Campagnolo Athena: Musings

Regular readers of this site (Hi Jordan!) will know that last summer I rebuilt an Early 90s Marinoni Special. You can find that post here. The goal was to keep the original look and feel of the bike, but with modern components. For this, a Campagnolo Athena group seemed like a perfect fit. Now that I have spent about 5 months riding the group, I felt it was time to post some thoughts.

  • Aesthetically, the group is absolutely perfect to the intended look and era of the bike. Most casual observers think that it is a vintage groupset
  • Build-up was a little more difficult than Shimano, but for no other reason than my lack of experience working with Campagnolo. For example, I initially has come difficulty accessing the shifter attachment bolt, because my T25 driver a bit too chunky to fit. Having the right tools make a big difference (grin).
  • Cable housing is nicely supple and flexible, noticeably different than Shimano housing. The nice, bright “Campagnolo” on the cables looks very classy.
  • Shimano cassette has been working perfectly, absolutely no issues with shifting. I can’t stress this point enough: 11-speed cassettes are perfectly compatible with any 11-speed drivetrain. So you don’t need an expensive Chorus cassette to use with your Campagnolo drivetrain. Obviously, if you want to save some money by using a Shimano cassette, you will need a Shimano compatible freehub.
  • Front shifting has been perfect. No rubbing, no dropped chains. I have been on Dura Ace 9000 for the past 3.5 years, so I expected a reduction in front shift quality by comparison. Not really the case.
  • The feel of the cable release button is very nice. A strong, solid click followed by a quick gear change. Very satisfying.
  • The cable pull lever for the rear is a little bit vague between the different shift positions. Not a positive click like the release lever. In addition, shift effort is definitely higher than Shimano, but that really just comes down to personal preference.
  • With all of my comments on shift quality, it should be noted that I have not been particularly hard on it: no cross chaining, always soft pedal for shifting, not shifting on climbs, etc. Not the usual torture test of a review to see how a group handles under pressure.
  • KMC chain has been great. I only have around 1000km at this point so it will be interesting to see how it performs in terms of long term durability.

It appears that this review isn't particularly timely given that the Athena group has just been replaced by the new Campagnolo Potenza group. Campagnolo considers the Potenza group to be part of the Revolution 11+ family of drivetrains. Accordingly, the changes are essentially an update of the alloy group with many of the features of its carbon siblings (we looked at the Revolution 11+ groups in an earlier post. It can be found here).

Potenza highlights include:

  • A new front derailleur with a longer lever arm for reduced shift effort.
  • A 4 arm crank spider to match the styling of the higher end groups. Only one BCD is nice for streamlining SKUs and greater versatility, but it will definitely lose the retro look that I love so much about Athena. Thankfully, they have updated the design of the Power Torque system (now called Plus), that includes a much needed extractor bolt for removing the pressed on NDS crank arm.
  • New rear derailleur geometry with improved chain wrap, said to increase chain and cassette life. Medium cage option for 32 tooth cassettes.
  • New level of cassettes, available in 11-25, 11-27, 11-29, 11-32, and 12-27. Previously, Chorus was the closest thing that Campy had for a “budget” 11-speed cassette. This is a much needed option if Campagnolo wants to get more into the OEM market.
  • Seems like brakes are the same as the Chorus models. There are direct mount versions in the works.
  • Uses a Chorus chain
  • Mechanical only (at this point)
  • Updated hood shape but the shift action is the same as my late model Athena: only one sprocket at a time with the thumb lever, but it is located lower, similar to EPS groups.

Market positioning from Campy seems to be placing this group between Athena and Chorus (Upper mid-range), with the intent to be a competitor to Ultegra, and by extension SRAM Force. In addition, Campagnolo has aims to use this group to become a player on the OEM market. While the goal is admirable, current pricing has it a few hundred dollars more than Ultegra, which could hurt it once the bike companies’ bean counters make their calculations. Campy fans will tell you that the extra dollars spent more than pay off in terms of quality. While I can’t disagree (to each their own, after all), Ultegra is without a doubt an incredible value, in terms of cost to performance ratio. However, for those seeking something a little more unique with a bit of style, these groups are definitely worth a look. Thus far, I have been very happy with my Athena, and can expect Potenza to be quite similar.