Though Campagnolo made a splash with its 13-speed 1x-specific Ekar gravel groupset when it launched in September 2020, the brand hasn’t updated any of its road bike groupsets since 2019.
Despite its pedigree, Campagnolo occupies a more niche position in the cycling industry and is overshadowed by Shimano and, to a lesser extent, SRAM, in terms of being specced on complete bikes for consumers.
However, while Campagnolo components are also only specced on the WorldTour bikes of three top-tier men’s professional cycling teams, those teams include the UAE Team Emirates squad of back-to-back Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar.
With the recent launch of the brand’s ‘Dream Bigger’ campaign, an initiative hinting at the company’s future growth, I reckon there’s a high chance Campagnolo is due to launch a new road groupset soon.
And, as 2023 will see Campagnolo celebrate its 90th anniversary, could the Italian brand launch something to tie into this impressive milestone?
Here are six things I’d like to see from Campagnolo with its new road bike groupsets:
1. Wireless shifting
Campagnolo EPS is now the only electronic groupset of the Big Three to run wires from the shifters to the derailleurs.
SRAM’s eTap AXS platform is fully wireless, and has been since the launch of its original eTap groupsets in 2015. Shimano’s Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 groupsets are semi-wireless, with wireless shifters controlling derailleurs connected to one central battery.
If Campagnolo wants to stay competitive in the eyes of an increasingly tech-savvy market, it’s going to have to ditch the current wired arrangement and go fully wireless.
Such a move could lean into its ‘electro-mechanisation’ philosophy even more – a concerted effort to keep electronic shifting as close as possible in feel to mechanical, and that’s evident in the trademark ‘ker-clunk’ of the current EPS shifting.
To move things on further, I would like to see the size of Campagnolo’s brake levers reduced to be more in line with its svelte mechanical rim brake shifters.
Shimano was able to match its mechanical rim brake levers in size with its R8070 / R9170 electronic, hydraulic shifters, while SRAM’s Rival eTap AXS shifters are smaller than its current electronic Force and Red offerings.
It can be difficult to integrate the hydraulic reservoir and electronic internals into a small shifter, but it’s not impossible.
I’d also like to see Campagnolo work on the speed of shifting to match or exceed Shimano, which is lightning quick. The Japanese brand worked extensively on the front derailleur for its most recent R9200 / R8100 groupsets, so it is now a claimed 45 per cent faster than the outgoing design.
A new electronic groupset platform that completely revamps the brand’s current EPS line could be the groupset gut-punch Campagnolo needs.
2. Offer more tiered electronic groupset options
EPS is currently limited solely to Super Record, Campagnolo’s top-tier groupset that has an eye-watering price to match.
Campagnolo’s 11-speed generation EPS groupsets were far more broad, offering electronic shifting all the way down to the Athena level (which sat below Chorus and has now been discontinued).
Shimano offers its Di2 platform on both Dura-Ace and Ultegra (though we’d like to see the Japanese brand trickle that down to the third tier at 105 level).
For now, SRAM has one-upped Shimano by bringing its wireless electronic technology down to the third-tier level with Rival eTap AXS. Many brands are speccing Rival on complete bikes around the £4,000 price mark and we’ve found it to be a relatively affordable and well-performing electronic option.
Not every cyclist wants to spend £4,500 on a top-tier hydraulic disc brake groupset. At the very least, Campagnolo would be wise to offer an electronic option at Chorus level.
Chorus is often seen as the gateway to the brand’s more exotic groupsets and it boasts most of the performance benefits of Record and Super Record but at a lower cost, due to its slightly heavier construction.
If an electronic equivalent were to be developed and priced competitively, it could be enough to tempt some riders away from Shimano Ultegra Di2 or SRAM Force eTap AXS.
3. Stick with 12-speed
It’s not unreasonable to assume that any future Campagnolo road bike groupsets will go 13-speed to match Ekar but, perhaps controversially, I would be more than happy if the brand stuck with 12-speed for the road.
Going 13-speed made sense for Ekar because, as a 1x-specific groupset, you need a wide spread of gears on either extreme of the cassette to account for the lack of a front derailleur.
The downside of an extra cog, however, is even tighter tolerances. If the derailleur hanger is anything but perfectly straight, the shifting can be compromised.
Granted, you are more likely to bash a hanger on a gravel bike though, so 13-speed on the road may be a better application in this respect – in theory.
On a 2x setup, 12 gears generally offer a very usable range, given road cassettes don’t need to be as wide-ranging.
Plus, when brands add an extra cog to the cassette, this often shuts out users of the older generation. Shimano’s 12-speed groupsets are technically not compatible whatsoever with the 11-speed systems they replaced, and this is also true of SRAM.
If all of the brands stopped at 12 – for now, at least – the bicycle groupset manufacturers could stabilise at a happy equilibrium.
4. Continue to develop mechanical options
On that note, I hope Campagnolo continues to develop its mechanical groupsets.
SRAM has all but abandoned mechanical shifting for the road since it introduced eTap in 2015. Shimano seems to have recently followed suit for its high-end groupsets when it announced its new Ultegra and Dura-Ace 12-speed groupsets would be Di2-only in 2021.
This leaves Campagnolo in a unique position as the only manufacturer of the Big Three to have high-end mechanical options.
Provided Shimano and SRAM both stick to their guns and double-down on electronic-only shifting, Campagnolo could attract a larger share of riders who prefer mechanical groupsets.
Many riders (myself included) love the crisp and reassuring ‘ker-clunk’ of a mechanical Campagnolo gear shift and the meaningful interaction of being able to feel the cable shift the derailleur into the selected gear.
The ability to down-shift up to five gears with its Ultra-Shift mechanism on Chorus, Record and Super Record is also deeply satisfying. Shimano or SRAM levers, in contrast, are limited to one down-shift at a time.
There is still plenty of development opportunity for mechanical groupsets, such as matching the quality and speed of the front shifting to the rear and working at reducing the hydraulic lever size and height to suit smaller hands. Campagnolo should keep chipping away at cable-operated nirvana.
As for the brand’s lower-end groupsets, I don’t think Campagnolo should pay much attention to developing them further. The brand’s now-discontinued Potenza groupset, which was supposed to rival Shimano Ultegra, fizzled out.
While its Centaur groupset rights some of the wrongs of Potenza (we’d all like to forget its quirky PowerTorque bottom bracket standard), it’s frankly been left in the dust by Shimano 105 and SRAM Rival.
Simply put, both Shimano and SRAM have the economies of scale to aggressively price their groupsets down to the original-equipment level and it would be a pipe dream for Campagnolo to create a groupset that is a genuine contender at an equivalent price point.
5. Refined ergonomics with C-shape levers
Campagnolo’s gear shifting is controlled by two levers. Downshifts are dealt with by a lever behind the brake, whereas upshifts are controlled by the thumb-operated paddle on the inside of the lever body.
A common complaint on Campagnolo’s road bike groupsets was that it was difficult to reach the thumb paddle from the drops.
The brand listened and introduced a new C-shape for the thumb-operated paddle on Ekar, designed to simplify shifting from the drops. And it’s a design that delivers on that promise.
As a result, I’d like to see both an updated mechanical and electronic groupset incorporate the new C-shape lever from Ekar.
6. More polished silver options
I’d love Campagnolo to offer more polished silver options.
The brand offered a handsome silver finished version of Potenza, and continues to do so with Centaur, but the option is absent on the brand’s higher-tier groupsets.
Chorus uses a mixture of aluminium with smatterings of carbon in its construction, so Campagnolo could offer this option here. Admittedly, though, it wouldn’t make sense for Record or Super Record, which are both predominantly carbon.
There’s generally nothing wrong with black, given it matches most frames, but it’s always nice to have the option and a silver polished Chorus would be a fine addition to the range.
A polished silver groupset can inject real flair into a build – just look at Shimano’s new GRX Ltd finish.
This type of finish looks the business on older frames and even modern designs with a nostalgic paint scheme. Just be careful not to have an overload of the colour if the frame is already silver.
If Campagnolo can combine a nostalgic finish with performance fit for 2022 and I have the right frame to bolt the groupset onto, they can take my money right now.