Yesterday was theoretical… today we got empirical. After learning the history of the project and then the tech behind Campagnolo’s new electronic groups last night, we loaded up and transferred to the base of Mount Etna for 2 hours on first run production Super Record EPS equipped Pinarello Dogmas.
These are only first ride impressions, over unfamiliar roads, some of which were covered while cross-eyed and trying to stick to Movistar rider, Francisco Ventoso’s wheel. A true review will follow as we get multiple rides on an EPS equipped bike on roads we know.
My first concern was the Campy mystique, the Campy ‘feel’. For all the claims of technology, stiffness and weight, I believe most riders choose Campy because of the brand’s history and the ‘feel’ they create at the lever. While their mechanical clicks may feel a little less defined than the other brands, no other components put the chain and the derailleur as close to your finger tips as Campy. Those new black on black carbon aesthetics don’t hurt either. If this ‘feel’ was lost, well, in my mind all the electronic magic in the world would be wasted.
The ‘feel’ is not lost. The Italians have some how managed to make the EPS levers feel Campy to the core. Retaining the ErgoPower layout helps, but the amount of effort it takes to engage the shift is just right. Enough feedback to know you are interfacing with your bike and its hardware at the rear end. Campy did not just get this right, they got it perfect. Levers that feel 100% Campy, yet drive electronics.
The push and hold feature that lets you drive the chain across the cassettes, up or down, in one motion is another standout feature and something the 3 up and 5 down mechanical Campy can’t match, not to mention any other drivetrain on the market. While the reported 1.5 seconds to travel the entire cassette was not put to the stopwatch, it sounds accurate. Other than playing with it, just because we could, I found myself utilizing the feature over the rolling terrain on multiple occasions. While never needing to travel from my 28 to my 11 in one fell swoop, I was frequently crossing 4 or 5 cogs. Knowing how many cogs you travel as you hold the lever down is pretty irrelevant. When your cadence feels better, let go of the lever and the derailleur stops instantly.
Front shifting, with the extra torque the motor delivers, is possible while standing on the pedals, something no mechanical system delivers. In fact, it feels smoother the more power you lay down. It was not however, very fast. Hit the lever to shift, especially into the big ring, and there can be a slight delay (half a second) before the cage swings over and shifts the chain. We would attribute this to the front derailleur waiting until the chain ring ramps are in the optimal position. It makes the front shift very smooth, but not instantaneous.
As for the speed of the rear shifts, we would estimate it may be slightly slower than Di2, from cog to cog, while faster across multiple cogs. There is also a bit more chain noise as shifts engage than Di2 creates.
After about an hour of riding, during which time I must have initiated a weeks worth of shifts, I was a bit disappointed the system was working so flawlessly. I wanted a chance to play with the hood mounted mode buttons. These are two buttons inboard of the thumb levers that are used to set the system up, as well as fine tune the system while riding. I didn’t let a perfectly tuned drive train stop me, I hit the right mode button for 6 seconds, the interface flashed purple, and I was in adjust mode. Each lever then acts like a barrel adjuster, changing the derailleur position in tiny increments. Another push of the mode button, and you are back to normal shift mode. All of this is achievable while riding in a tight pack at full speed because your hands never have to leave the levers. Perfect for a mid-criterium wheel change.
In short, the system works and it works very well. It brings some real differentiation to the electronic market, and beyond that, can be truly said to offer performance you simply can’t get with Campy’s mechanical counterparts, or any other system, mechanical or electronic. But most importantly, this product is pure Campagnolo, from the feel at the levers, to the carbon, titanium and ceramic lavished on the product.
Stay tuned for more in depth tech and a full review soon.