Is Campagnolo's new Centaur groupset a Shimano 105 killer?

First ride impressions of new 11-speed alloy drivetrain

Campagnolo has resurrected the Centaur groupset as an 11-speed, entry-level aluminium groupset that is designed to be a direct Shimano 105 challenger.

Campagnolo’s #11 Evolved / Rev 11 programme has refined mechanical shifting for its top groupsets and that technology has trickled down to Potenza, and now Centaur.

With obvious aesthetic and functional similarities, Campy says the only difference between Centaur and its loftier siblings is the materials used in its construction.

The updated alloy crankset bears a passing resemblance to Super Record, but is obviously heavier. That said, Campanolo claims it’s the lightest crankset in its class, with a four-arm spider featuring independent BCDs — different bolt circles — for each chain ring, which increases their rigidity.

Only 50/34 and 52/36 combinations are available because Campagnolo expects these to be most suited to the groupset’s intended customers. 

The aluminium four-arm crank has independent bolt circles for each ring and an Ultra-Torque axle
The aluminium four-arm crank has independent bolt circles for each ring and an Ultra-Torque axle

The Ergopower levers feature an updated Power Shift mechanism which uses new, more durable materials in its construction. 

A Technopolymer upshift lever and EPS-style inner lever are familiar in feel. This system limits you to only one downshift at a time, but I’ve personally never found this to be a problem. 

Taking its design and function from Campagnolo's 11-speed groupsets, the front derailleur borrows Super Record’s cage shape and longer lever arm design to ease shifting force. Its one-piece steel cage is said to be more rigid and precise, and is internally contoured to improve performance.

The rear derailleur has been updated and completes Campagnolo’s all-11-speed range. One model cleverly covers all cassette ratios up to a 32 tooth maximum, doing away with the need for short and long caged alternatives. It's also claimed to be 15g lighter than any competitor’s long cage derailleur too. 

The upper jockey wheel also has longer, more chamfered teeth than the lower one, intended to make it more reliable.

The front mech borrows its cage design and longer cable pull lever from Super Record
The front mech borrows its cage design and longer cable pull lever from Super Record

A new chain that’s been designed for Potenza and Centaur 11-speed claims to be more durable than the equivalent competition, and there are three new cassettes featuring the same sprocket grouping design as Potenza, but with a different finish. They are all steel, compatible with any Campagnolo groupset and available in 11-29, 11-32 and 12-32 ratios.

Centaur’s dual pivot brakes are new as well. They're visually similar to Campagnolo's well known skeleton brake caliper outline, but with filled-in arms. They come with a new brake pad compound and are said to be 50g lighter than the competition. 

The complete groupset follows Potenza’s lead by being available in all black or a polished silver finish and it’s all built within the EU between Campagnolo’s three facilities.

Three new steel Centaur cassettes are available, I rode the widest 11-32 option
Three new steel Centaur cassettes are available, I rode the widest 11-32 option

Claimed weight for the complete Centaur groupset with 11-29 cassette, 50/34 crankset and PF86.5 bottom bracket is 2,471g.

Centaur will be available to buy in its black finish this May, with the polished silver finish coming in September.

Prices are a little different, with the black finished groupset coming in at £539.33 / €636.41, while a silver polished version totals £571.10 / €673.90.

Centaur first ride impressions

Attacking the endless climbs aboard a Centaur and Scirocco-equipped bike
Attacking the endless climbs aboard a Centaur and Scirocco-equipped bike

The new entry-level Centaur groupset was a surprise, but a good one. 2016’s Potenza was launched with bold aims and Centaur looks to go one better by taking on the ever-popular Shimano 105.

Campagnolo often says that all of its groupsets share feel and functionality, its just the materials they’re made with that differ, and in this case, it’s hard to disagree.

The hoods have a quality feel — grippy and well cushioned, but still robust. The aluminium brake levers mirror their carbon siblings’ ergonomic shape and the two shift levers, although neither metal or carbon, work perfectly well. 

They’re not girder-stiff, but they’re not rubbery either, and they didn’t detract in any way from their functionality. In fact, I really didn’t notice them during my few hours on the bike and that must say enough.

Allowing for the caveats of brand new bikes that had been set up professionally, shifting performance was faultless. Crisp shifts in both directions didn’t allow room for any “if only that gear shifted faster”, thoughts.

Multiple upshifts were straightforward, and far from being a hindrance, the single down shifts were infinitely preferable to the common overshifts from older style Ergopower levers.

(L) Centaur's new Ergopower levers look and feel very similar to last year's Potenza items (R) New dual pivot brake calipers have the outline of skeleton brakes, but a solid outer arm
(L) Centaur's new Ergopower levers look and feel very similar to last year's Potenza items (R) New dual pivot brake calipers have the outline of skeleton brakes, but a solid outer arm

I certainly explored the limits of the 50/34 and 11-32 gearing fitted, and even fully cross-chained under full load, there were no mechanical complaints, just aesthetic ones.

The front mech shifts like any other recent Campagnolo equivalent, with a lighter lever pull and less throw required to execute shifts. The trim function needs a little thought at first, until you realise that you can stop that minor chain rub, then it starts to become second nature.

While the brake calipers may look a little 'budget', they feel smooth, well modulated and powerful. Campy’s new pads obviously play a part here too.

With the rampant progress of both SRAM and Shimano through the road market in recent years, Campagnolo’s greatest challenge in taking on their rivals could be in both the OEM market, and crucially, educating or re-educating customers in the ways of modern Campagnolo.

Centaur looks like it could be up to the task and the choice of entry-level groupsets has just got a whole lot more interesting.

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