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Campagnolo Super Record 12-Speed groupset review

1 Oct 2018
Verdict:

Slick-performing groupset that sets the new standard

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
Approx £2,600 (rim brake mechanical)
For 
Crisp gear changes and elegant good looks
Against 
Doesn’t provide a greater range than current 11-speed options

Campagnolo is the groupset of choice for the cycling connoisseur. That’s not to say it functions better than any other brand of groupset, rather that it has a history and indefinable desirability that the others just can’t match.

It certainly has its critics. Campagnolo’s groupsets are often cited as being over-priced and lacking the clinical efficiency of Shimano’s equivalents, and Campy-philes have been accused of choosing bling over functionality.

But that is to do the Italian company a disservice.

Buy Campagnolo Super Record 12 Speed Groupset from Chain Reaction Cycles now

Campagnolo is far from being a heritage brand. Rather than resting on its laurels, it is often the first to try new concepts. It led the way with 10-speed groupsets in 2000 and was the first to produce 11-speed for the road in 2008.

Now it has done it again with the first 12-speed road groupset.

What’s new?

The most obvious change to this latest version of Super Record (the new 12-speed is currently available at Super Record and Record levels in both rim and disc brake formats, with EPS electronic to follow in the coming months) is the addition of the extra sprocket.

Miraculously, Campagnolo has managed to squeeze it in without taking up any additional space, so the new 12-speed cassette will fit onto the same freehub body as the previous 11-speed – no need to change wheels when you change groupsets.

Campagnolo has made the sprockets fit by making them thinner and reducing the space between them. By necessity, the chain needs to be thinner too, but Campagnolo assures us that ‘new technologies’ have been employed to ensure the chain and sprockets are as robust and hard-wearing as ever.

At present there are two 12-speed cassettes on offer: 11-29t or 11-32t. This means that although there are now more gears on offer, the range of gears hasn’t actually changed from what was available with 11-speed.

However Campagnolo is adamant that the 12th sprocket is not the only highlight of the new Super Record, and indeed insists that it is almost a side-effect of an overall upgrade of the entire system.

Starting from the front of the bike, the hoods and levers have been reshaped to make them more ergonomic and make shifting feel more natural.

In real terms this means the hoods are slightly larger and more curved, and the levers have a touch of extra flare at the bottom to help fingers engage with them more easily.

The thumb shift button on the inside of the hoods is also slightly larger, and the pivot points for the levers have been adjusted to make them more mechanically efficient.

The cables and housings have been re-engineered to reduce friction, which should not only make for smoother shifts but also increase the longevity of the cables.

Both the front and rear derailleurs have been redesigned so that they move in a more refined trajectory, keeping the jockey wheels closer to the cassette and allowing the chain to run smoothly.

Again, this should have the dual benefit of improved shifting and increased longevity.

Perhaps the most noticeable change to the whole system is the crankset. Where before there was a large hole at its centre, now it has been filled in and smoothed over such that the cranks and chainrings blend together seamlessly.

Campagnolo says this aids aerodynamics and increases stiffness, and the shape of the chainring teeth has been made more symmetrical to reduce friction in cases of extreme chain crossing.

There’s also a new spider bolting pattern and an additional carbon fibre ‘brace’ on the chainrings for added strength, but what most people will notice is that the logo has changed.

Out goes the refined lettering of old, to be replaced with something altogether more modern looking and sporty.

All in all, the new Super Record groupset is aimed at being more efficient, easier to use and with the benefit of an extra gear, without any penalty in weight (this spec comes in at a claimed 2,041g, which is only slightly heavier than the previous version despite the extra sprocket), safety or longevity.

So how does it ride?

Shifting perceptions

I was fortunate enough to be at the launch of Campagnolo 12-speed in March 2018, and have since had several months of regular riding on the latest Campagnolo Super Record 12-speed groupset.

I have always considered Super Record to be the prettiest of all the groupsets – call me shallow, but I think the way components look is really important – and so let’s start with the aesthetics.

My first impression of the new Super Record was that the company had spoiled its looks. With the smoothed-over crankset and go-faster lettering along the crank arm, it seemed somehow cheapened in comparison to its predecessors.

The elegant skeleton-armed brake levers have disappeared to be replaced by more chunky (apparently more aerodynamic) numbers, and where previously there was a lovely weave-effect to the carbon components, now they are mostly just black.

My initial perception was that it all looked a little bit too much like – gasp – Shimano Dura-Ace.

However, over time my opinion has softened. Not only has the overall look of the groupset grown on me, I have come to realise that the updated look combines more elegantly with a number of different bikes.

Where once a Super Record setup could look out of place on some modern race bikes – with frame and groupset vying for attention – now it works more in harmony.

It’s a smart move that might help to see more Campy specced as standard on retail bikes.

In terms of feel, the updated hoods and levers are definitely a winner. As someone with fairly large hands, I’ve always found Campagnolo hoods to be a touch on the small side, which made me feel that my grip was not as secure as it might be, especially compared to the giant pistol grips of Sram.

The new Super Record hoods are more confidence-inspiring to handle, but still maintain their elegant looks (Sram’s big square things are pretty ugly).

The levers are easy to manipulate and I happen to be a fan of the one-lever-one-function method of shifting that Campagnolo champions.

Most importantly, the shifting itself has lost none of the solid clunk that Campagnolo is renowned for. Even with the thinner chain and sprockets, there is no flimsiness, and doubt about when you have changed gear.

It is the aspect of Campagnolo groupsets that I like most – the really positive shift – and I’m happy that it has remained intact on this latest iteration.

Indeed, when I discussed it with Campagnolo’s global marketing and communication director, Lorenzo Taxis, he replied, ‘It [the Campagnolo feel] is not just important – it’s more than important.

'There are some things that can never change.’

Shifts are not just positive, they are also smooth and direct, with the front shift from one chainring to the other proving particularly sharp. There’s no grinding or grating, just click-clunk, click-clunk, click-clunk.

Considering the tolerances required to squeeze in that extra sprocket, the smoothness and robustness of the gear shifting really is a miracle.

Without taking the groupset into a lab to test aerodynamics and stiffness against previous iterations and competitor models, it’s hard to say how well it compares on those attributes, but just going by feel and functionality it is hard to fault the new Super Record.

If there is any slight disappointment with the groupset, it lies with that 12th sprocket. Had no one told me it was there (and I hadn’t bothered to count my shifts up and down the cassette) I would never have realised it existed.

Its addition doesn’t add any greater range of gears than was there before, and I failed to notice any smoother or easier transition through the gears than I did using 11-speed.

Perhaps that says more about my sensitivity as a rider than it does about the efficacy of 12-speed, and perhaps pros will value the slightly smaller jumps between gears, but it does render the excitement of being first to 12-speed something of an anti-climax.

Had Campagnolo managed to do something revolutionary, such as adding a 10-tooth sprocket (not possible without changing the freehub body), then the resulting vast range of potential gears would have been genuinely game-changing.

As it is, I failed to sense any real benefit from having 24 gears at my disposal. So does that mean that it is a pointless upgrade?

Taxis answers that question like this: ‘I remember when we launched 11-speed, one of your colleagues asked me, “But is it really needed?” And I said I don’t know if it’s needed, but 11x2 means 22 options, and 22 is better than 20.’

Of course, he’s absolutely right. When I think back 10 years, most of us couldn’t discern any real benefit when 11-speed groupsets appeared to replace 10-speed.

But now we all (ok, most of us) ride 11-speed and wouldn’t dream of going back to 10-speed.

It’s the same with 12-speed. It may be hard to see its immediate benefit, but it will almost certainly become the standard, and one day we will wonder how we ever got by with just 22 gears on our bike.

When all those new 12-speed groupsets appear, let’s just hope they are anywhere near as good as the Campagnolo Super Record.

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