It was a matter of when, not if, but Campagnolo have announced details of a long-awaited disc brake system.
Except they haven’t. Instead, the Italian grand masters have confirmed they are working on a disc brake groupset – dubbed the Campagnolo Disc Brake Project – and it's likely to be finished this year. They are remaining extremely tight-lipped on the details – though we were invited to a pre-launch event to look at (but not ride) three working prototypes.
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At the event, Campagnolo did reveal a few small details about the forthcoming product and the development process, which falls under the auspice of the Campy Tech Lab, as well as the testing which will soon take place with Campag’s three WorldTour teams.
With that in mind, here’s are the headlines and what we know so far, and you can also draw your own conclusions from the bumper gallery at the bottom:
- Campagnolo disc brakes currently on test with Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar
- Expected to be used by a small number of riders at the Spring Classics
- System is hydraulic, will be versions for mechanical and electronic groupsets
- Flat-mount and post-mount
- Carbon fibre and aluminium disc-specific Campagnolo wheels also in development
- Official launch date unconfirmed
What is the Campagnolo Disc Brake Project?
That’s the label given to the development of Campagnolo’s disc brake system. The project is being driven by the Campy Tech Lab – a 50-strong department which works on Campagnolo’s most significant projects and is given a directive to liaise with Campag's sponsored WorldTour teams (Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar) to develop top-end kit and give those “athletes sponsored by Campagnolo a competitive edge," according to Campagnolo’s press manager, Joshua Riddle.
As part of the Campy Tech Lab, the Disc Brake Project is very much in the prototype and development stage. Once it’s given the seal of approval by Campag’s sponsored teams and riders (which we’ll come on to), and given the go ahead to become a fully-fledged, commercially available product, it will undergo further in-house testing to become ‘Campagnolo Corretto’ (or ‘Campagnolo Correct’).
You may have seen products badged as ‘Campy Tech Lab’ being used by pro riders in the past. Campagnolo’s EPS groupset was used by Movistar under that guise for a season before being officially launched. All that means the Campagnolo Disc Brake Project is still a work in progress – but it’s undoubtedly on its way and the samples we saw were both working and neatly finished.
How does Campagnolo’s disc brake work?
While Campagnolo chiefs did reveal a few snippets about the project as a whole, they weren’t willing to divulge any significant information about how the proposed system actually works.
Campagnolo have a couple of different systems currently on test on a small number of bikes with Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar, though the latter are yet to start testing as Canyon are currently finalising their own disc-ready frame, whereas Specialized and Ridley already have something available for Astana and Lotto-Soudal respectively.
We do know it will be a hydraulic system - Campagnolo wouldn’t consider developing a mechanical disc brake, least not for racing – and there will be flat-mount and post-mount versions. We saw both in Gran Canaria. While Shimano first developed their disc brake for use with an electronic groupset, before a mechanical option followed, Campagnolo will launch with a system for both mechanical and EPS electronic systems.
The lever hood is taller than a typical Campagnolo unit in order to house the hydraulic gubbins, but the top is notably more rounded than SRAM’s lever, which is similarly tall. While we didn’t get to ride any of the bikes on display in Gran Canaria, we did get to grips with the lever and it felt both comfortable and natural under hand. The brake lever is made from carbon fibre, which gives an indication that this is very much top-level stuff.
As you’d expect, Campagnolo have designed their own rotors – or, at least, they’re Campagnolo branded – and looked to have fitted the bikes we saw with a 160mm rotor at the front and 140mm at the rear. There’s still debate over what’s best for road: Shimano, for instance, recommend 140mm, while Chris Boardman has specced 160mm across the board on his eponymous brand’s bikes, on the grounds the bigger diameter provides better speed control and heat dissipation under sustained braking than a smaller rotor. Campagnolo look to have a foot in both camps.
Do professional riders even want disc brakes?
Yes and no. Campagnolo admit there’s not widespread enthusiasm across the board, but we already knew that. “Professionals teams are not pushing for disc brakes, as you know," says Lorenzo Taxis, Campagnolo’s marketing and communication director.
Road disc brakes have taken a roundabout route to the market. Normally, a technology is developed with the world’s best riders in mind, and is then trickled down the range into more affordable products for you and I. There are countless examples across the cycling industry, including on Campagnolo’s brand new Potenza groupset, launched as a rival to Shimano Ultegra and featuring an aluminium version of the four-arm chainset first seen on Campag’s upscale Super Record, Record and Chorus gruppos.
However, Shimano and SRAM have taken the opposite – or, perhaps, long-sighted – approach with their disc systems, both launched in 2013 - a couple of years before the UCI showed any interest in allowing disc brakes for road racing. In fact, Shimano even ran an ad campaign with four pro riders - Simon Gerrans, Tom Dumoulin, Josh Edmondson and Martin Kohler – looking lustfully at a set of disc brakes, alongside the strapline, ‘Have what the pros can’t have’.
Campagnolo, however, remain a company resolutely driven by the desire to create pro-level equipment, so it’s little surprise to see details of their own disc brake system only emerging in tandem with the UCI’s test of disc brakes through 2016.
There’s a mixed reception among riders – and enthusiasm does very much vary from rider to rider. Our sources tell us Movistar weren’t exactly bouncing off the walls at the prospect of using disc brakes, while a few more ears pricked up at Lotto-Soudal, in a team far more likely to feature at the sharp end of the Spring Classics.
It's there Riddle believes disc brakes will come to the fore, given the inclement weather that can hit – and have such a bearing on – races like Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. It’s at the Classics where we hope to see Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar testing Campag’s system to its limits. In fact, we expect to see plenty of disc brake tech at this year’s Classics, with Merida set to launch the Scultura Disc ahead of Paris-Roubaix and more in the offing.
Still, Campagnolo have an open relationship with their teams and sponsored riders, and don’t place any pressure on a rider to use a particular product. That’s certainly the case when it comes to mechanical and electronic shifting, with plenty of riders sticking with plain old cables, rather than new-fangled wires. That means when Campag’s disc brake is widely available to pro riders, rather than a small test sample, they’ll individually make the decision as to whether they use them – unless either the team or UCI take a top-level decision.
What about wheels?
Wheels remain an important part of Campagnolo’s range – the announcement of the Disc Brake Project in Gran Canaria also saw the launch of a new Shamal Ultra (rim brake) wheelset – and disc brakes means new wheels.
All three bikes on display at the pre-launch were equipped with a carbon fibre, disc wheelset, about 50mm deep and with Campy Tech Lab stickers. Again, more details will follow but Campagnolo confirmed they are working on both carbon and aluminium disc-ready wheels. “Wheels aren’t being overlooked," says Riddle.
When will it be launched?
The short answer is, we don’t know. Campagnolo consider 2016 – established by the UCI as a year for the testing of disc brakes – as just that; a year for testing. However, in truth Campagnolo's hand was forced a little by last year's UCI announcement, and while they were already working on a disc brake, devoted more resources to the project in the aftermath.
Still, Campagnolo insist they are in no rush to bring something to market. “There’s never a second chance to make a good first impression," says Taxis. Being second, or third on this occasion after SRAM and Shimano, is of no concern to a company with a history which dates back to 1927, and which places such an emphasis on long-term performance and reliability. In fact, Campagnolo first started development on an electronic groupset way back in 1992, before the eventual launch of EPS in November 2011, two years after Shimano launched Dura-Ace Di2.
“When we are not the first to launch a product, we take the opportunity to see what our competitors are doing and try to launch something which is better," says Taxis. “We are not rushing but we’re on the spot. Mr Campagnolo himself says: ‘I don’t want to launch anything which hasn’t been tested for months and in real races by our professional racers’."
Once Campagnolo’s prototypes have been tested in the Classics, Campy Tech Lab engineers will use feedback and data from Astana, Lotto-Soudal and Movistar to refine the system ahead of an official launch. Will that be this year? We reckon so, but watch this space.