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Campagnolo Athena Groupset review

17 Jun 2015

A Campagnolo user stands out from other cyclists just by having a non-standard groupset.

Cyclist Rating: 
Exclusive Italian Style, Excellent function
The most expensive, requires Campagnolo compatible wheels.

Are you are planning an upgrade to 11-speed or building a bike from scratch? We put the entry-point 11-speed groupsets from Shimano, SRAM & Campagnolo to the test to see how they faired. It's now Campagolos turn.

If you want a job done properly, do it yourself. It might sound churlish, but when it comes to choosing a bike, very often the compromises involved with buying off the peg are just too great, so going it alone – speccing each part around a frame of your choosing – makes a lot of sense. It also opens up a whole world of frame choices, such as the Kinesis Aithein we tested back in issue six, or the Niner RLT we reviewed in issue two – great frames that require your input.

This groupset is the entry-level 11-speed option from Campagnolo. By shopping around, you should be able to build a bike from scratch with any of these for under £2,000, using a really nice frame and fork; if you already own a nice bike with a cheaper groupset, this is the best way to upgrade. Either do it yourself (you’ll need bottom bracket and chain tools, cable cutters and potentially some new allen keys) or work with your local bike shop to get the parts installed professionally


Campagnolo has an interesting take on brakes, offering the Athena 11 groupset with either dual-pivots front and rear, or, for a combination of dual-pivot front, single-pivot rear. Single-pivot brakes are rare these days on road bikes, since they offer less absolute power than dual pivots, but the trade-off is better modulation. We’ve ridden both set-ups and found plenty of power with both – the vast majority of braking force is applied through the front wheel, so leaving that front brake unchanged across both set-ups means the actual slowing distance remains relatively unchanged. Modulation is good in both set-ups too – powerful, with no noticeable flex from the heavily machined arms, and with high-quality pads as standard.


Campagnolo offers Athena with either alloy or carbon shifters. We ended up with the lighter carbon ones for this review, having previously used the alloy versions on numerous test bikes. Campagnolo has been in the integrated gear shifter/brake lever game since the early ’90s so it’s no surprise to find a refined, European-made product here. To shift into an easier gear at the back, you swing the large paddle that sits behind the brake lever, to move up as many as three sprockets at a time. Dropping back is done one at a time using a thumb shifter on the inside of the lever. Coming from SRAM or Shimano, the shape of the brake lever does take a couple of rides to get used to – it’s dramatically curved and we often find our fingers reaching for the deepest recesses of the levers when braking from the hoods, which feels odd. Braking in the drops, however, feels fantastic from the start. 


Campagnolo persisted with (beautiful) square-taper cranks for longer than most, but have since moved to an external-bearing bottom bracket system – in this instance, Power Torque, which has a full-length axle bonded to the drive-side crank. Campag also uses a system called Ultra Torque where, uniquely, the cranks join in the middle of the frame (Power Torque is far closer to the systems Shimano and SRAM use). The chainset as a whole is less refined than the Asian offerings, but shifting is still good, and the traditional look will undoubtedly appeal to many. It’s available in traditional 53/39 rings, or compact 50/34 or 52/36 configurations. Crank lengths are 170, 172.5 or 175mm. Athena shares its cassette and chain with Campagnolo’s more expensive Chorus groupset. There are seven cassettes available, from the intensely racy 11-23 to a more human 12-29. It’s worth noting that if you intend to switch to Campag, you need to use wheels with a Campag-style freehub body – it uses a different spline pattern to the Shimano and SRAM systems.
There’s nothing much clever about the front or rear derailleurs, and that’s no bad thing, for they shift gear quickly and confidently with minimal fuss. The weight for all these parts is right in between Shimano and SRAM; the only issue is the price – at least at RRP.


It’s hard not to feel a certain fondness for Campagnolo – performance is charmingly unobtrusive, and on certain frames, say a classic steel Colnago, it really would be sacrilege to spec anything other than an Italian drivetrain. There’s more at play here than romance, though, and performance is absolutely comparable to SRAM and Shimano, with ergonomics a particular strong point. The shifters, for instance, might feel different at first, but by the time you’re out into the lanes, you’ll have become accustomed to the curve of the brake levers and begun to enjoy the easy opposing thumb and forefinger shifting up and down the block. The other advantage to Campagnolo – and we’ll admit this is perhaps pure vanity – is exclusivity: Campagnolo is specced as standard equipment on so few bikes that being a Campag user marks you out as a connoisseur who has gone to the trouble of building their own machine from parts. For many, that alone is worth a lot, but even judged on its performance rather than aesthetics, Athena holds it own.

Brakes Weight: 324g  Price: £90

Brake levers Weight: 373g  Price: from £190

Crankset Weight: 764g  Price: from £136

Cassette Weight: 277g  Price: from £113

Front derailleur Weight: 92g  Price: £33

Rear derailleur Weight: 211g  Price: £93

Chain Weight: 255g  Price: £36

TOTAL Weight: 2,296g  Price: £691

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