Most recreational riders or amateur racers make their groupset decision based on any one of a number of reasons. Some of these are well founded, some are based around prejudiced cycling folk lore and sometimes the decision is based purely upon what their professional cycling heroes race on the international road circuit. Some professional cyclists might go their entire career riding on one manufacturer’s groupset. Others, through team and sponsor changes, will have had put both Shimano and Campagnolo to the test under the ultimate race conditions.
At the start of the 2006 Giro d’Italia, Australian Matt White gave his opinions on the two major manufacturers and their top of the line groupsets. After leaving Campagnolo-equipped Cofidis at the end of 2005, White returned to his Shimano-equipped former team, Discovery Channel (known as the United States Postal Service when he was there from 2001 to 2003) for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
‘The biggest thing I found was the lever shape. I’ve got quite small hands and I quite enjoyed riding with the Campag levers,’ is how White described what he saw as the major difference between the two manufacturers. ‘The Shimano levers feel at least a centimetre longer than the Campag ones and even from how they used to be before the change from nine to 10 speed.’
White was at USPS when Shimano introduced the 10 speed Dura-Ace groupset and it brought about the need for some mid-season alterations amongst the team. ‘I found it a little bit harder when we changed from nine to 10 speed in the middle of the season because you are out a bit further. That’s why you find a lot of the guys do kick their handlebars up a little bit.’ The Australian added.
‘It depends on the position that you do ride on the bike, because with the Shimano levers you can hold them in a couple of different places. It depends on what’s right for you. With the Campag ones, I used to have them straight out and flat. They have the little hood on the end and that worked out well for me.’
So is that it? The only difference between the two major component manufacturers is the shape of their levers. Surely there has to be more to the Campagnolo – Shimano rivalry than that. When pressed, White did have one small gripe he remembered from his time at Cofidis, using the equipment of the Italian manufacturer. ‘I remember that we had a problem with chains, but, to be honest, with Campag and Shimano I don’t find too much of a difference.’
Personal preference seems to be a significant, but often underplayed reason that people who pay for their own equipment choose one manufacturer over the other. Professional cyclists do not get to make a decision about the major components that they ride on their team bikes. Gone, however, are the days when riders were forced to ride inferior equipment to satisfy a commercial agreement negotiated by a team owner. Today, if the equipment doesn’t function well, the teams simply will not use it.
‘When the equipment is kept in good condition and replaced regularly, like it is on our race bikes, we don’t have too many stuff ups from either groupset. I’m happy to ride both. White concluded.