First Ride: Campagnolo Goes 12-speed

Italy's pride and joy gets the jump on the competition

By Zap

Twelve-speed road bike drivetrains. Not exactly a well-kept secret, nor entirely unexpected in this day and age of constant innovation. The surprise really is that of all the major drivetrain makers, it was Campy who made the first leap. Bravo Campagnolo!

It was two years ago that I first found myself ensconced in some crazy resort hotel chock full of vacationing Brits, Dutchies, Belgies and Germans seeking the warm rays of sunshine and endless buffet islands that they couldn’t find at home when Campagnolo held their first new product launch in Gran Canaria (aka the Canary Islands). At that launch, it was all about breaking out their new, lower-cost Potenza group, but we also got to see the first-ever version of a pre-production hydro disc brake.

THE THEME OF THE SHOW

The overall theme for the product launch was “movement.” From wheels and drivetrains to wine corks clothing, the house that Tullio built remains dedicated to movement….as in moving forward.

 

It was one year later that Troy took the trip to Campy’s second annual Gran Canaria product launch where they finally rolled out the first rideable version of the new disc brake….which ended up garnering RBA’s vote for the best road bike disc brake on the market.

Lo and behold, for 2018 Campy decided to once again take advantage of the warmer weather, the wickedly enjoyable climbs and descents, and well, probably the expansive dessert bar to once again gather over 50 journalists in four individual camps to get a taste of their latest and greatest.

THE CAMPY DOZEN
In a word, it was all about a new twelve-speed drivetrain that included completely re-designed derailleurs and cranks for both the Record and Super Record drivetrains. In addition, there was also a new set of aero wheels and an updated version of their universal use  My Campy 2.0 app.

From the derailleurs and cranks to the chain and cables, everything is new with Campy’s two highest-end drivetrains.

As we sat collected in the hotel conference room, there was a palpable sense of drama as to what we were going to see. We knew they wouldn’t fly us to the furthest reaches of Spain just to show-off their new clothing line. The only inside news I had (as related to me from a Campy employee) was that indeed, it would be a big deal. And it was.

As soon as a giant #12 appeared on the screen, there it was – 12 speed on the road had arrived. The best news to come was that the Italian’s pulled it off without having to go to any wider hub spacing…whew! To be sure, Campy is not the first to go with a dozen gears as SRAM is entering year two with their Eagle 1×12 mountain bike transmission.

THE BELLE OF THE BALL
The first product on display was the new Super Record crank that wowed the crowd. With its unidirectional carbon finish (with UV protection), hollow construction, titanium Ultra-Torque spindle and four-arm spider with internal chainring bolts. This crank has redefined the notions of how elegant and bike part can be.

With it’s integrated brace design, the Super Record crank is as an amazing piece of carbon construction as easily as elegant as they come. Each chainring has its own specialized shifting ramp zone.

 

The Record crank differs from its higher-end sibling by losing the hollow construction, big ring brace, CULT ceramic bearings and about half the SR’s $1325 cost. Both cranks will be available in 165, 170. 172.5 and 175mm lengths.

 

Although both derailleurs have been completely redesigned, it is, of course, the rear mech that gets all the attention. Now made with new lighter material, and with larger 12t pulleys (each with unique tooth profiles), thinner cages, new 3D Embrace movement that not only keeps the pulleys close to the cogs on a vertical plane, but also on a forward plane to ensure maximum chain wrap (improved over 11 speed’s 2D Embrace that only went up).
Campy’s 12-speed cassette ($525) is available in two ranges: 11-29 and 11-32 and made up of two monolithic steel gears (the top 2) with all individual gears to follow now with machined aluminum spacers to maintain the more exacting tolerances required.
If there’s one thing that makes the Campy drivetrain unique it’s their steadfast belief that each lever (brake, up & down shift) should have its own function. The sultry, double-curve carbon levers are the most finger-friendly on the market. Both the up and down shift levers have been redesigned for less throw and easier actuation. The three (open, standard and small hand reach) position disc brake levers also have free play adjustment.
The view from above. As the name implies, the Ergo-Power levers rate high on the ergonomic scale – super comfortable.
The second day of riding was aboard Super Record drivetrains with the fabulous performing hydro disc brakes. The shifting performance was equally impressive; super smooth and efficient.
Day Two was aboard a variety of OEM bikes built with Super Record drivetrains and the hydro disc brakes…which came in awfully handy when it came to this spine-tingling switchback descent into the valley below.
Fancy that when an old Mexican leads all the Euro kids down the descent! Campagnolo has also updated the caliper brake – both standard and direct mount to fit 28mm tires.

 

The front derailleur is also a completely new design that provides a new trajectory curve for quicker shifts. Yes, it works as intended. The Super Record version will sell for $265 with the Record front mech selling for $100 less. Like everything else, the chain too has been redesigned for optimized shifting in the tighter 12-speed confines. The derailleur cable can mount either on the front or back (as pictured) on the actuating arm to provide added clearance for bigger tires.
This ain’t no puff piece…the drivetrain worked so effortlessly that that were times I had to look down to see if the shift was actually made. Overall, it was the degree of efficiency with less throw necessary to make a shift that was most improved. Campy said the 12 speed electronic EPS drivetrain is still a ways down the road.

 

The roads of Gran Canaria once again proved worthy of the long trip to get there. With the introduction of their new 12-speed drivetrain, Campagnolo proved that they are just as adept as creating new, industry-leading technology as anyone. As with most of their products, the new drivetrain was predicated on the needs of the Pro racers who Campy has always been committed to first and foremost.

 

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