VeloClub is CyclingTips’ membership program which brings us closer to our members, and connects likeminded cycling enthusiasts.
by James Huang
May 9, 2017
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
The new Campagnolo Centaur groupset is aimed right at the bread-and-butter of the enthusiast road cycling market with prices and weights roughly comparable to Shimano 105. Reviving an old name, the 11-speed Centaur groupset will replace the agin 10-speed Veloce component family, and is scheduled to arrive in stores in late May/early June.
Stylistically, Centaur is the spitting image of the Potenza groupset that debuted last year. Seeing as how Potenza already draws its aesthetics from Chorus, Record, and Super Record, there’s now a very strong family resemblance across Campagnolo’s entire range — and no remaining evidence of previous-generation 10-speed groupsets.
The most obvious change is a move to Campagnolo’s now-ubiquitous four-arm crankset design, with separate direct-mount chainring interfaces and common bolt patterns for every chainring size option. Arms are solid-forged aluminum with simple U-shaped cross-sections, and Campagnolo has carried over the Ultra Torque split spindle design from upper-end groupsets for easier serviceability and improved cross-compatibility relative to the one-piece Power Torque setup. Perhaps owing to Centaur’s more recreational scope, chainring options will be limited to 52/36T and 50/34T; there are no current plans to add a 53/39T version (although chainrings could be swapped from another groupset should someone so desire).
Centaur’s Ergopower controls are virtually identical to the ones used on the Potenza groupset, with aluminum brake lever blades, and carbon-reinforced polymer shifter paddles and lever bodies. Inside, the same Power Shift internals allow for up to three rear downshifts per lever stroke but just one upshift. On the left side, there are three positions overall: two for the inner ring, and one for the outer one.
Centaur will also use the same ergonomic shape as other Campagnolo Ergopower levers, with a nicely rounded, medium-size body, a handy inwardly canted peak up front, and internally waffled Varicushion rubber hoods that provide some built-in padding for your hands.
Campagnolo’s new Centaur groupset brings 11-speed to its entry-level offering, replacing the 10-speed configuration of the aging Veloce groupset that it replaces.
Campagnolo has positioned Centaur to go head-to-head with Shimano 105 in hopes that the perceived prestige of its Italian heritage and European manufacturing will be enough to draw in more riders (and product managers on the OEM level).
To help keep costs down, both the upshift and downshift paddles on the new Campagnolo Centaur Ergopower levers are made of carbon reinforced plastic instead of a true fiber composite.
Centaur derailleurs are rather straightforward, using mostly forged aluminum construction with the exception of a one-piece chromed steel front derailleur cage for longevity, and composite pivot knuckles on the rear derailleur. To cut costs — and provide some differentiation from Potenza — the rear derailleur carries on with Campagnolo’s previous-generation linkage design instead of the newer “Embrace” layout that provides extra chain wrap around the cassette cogs. In addition, the Centaur rear derailleur will be offered solely with a mid-length cage with linkage geometry adjusted to handle cassette cogs up to 32-teeth in size.
Speaking of which, there will be just three 11-speed Centaur cassettes available — 11-29T, 11-32T, and 12-32T — all targeting more recreational riders with presumably more modest power outputs. Each of the cogs are made of chromed steel, and the largest three attach to an aluminum spider to save some weight.
Carbon composite upper and lower knuckles help keep the weight down on Campagnolo’s new Centaur rear derailleur. In fact, the company is quite keen for people to know that the Centaur rear derailleur is 15g lighter than the “long cage version of its competitor” — i.e. Shimano 105.
Accompanying the new cassettes is a new chain, too, which is a bit heavier than the 11-speed chains used elsewhere in Campagnolo’s range, but also said to be more durable with less material milled away on the side plates. Campagnolo hasn’t skimped on the pin treatment, however, as each one is still fully mushroomed for maximum pull-through strength.
With Campagnolo recently announcing the option for hydraulic disc brakes across the Super Record, Record, Chorus, and Potenza families, that leaves Centaur as the lone rim-brake-only groupset in the range. Dual-pivot layouts are used front and rear, along with forged aluminum construction and a new pad compound that Campagnolo says will eventually permeate the rest of the line. Those pads will be held in place with standard Allen-head bolts instead of Campagnolo’s trademark spring mechanism; a move that Campyphiles may consider blasphemy, but one that undoubtedly makes more sense from a convenience standpoint for this end of the market.
As with Potenza, Centaur will be offered in both black and polished silver finishes. Retail prices and claimed weights are as follows (US and Australia prices are TBC):
Accompanying the new Centaur group is an updated Scirocco wheelset, whose welded-and-machined 35mm-deep aluminum rims now grow from 15mm to 17mm internally to better suit the 25-28mm tires more commonly in use these days (although I would argue that Campagnolo should have gone even wider). Despite the inflated dimensions, claimed weight has gone down from the previous version, from 1,725g per set to a more competitive 1,654g (without skewers), aided in part by profiled internal spoke nipple washers that allow for thinner rim extrusions.
Carryover features include Campagnolo’s trademark G3 triplet-style spoke lacing in the rear wheel to help balance spoke tensions from one side to the other, adjustable steel bearings, bladed stainless steel spokes with aluminum nipples, and machined Campagnolo-specific freehub bodies.
Retail price is just US$525 / €350 per set, and as with Centaur, target availability is set for late May/early June.
Going along with the new Centaur groupset is a redesign of Campagnolo’s Scirocco aluminum clincher wheels, which now grow in width to 17mm between the bead hooks.
Unlike the mythical half-horse, half-man creature from which Campagnolo’s new entry-level groupset draws its name, this was one Centaur that was not only rideable, but quite enjoyable to do so, as I did during a Campagnolo-sponsored, two-day excursion to the Canary Islands off the coast of northern Africa. The sinuous roads of Gran Canaria not only challenged the legs, but offered a good opportunity give both the shifting and braking a decent workout as well.
In general, comparing Centaur to Shimano 105 is akin to comparing both companies’ higher-end groupsets, with both doing a good job of mimicking the feel and function of their more expensive counterparts, but with a little extra weight.
Campagnolo hosted a multi-day test trip to the island of Gran Canaria, where seemingly no roads are flat. Photo: Campagnolo.
In that sense, Centaur’s Ergopower shifters feel characteristically substantial, with a firmer push and more effort required, and more tangible and audible detents, than the ultralight and friction-free feel typical of Shimano Dual Control. Campagnolo’s use of carbon-reinforced plastics for the shift paddles doesn’t seem to affect their solidity much, either, and despite the cheaper materials used, Campagnolo has done an excellent job of retaining the excellent ergonomics and aesthetics of other Ergopower models.
The switch to Power-Shift internals may put off some long-time Campagnolo users, though, as Centaur’s thumb paddle only allows for one upshift per push, as opposed to three on Chorus, Record, and Super Record. Likewise, the longer stroke for the downshift paddle behind the brake lever only shifts three gears at a time instead of the five that you can get on the more expensive Ultra-Shift-equipped levers. But in fairness, Power-Shift is on par with what Shimano and SRAM controls have always offered. Moreover, the single-shift format allowed Campagnolo to adopt the EPS-style dropped thumb paddle for Centaur, which is easier to access from the drops than the traditional position used on Campagnolo’s premium trio.
Just as on the Potenza groupset that was launched last year, Centaur’s Power Shift internals will allow for multiple downshifts, but only one upshift per lever push — which is really only a downside relative to Campagnolo’s own, more expensive, groupsets since neither Shimano nor SRAM mechanical levers offer multiple upshifts, either. On the upside, the position of the thumb lever is lower down on the body relative to Chorus, Record, and Super Record, which makes it easier to access from the drops.
More important is the fact that shift performance isn’t degraded with the lower cost, especially up front with the direct-mount chainrings offering a notably stouter foundation than the previous five-arm setup, and a more positive shift to the outer chainring under load as a result. Rear shifts are similarly smooth and quiet, and I suspect most Centaur buyers will appreciate the wider-range cassette options, which favor climbing ease over speed.
Either way, the drivetrain runs with Campagnolo’s trademark quietness.
Braking performance is very good as well, with the dual-pivot rim-brake calipers providing a solid bite and very good control — and, if anything, the heavier arms may even feel stiffer under hard braking than the lighter, but more aggressively machined, calipers used higher up in the line. The use of bushings in the pivots (higher-end models use ball bearings) yields the slightest touch more friction, but most users aren’t likely to notice, especially with a fresh and clean cable and housing setup.
Overall, Centaur comes across as a solid adversary for Shimano’s hyper-refined 105, offering a feel that’s markedly different, but not necessarily better or worse — and the choice for most riders will likely fall to personal preferences in terms of shifter action and lever effort. Meanwhile, I might argue that Centaur feels sturdier in the hands and more substantial than SRAM Rival, albeit without the enormous wealth of options on tap from the American company (which include disc brakes, clutch-type rear derailleurs, and far more choices in gearing, including single-ring drivetrains).
Whether these early impressions hold up long-term will have to wait until we’re able to spend more time on Campagnolo’s new groupset. But at this level in the component hierarchy, it’ll be much more important in terms of Campagnolo’s business future to see how well OEM product managers at major bicycle companies will take to it — and that very much remains to be seen.
Campagnolo will offer the Centaur rear derailleur in only a mid-cage format with capacity for cassette cogs with up to 32 teeth.
The Centaur front derailleur uses mostly aluminum construction along with a one-piece chromed steel cage for durability. A plastic insert in the outer cage plate helps keep everything running quietly.
Gearing options are fairly limited on Centaur, with only 11-29T, 11-32T, and 12-32T versions available — a reflection of the group’s more recreational aspirations. The largest three sprockets are attached to an aluminum carrier to help save some weight; all of the sprockets are made of steel.
Visually, the new Centaur forged aluminum crankset does an excellent job of mimicking the look of Campagnolo’s more premium offerings. In addition to the black finish shown here, there will also be a polished silver version as with the recently launched Potenza groupset for those that prefer a more classic aesthetic.
Now that the Veloce groupset is being retired, the addition of Centaur to the lineup means that all of Campagnolo’s cranksets will use the same four-arm, direct-mount chainring attachment method — along with the same BCD for greater parts compatibility.
The Centaur arms themselves are fairly simple in construction, using a basic U-shaped profile that’s both heavier and less stiff than a hollow-forged structure.
The new Campagnolo Centaur rim brakes feature the same dual-pivot geometry as on the company’s higher-end groupsets, but with less aggressive machining to keep the costs in check. There is also no single-pivot option for the rear brake, and as always with Campagnolo, the quick-release mechanism is built into the lever, not the caliper.
Campagnolo has adopted the more common bolt-type method for securing the pads on the new Centaur rim brake calipers. While some Campyphiles may consider that sacrilegeous, others will say that it’s just a smart business move.
As with Potenza, Centaur will also be offered in a polished silver finish. Photo: Campagnolo.