This is typical: I’m late. Having left my Garmin in my hotel room, I’ve had to jog back in 26 degree Canary Island morning heat to recover it, and have already worked up a sweat before I’ve even turned a pedal stroke. I’m motivated to run though, because we’re about to ride Campagnolo’s all-new 12-speed Record groupset.
While the extra sprocket is undoubtedly the main talking point here, Campagnolo’s engineers have announced a range of changes upon launching the latest Record and Super Record groupsets, including refined shifter ergonomics, a revamped front derailleur and and an improved rear mech. These are effectively brand new groupsets, down to the cables.
On top of that, Campagnolo is the first component manufacturer to launch a 12-speed groupset, this time getting a jump on Shimano and SRAM, having previously been late to the disc brake party. Over the course of four days in Gran Canaria, I’ve heard Campagnolo wax lyrical about its latest innovations, but what are the new Record and Super Record groupsets like to ride? Well, let’s find out.
Day one - Campagnolo Record, rim brakes
Our first rides sees the assembled journalists setup with a rim brake Record gruppo on a range of bikes from manufacturers that Campag says have agreed to start stocking more of its groupsets from the get-go. The idea here is to take a larger cut of the market share dominated by Shimano, and frankly it’s refreshing to see such a wide variety of bikes fitted with Campag componentry.
Mine’s a Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod, so I can hardly have any complaints thanks to it impressing so comprehensively when I took one out to ride the 2016 Etape du Tour. Despite some whispers from the ‘Campagnolo for Italian’ brigade, I think the new Record groupset (complete with refreshed graphics) looks right at home on this American frameset.
Rolling out of the hotel complex on our 52km out-and-back route, we’re treated to a weaving, undulating yet steadily climbing course for the first few kilometres before commencing the climb proper. In that time, I’m already trying to get to grips with the Ergopower shift system (the vast majority of my time is spent riding Shimano-equipped bikes thanks to their popularity at OEM level), as well as acclimatising to brakes set up in continental style with the front brake on the left.
The Ergopower shifting action is immediately familiar from a Rose bike test I conducted last year, and remains crisp and sharp, if a still a little noisy. It still takes a fair amount of effort to press down on the thumb lever, compared to the clinical shifts of Shimano, but the stroking levers do feel a touch lighter to move, possibly in part thanks to the improvements made on Campagnolo’s new low-friction cables.
Meanwhile, I’m able to grow more accustomed to the widened and tapered thumb lever, which makes reaching it on the drops much simpler than before – a marked improvement over the previous design. Now, I can hook my thumb up and over the lever without getting caught underneath or clipping it as I raise my thumb; an issue I used find quite common when trying to use the previous design on the drops.
Despite the noise of the shift system – Davide Campagnolo, grandson of founder Antonio, explains over dinner that this sound is part and parcel of the Campagnolo experience – all the shifts are bullet-fast. There’s absolutely no tangible delay whether you’re heading up or down the cassette, while the front derailleur handles its job with minimal fuss. Multiple shifts work a treat, too.
At first, it feels odd to have an extra sprocket - you almost feel like you’ll never reach the end of the cassette - but you can precisely choose your ideal ratio for your natural cadence
That horizontal movement Campagnolo has developed through the three-part front derailleur design has a hint of Shimano’s compact toggle design about it, and although clearly a different layout, is equally adept at shifting the chain from ring to ring, even under significant load.
While climbing up gradients reaching 12 per cent in one or two places, I’m able to make full use of the new 12-speed cassette. At first, it feels odd to have an extra sprocket – you almost feel like you’ll never reach the end of the cassette – but when you’re in the small ring and mixing it up in the 13-17t range, you can precisely choose your ideal ratio for your natural cadence, which does have a genuine impact on how efficiently you ride.
Sure, I've never felt I was lacking something when using 11-speed groupsets, but it’s a testament to the idiom: you never know until you try Of course, it's a marginal improvement, but a tangible improvement all the same.
Campagnolo’s claims of greater efficiency when cross-chaining also seem well-founded. I purposefully put it in 36-11t ratio (thanks to the installation of a semi-compact chainset here), and only got a tiny amount of chain rub. I’d never choose that ratio to ride in, and to be honest thanks to the efficiency of the new front derailleur design, which makes chainring hopping super-easy, it’s unlikely you’d feel compelled to either.
Today is just a taster of its capabilities, however. Once at the top, we perform an about-face and head back down the climb, allowing me to really try out the new Record rim brake calipers, as well as run the semi-compact chainset solely in the big ring for a while.
Sure, I've never felt I was lacking something when using 11-speed groupsets, but it’s a testament to the idiom: you never know until you try
What occurs first, though, is the ease with which I can reach the brake levers on the drops. I’ve always found the double curvature ergonomics of Campagnolo’s levers a bit much for my taste when on the hoods, but there’s no doubt about the design when locked down on the drops and descending at speed.
The added taper that sees the levers spread outwards means they’re incredibly easy to reach, and even more importantly require only gentle input from the fingers to create significant braking force – ideal for sweeping descents like those found on Gran Canaria.
I’m a big fan of a clean, clinical mechanical brakeset – perhaps one of the last remaining reasons these days to uphold the sanctity of the rim brake in the face of standard-setting hydraulic disc brakes – and this is right up there with the tactile travel of Shimano’s excellent Dura-Ace rim brake and cable combination. Modulation and control is excellent upon the carbon Bora 35 and 50 wheelset rims, as is the all-round power
Day two - Campagnolo Super Record, hydraulic discs
The next day takes in a longer 60km loop that sees not only steep gradients of up to 18 per cent hit us on the major climb of the day - enough for everyone to get some comprehensive use out of the fitted 32t cassettes - but also flatter coastal roads and a faster, more open descent that can really be attacked.
Ideal, given that this is the day we’re also running Campagnolo’s disc brake setup, too - all fitted to a Basso Diamante SV Disc frameset. At least today we’re playing the Italian thoroughbred card for the purists.
Unlike the way Shimano separates Dura-Ace, Ultegra and, following last week’s launch, 105 disc brakes, alongside a few non-series models floating around, Campagnolo has chosen to stick with the one model of caliper and rotor and develop specific Super Record and Record versions of the Ergopower levers instead.
I’d not previously used the Italian brand’s disc brake setup – but, put simply, my first impressions are that it’s every bit as good as Shimano’s Dura-Ace disc brakeset, which is high praise indeed. With a lever that mimics the ergonomics of the mechanical versions, save for an 8mm rise that you hardly notice in your eyeline as you ride, you can barely tell the difference in your hands either. There’s plenty of tactile feel along the lever travel before the pads engage with the rotors, and from there it’s all incredibly usable braking power.
This performance is demonstrated continually throughout the ride, yet the drivetrain itself is the super-premium Super Record – and, to be perfectly honest, you can barely tell the difference between it and Record.
That should hardly come as a surprise, given that the two are designed side by side with only the odd change in materials here and there (as well as the branding) to separate the two. The only tangible change is in the chainset, where the hollow cranks help to save a fair chunk of bulk, while the support arm that partially connects the four-arm spider is designed to add extra strength and stability to the ride. In reality, the two groupsets feel almost identical.
Back to the ride, and the rolling coastal road and long, fast descent of the day also give me plenty of time to ride in the big ring while mixing up and down the first seven sprockets of the cassette, which with this 12-speed groupset now all have just single tooth spacings. The rear derailleur never skips a beat, just as it didn’t when asked to shift into the 32t sprocket on the often-rough, steeper gradients earlier in the day.
There, it excelled, with the sprung mechanism inside going a long way to absorb the vibrations from the road – a road that often more closely resembled a dirt track than a tarmac pass. The chain simply moves from one sprocket to the next – cleanly and efficiently; just what you need when pounding down on the pedals as hard as you can to maintain what little forward momentum you have left.
If you're still wondering why a 12th sprocket even matters, it's largely down to the fact riders are increasingly using wider-ranging cassettes. Twelve speed enables riders to expand their gear ratios while maintaining a smoother progression through the block
Indeed, if you're still wondering why a 12th sprocket even matters, it's largely down to the fact riders are increasingly using wider-ranging cassettes, with the 11-32t here a case in point. Whether it's to venture off the beaten track on a dirt road or purely to make life a little easier, bigger cassettes are now commonplace, and 12-speed enables riders to expand their gear ratios while maintaining a smooth progression through the block.
While two short rides aren’t enough to tell us what a groupset is like to live with on a day-to-day basis, they have given us glimpses of the extremely high levels of performance Campagnolo can produce with its latest high-end groupsets. From the get go, we like it, and we’re looking forward to getting more miles in on 12-speed in the future.