Campagnolo 11-Speed Super Record Group
Don't know about you, but we were blindsided by the public launch of Campy 11-speed. With no warning whatsoever it seemed to just show up at Tour time last year. There was no fawning by magazine scribes in the way they did Dura Ace 7900, which debuted around the same time. We don't know if this was because Shimano worked harder at appealing to the journos or that the journos were anticipating for the general public, which goes much more heavily for Shimano over Campagnolo. As fans of underdogs, we hoped that 11-speed exceeded hype.
We got to test out Campagnolo 11-Speed Super Record for an extended period of time on a Wilier Cento Uno. More on the frameset later. While our preference is to minimize variables when testing gear, we kept the frame and parts together for the sake of simplicity.
Super Record is so high-zoot that not all sponsored Pro Tour riders use it. Take a look at the bikes that won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders this year. Both Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder were racing on Record groups aboard their Specialized bikes. We don't think cost or weight is the issue here, but we're puzzled all the same. The cut-outs on the levers and the titanium pieces can't be the problem. Maybe it's a bone to the rest of us when we look at the price tag.
While we had heard what Campy people had said about the redesigned Ergopower lever, we were skeptical, if for no other reason than it seemed like Campagnolo's design sense had left them for the lever. It looks as if it were melted a bit and the design points almost seemed derivative, as if they were following SRAM.
The new ergopower levers are as comfortable to us as we find them ugly. Our feelings about the look haven't warmed any since we've been riding them. We hope to get over this because the levers are incredibly comfortable. The hoods are nicely curved and fit quite naturally in our hands. The bigger size feels quite comfortable in our plus mitts. That the bigger hood bodies are more comfortable isn't much of a surprise; when Campy moved to the lever body shape that has been around from the last decade, there were complaints about the smaller size being harder to grasp. The lever blades are also nice to the touch. They feel flattish in front which makes for easy contact and the waves, while they look unnecessary, allow greater contact with your finger. The biggest surprise of the new shape was the upshift levers. These have a great curved, rounded shape to them. They are a great place to rest your index fingers when you're on the hoods. The lever can also handle shifting up four cogs at a time, as opposed to the old three. The downshift buttons have also been re-shaped, though we didn't notice much difference in feel.
There is much more going on that we could sense. And it is probably for these changes that they call the iteration Ultra-Shift. The hood body is so shaped for many reasons. One is to provide an extra hand position on the levers. That position is with the middle of one's palm resting on the knob allowing one to stretch out and flatten the forearm in a kind of modified aero bar position. Another is for greater surface area; more to grab and thus easier to hold. The body works with the lever blade shape to allow identical mechanical advantage for squeezing the levers on both the hoods and the drops. And the lower curve of the blade brings the blade closer to the handlebars which is great for those who like to ride with their levers high on the bars and great for those with short fingers.
The redesigned body also allows for better cable routing of the shift cable. The cable housing doesn't get threaded vertically into the body, but stops behind the lever. With this, the cable runs from the shift mechanism through the lever body in a straighter line. The straighter line reduces friction. The body also hides the redesigned shift mechanism. The g-springs, which held the "pinwheel" in place, have been retired in favor of differential plates riding on spring-loaded ball bearings. And on top of all these changes, both the upshift lever and downshift button have been changed. The lever does not only have a smooth, comfortable curve to the touch, but the arc of the lever sweep has been changed to one that more naturally mimics what a finger can do. The button has just been re-shaped. It still can do the "big slam," though we found the button was getting hung up afterwards on the hood rubber. We assume this will go away with use.
As we wrote, we could sense it was different and we were quite happy with the difference. Besides the joy of grasping the levers, there was a marked reduction in friction to shifting. Combining the light feel with eleven cogs made us almost shift-giddy whenever we were riding hard. Whether it was on a hill or a flat, we were shifting frequently just to find the perfect balance of cadence and force. Our group came with an 11-23 cogset; one-tooth jumps from 11-19 teeth and then a two-tooth jump to the 21 and 23.
It's hard to get a handle on what makes the shifting feel so light to the touch. Chances are, it's everything. Redesigned throw of the lever, better cable routing, lower-friction housing, different springs, changed derailleur shapes, and new tooth and ramp profiles. However it works, it feels great. We don't know how it will feel after a season, and Campagnolo representatives are unwilling to recommend a replacement interval for any of the parts. But we think even if friction increases as cables and housing wears, it will still feel lighter and smoother than new 10-speed.
After the new Ergo levers, the next biggest change for the 11-speed group is the rear derailleur. You can tell it's different from far away. It's not just the blingy carbon, but the beef. The front parallelogram plate is noticeably taller than previous iterations. The pulley cages are also carbon and seem dramatically thicker than their predecessors. And the pulley wheels are bigger. The new cage shapes are supposed to make the shifting faster by providing a stiffer push from the derailleur. We do see Campy following their competitors a bit both with the design here. But they have one big improvement over their competitors. The derailleur is almost completely rebuildable. Turn the derailleur upside down and you can clearly see two gold-anodized Allen-head bolts for replacing the carbon-fiber cage plate.
The switch to 11-tooth pulley wheels was one a long time coming. Both Shimano and SRAM have embraced them for years. Bigger pulley wheels will spin more slowly at a given cadence so it is possible that they'll result in less power lost to drivetrain friction. The ceramic bearings, which we have written about in detail before, should probably help in minimizing friction losses as well. Campy is still sticking to sleeve-bearings in other derailleurs, but we think this is a feature that is going to slowly move out of the Campy lineup over the next few years.
The other big change with Campy 11-Speed Super Record is the Ultra-Torque crankset with ceramic bearings and re-designed ramps and pin. We can't write that we noticed the bottom bracket was smoother than other external-bearing bottom brackets, but it did spin nicely when the chain was off it. Better than Shimano and SRAM bottom brackets we've spun, not that spinning a crank tells you how much friction there is when the system is under load. The aspect of the cranks that really impressed us was the stiffness of the bottom bracket. It felt as stiff as the Hollowgram cranks we've ridden, and those are supposed to be among the stiffest on the market. We do wonder if we were feeling the oversized bottom bracket and the molded cups of the Wilier here; this is where using a familiar bike would have been a boon.
Pretty much the rest of the group is unchanged from earlier Record, save titanium nuts and bolts. Super Record uses the same brakes as the previous and current Record iterations. The front derailleur, while a redesign, didn't seem to have a function that totally popped compared to its predecessor. The front derailleur feels a bit stiffer, which seemed to manifest into faster upshifts, but it wasn't remarkably improved.
Two of the things that have disappointed us about Campy 11 are the relatively few cassette choices and entire lack of choices when it comes to chainrings; it's either 53x39 or 50x34. Yes, Boonen and the other bigs have been able to get custom Campy 11 rings for their race bikes, but the rest of the world will have to wait, who knows how long. How we long for the days when you could swap in and out rings depending on terrain.
We feel we have to take a moment to address price before finishing with Campy Super Record, especially since we've destroyed a good many parts in our life. We've long been constrained by budget. Like many, we'd invest in good brake levers but go a step down on brake calipers. Run a top-of-the-line rear derailleur, but use a much-lower front derailleur, and so on. Trying to figure out a way to get maximum performance without totally busting the piggy bank. We still run a Chorus front derailleur, a cheap cassette on our training wheel and mid-level cassettes on race wheels. While admiring all that Super Record is, we find ourselves thinking about where we'd step down in order to get our bike to go to 11. Cassette, brakes, and front derailleur are obvious, but rear derailleur and cranks present a harder choice, since Super Record seems to offer quantifiable performance improvements over Record and Chorus. We don't need the 11th cog, but we love the rest of the lever and drivetrain improvements. Overwhelmed, no, but whelmed, definitely. One of these days, we'll buy a whole group at once, one of these days.