In 1919, as Europe emerged from the ashes of the Great War, twenty-seven year old Angelo Luigi ‘A.L.’ Colombo signed the lease on a small factory and so began the production of steel tubes. With demand for bicycles running high, their makers were amongst his first customers – Edoardo Bianchi, Umberto Dei, Atala, Giovanni Maino. With his tubing well-proven in the bicycle industry, Angelo Luigi saw strength in creativity and diversity and was soon supplying material for the tubular frames of seaplanes and road vehicles, as well as for furniture and ski-poles.
To give increased strength and reduced weight, Colombo began experimenting with ‘butted’ tubes – those with wall thickness varying along the length. In 1930, Angelo Luigi created the brand name ‘Columbus’, which was initially only associated with tubular chromed-steel furniture. Columbus furniture was soon in high demand – for offices, universities and schools as well as homes. The best rationalist architects of the time - Figini, Pollini, Terragni, Pagano, Pucci, Faccioli – crafted designs for Columbus, bringing innovation to the furniture industry and further reinforcing the reputation of Columbus as leaders in modernist design.
Later in the 1930s, the Columbus name, along with ‘Aelle’ and ‘Tenax’ was first applied to special sets of bicycle tubes – the Columbus tubes being drawn from Chrome Molybdenum steel and the fork blades being elliptical, laying down standard characteristics that remain commonplace to this day. Never satisfied, Colombo worked to the maxim “Curiosity is a prelude to knowledge” and continued to experiment in the fields of mechanics and metallurgy. Colombo even designed and built their own butting machines to manufacture the tubes with tapering wall thickness – reinforcing the tubes at the joints where stresses are greatest.
Among notable innovations are the taper-gauge elliptical fork blades, the conical helix tube butting, ‘Air’ – the first fully-aerodynamic tube set, and ‘Max’ – offering the advantages of differing oversize tube profiles to bicycle designers and riders. Parallel to an increasingly diverse production line, manufacturing 900 different types of tubes all of controlled origin and guaranteed quality, came a growing competitive sector. Columbus developed super-light tube sets for the greatest champions: Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Moser, Hinault, Lemond.
As professional cycle racing came to be dominated by carbon-fibre, a new wave of craftsmen framebuilders appeared on the scene. Those wishing to work with steel tubes and lugs found that building frames to modern performance standards was difficult, largely due to lack of suitable materials and tube profiles. Doyens of this band of constructeurs, Dario Pegoretti and Richard Sachs, worked with Colombus to develop what became known as PegoRichie tubing – Spirit (Columbus’ premier ferrous tubeset) for lugs. Oversize round tubes and long butt profiles made PegoRichie a favourite of craftsmen builders worldwide. Now, with oversize profiles in ultra-high tensile materials – Spirit and XCR – steel can compete with any other frame material – aluminium, titanium, carbon-fibre.