Riding a 12-speed road groupset for the first time is surely a landmark event. With the new Campagnolo Record 12-speed mechanical group, the technological advances are impressive, the engineering is sublime, and the aesthetics, in my opinion, manage to match form to function in a way that few can.
Let’s go through it piece by piece.
Record 12-speed levers
The Record mechanical rim brake levers look to have a slightly more pronounced inward curve Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
The new Record controls have extremely comfortable, well-cushioned, rubber hoods that ensure fine grip with or without gloves. The shaping is such that my hands always felt perfectly positioned.
Our test ride went from sea level into the mountains, giving the ideal opportunity to test the new drivetrain. Pedaling away in the big ring and flicking through the cassette was quickly replaced by some small ring spinning on the first uphill drag, and the need to reacquaint myself with Campagnolo’s front mech trim feature.
Whereas SRAM has one front derailleur position for each chainring, Campagnolo’s has its primary shifted position, then a secondary small movement that better aligns the cage for chain line extremes, preventing rub. Whilst not a new feature, like everything else on the new 12-speed transmissions, it’s been refined, and feels beautifully slick.
The shift levers were already very ergonomic, but they have now added a little flare to the brake lever, as well as increasing the lower curve, making it easier to reach and operate from the drops, especially with two fingers.
The inboard shift button has been extended forwards for easier purchase Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
Operating the inboard mechanical shift lever was always a little compromised from the drops, requiring a contorted hand twist to reach with your thumb, and often resulting in overshifts. The new extended lever is far better in this regard, and much easier to reach without changing your hand’s grip on the bar to do so.
The upshift lever is far more sculpted with a smooth transition between it and the outer edge of the brake lever. Its enlarged, shaped paddle ensures great purchase from the drops or hoods. With so many sprockets to get through, there’s a noticeable urgency to how the new levers fire the chain on to the next one.
The 12-speed shifters feature improved ergonomics, indexing and lever throw Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
As before, you can move the chain up the cassette as many as five cogs at a time, or down by up to three at a time by continuing to press the lever through the indexed clicks.
Lever throw has been shortened, and freestroke has been eliminated, so the derailleur starts to move as soon as the lever does. This is very satisfying in feel, sound and reaction. Of course, I tried to overshift, select unusual chain lines and shift out of sync with my pedaling action to incite some confusion in the drivetrain, but completely failed to upset it at all.
A new direct-mount rim brake allows clearance for tyres up to 32mm Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
When the road tipped back down towards sea level, I had the chance to really make use of the new direct-mount brakes. Riding Campagnolo Bora wheels with the brand’s 3Diamant bare-carbon braking track, there were no excuses. The amount of power required at the lever to brake hard from 40mph into a hairpin was surprisingly low, with no spongy uncertainty, just consistently progressive retardation.
The braking noise of pads on carbon served as a reassuringly audible indicator, rather than the squeaks and squeals found with some wheel and brake combinations. They return with great positivity and I didn’t experience any brake rub in almost 4,000ft of climbing, a good portion of which was out of the saddle.
And that 12-speed chain and cassette…
Because 11 sprockets aren’t enough Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
The 12-speed drivetrain occupies the same space as 11-speed does — you can install a 12-speed cassette onto an 11-speed Campagnolo wheel — but with a narrower chain and sprockets.The shifting is very accurate and effective.
As a riding experience, there are obvious improvements to the levers, hoods and shift action and shift speed, compared to the previous Record. These upgrades reinvigorate the Record groupset, and make it at least the equal, dynamically, of new Shimano Dura-Ace.
Since one of the stated aims of the new 12-speed drivetrains is to cope better with cross-chaining, I spent some time out of the saddle on a long uphill drag, in the 50 ring and 32 sprocket, putting the most stress possible on the chain and rear derailleur. I couldn’t get a single rub or creak of complaint.
Campy’s new 12-speed Record mechanical rear derailleur has a Technopolymer body and alloy cage Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media
There are two cassettes available: 11-29t and 11-32t.
Efficiency too is hard to quantify in this situation, but did I feel that my efforts were being accurately translated into motion, with speed to match.
Was riding with 12 sprockets on my cassette revelatory? Not really, but perhaps because it was so effortless. Having more closely spaced gears is a good thing on the road, and the extremes of the range were very welcome. Now 12-speed allows you to have more of both.
The bottom line is that an extra sprocket won’t change your riding life, but can help maximize your riding efficiency, as much through the group’s control and excellence as having just another gear.
Our Record 12-speed rim brake test bike was Colnago’s Concept Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media