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Campagnolo has turned it up to 11 for its top-end groupsets this year, but is it marketing spin or is more genuinely better for this Italian job?
11-speed cassette, £124.99 – Rating:
The new Ultra-Drive 11-speed cogs are thinner and mounted on stiffer, lighter aluminium cog carriers than previous years' models. Handily, though, these slot straight onto all Campag-compatible wheels produced over the past decade.
The cassette teeth are shaped to reduce stress on the chain, which should address any concerns about chain wear. We love the delightful ‘ping’ when shifting to a bigger cog on a steep climb, and found that the 11th cog genuinely is good news for cyclists. How? With virtually seamless gear changes it’s easier to maintain a steady cadence.
The 11-23 block we tested should only be partnered with a compact chainset though, as the smallest cog is too big a gear to turn effectively when used with standard 53/39 rings.
Options available: 11-23, 11-25, 12-25, 12-27
Actual weight 242g; claimed weight 236g
Rear mech, £169.99 – Rating:
A change in the appearance of the Chorus rear mech was long overdue and it has ﬁnally received a makeover for the move to 11 gears. The carbon composite outer link remains, but for 2009 it’s wider and the pivot pins are longer – so there is less likelihood of wear to the moving parts and it should be more durable.
Out on the road we found shifting both up and down was quieter, thanks to vibration-absorbing pulley wheels. In line with the new and more race-orientated image, the 12-29 cassette and medium cage rear gear have been dropped from 2009 Chorus, but the lowest gears in the 12-27 cassette combined with a 50/34T compact chainset are sufﬁcient for the kind of rider this 11-speed groupset is aimed at. A ﬁnal plus is that we found the 11-speed system both easy to set up and adjust.
Actual weight 193g; claimed weight 192g
Chain, £39.99 – Rating:
Campag considered at least one strange-looking chain for their new 11-speed system, but in the end the Vicenza-based ﬁrm opted to reduce the width of its 10-speed chain down from 5.9mm to 5.5mm for 11-speed, while retaining the special PTFE coating for long life.
The reduced width shaves 10 grams off the weight, taking it down to 239g for 114 links. But for weight weenies there’s always the Record version with hollow pins, if you’re really desperate to knock 17g off your bike’s weight.
Our early experiences suggest the 11-speed chain is going to be just as long-lasting as Chorus’s previous 10-speed version. But we feel other chain manufacturers will quickly be in on the act with their own versions, as the cost of Campag’s special tool for rejoining the chain is prohibitive.
Actual weight 239g; claimed weight 224g
Ultra-Torque chainset, £337.99 – Rating:
Like 2008’s Chorus chainset, this year’s model is carbon with aluminium chainrings. These have an anodised surface for what Campag calls its ‘ESP’ (Enhanced Shifting Performance) Actuation System. This is claimed to help move the chain to the large chainring more effectively when shifting under pressure.
Shifting is certainly smooth and impressive, and quieter than Centaur’s, and we reckon the surface treatment is the reason for this. We also found it satisfactorily stiff when cranking up the gears.
The steel axle is moulded to each crank arm and separated in the middle using a toothed link – a neat and effective solution. It results in a Q-factor (the distance between the outside face of both cranks) 5mm narrower than most, with a weight just 40g heavier than Shimano Dura-Ace’s benchmark-setting 7900 crankset.
Options available: 34/50 compact, 39/52, 39/53
Actual weight 690g; claimed weight 690g
Brakes, £119.99 – Rating:
We’re relieved that Campag have addressed our concerns with previous Skeleton brakes by improving the pad compound for more progressive stopping power. These really are much better than earlier models.
Campag have dropped the option of the more powerful ‘double fulcrum’ dual pivot brakes in favour of one model based on its ‘differential system’ – you get a rear calliper with a single pivot and a front one with a more powerful dual pivot, where most of a bike’s braking power is needed.
It proved an excellent combination in practice, with sufﬁcient stopping power and controllability. What more do you want from brakes? Another plus is that the 40-50mm reach adjustment from bolt centre to brake block centre provides clearance for most bikes ﬁtted with mudguards.
Actual weight 321g; claimed weight 318g
Ultra-Shift levers, £229.99 – Rating:
Campag have found a happy medium with their new Ultra-Shift levers, combining the light action of the outgoing Chorus QS with the ability to trim the front mech incrementally in order to banish chain rub.
The dual-density Vari-Cushion rubber hoods now have a subtle inward-leaning ‘horn’ that makes it easier to get a really ﬁrm grip on them when you’re climbing out of the saddle, and the subtle reshaping of the inner levers makes a more natural shape for your thumbs.
The NoBulge cable housing path is ﬁddly to feed cables through, but the ﬂatter hood proﬁle does help to distribute pressure points, and the optional insert alters the lever angle for riders with large hands. Overall, we reckon these are the most highly developed part of the groupset – smooth and versatile, and those inserts really are handy.
Actual weight 348g pair; claimed weight 339g pair
Ultra-Shift front mech, £72.99 – Rating:
Handily, this will work with virtually any double chainset out there. The geometry has been altered this year to better resist the high lateral forces exerted when shifting to the large chainring. Along with this, the Z-shaped back plate reduces the twisting forces exerted on the mech. We’re not sure it’s any faster than the 10-speed but it’s certainly comparable with Dura-Ace in terms of speed and shifting accuracy.
Maximum chainring size 54T, minimum 34T
Actual weight 88g (bang on)
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By Will Jones