Are we about to see a new groupset from Campagnolo?
Are we about to see a new groupset from Campagnolo?
Campagnolo has a habit of being first (or close second) to the table with groupset innovation. Shimano beat the Italian brand with STI levers and electronic shifting (well, Mavic was first but we aren’t counting that), but beyond that Campagnolo was first with eight-, nine-, 10-, 11- and 12-speed road groupsets. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new road groupo come out of Vicenza, though.
Last year’s Ekar launch and some new wheelsets explain the relative silence on the road groupset front. But time and competitors are marching on. It’s four years since Campag launched 12-speed road and three since it added an EPS 12-speed offering. In that time, SRAM has released three AXS wireless groupsets, and Shimano has updated both Dura-Ace and Ultegra to 12-speed.
At the same time, Campagnolo is seemingly losing its footing in WorldTour-level racing. Campag was once the dominant force in road racing groupsets. The only viable option, some argued. Despite years of experience, Shimano still held the newbie tag and was perhaps seen as more interested in leisure bikes and fishing. SRAM didn’t even have a road groupset.
But things change. In the ’90s Shimano started growing its top-level presence. By the introduction of the Pro Tour (now the WorldTour) in 2005, Campagnolo was still out in front – just – with 11 teams on Record groupsets, while the other nine teams ran Dura-Ace. SRAM rocked up, first with super-light road groupsets, and later with wireless electronic groupsets.
Fast forward to 2022, and Campagnolo’s decline at the WorldTour level is clear to see. Only three men’s WorldTour teams will ride Campagnolo groupsets this year. That’s a drop from four last year as long-time partners Lotto-Soudal made the switch to Shimano components.
But why the decline? Campagnolo was always considered the racer’s groupset. Has it lost that competitive edge? Has Campagnolo intentionally given up this competitive edge, focusing instead on new and niche markets? Join us as we look at what we might expect to see from Campagnolo in 2022.
On the decline?
OK, so a Campagnolo-equipped team has won the past two editions of the Tour de France and multiple monuments, but these successes gloss over a declining presence on the WorldTour scene. The question is why the decline? Undoubtedly the bigger marketing budgets over at Shimano and SRAM can attract many more teams. Furthermore, Campagnolo’s pricing means even the teams purchasing equipment are unlikely to look to Vicenza.
Then there is the question of rider preference. For generations previous, Campagnolo was almost an essential component of success and the choice of champions. The brand was adding more sprockets first and introducing its Ergopower levers with multiple gear shifts in one movement. Campagnolo started adding carbon to its groupsets, making it iconic and beautiful.
But the current generation of riders is seemingly much less interested in the beauty and heritage that attracts many to Campag groupsets and is instead much more focused on performance. Shimano introduced Di2, SRAM first popped up with incredibly lightweight groupsets, and then eTap and AXS.
In the same time, Campagnolo has arguably retreated. First, delaying its EPS V1 by a year, arguably being over-cautious after one power unit on an EPS-prototype-equipped bike on the roof of a car failed due to water ingress due to driving at motorway speeds during a storm. This delay meant Shimano beat its Italian counterparts to the market with an electronic groupset.
Yes, Campag was the first to add another sprocket many times, but by the time Campagnolo went 12-speed in 2018, simply adding another cog was arguably no longer innovative enough.
Meanwhile, while other brands are killing off (or at least not commenting on) top-end mechanical drivetrains, Campag is seemingly going in the opposite direction, killing off its entry-level and mid-range electronic groupsets. Even the sole remaining EPS offering, Super Record EPS, is rarely seen outside the WorldTour.
One wonders if the groupset only exists to meet pro team demands. Apart from Peter Sagan at Roubaix, the pros generally want electronic shifting, and fewer of their frames are even mechanical-compatible.
It’s not like Campagnolo has been asleep at the wheel during this time. Although last to market, Campagnolo’s road disc brakes are widely regarded as among the best, certainly in terms of modulation and quiet running. Campagnolo’s Ekar gravel groupset has proved hugely popular since its introduction in 2020. Furthermore, the brand’s wheels are also highly regarded and sought after.
As a Campagnolo fan, I am confused. We hear much talk of the opportunity for the brand. Talk of being the sole remaining top-end mechanical groupset offering and of the benefit of European manufacturing facilities in these times. But what direction is Campagnolo planning to take? A focus on gravel with Ekar? Will it leave Shimano and SRAM to fight it out for the electronic scraps?
As much as I love mechanical, it is undoubtedly a dwindling market. 2022 could be a pivotal year for the iconic Italian brand. The next steps could shape its very existence.
2022 x Campagnolo?
I think we can expect a new groupset from Campagnolo this year. What exactly that will be is the major question. Following the introduction and success of Ekar, Campagnolo won’t have sat with its feet up the past two years. Ekar hopefully has given the brand the shot in the arm it needed to kickstart a raft of innovations. Here is what I would like to see.
Regardless of the exact details, Campagnolo’s next offering will show the world which direction the brand will take in the coming years. It will prove a major surprise if Campag follows Shimano’s lead in killing off its top-end mechanical groupsets. The bigger question is what will Campag do with EPS and its two-tier top-end road groupset. With so many new frames now landing with electronic-only compatibility, it seems impossible to think Campag could completely turn its back on zappy gear shifting.
Likewise, with demand for high-end mechanical drivetrains declining, is there room for both the Record and Super Record groupsets? Campagnolo has put Super Record in hibernation before. From 1987-2008 the highest end of the high-end groupsets was replaced first by C-Record and then the eight-, nine- and 10-speed Record groupsets. Could we see Campag narrow its mechanical offering and specifically target the mechanical market with the sole new offering from any of the big three?
If Campag’s Ekar learnings could trickle up to Record and trickle down to Chorus, Centaur, or a relaunched Potenza, we could see lightweight 13-speed road groupsets coming out of Vicenza this year. With the introduction of the N3W freehub with Ekar, Campagnolo certainly has the space to add an extra cog for the road. That budget-friendly level where Campagnolo is currently entirely absent – bar the rim-brake-only Centaur groupset – is where Campag could find most potential.
A competitively priced (read hugely reduced) 13-speed Chorus or lower-tier groupset could see Campagnolo get back into the road OE market and offer an alternative to 105 or Rival. Paring back to just a single top tier offering might help reduce the astronomically high price of Campag’s top groupset. Dropping one of the top two groupsets might also free up some much needed manufacturing capacity, meaning more of whatever is coming next to meet the current demand.
What then for any new electronic offering? If not EPS, then what? With SRAM and Shimano both now in the wireless space, surely Campagnolo must follow suit. It certainly seems the engineers over in Vicenza are thinking wireless, based on Campagnolo wireless patents applications Alan Cote took a delve into for CyclingTips last year.
Furthermore, the Italian company has reportedly suggested the current 12-speed will be the last EPS groupset. This led to speculation any future electronic groupset may take some wireless or “wired less” form. Wireless is likely to become a new best friend for mechanics, teams, and OE manufacturers, thanks to the increasingly complex cable routing on many new (mostly electronic-only) frames. Now that SRAM and Shimano (front end only) have eradicated the wires, we could even see a time when frame designers decide to go wireless-only.
If Campagnolo does release a new electronic groupset this year, it must be in some way wireless.
Campagnolo fans will be hoping any new electronic groupset might come with some tech and design advancements. For all its beauty, EPS could do more to leverage the opportunities electronic shifting offers.
Shimano has had satellite climber and sprint shifters since first-generation Di2. No doubt Campy fans would like similar shifting options with any new groupset. Shimano’s hidden hood-top buttons provide a neat head unit screen control option. I always wanted a similar function from my EPS mode button.
While still riding Campagnolo in 2021, both Caleb Ewan and Phillipe Gilbert ran modified thumb shifters on their EPS levers. The modified paddles seemed a cross between the standard EPS thumb shifter and the new longer Ekar paddles. Presumably, they provide easier reach from the drops.
With Campag officially adapting the shifter for Ekar and top pros demanding hacked shifters, is it the end of the road for the traditional Campag thumb shifter? A new groupset could see the Ekar design carried over onto the road.
Interestingly, the thumb shifter was much loved by many in those heydays mentioned earlier. One wonders if the extended paddle is a solution to a new issue arising from integrated cockpits and the fixed position/angle of the drops.
It is a sign of the times that we even question if a rim brake option will exist. That said, I’d put money on Campag sticking with both rim and disc brake offerings.
If demand for top-end mechanical drivetrains is dwindling, what likely remains is fans of custom builds, traditionalists, and those upgrading older frames. If Campag plans to service the mechanical market, it had better makes plans to offer high-performance rim brakes also. Speaking for myself, I still love mechanical, and I still ride rim brakes, but I like them best when together.
When exactly we might see any new groupset is hard to predict and again this will largely depend on which direction Campagnolo takes. If the brand decides to go for an update of current offerings, which would surely please some Campag fans, an April rollout could make sense. On the other hand, a launch for a market that’s demanding a lower-priced wireless electronic groupset with sister mechanic groupsets might make more sense for a European summer launch, ahead of 2023 bike announcements.
This could be a pivotal year in the history of Campagnolo. We look forward to bringing you any news if and when we have it.Read More