bar tape with, naturally, Italian tricolore finishing tape.

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“The bike is made of steel with lugs. The production of the frame, the painting and assembly took about 50 hours. It was the most beautiful frame I produced in that era,” he says. 

Colnago personally delivered the bike to John Paul II at an official event at St Peter’s Basilica in August 1979.

“The Pope thanked me and told me that it was a gem, but unfortunately he couldn’t use it as he didn’t have much free time. One of his associates suggested that I make him a flat-bar one, easier to ride at his Castel Gandolfo retreat.”

Ernesto Colnago presents Pope John Paul II with his bike

Very few of these special golden Colnagos were made. “I do not remember the exact number, no more than ten were produced,” Colnago says. 

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A Colnago Mexico Oro version was also made for wider retail. It was equipped with a full Campagnolo Super Record groupset and brakes, Nisi Solidal rims and Aeralpina spokes.

No doubt, considering profit margins, it was covered with eighteen microns of gold plating: a barely-there shading.

The papal pushbike has gone full circle. “It is in our Colnago museum in Cambiago,” says Colnago. “It has been returned because the Pope was using the white flat-bar bicycle that I gave him later; that’s now in the museum dedicated to him in Krakow, Poland.”

89-year-old Colnago’s passion and drive remain undiminished. So, what about creating another golden bicycle – or even using another bold new material?

“Who knows? Every day, there are new ideas,” Colnago replies.

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