Campagnolo Super Record mechanical groupset – review
Looks gorgeous and works wonderfully, but it sure doesn't come cheap...
These days you see Campagnolo specced as standard on few shop-sold bikes, and where even 20 years ago a significant proportion of the peloton would have been riding Campag, fast forward to now and they’ve lost a lot of their market share at both the professional and consumer level.
In market terms, Campagnolo groupsets should arguably be considered boutique when you compare the size of the company with the behemoth of Shimano, and while the latter make everything from fishing reels to groupsets for mountain and city bikes, the other stubbornly pushes on exclusively producing kit for road bikes (giant corkscrews aside).
Having said that, anyone sees that as a sign Campag isn’t relevant any more couldn’t be more wrong. Nairo Quintana won the Giro d’Italia last season riding Campag, Vincenzo Nibali took home the 2014 maillot jaune at the Tour de France on the Super Record RS groupset and Fabio Aru won September’s Vuelta a Espana on Italy’s finest. On top of that Movistar, Europcar and Astana have all opted for Campagnolo on their race bikes in 2015 (13 WorldTour teams used Shimano components, with just Ag2r La Mondiale opting for SRAM).
As the name suggests, Super Record sits one tier above Record at the top of Campag’s mechanical groupset range. Underneath those two you also have Chorus, Athena and Veloce. The differences between them essentially come down to weight and, by extension, materials. The further up the range you go you find more carbon and hence less weight, with Veloce’s crankset, for example, being an alloy construction, while Super Record has a full carbon crankset with titanium axle.
Fundamentally, there are a couple of key changes to the 2015 edition of Super Record: a new long-arm front derailleur and redesigned four-arm crankset. They’re the features that you’ll either notice when riding – in the case of the brakes and derailleur – or notice immediately on the bike (the crankset).
The first thing I love about Super Record – and all Campagnolo groupsets – is the brake levers. Which brand’s levers you prefer has a lot to do with the size or shape of your hands, but I think Campagnolo’s Ergopower levers are simply superb. The hoods are small and mildly textured, giving a comfortable place to rest your hands, and the ergonomic shape of the brake levers themselves not only looks great, but makes it very easy to get to the levers when you’re in the drops.
In fact, the overall aesthetic of the group is one of its major selling points. It might be a cliché that Campag focus on looks far more than the other two main groupset manufacturers but it’s one grounded in truth and it’s clear with Super Record that looks matter to Campagnolo and, frankly, they should. If you’re paying more than £1,800 for a groupset, you’re going to want something that looks pretty cool as well as offering top level performance – and Super Record delivers exactly that. Although the four-arm chainset took a little while to grow on me – and still doesn’t look as good in pictures as it does in the flesh due to the way the raw carbon finishes catches the light – the rear derailleur is a thing of beauty and even the skeleton brakes have an understated cool that’s hard to match.
As far as the performance of the crankset is concerned I’ll say this: if it’s stiff enough for Alejandro Valverde and the rest of the Movistar team, I don’t think many amateurs are likely to find it lacking in stiffness. There are three chainring options when you buy – 50-34t, 52-36t and 53-39t – and three crank lengths as well (170, 172.5 or 175mm), so something for everyone essentially, and that comes with cassette options of 11-23t through to 11-29t, and 12-25t through 29. You can’t fit a huge cassette on here as you could with SRAM’s WiFli or Shimano’s mid-cage rear derailleur, but you’re far from lacking in options.
There are a couple of things to know about setup of the Super Record shifters. The first is positioning. It might seem obvious, but if you want to be able to shift both ways from the drops, you need to make sure you can reach the thumb shifters. Get this even a little wrong and you’ll find yourself having to move back to the hoods every time you want to downshift, which would be rather silly.
The second is that, unlike SRAM for example, there’s no in-built way to adjust the reach on Campag levers. There is an insert that allows you to move the lever further away from the bars (eight per cent further according to Campag), but no option to shorten the reach – other than bodging something yourself, which, of course, isn’t recommended.
The front derailleur is a new design for Campag, and one you’ll immediately notice borrows a lot from Shimano’s long-arm front mech. I rated Campag’s previous derailleur design pretty highly and have run it for a long time on my Ridley Helium, but this new one is even better. The long arm on the derailleur means that there’s less travel needed at the lever end for the same shift (as the long arm on the derailleur offers increased leverage at the derailleur end). The other effect of that increased leverage is that front shifting requires less force than previously, which means shifting up to the big ring at the front is better than ever.
The rear derailleur has been tweaked, too, and features ‘embrace’ tech, which basically amounts to an extra spring in the derailleur body which means the top jockey wheel sits closer to the cassette and wraps the chain around a little further, meaning more chain/cassette contact. Campag claim that this improved contact equals better power transfer, and make of that what you will, but a better, cleaner contact between the two should, in theory, improve the life of both. Shifting, though, is as good as ever and you still have the multiple downshift ability (up to five cogs at a time) lacking in other mechanical groups, which is a particularly nice feature.
If you want to play the comparison game with Shimano, Campag shifting – both at the front and the back – feels heavier and slightly more involved. Where Shimano levers offer a light touch and a clearly defined end to the shift, Campag’s need a little more force and haa a slightly less definitive end to the shifting motion. Similarly, downshifts at the back are extremely forceful with a lot of feedback and could be perceived as ‘clunky’ by comparison with Shimano, but it’s really a case of which you prefer as the shift quality of both is absolutely top notch.
The one area in which Super Record falls short is braking power. It’s exasperating because I actually think that the feel of Campagnolo’s braking is superior to both Shimano and SRAM, with the movement at the caliper – and therefore at the lever – feeling much more consistent and progressive. But even the redesigned dual-pivot front brake that Campag use here just doesn’t offer the same kind of stopping power as the awesome Dura-Ace brakes. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t feel like you’re massively under-powered in braking terms, it’s just having used both (or, indeed, the Ultegra 6800 brakes) you’ll definitely notice the difference. At the back, Campagnolo offers either a dual or single pivot rear brake, although frankly I don’t see why you wouldn’t opt for the superior power of the dual pivot option every time, but if you do want the option of a single pivot rear brake, well, it’s there.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong – and so many things right – about Super Record. Not only does the gruppo perform superbly, it looks fantastic too, and design is the principal area in which the other groupset manufacturers could definitely learn something from Campagnolo. But even more than looks, Super Record has character: the lever ergonomics, the strong shifting feedback and the overall feel are all uniquely Campag, and something that certain people will love and other with prefer to do without. Taken in and of itself, Super Record is a masterpiece and more groupset than anyone who isn’t paid to turn the cranks at WorldTour level could ever want.
There is a ‘but’ however, and that but comes from the simple fact that you can’t asses Super Record in isolation because it’s not the only top-end groupset on the market. The only place it falls down is by comparison and, more specifically, comparison to Dura-Ace. Shimano’s top-line group feels a little more refined, a little more polished in areas where Campag feels raw and it’s all topped off by Shimano’s market-leading brakes, the main area in which the Italian company just haven’t caught up with their Japanese counterparts. But still, if you gave me a choice between the two, I might pick Campagnolo.
– Looks fantastic
– Front shifting is even better than before
– Overall performance is excellent
– Braking isn’t quite as good as the competition
– You may have to remortgage to afford it
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