Campagnolo Potenza 11-speed groupset review
Campagnolo has replaced its Athena groupset with Potenza. The all aluminium 11-speed groupset features some trickle-down technology from Campagnolo’s racing groupsets and has been designed to compete directly with Shimano’s Ultegra groupset. After attending the launch in March, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom updates his report with the results of long-term testing.
If you read our initial Campagnolo Potenza review back in March and just want to see how it stacked up long-term, click here.
Potenza is an Italian noun for power, intensity and strength, and Campagnolo drew heavily from these associations when presenting the new groupset at their press camp in March this year. A flurry of horses, boxers, and drift-racing cars filled the screen as each part of the groupset was introduced.
After many years of service, Athena has been retired from Campagnolo’s catalogue so Potenza becomes the company’s premium aluminium groupset. Like Athena, Potenza comes in two colours — black and silver — with pricing set to compete with Shimano’s ubiquitous Ultegra groupset (albeit with the small premium that typifies Campagnolo’s pricing policy).
Rather than look to Asia for low-cost production, Campagnolo has been operating two manufacturing facilities in Romania since 2011. Not only are labour costs much lower than Italy, the country is much closer to Campagnolo’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, so the Italian manufacturer is better able to monitor production and protect its intellectual property.
All of the new groupset’s design and engineering were strictly kept in-house. From the outset, Potenza was conceived as a newly designed groupset that could take advantage of some of the technology that was introduced with the company’s recent overhaul of its racing groupsets. This includes Campagnolo’s new four-arm crank design and rear derailleur geometry along with major refinements to the front derailleur and chainrings.
One other major refinement is the introduction of an 11-32T cassette, for the first time, to Campagnolo’s catalogue. It’s a move clearly designed to compete with Shimano and SRAM and it should broaden the appeal of the groupset.
Trickle down technology
Campagnolo’s so-called Rev 11+ technology that guided the recent overhaul of Chorus, Record and Super Record derailleurs was used to inform the geometry of Potenza derailleurs to improve the quality of shifting.
The front derailleur has a longer arm (or rod) for extra leverage that improves performance under heavy loads. The design of the steel cage also adds to the performance of the derailleur in the form of strategic contours that are designed to guide the chain during up- and down-shifts.
The front derailleur cage has been widened compared to previous designs in order to eliminate the noise associated with cross-chaining and the need for trimming while using the big ring. The cage is now positioned a little further behind the seat tube in order to contend with the chain angle associated with the new 32T rear cog.
The geometry of the Potenza rear derailleur features Campagnolo’s “embrace technology” that provides extra chain wrap for the rear cogs. According to the company, this technology increases power transfer while reducing the wear-rate of the transmission.
There are two versions of the Potenza rear derailleur. Buyers that want to use a 32T rear cog will need the medium cage version, while the short cage will continue to suit cog sizes up to 29T.
The front derailleur is constructed from steel (cage) and aluminium while the rear derailleur makes use of a “lightweight technopolymer” for the upper and lower bodies. The plates are made from aluminium while the limit screws have been moved from the outer plate to the rear of the upper body.
Something old, something new
At face value, Potenza’s Ergopower levers resemble current Athena levers with the same alloy blades and EPS-inspired thumb button. However, the lever body has been re-modelled (to improve compatibility with current handlebar designs) along with the hoods. In addition, a larger index bushing with new shifting sequence has been added to the left hand lever that has trickled down from Campagnolo’s racing groupsets.
This shifting sequence makes the most of the new front derailleur design to provide a 50% increase in the precision of upshifting when compared to the outgoing Athena design. The upshift now comprises three clicks — the first two provide trim positions for the small chainrings while the third completes the shift to the big ring.
There is no trim function for the big chainring so the pressing the thumb button returns the derailleur to the second or first trim position for the small ring (depending on how far it is pushed). The thumb button must be released and pressed again to return the derailleur to its lowest position.
By contrast, the function of the right-hand shift lever and thumb button remains unchanged. The upshift lever offers multiple upshifts (up to three gears) while the thumb button is limited to a single downshift every time it is pressed.
Potenza’s brake callipers continue, front and rear, with Campagnolo’s dual-pivot skeleton design that was introduced for the racing groupsets almost 10 years ago. Also unchanged is the quick-release mechanism, which resides in the lever (as a sliding button).
There have been two changes to the brake pads though. First, there is new brake pad compound that offers better all-weather performance, and second, the carriers now adopt the same design as Shimano/SRAM. Thus, buyers will no longer have to seek out Campagnolo-specific pads when it is time to replace them.
Updating the transmission
Potenza’s 11-speed transmission is built around a new forged aluminium crankset with hollow arms that the uses same four-arm spider design as Chorus, Record and Super Record cranks. The new design allows owners to fit compact (50/34T), semi-compact (52/36T), and standard (53/39T) chainrings to the same crankset. And according to Campagnolo’s testing, the design is more rigid than their previous five-bolt design.
The Potenza crankset makes use of Campagnolo’s Power Torque design, with one important update: for the first time, the left crank includes a built-in extractor, so there is no longer a need for a purpose-built tool to remove the cranks. It’s a welcome addition to the Power Torque design, which is now referred to as Power Torque Plus.
As a Power Torque crank, Potenza is compatible with all of Campagnolo’s exisiting Power Torque bottom bracket cups that suit a variety of formats (BSA threaded, ITA threaded, BB86, BB30, BB30A, PF30, BB386). The right-hand bearing is mounted on the steel axle of the crank while the left hand bearing is fitted to the cup. A single tool (14mm allen key) is all that is required to install (and remove) the new crankset.
The cassettes that have been developed for the Potenza groupset won’t wear the same name, but will be referred to as “Campagnolo 11” cassettes. Five combinations will be on offer (11-25, 11-27, 11-29, 11-32 and 12-27) and all but 11-32 are compatible with Campagnolo’s other 11-speed groupsets. As for the chain, Potenza will use a Chorus 11-speed chain.
Weights and prices
According to Campagnolo, Potenza weighs 2,303g, giving up a handful of grams to Shimano’s Ultegra groupset, as shown in the table below:
The weights for the groupset sent for long-term review agreed well with these figures, with only the shifters weighing a little more than promised (390g versus 370g).
At the launch, Campagnolo’s suggested retail price for Potenza equipped with an 11-27T cassette was €852 (~AUD$1,250) and €904 (~AUD$1,300) with an 11-32 cassette and mid-cage rear derailleur. Now that the groupset has been on the market for a little while, some online retailers are now selling the groupset for as low as AUD$801/€669/$US612 (though options are limited at this price).
Budget-minded buyers will already know that Ultegra can be bought for less, and that’s unlikely to ever change given the volume of Shimano’s production. Be that as it may, Campagnolo’s pricing premium is not as great as initially thought, amounting to less than 10% over the cost of Ultegra. By contrast, SRAM’s Force groupset stands out as the most expensive mid-range groupset on the market today.
Out on the road
Campagnolo had a fleet of Sarto Asola bikes fitted with Potenza on hand to give all of the journalists at the press camp a chance to experience the new groupset. All of the bikes were equipped with compact cranksets (50/34T), 11-32 cassettes, and medium cages rear derailleurs.
A 60km loop served as the testing ground for the introductory ride, hugging the coastal cliffs of Gran Canaria before heading inland for a 20km ascent. This road started with a very gentle slope that increased gradually, such that some of the final ramps offered short pitches that exceeded 20%. Needless to say, the 32T rear cog was embraced during those moments.
My first impressions had Potenza pegged as a sound performer that offers buyers many of the hallmarks that distinguish Campagnolo’s more expensive racing groupsets. The shifting action was light with clearly defined clicks that could be felt and heard. Braking too, was familiar, combining Campagnolo’s gentle braking curve with the force of dual-pivot calipers to provide plenty of grab on the rims when needed.
Given the nature of the terrain, I didn’t perform many changes for the front chainrings, but my impression was that it was quick, quiet and efficient. Good, even great, but not quite in the same league as Campagnolo’s current racing groupsets.
As a long-term user of Campagnolo’s racing groupsets, I really felt the absence of multiple downshifts for the rear derailleur. Indeed, I found myself holding the right thumb button for an extra downshift or two on multiple occasions such is the extent of my conditioning. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the EPS-like thumb button, which was a little easier to activate from the drops than Campagnolo’s multi-shift thumb button.
The Potenza groupset sent for long-term review was essentially identical to the one that I rode at the press camp, however I opted for an 11-25 cassette and a short cage rear derailleur.
Assembling a bike with Potenza was straightforward. All of the fittings were familiar, and while most of the bolts have Allen heads, there are a few Torx heads that can defeat roadside mechanics that fail to carry both kinds of keys.
Potenza cranks can be fitted to a wide variety of frames thanks to Campagnolo’s suite of Power Torque cups, though some notable exceptions remain such as certain Trek (BB90) and Cervelo (BBright) frames. The addition of a self-extracting crank bolt to the left crank arm is very welcome: in the past, I couldn’t recommend Power Torque cranks because they were too difficult to remove. The new bolt works exactly as it should, so Potenza cranks are very easy to remove.
I’ve already noted that the brake callipers are fitted with Shimano/SRAM-style brake pads and carriers, but it’s a point worth repeating. While this counts as a major departure from tradition for Campagnolo, it’s not the first time for the company. A look back at previous catalogues revealed that 2015 Athena and Veloce callipers also made use of the same style of brake pad, which has a locking screw positioned at the rear of the carrier.
When it comes time to replace the pads, owners will find it much easier to source a suitable brake pad, however the uninitiated won’t know it until they try fitting Campagnolo-specific pads to the carriers. These pads not only lack a notch for the locking screw, they will be a tight fit, whereas Shimano/SRAM-compatible pads slide in with ease.
Putting aside the serviceability of Potenza and getting out onto the road, my initial impressions of the groupset didn’t really change with a few months of use. The groupset continued to be smooth and efficient without fail, approaching but never quite attaining the same levels of performance as Campagnolo’s more expensive racing groupsets.
On paper, there are a lot of differences between Potenza and Super Record, such as the weight, materials and finish, but I had little appreciation for any of those things while riding the bike. Ultimately, the only real difference that I could feel was in the levers.
I’ve already noted how much I noticed the absence of a multiple downshift function for the rear derailleur. I also found that Potenza’s upshift levers suffered from an amount of sponginess that wasn’t evident for Super Record. So while the amount of lever throw was comparable for the two, Potenza was vague where Super Record was precise.
A smaller difference related to the tone of shifting between the chainrings. Potenza made more noise than Super Record, which I presume is the difference between an alloy crankset and a carbon one. Whether this is matter of stiffness or damping, I can’t say, but the extra noise detracted a little from the quality of shifting.
The results of these comparisons left me pondering a simple question: what kind of difference would a set of racing levers (e.g. Chorus) make to the performance of Potenza? I didn’t get a chance to test this notion but my guess is that some riders would appreciate the nuance, while others (perhaps the majority) would not.
So how does Potenza compare with Ultegra out on the road? In broad terms, the differences in performance are very small. Both groupsets offer very high quality shifting and braking, but the way in which they do it is much more significant than how well they manage to do it.
For example, Ultegra brake callipers offer a lot of force very quickly, which many find reassuring. By contrast, Potenza’s braking force develops gradually, which can be mistaken as a lack of power, but side-by-side, the two are equally effective. On balance, Potenza is a little kinder on the hands and offers better modulation.
Ultegra trumps Potenza when it comes to upshifting the derailleurs. Shimano’s long lever blades offer plenty of leverage and there is none of the vagueness that undermines Potenza. That all changes when looking at the quality of downshifting: Potenza bests Ultegra with the crisp and clear action of its thumb button while Ultegra’s release lever feels vague in comparison.
Some may find the indexing of the Potenza levers a little harsh. Ultegra’s levers are softer and quieter in this regard, but identifying each shift, especially when trimming the front derailleur or downshifting is more difficult. There is no mistaking either when using Potenza.
Ultimately, the sum of these differences is small, and in my eyes, there is no clear winner, so the buyer is free to decide the matter based on the appeal of the finish of each groupset and their personal preference for the mechanisms involved.
Finally a note on the durability of Potenza: although I spent a few months with this groupset, I’d need a much longer period (up to two years) of ongoing use to adequately address this issue, which is well beyond the scope of this review.
Summary and final thoughts
In today’s competitive market, there’s no such thing as a bad groupset. All of the major manufacturers have managed to develop great products that not only work well, but also offer distinctive touches. Campagnolo’s Potenza continues this trend, providing mid-range buyers a sound groupset that blends the company’s distinctive touches with an affordable product.
One of Athena’s strongest appeals was that it was the only 11-speed groupset on the market with a classic silver finish. Campagnolo appears to acknowledge the importance of this with the decision to offer Potenza in a silver finish, but it remains to be seen whether the new four-bolt crankset will have the same appeal as the classic five-bolt design of Athena. At least there are tangible improvements in shift performance to capture the interest of buyers.
Campagnolo hopes that consumers will see Potenza as an attractive alternative to Ultegra. It’s a grand ambition since Ultegra is both widely known and widely available. One obvious hurdle will be overcoming the unfamiliarity of consumers; another is perceived value.
When placed side by side, Ultegra doesn’t look as far removed from Dura-Ace as Potenza does from Record or Super Record. And according to Campagnolo’s groupset hierarchy, Potenza is fourth in line (and their lowest priced 11-speed groupset) compared to Ultegra’s second tier placing in Shimano’s catalogue. As such, there is a risk that shoppers will simply assume that Ultegra is a higher quality product than Potenza.
Such obvious ranking disappears out on the road, and indeed, I find the two evenly matched. Both have distinct strengths, and both have weaknesses too, but they are relatively minor when compared to the distinctions in aesthetics, execution, and overall feel, all of which can be decided on the basis of personal preference.