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by Matt Wikstrom
February 17, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Campagnolo overhauled all of its racing groupsets for 2015, introducing new features to its 11-speed transmission, including a very obvious facelift for the cranks. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a close look at the new Super Record groupset.
The lifespan of any product in the bicycle industry is roughly five years, give or take a couple of years. While this observation is not enough to reliably predict an overhaul for any given product, there comes a time when it is inevitable, especially for a company like Campagnolo. The Italian manufacturer is as proud of its heritage as it is of its place as an innovator.
Looking back on Campagnolo’s development timeline, the company has overhauled its groupsets roughly every seven years since the early ‘80s. The company introduced its first seven-speed groupset in 1984, followed by eight-speed in 1991, nine-speed in 1997, 10-speed in 2000, and most recently, 11-speed in 2009.
When Campagnolo celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2013, there was a specially marked and boxed version of its Super Record groupset, but there was no sign that the company was re-visiting the design of its groupsets until the following year, when the RS edition was released.
Super Record RS ushered in improved shifting for the front chainrings as Campagnolo strove to provide the mechanical groupset with same kind of performance as its electronic groupsets. The limited edition groupset was clearly a transition product (just like the Record Red ergolever that was released in limited numbers in 2008), paving the way for the inevitable overhaul that was announced for 2015.
Labelled “the newest evolution”, Campagnolo’s latest overhaul introduces new designs for the front and rear derailleurs as well as the cranks. While the former are functional, the latter marks a major cosmetic shift that applies to Chorus, Record and Super Record groupsets.
In this review, I report on the performance of the 2015 Super Record groupset, comparing it with the Chorus equivalent as well as the previous RS edition, all thanks to Campagnolo.
When Campagnolo first announced the overhaul of its racing groupsets towards the end of 2014, the first and most obvious change noticed by all (especially brand loyalists) was the new crankset. After adhering to a traditional 5-bolt design for decades, Campagnolo had abandoned it for a new 4-bolt pattern.
The change marks the end of long era but Campagnolo has always been willing to adopt a new design when there is a reason for it. In this instance, the 4-bolt pattern provides much wider chainring compatibility, so owners are now free to switch from a standard 53/39T combination to a compact 50/34T without having to replace the cranks.
By contrast, Campagnolo’s other refinements are much subtler to the eye. Indeed, the groupset essentially retains the same aesthetics as the previous iteration, including the red and white badges.
Some may notice the longer pinch bolt arm that has been added to the front derailleur to provide extra leverage for the cable. The cage design that proved so effective for the RS edition has been carried forward without modification, though Campagnolo’s engineers created a new carbon outer cage in order to preserve the groupset’s exotic aesthetic.
Campagnolo continues to offer the front derailleur with a clamp (32mm or 35mm) or with a braze-on fitting. Buyers opting for the latter now have a choice of two versions: with or with Campagnolo’s Secure Shifting (S2) System. The S2 System comprises a small arm that is bolted to the top of the braze-on fitting; once it is adjusted against the seat tube, the arm is designed to stabilise the derailleur.
There is new shift action to go with the overhauled front derailleur. Gone is the continuous ratchet function that has defined the left ergolever since its inception; now there are three discrete stops, providing two trim positions for the small ring followed by a one-step shift to the big ring.
As a consequence, there are no trim positions for the big ring. According to Campagnolo, trimming is no longer necessary because the front derailleur cage is wider. Thus, any downshift immediately returns the chain to the small ring, with the front derailleur stopping at the second or first trim position (depending on how far the thumb button is depressed) to reduce the risk of dropping the chain.
There are now very obvious ramps on the inner face of the big chainring. The RS edition introduced the first refinements to Campagnolo’s X.P.S.S. technology for the chainrings, so the new ramps mark the next step in the evolution of this thinking. A variety of smaller cutouts and large pins also assist in lifting the chain from the small ring with the promise of extra efficiency for the system.
Campagnolo re-designed the geometry of the rear derailleur so as to bring the upper pulley wheel closer to each cog of the cassette. According to the company, it’s a measure that improves power transmission as well as prolonging the life of the components. The right ergolever continues to offer Campagnolo’s distinctive multi-shift action (3 cogs up and 5 cogs down) for the rear derailleur.
One unfortunate by-product of these changes is that the derailleurs aren’t compatible with older 11-speed ergolevers. Similarly, pre-2015 11-speed derailleurs cannot be paired with 2015 11-speed ergolevers, at least according to Campagnolo’s recommendations.
The brake calipers, however, remain unaffected and retain the dual-pivot skeleton design introduced in 2009. Buyers considering Super Record get a choice between a dual- or single-pivot rear caliper, where the former offers more power, while the latter saves a little weight.
Also unaffected are the chain and cassette. For the latter, buyers can opt for cogs as large as 29T without affecting the performance of the rear derailleur. Buyers will soon discover that the Super Record cassette is very expensive to replace, owing to the use of titanium for the six largest cogs, however they are free to use any of Campagnolo’s 11-speed cassettes with the groupset.
Aside from the new shift action for the left lever, Campagnolo has made a couple of minor changes to the ergolevers. First, the lever bodies are now constructed from a lighter material; and second, the hoods have been reshaped a little and new textures added. Importantly, the new hoods aren’t compatible with previous (2009-2014) ergolevers.
As with previous versions of Super Record, the 2015 groupset continues to make use of carbon fibre, titanium hardware, and aluminium fittings to provide a ~6% weight savings over Record and ~11% over Chorus. There is of course, a premium for the weight savings: Super Record retails around $2,700 AUD compared to ~$2,000 AUD for Record and ~$1,350 AUD for Chorus.
For this review, I installed the groupset on a Colnago C60 (supplied by FRF Sports) and added Fulcrum’s Racing Quattro Carbon clinchers for a final weight of 7.12kg (sans pedals and bottle cages). Installation was straightforward and familiar though it was a nice surprise to find that Campagnolo now supplies its own inline barrel adjuster for the front derailleur cable for those bikes that need it.
For more information, including details on all options for the groupset, visit Campagnolo.
As I started using the new Super Record groupset, I was immediately struck a sense of familiarity. The levers, the brakes, and the quality of the shifting were all familiar to me, essentially unchanged from the previous iteration of the groupset.
While that might seem like a shortcoming, a lot of Campagnolo’s customers are brand loyalists that can be alienated by any overhaul to the design of each groupset. There is no risk of that here, because the new Super Record groupset retains all of the distinctive touches that have come to define it since its resurrection in 2009.
The aesthetics of the new crankset may challenge some brand loyalists though. After spending several weeks with the new design, I still wasn’t fond of it. The 5-bolt design was classical and romantic; the 4-bolt design is a throwing star. Nevertheless, I appreciate the functionality of the design. Nobody wants to buy a new set of cranks—especially Super Record cranks—just to use different sized chainrings.
The new front derailleur and shifting action has improved the quality of shifting. Super Record RS was an improvement in this regard, and now the new groupset takes it another step forward. The chain shifts onto the big ring smoothly, quickly, and quietly. The only time I noticed any kind of hesitation (or noise) was when I was out of the saddle over a rise, mashing the pedals in a way that defeats all mechanical groupsets.
I didn’t have any trouble with the downshift but there were more than a few times when I forgot that the derailleur returned to the first (or second) trim position. Inevitably, chain-rub would announce where the front derailleur was located. In contrast, I never suffered any chain-rub while using the big ring, even when cross-chaining to the largest cog.
I didn’t notice any difference in the quality of the shifting for the rear derailleur. Campagnolo set a high standard for this long ago, starting with its 10-speed groupsets, and has maintained it with the new Super Record groupset. As for the impact of the new derailleur geometry: Campagnolo’s transmission parts already offer exceptional durability (especially when compared to other brands) but any increase in service life will always be welcome.
I’ve always enjoyed the quality of braking offered by Campagnolo’s calipers. The lever action is very light and the calipers have a progressive feel that gently approaches maximum power. For this review, a dual-pivot front caliper was paired with a single-pivot rear caliper. The difference in power was immediately obvious, but to my mind (and Campagnolo’s), the extra power is wasted on the rear end. Others may find it robs them of confidence, in which case, they can opt for a dual-pivot rear caliper.
As with every other Campagnolo groupset I’ve ever ridden, the new Super Record groupset needed a few weeks to be ridden in. So while its starts off good, the groupset gets better with use. The noisy chain may distract some buyers but it starts running quietly after a few hundred kilometres. Shifting also gets lighter and smoother, but that takes a little longer (500-1,000km), maturing with age, as it were.
I was fortunate to have two other bikes on hand, one with Super Record RS, and the other with a 2015 Chorus groupset to make some comparisons. Overall, they were well matched with only the quality of the front shifting separating the 2015 groupsets from the RS edition. In contrast, I couldn’t separate the performance of Super Record from Chorus in any regard. Thus, the only practical difference between the two was in the finish of each groupset.
I’ve used the word “overhaul” a lot in this review, and while there is plenty of evidence for the work that Campagnolo has done on the groupset, the outcome — in terms of function — is much more modest. As such, the 2015 version of Super Record can be counted as a refinement, offering buyers a number of marginal gains over the previous iteration.
With that said, Campagnolo has managed a tangible improvement in the quality of chainring shifting whilst the new 4-bolt crankset offers much greater chainring interchangeability. Both are welcome additions, though brand loyalists may be left mourning Campagnolo’s classic crankset styling.
I applaud Campagnolo’s commitment to refining the design of their mechanical groupsets, but it appears as if we may have arrived at a plateau in product development. For those owners that have one of Campagnolo’s earlier racing groupsets (2009-2014), I don’t see a strong argument for upgrading to the latest version, unless there has been significant wear and tear. Likewise, there is no strong argument for the opulence of Super Record either, not when Campagnolo’s lower-priced racing groupsets (ie Record and Chorus) essentially match its performance.
For those buyers hoping for a major shift in performance, then the only option is the extra expense of an electronic transmission. Powered derailleurs are easier to use and more reliable such that the entire peloton has essentially migrated to electronic transmissions. Thus, it will be interesting to see if Campagnolo carries out another overhaul on its mechanical groupsets in the years to come, which can be expected around 2022.