I love Campagnolo. Not for stupid reasons like “heritage”, “passion” or other well-worn cliches that misty-eyed fanboys use for the Italian marque.
Words - James Raison
Pffft! I’m a millennial. I have no respect for the past. The past is dumb because nobody put photos of their breakfast on Instagram. I love it because it’s killer gear.
Let’s tear off some band-aids first because I know that some of you are already steaming towards the comments section. Campagnolo drivetrains are more expensive to buy and live with, has much more limited compatibility, is hard to find in bike shops, requires expensive proprietary tools, and makes your peers associate you with old rich dudes. Do I care? Nope. Nobody making rational purchase decisions would take up road cycling. That’s just the way we like it!
The mechanical shifting is the best
You read that correctly, Campagnolo’s mechanical shifting leaves Shimano and SRAM in the dust.
Firstly, it’s the fastest in terms of individual shifts, multiple shifts, and getting from one end of the cassette to the other. Their shifting system on their high-end sets means you can sweep the up and down levers to rapidly churn through the gears. Neither SRAM nor Shimano has multiple sweep shifting in both directions. Nothing changes faster than Campagnolo.
The shifter layout is tops as well with dedicated up, down, and brake levers. Years of evolution have refined each levers’ singular purpose. I love the Campy thumb shifter. I miss it when it isn’t there. Oh, what’s that? Campy shifting sucks for sprinting? I might want introduce you to my friend Andre. Greipel. You might have heard of him.
Campagnolo shifting just feels fantastic.
12 SPEED HERO
There’s no new freehub, no chainring and cassette tooth juggling, and no new bottom bracket for buyers to contend with. SRAM’s AXS 12 speed was launched with a new XDR driver freehub and DUB bottom bracket. Shimano’s 12-speed MTB groupset has launched with a new MICRO SPLINE freehub body, and it’s likely that the next iteration of Dura Ace will have a road version of MICRO SPLINE when it launches.
Campagnolo has simply squeezed another cog onto the freehub body first launched for its 9-speed generation. Those who owned 9-11 speed Campagnolo groupsets can seamlessly upgrade directly to 12-speed. Campagnolo might not be compatible with their big-brand competition but they’ve done a remarkable job with backwards compatibility.
The glacially long development of Campagnolo’s disc brakes became a metaphor among their critics for how they were falling behind the market. Then they came out and…
Campy’s collaboration with Magura has produced a quiet and powerful set of disc stoppers with excellent modulation. They’ve put magnets to ensure the pads return to the neutral position and prevent rubbing on the disc. There’s a damping plate between pad and piston to reduce high frequency vibrations so there isn’t the shrieking commonly found in road disc brakes. I’ll even praise how good looking the disc rotors are. In short, these are my favourite road disc brakes to date.
I get significantly more wear out of my consumable Campagnolo parts than the rivals. That helps offset the extra expense of the chains, cassettes, and chainrings. As a bonus, they run better for longer. End-of-life chain and cassette combos still run pretty damn well. My other drivetrains get proper ratty when they’re due for a change.
It also takes far less adjusting between services. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve touched the barrel adjuster on my Bottecchia that’s done 16,000 km. It’s set-and-forget stuff. My lower level Athena 11 isn’t quite as bulletproof but requires less maintenance than the lower tier Shimano groupsets I run.
Campagnolo hoods feel like shaking hands with an old friend. Or patting your beloved childhood dog. Comfortable. Familiar. Safe.
Their ergonomics are lightyears ahead of anything else. This isn’t recent either. I had a Record 9 set from the mid-90s and it was sublime even back then. Why hasn’t anyone just copied their shifter shape? Seriously! Just steal it.
The shape of their hoods are so well optimised for how you want to hold onto them, with a lateral inward sweep. Shimano and SRAM tend to just go straight ahead and are less comfortable as a result. The levers are excellent too with their gorgeous curves. On the drops they’re expecially good, kicking out away from the bars to give you more leverage for hard braking.
Cracking ergonomics means reduced hand and wrist fatigue. Over long rides that makes a noticeable difference all the way up your arms. I love it.
I like to think I’m pragmatic and sensible but sometimes I’m shallower than a teaspoon. Campagnolo groupsets look totally ace. They have put out decades of lustworthy groupsets. They had some indescretions in the 10 speed era with naff-looking black-carbon-silver-alloy meldings but that was a fugly generation all around. Shimano’s Dura Ace 7900… yeesh…
I adore the Shimano 9000 Dura Ace series looks but generally, Campagnolo put out the best looking groupsets. Those 4-arm carbon cranks make me all hot under the collar.
There’s something special about how Campagnolo feels when you’re out on the road and it’s all dialled in. I’m determined to steer clear of cliches, so I’ll just say that it’s the most pleasurable groupset I've owned. Everything works in harmony in a way that I haven’t found with the many other groupsets I’ve ridden - and that’s quite a lot of groupsets.
Shimano's dominance has shrunk the Campagnolo market share down to a niche, for many obvious and understandable reasons. Shimano make the best dollar-for-dollar groupsets that are the easiest to live with. No question. So it can be hard to recommend Campagnolo to most people. It's just so damn good though. In many ways Campy sets the standard for quality and ride experience.
SHOULD YOU BUY CAMPAGNOLO?
Do you have a strict budget? If yes, then no. I can’t overlook the performance and quality of Shimano and SRAM for their price relative to Campagnolo. For those who aren’t budget constrained, and want to have something truly special then Campagnolo all the way. If I had unlimited funds I’d run more Campagnolo groupsets. But I don’t so Shimano and SRAM are on all my recent purchases.
I still love my Campagnolo groupsets though.