Last year, Campagnolo announced an update to its top three groups. Dubbed Revolution 11+, it promises to bring Campagnolo to an entire new level of performance. Don’t they always?
While not a true ‘all-new’ group, there are a number of important upgrades:
- Modern front derailleur geometry with a longer arm for increased leverage/reduced shift effort (a la Shimano). What can I say, it works as advertised. Front shift effort was reduced relative to the previous generation, but not nearly as light as Shimano (which, I suspect, is exactly how Campy intended it to be, grin).
- In another Shimano inspired innovation is the updated 4 arm spider on the crank. This makes so much sense that it hurts: only having one crank for all chainring combinations. This is better for the manufacturer, retailer, and consumer.
- The rear derailleur offers some slight changes for increased chain wrap that are said to improve power transfer and increase the longevity of the cassette and chain. Another benefit that comes with the updated rear mechanicals is improved shifting at the higher end of the cassette, and the capacity to run an 11-29 range cassette. I can’t say that I noticed much improvement in terms of shifting at the rear, but there wasn’t much to complain about before. I will take their work for it that it is better.
- Speaking of the chain, it is unchanged from the previous generation; the cassettes and the brakes also remain the same.
- Because of the changes in pull ratios, the shifters and derailleurs (both front and rear) have to be used together and there is no cross compatibility between the 11 speed generations. Unfortunately, I think it may be fair to expect this out of everybody from now on.
- Super Record, Record, and Chorus are all released at the same time.
- While far from a revolution, the new groups offer some welcome upgrades over the previous generation. However, it is really only enough to catch up with the competition, rather than surpass them in any way.
- That being said, I am both surprised and impressed that Campy adopted innovations obviously pioneered by a rival company (maybe they both came up with the ideas concurrently, and Shimano merely brought it to market first. Either way, the general perception is Shimano led and Campagnolo followed). It is great to see a company that is not too prideful to recognize a good idea is a good idea, no matter who came up with it.
- Super Record remains for those who have not concept of money and only want to have the most exotic and most expensive mechanical drivetrain on the market.
- No matter which level you choose, make sure you equip it with a Chorus cassette. Chorus cassettes weigh ~230 grams and have an MSRP of $185. Super Record, in contrast, specs out at 177g and $470. FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY DOLLARS! For a wear part! And it only saves you 53 grams! That is $5.38 per gram of weight savings. It should be noted that this hold true for the other manufacturers as well. Dura Ace to Ultegra is a 56 gram penalty and a savings of $170 (at full retail).
- As blasphemous as it sounds, the smart move is to pair an Ultegra cassette (or even 105) with any of these drivetrains in anything but full on race situations. I have been running a Shimano 5800 11-28 cassette with Athena 11 all summer. Shifting has been perfect the entire time.
To me, there may be a few bumps on the road ahead for Campy. Campagnolo brought the first 11-speed drivetrain to the market in 2008, but since then have not done anything to stay at the front of the pack. Not that I think that Campagnolo is going anywhere, they have a very strong, loyal following, it just appears that they are having trouble keeping up with latest technology. An alternative way of looking at it is this is a deliberate “wait and see” what sticks approach, rather than dumping resources down technological dead ends. It has worked well for them so far, so I guess there is no reason to change now.
In fact, when they do decide to do something, they tend to get it right. Shimano brought electronic shifting to the market with Dura Ace Di2 to market in 2009. EPS was not released until two years later in 2011, the same year as Ultegra Di2. Since then, Di2 has had a second generation (further refining the system and moving to 11-speed), while EPS is essentially in its original iteration (Technically, EPS is on Version 3.0, but those changes have been to the battery, electronic "brain", and software, not the shifters or derailleurs.) . Personally, I still prefer EPS to Di2 (not that I would purchase either with my own money, grin). While this is mostly due to the ergonomics of the shift buttons, it is telling that it hasn’t really needed to be updated. It worked pretty well when it came out and it was already 11-speed, so no need to change there.
Braking is another area of technological change right now. There are a number of frames on the market that feature the direct mount braking standard. Up until a couple months ago, Campy has not had a direct mount brake option, virtually eliminating the possibility of their product being used on these bikes (TRP has a direct mount option, but it isn’t really good enough to seriously consider an option). Campagnolo sponsored pro teams like Movistar have been using Shimano brakes (the horror!) on their Canyon bikes for this past season.
Note: In a discussion with Pinarello reps, they said that they liked the direct mount standard, but kept it off of the Dogma F8 so to remain compatible with Campagnolo groupsets. However, they did include direct mount brakes on the K8-S, in order to have greater clearance for larger tires. Perhaps the next Dogma (F9?) will feature direct mount brakes.
As for road discs (the next frontier), in 2013 a Campy representative said that discs were ‘in development’ but we have little else to go on since then. With the pro peloton trending towards adopting road disc (a few races this season featured them and some say as soon as the 2017 season for full adoption) Campy is under the gun to get something market ready. Like it or not, as Le Tour goes, the market follows. The other manufacturers have had their disc products out on the market for multiple seasons, working out kinks (sometimes to their detriment, as in the SRAM recall) and refining for better performance. Campagnolo has long tied their brand to racing success, so I suspect that they are working hard to ensure that they will be ready when the time comes.
It would make sense for them to partner with and existing disc brake company in order to save on development costs. With Rotor working with Magura, that takes them out of the discussion. Other options include Formula (who are Italian, so that makes them the front runner by default), Hayes, and Hope.
As always, it will be interesting to see what the future has in store.