Picture the scene: a darkened conference room in a sprawling hotel complex in Gran Canaria.
The contrast with the bright sunshine, in which we have tested new products from cycling’s most revered marque, is strong. It takes a few moment for the eyes to adjust.
Then, a promotional film. The accompanying music might be catalogued as “stirring”, but for once the bombast is justified.
The scenes that unfold – newsreel footage and what might be YouTube clips – contain some of the greatest cyclists in the history of the sport.
Here are Anquetil and Gimondi; Merckx and Hinault; Saronni and Moser; Pantani, Bettini and Vincenzo Nibali.
And here too is the Cambio Corsa 1001; the Records Nuovo, Super and C; Ergopower and Ultra-Torque; 11 speed drivetrains and Ghibli wheels.
Campagnolo’s contribution to professional cycling is unparalleled; its history, unmatched.
Its principal rival, Shimano, has many weapons in its armoury – monolithic scale and unerring efficiency, to name just two – but has no claim on the emotions. In this area, Campagnolo stands alone.
Disc drive: Campagnolo’s long-awaited hydraulic brakes unveiled
“My grandfather fought in a war,” a colleague quips, “but I can say I was at the unveiling of the Campagnolo disc brake.”
The humour lies in the shared sense that we have attended something truly significant, though admittedly only within the comparatively insignificant world of cycling.
This too speaks volumes for Campagnolo. If Vicenza had already released a disc brake, and SRAM had not, would anyone have waited with bated breath for news from Chicago? Hardly. Campagnolo simply matters more than its competitors.
So why the delay? The machines we are shown – team bikes from Lotto-Soudal and Astana, and a house Sarto in lieu of a Canyon from Movistar – underscore the fact that Campagnolo’s disc brake is still not available to the public, and has only recently been placed at the disposal of the sponsored teams, badged, like early iterations of EPS, as ‘Campy Tech Lab’.
“There is never a second chance to create a good first impression,” explains Lorenzo Taxis, Campagnolo’s global marketing and communications director.
Just ask SRAM. Campagnolo are late to the disc brake party, but the official line is that they are only interested in making things well, rather than in a hurry. There is little prospect of a humiliating product recall being issued from Vicenza.
Taxis denies that Campagnolo’s foot dragging on road discs is a sign that they do not believe in the technology: their only concern is that it is proved safe, he says. It’s easy to imagine a boardroom affronted by the notion of adapted mountain bike technology on a racing bike, however, and hard to escape the sense that Campagnolo would be happy if the disc brake question simply went away.
That said, there is a certain validity to Campagnolo’s argument that their role is simply to supply the most technically advanced equipment possible to its teams, and to let them decide. Vicenza does not dictate to its teams which technologies they should use, adds press manager Josh Riddle, offering the EPS electronic transmission in support of his argument.
“Astana used mechanical [drivetrains] exclusively in the past,” he points out, with some justification.
For the record (if you’ll excuse the pun), Campagnolo is developing disc brakes for mechanical and electronic transmissions (though not mechanical disc brakes; hydraulic only). Disc-compatible wheels are being made in aluminium and carbon. More than that, they will not say: no comment on rotor size, for example, or even fluid. “Olive oil,” Riddle jokes. “Extra virgin.”
We see carbon wheels with bolt thru axles and conventional quick release mechanisms, (though not the 1001). No machines with disc brakes are available to ride. It must pass through Tech Lab trials with Campagnolo’s three ProTeams and then on to a group of carefully selected amateur riders before it can gain the vaunted Corretto status: passed by all levels of the organisation and signed off for release by the board.
Hurry up and wait
“It has to be said that professional teams are not pushing for disc brakes,” says Taxis. “Let’s see what will happen in the real racing season.”
Tellingly for a brand of such impeccable heritage, the “real” racing season in Campagnolo’s world begins with the Spring Classics, though this is more likely to mean the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix than Milan-Sanremo.
The Tech Lab is staffed by around 50 engineers and, unlike the standard equipment issued to Campagnolo’s teams, its output is loaned, and must be handed back at the end of the season. Most of it is then destroyed, but Campagnolo keeps some of the components for further research and development.
“Whenever you supply a component or a wheel to a team, you need to control that the same wheel and component doesn’t reach the market at the end of the season,” Taxis explains. “This is a responsibility.”
An official launch of the disc brake is promised, and one can expect a flurry of interest at the first race at which discs appear on the machines of Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar. It has been a long time coming, after all, but if EPS can be taken as a guide, it will be worth the wait.
My Campy: an app with a difference
And now for something completely different…
For cycling’s recognised masters of mechanical engineering, the My Campy app is something from left field. It has a host of features, only some of which are limited to Campagnolo components, from recommending service intervals to displaying gear ratios.
The My Garage feature is described as the app’s “cornerstone”. The user can add any or all of the machines in his or her stable, defining mechs, chainrings, wheels and cassette, and the app will record a running tally of kilometres for each, recommending service intervals by push notification to iOS and Android devices.
Campagnolo admits that the reminders are based on “ball park” estimates. “We’ve erred on the side of caution,” Riddle says. If a chain is considered worn between 3,500km and 7,000km, for example, My Garage will provide a warning at 2,500km.
The My EPS feature is, of course, proprietary, and compatible from the box with version 3 EPS only (another technology we tested in Gran Canaria; magnificent, in a word). The latest version of Campagnolo’s flagship electronic drivetrain comes with ANT+ and Bluetooth antenna built in to its “interface” – a small junction box, mounted beneath the handlebar. Earlier versions of EPS must be upgraded.
Why are both protocols required? Bluetooth allows communication to and from the rider’s smart phone, while ANT+ communicates with Garmin head units (all new Garmin 520s and 1000s will be bundled with My Campy).
Why smart phone compatibility? The Bluetooth protocol allows the rider to programme his EPS V3 transmission out on the road. This might be its most impressive feature. Shifting sensitivity and multi-shift patterns are offered in three modes, preset at the factory – Race, Sport, and Comfort – on a decreasing scale of aggression.
The Sport and Comfort modes offer the rider Campagnolo’s Shift Assist facility.
For example, were he to shift from his 53-tooth outer ring to his 39-tooth inner ring, Shift Assist would automatically move the rear mech from the 23-tooth sprocket to the 17 to avoid an unnecessarily high cadence.
In this area too, Campagnolo might be said to offer “ball park” estimates: Shift Assist works on a Campagnolo algorithm, rather than basing its calculations on the rider’s cadence.
Still, it is a mighty impressive beginning (My Campy was only unveiled last August at Eurobike) and can be expected to become steadily more sophisticated, with new functionality delivered through firmware updates.
The programmable multishift already takes just three tenths of a second to respond to the rider’s input at the lever, depending on the “Style” selected (the aforesaid Race, Sport or Comfort). Furthermore, both the front and rear mechs can be set in one of three modes: Hard, Soft and Normal.
Then there are Shift Settings: Sprinter and Normal. Sprinter mode locks out the front derailleur (on the big ring) and allows the rider to shift down the block and up it with right and left levers respectively. Impressive.
The My Sessions feature offers the data obsessive a new, mechanical paradigm: details of gear usage and shift patterns to complement heart rates and power outputs. “It opens up a whole new realm of analytics,” Riddle says. Want to know how high your heart rate was while pushing a 53-19? My Campy will tell you.
The ANT+ and Bluetooth protocols communicate the position of the chain at all times; indeed, it records every shift made from rolling off your driveway. For the user concerned that poor gear selection (“cross-chaining”) might be accelarating wear to the drivetrain, My Campy will provide corroborating evidence.
There’s a nice feature too that allows the rider to cross reference chain position with altimetric data on Garmin-style route profiles. Move your laptop’s pointer along the climb profile to discover what gear you were turning when 300m from the summit of your favourite climb, for example.
My Campy is a luxury, but an enjoyable one, offering further avenues for data mining to those so inclined. The programmable aspect of the My EPS feature, however, is of obvious practical benefit.
Campagnolo Potenza: a challenger to Shimano Ultegra?
It takes confidence to confront a commercial rival head on, but Campagnolo’s self belief is founded in excellence.
Potenza (“noun: power, intensity, strength”) is, to be explicit, Campagnolo’s competitor to Shimano’s admirable Ultegra group.
“It has good potential to be able to fight directly with Ultegra,” Taxis says, for the avoidance of doubt.
Potenza is an 11-speed, mechanical groupset, and the top of Campagnolo’s aluminium tier, positioned just below Chorus, but not intended as a replacement for Athena.
It includes a 32-tooth cassette and an elegant, four-arm chainset. The former is a first for Campagnolo, while the latter is the most obvious statement of a “trickle down” in technology from the upper-tier groups of its Revolution 11 family: Super Record, Record, and Chorus.
The front mech has aluminium plates and a steel cage. The bicycle industry loves data and Campagnolo claims a 52 per cent increase in “upshift fluidity” over earlier generations of its own components and a 10 per cent advantage over Potenza’s mid-range competitors.
It is the component for which Vicenza is keenest to drive home the message of trickle down technology from Potenza’s Revoution 11 stablemates, specifically the design of the rod – the part that anchors the cable and controls the movement of the cage. Campagnolo claims reduction in the range of motion of Potenza’s front mech, and with it the force required to operate it.
The rear mech is another Potenza component for which Campagnolo claims close allegiance with its upper tier cousins, though the inner and outer plates are aluminium, anodized black, and the upper and lower bodies are made from “technopolymer”.
Despite cost savings in materials, Campagnolo claims “top end” performance for Potenza’s rear mech, based largely on its ability to “engage additional teeth”. It does this by reducing the gap to the chainline – a technology Campagnolo calls “Embrace”.
The rear mech is offered in two formats – short cage and medium – with the latter intended for use with the 32-tooth cassette.
The shifters fall within the long-established Ergopower family, but with a new internal mechanism with a larger bushing to reduce the effort needed to shift.
The key feature of the right-hand shifter is a three-sprocket multishift up the cassette into larger sprockets and lower gears. Downshifts take place in single increments: one click, one sprocket.
The left-hand shifter offers three ‘click’ positions. The first repositions the front mech to eliminate chain rub when the rider shifts to larger cassette sprockets. The second and third clicks are engaged for upshifts from the inner to outer chainring.
A similar device for eliminating chain rub exists on the downshift, too. The first click of the left-hand shifter’s thumb button performs the shift, while a second click repositions the front mech.
The brake lever is aluminium, but both of the shift levers – the upshift, which sits diretly behind the brake lever, and the thumb-operated downshift lever – are composite.
The tip of the hood is more rounded than its stablemates, and its rubber body has been designed to allow water to run off easily. Comfort is derived from air pockets beneath the hood.
The four-arm chainset is Potenza’s aesthetic highlight and Campagnolo is keen to highlight the visual similarity to the top-tier Super Record.
The Potenza crank uses less exotic material – a hollow, forged aluminium construction, as opposed to carbon – and this largely accounts for a weight difference of 151g.
The axle is different too: Super Record uses Ultra-Torque, a system in which half axles are attached to each crank arm, and whose splined ends mesh together in bottom bracket centre.
Potenza has an updated version of the single axle, Power Torque system, called Power Torque +. The single axle remains (made from solid steel in Potenza’s case; titanium for Super Record), but an external extractor has been added.
The four-arm spider is similar, however, even if Potenza has a “unique” eight-bolt attachment to the chainrings. Campagnolo claims the design offers versatility. The same spider can be used with 53-39, 52-36, and 50-34 chainring combinations.
A final word on the Potenza chainset: the black anodised finish used on much of the group looks especially chic here.
Unlike its senior siblings, Potenza does not have a groupset-specific cassette.
Instead, it uses a generic range called “Campagnolo 11”, available in five flavours: 11-25, 11-27, 11-29, 11-32, and 12-27. The 11-32 can only be used with Potenza.
The largest three sprockets of each are a single structure, while the remaining eight can be replaced individually.
The Potenza brakes are most notable for the definition “rim brake” in the presentation: a distinction that Campagnolo might not previously have felt the need to make.
They follow Campagnolo’s long-established ‘skeleton’ architecture and have a specially-designed compound, which performed well on the descent of Pico de las Nieves.
Shamal wheel update: enter the Ultra C17
If Potenza represents a new foray for Campagnolo, then the Shamal wheel represents established ground. The Shamal Ultra C17 is the newest, widest iteration of an aluminium wheel introduced 20 years ago and used by Miguel Indurain, among others.
Campagnolo continues to place great store by the fact that each individual component is designed as a discrete unit and makes an understated claim that it might be the most race ready aluminium wheel on the market.
Its most obvious feature is the so-called Mega G3 spoke pattern in the rear – 21 spokes gathered in triplicate at seven sizeable intervals, rather than evenly-spaced single units – but the Shamal offers several other points of interest.
The key feature of this latest, C17 iteration is the wider rim dimension, an update on its C15 predecessor intended to offer a broader and so more aerodynamic interface for wider tyres (specifically, 25mm and 28mm). Campagnolo claim a more rigid and reactive platform as a result.
The unwieldy phrase “differentiated” is pressed into service to describe a rim profile in which the material is milled in the sections between the spokes to reduce weight.
A similar concept is applied to the carbon hubs: the barrel of the front hub is smaller than the rear, which has on oversized flange only on the driveside where stress is greatest – another weight-saving device.
These are small details, perhaps, but contribute to an overall weight of 1495g a pair: respectable for aluminium hoops.
Aero spokes are standard issue on most aluminium wheels, but Campagnolo’s are secured with self-locking nipples in an attractive chrome finish. And ceramic bearings are a further nod to the Shamal’s status as a cut above its competitors, and are now secured by an external lock ring: a gift from the upscale Bora series.
All things considered
Campagnolo’s emotional pull is difficult to define, but its presence is unmistakable. Riding into the mountains on Gran Canaria on new equipment from such an historic marque was a thrill, even for the most jaded cycling hack.
They are years late to the road disc brake party, but one has the feeling that when the music stops, the party from Vicenza will be smiling. Lorenzo Taxis’ statement that they are not interested in being the first, only the best, has the ring of truth.
Potenza is an attractive addition to Campagnolo’s line-up, but it will take much to dislodge Ultegra’s hegemony in this sector. Shimano’s second tier group is easily good enough for racing. It remains to be seen if Potenza will reach similar heights.
MyCampy is a luxury rather than a necessity, but offers a genuine field of interest to Campagnolo owners with a yearning to add mechanical data to the performance metrics available from Strava and its ilk.
It bears repetition: what happens at Campagnolo simply matters more than developments from its competitors. An indefinable mystique, based largely on its unparalleled association with the sport, and a quintessentially Italian predilection with aesthetics as well as performance (function is not enough; it must be beautiful too), allows Campagnolo to retain a cherished sector in a market dominated by Shimano.
These latest offerings, especially the near-mythical disc brake, will do much to cement the Vicenza marque’s unparalleled reputation for excellence.
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