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First ride review: Campagnolo Potenza disc brake groupset

Campagnolo's groupset for regular people now features disc brakes, and they’re excellent

Joseph Delves
16 Jun 2017

Campagnolo used to rival Shimano across the board, but in the last few years the Italian component maker has retreated, ceding the budget end of the market in order to concentrate on its top tier groupsets. The firm’s Chorus, Record and Super Record groupsets have consequently become hunks of Fabergé-like carbon and titanium loveliness, with equally Fabergé-esque price tags.

The new Campagnolo Potenza groupset is the company’s attempt to get back into the middle market. Although the levels and pricing between Campagnolo and Shimano groupsets have long since stopped lining up, the all aluminium Potenza is probably pitched to duke it out with the latter's Ultegra components.

With Campagnolo Potenza’s mechanical components already having made it to market (click through to page two), the recent big news at Campagnolo has been the release of their long awaited disc brakes.

Having been in the works for several years they’re going to be launched across the board, rather than trickling down from the top-end groupsets. Here's our exclusive first ride.

Campagnolo Potenza disc brakes

Campagnolo collaborated with German specialists Magura on the design of the hydraulic parts, all of which except the cylinder itself are made and assembled in their own facilities.

Although visually similar to the long teased H11 models on the Super Record, Record and Chorus groupsets, the Potenza brakes use slightly different materials.

However, employing the same design, power is likely to be fairly equal across the range. Like Shimano's systems the brake is designed to use a minimal quantity of mineral oil, rather than the caustic DOT fluid favoured by SRAM.

With the master cylinder and corresponding bleeding port sitting vertically atop the lever, the front section of the hoods has grown slightly versus that on the mechanical shifter.

While somewhat ungainly in appearance they’re certainly no worse in terms of added bulk than the Shimano or SRAM alternatives, and, in our entirely subjective opinion, are possibly a little nicer looking.

The profile of their tops, where the lever transitions forwards from the bar, has a slight hump, unlike the flat shelf-like transition found on SRAM’s.

Ergonomically the units fit the hand remarkably like their mechanical siblings. The brake lever’s bite point can be adjusted between two positions.

This varies the distance between the lever and the bar, and consequently the distance which it must be pulled before the brakes are activated.

A probably unintended consequence of the raised front end of the lever is that it also provides added security when grasping the hoods, particularly when braking over the front of the unit.

The unique curvature of Campagnolo’s mechanical levers remains intact, which also boosts the ability to brake with hands draped over the hoods.

Available in the flush, flat-mount standard only, the callipers retain their steel backplated organic pads via a magnet. This makes for easy fitting and consistent return. The pads' shape is designed so as to help guide the rotor into position, rather than snagging against it.

There are options for both 140mm and 160mm rotors. These are of two piece construction, with an aluminium spider supporting a steel disc.

The idea is that this stops the rotor distorting when hot. To help alleviate concerns about the potentially injurious effect of the spinning rotor its sharp edges have been milled off.

Stopping power

Campagnolo has made some pretty big claims about its brakes ability to outperform the competition. To quote the company: ‘They’ll decelerate at anywhere from 23% to 26% faster depending on the competitor in the wet, and anywhere from 4% to 55% faster in dry conditions and all the while requiring less hand force.’

Unfortunately we weren’t able to test the Campagnolo Potenza disc brakes back-to-back against their rivals. Our hunch would be that in terms of absolute power they’re about comparable to Shimano.

However the feel of the braking action, along with their slick design, provides a lot to recommend them.

While the brakes provide a decent quantity of initial bite at low speed, with a bit of pace and mass behind them on the descents the amount of modulation available becomes apparent.

Modulation is the degree to which you can vary the braking force between just checking your speed and locking the wheel. Basically the more there is, the less you’re likely to worry about skidding out.

Campagnolo’s brakes provide plenty, probably more than their main competitors. The brakes come on gently, with a fairly soft lever feel which we liked.

On extremely long descents we tried our very best to cook the callipers, dragging them for kilometres at a time. The result was a whiff of hot metal, but absolutely no drop in performance.

There was no sign of fluid expansion, which can cause the lever’s bite point to ramp up, and no decrease in stopping power as the pads and rotor heated up.

Shifting

The location and function of the shift levers remains as standard across the Campagnolo range. On the Potenza group pushing the lever behind the brake across its entire swing will only move you up three sprockets.

While this feels a bit measly compared to the five on its higher spec groupsets, in use you barely notice.

The smaller inboard shifter will drop you down one cog at a time. Shifting both front and rear is light yet very positive feeling, while switching chainrings at the front under duress never caused any upsets.

Derailleurs

As standard the shortest cage Potenza can now accommodate up to a 29 tooth largest cog. The longer model will work with a sprocket as large as 32 teeth.

A disc specific crankset?

Although visually identical, Campagnolo are also introducing disc specific cranksets. The reasoning is that the increased spacing required on disc frames with 142mm rear spacing requires the chainline to be re-jigged slightly.

The disc models still maintain the same q-factor, or distance between the pedals.

Campagnolo Potenza: Pricing and availability

The first groupsets are expected to be available imminently and are likely to be priced around £1,400

Head through to page two for our first look at the Campagnolo Potenza groupset with rim brakes

Page 1 of 2First ride review: Campagnolo Potenza disc brake groupset

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Page 1 of 2First ride review: Campagnolo Potenza disc brake groupset