ROAD.CC4.5 OUT OF 5
As it did with 11-speed a decade ago, Campagnolo became the first component manufacturer to reveal a 2x12 groupset this year. And much like last time around, it appears the company has managed to add in the extra sprocket while maintaining – and in some places improving – the performance of its flagship Record and Super Record groupsets overall. If you can afford it and prefer the idiosyncrasies of Campagnolo shifting to its Japanese and American rivals, I can see few if any reasons not to get it on your next bike.
Pros: Improved ergonomics, more gears but same reliability, crisp and positive shifting experience
Cons: Expensive, Campag aficionados might not like the new looks
Having followed the advent of Campag's 12-speed groupsets since they were revealed back in April, and being lucky enough to try them out at the launch in Gran Canaria, I was keen to test it out over a longer period to see if it would impress me as much as it did during my first test rides.
Campagnolo liaised with Canyon to get us a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 9.0 in Team Movistar colours; and with the 12-speed cassette it's arguably an upgrade to the bike that Nairo Quintana and co were riding at grand tours this season, as they decided to stick with the electric version of Campagnolo's 11-speed Super Record groupset (Super Record EPS). Campag launched the mechanical 12-speed groupsets first, with EPS versions in the pipeline. When they're ready, we've no doubt the Campag-equipped pro teams will upgrade.
The groupset on test here is Record Disc Brake, which is second fiddle to Super Record in Campagnolo's hierarchy. Campag likes to think Record is a direct competitor to the top tier groupsets of its rivals (Shimano Dura-Ace and SRAM Red), and Super Record is just better than everything else...
There are no 12-speed options below the Record tier (Campagnolo Chorus has been kept to 11-speed), so it's currently the least expensive option if you want 12-speed tech. Before digging into the details of the Record groupset, it's worth mentioning the differences between Record and Super Record if you were wondering whether it's worth splashing out for the top tier.
With the total groupset weight of Super Record Disc being just 130g lighter than Record, and with the odd slightly more luxurious component upgrade (titanium axle as opposed to steel, carbon fibre front derailleur cage plate instead of forged aluminium), unless you ride for a pro team or have absolutely unlimited funds, it probably makes sense to buy at Record level because it's essentially the same. You'll get identical 12-speed cassettes for both versions, the disc braking components are the same, and Record is £718 cheaper for the full disc groupset.
Claimed weight: 266g
RRP: £302.99 (11-29); £316.99 (11-32)
My test bike came with an 11-29 cassette. Campagnolo only offers two sizes of the new cassettes, 11-29 and 11-32, the reason being that the extra gear sandwiched within it means there's no need to reduce the size of the biggest sprocket to get super-close ratios. Campag claims the closer sprockets make the shifting faster and quieter, and they should even last longer thanks to a new surface treatment. The back six sprockets are in two triplets, and all the spacers are matching thicknesses to make mounting a little easier.
The 11-29 cassette jumps up in one-tooth increments all the way to the seventh sprocket, and from then on goes to 19, 21, 23, 26 and 29. With no jump bigger than three teeth (on the 11-32 cassette it's four, going from 28 to 32t at the back) even the pros no longer need anything closer than 11-29 according to Campag, and it has no plans to make 12-speed cassettes with closer ratios.
Some may wonder if it's a missed opportunity not actually making the range bigger instead of adding gears in, but for me these groupsets are for road racing, and 11-32 is plenty enough paired with a compact chainset.
Owners of 11-speed Campag wheels looking to upgrade will be pleased to know the freehub spacing for the new cassette is the same, achieved by making the cassette sprockets thinner.
Over the test period I really grew to love the super-small jumps between gears, it really allows you to hone in on your ideal ratio. The only thing I would say is it's possible to maybe perform unnecessary shifts in the quest for the perfect cadence, and if ever I switched from my 9-speed town bike to this for my next ride it was strange making five or six shifts and still being in the middle of the cassette. I spent a fair bit of time looking back at my cassette to see if I needed to shift the front mech while I was getting used to it, after losing count.
As long as you don't get too obsessive in this way, then more gear choice is only ever going to be a good thing, and thanks to the flawless performance of the mechs and shifters it works incredibly well.
Claimed weight: 220g
The thinner sprockets of course mean a thinner chain, and Campag claims it has managed to slim it down without reducing the strength or reliability one jot. I can't really disagree here; it seemed as efficient and smooth as Campag's previous 11-speed Record and anything else I've ridden. I did manage to throw my chain off once on a descent but I'll put that down to bad luck and putting too much force through the pedals when I was out of gears, because it never came close to happening again.
Claimed weight: 710g
The chainset is offered in 53/39, 52/36 and 50/34 sizes, and there's been a pretty big aesthetic overhaul compared with the 11-speed version before. The new hole-free driveside crank is designed to provide a fairing of sorts, improving aerodynamics. The crankset can be installed on any frame regardless of whether it's being used with disc brakes or not because it's optimised to keep a perfect chain line, and a constant Q factor of 145.5mm.
I rode the 52/36 chainset and my experience was a smooth one throughout the test period, with the steel axle combined with Campag's Ultra Torque bottom bracket making for a flex-free and stiff feeling through the pedals. I changed front the big to little ring and back again at various ridiculous angles throughout my test period and it worked flawlessly every time, no matter what I asked of it.
For what it's worth, I like the look of it even if it's a bit of a departure from Campag's usual; and although we can't quantify potential aero gains without a wind tunnel, I like that Campag is considering aerodynamics on the new chainsets.
Claimed weight: 81g
The new Record front mech is aluminium with steel rods, and allows for up to 32mm tyres. Campag says less effort is needed to make shifts thanks to a split front link rod, which avoids any contact with the travel limit screw.
The shape of the cage plate is designed to work specifically with the new 12-speed chain to avoid any rubbing at any angles, and even though Campagnolo doesn't officially recommend it (cross-chaining), I found my bike was perfectly rideable in 52x29 for short periods.
Campagnolo has also designed the front mech to make micro-adjustments to its position for each individual shift to avoid any chain contact, and it appears to work a treat.
Claimed weight: 216g
The carbon-reinforced technopolymer rear derailleur incorporates 3D Embrace technology, which Campagnolo says allows the chain to maintain optimium traction, increase the speed of the shifting and keep the derailleur at the optimum distance from the sprockets. It also says the large 12-tooth pulley wheels make for a smoother chain movement, which is along the same line of thinking as the gloriously expensive Ceramic Speed oversized pulley system.
All the screws and the barrel adjuster are easy to access for making adjustments, not that I really needed to at all over my test period apart from a very small bit of barrel adjustment. The action of the mech and positioning is also placed rearward, which makes wheel removal and replacement easier.
Shifters and levers
Claimed weight: 463g (inc disc callipers)
RRP: £875.98 (inc disc callipers)
The shifters look pretty similar to the H11 versions before them, and the hydraulic ones on test are just 8mm taller than the rim brake versions – creating no noticeable difference in the ergonomics. Taking away the 12-speed thing, I think the ergonomics are where Campag is ahead of the competition. They just feel super-comfortable, with Campag's Vari-Cushion providing plenty of cushioning that kept my hands blister-free during rides of 100+ miles.
The carbon brake levers have been refined with a more pronounced double curvature, and you can also adjust the reach from the grip to suit different hand sizes simply by turning a screw on the inside of the lever.
Campag's signature paddles have also grown to make them easier to click, and I think they're an improvement over the 11-speed versions, especially when making gear changes from the drops or when out of the saddle. The multi-shift mechanism remains, which allows you to perform five shifts down the cassette with one lever throw, or three shifts up by holding the paddle down with your thumb, and the levers underneath the paddles are also plenty big enough and easy to access.
Campag shifting is a different beast to Shimano and SRAM, and there's definitely a good old 'clunk' when you click the paddle. For me, that's great as you can really feel the action and the gear changes are decisive, but I can appreciate some will prefer Shimano's more discreet-sounding shifts.
My test bike came with 160mm rotors, and Campag's hydraulic braking offers fantastic power and modulation while keeping fairly quiet when the rain starts coming down. It's easily as good as the competition, if not better. The flat-mount callipers have metal plates within them to stop vibrations during braking, and a magnetic system reduces friction when you release the brake levers. They also affix with just two screws, making them easy to change and adjust.
The brake pads have clear wear indicators so you know when they're due a change, and they're also rounded to further speed up wheel changes and rotor insertion.
Comparing the price to high-end 11-speed groupsets isn't exactly fair because this is a world first, but for reference it is more expensive than the Shimano Dura-Ace 9120 mechanical disc groupset (link is external), which has an rrp of £2,044.91.
You can also pick up an 11-speed SRAM Red eTap electronic groupset (link is external) for quite a bit less, so yes, it is expensive.
The price may seem easier to swallow when bought on an actual bike, and Campagnolo has partnered with plenty of brands such as Canyon, Cervelo and Cannondale to offer 12-speed on off-the-peg bikes. The Canyon Ultimate as I rode it, with Bora 50 carbon wheels, is for sale on Canyon's website for £5,099 (link is external); while that's beyond my budget and many others reading this I'm sure, it doesn't actually seem like bad value considering the price of some top-of-the-range bikes.
Overall, I was very impressed with Record 12-speed, and I wasn't alone. To get a second opinion I begrudgingly allowed my colleague Dave Arthur to ride my test bike for a week to see if he agreed... He did, emphatically so, with both of us coming away feeling that it's better than we expected. Any worries about how a 2x12 mechanism would cope appear to be unfounded – it works flawlessly and as well if not better than any 11-speed groupset I've used, just with the extra gear.
The only reason the score isn't perfect is because the price puts it out of reach for most of us, and the aesthetics might disappoint some fans of the classic Campag looks. Overall: 12-speed is here, and it's really rather good.
Performs flawlessly with more gears – Campagnolo has moved road groupsets to 12-speed with great success
To view this groupset please see here.