Campagnolo’s design- what am I missing?

Road 25 6
Campy derailleurs- then and now

left photo: http://www.disraeligears.co.uk, right photo- Campagnolo

I mentioned Campagnolo’s new electronic (EPS) groups briefly in a post on Tuesday, but I didn’t share my first impressions after seeing the components. I will preface my opinions by pointing out that I have not seen the groups in person, I am only going by the pictures I have seen on the web. Bike Radar/ Cyclingnews tech editor James Huang is one of the few people who have actually ridden a bike equipped with the new Super Record EPS group, so I encourage you to check out his ride review to learn more about how it performs from a functional standpoint.

It has been a while since I have posted specifically about Campy, but nothing they have done the past few years has changed my mind.  I still just don’t understand the company’s design direction these days. In the past, Campy components were beautiful and elegant with jewelry-like finishes and amazing attention to detail. Today…well…I just don’t get it.

I left a comment (rant) about the new groups on a post at Byron DL’s Google + page earlier, and I will share that comment with you here:

Mid 80s Campagnolo C- Record grouppo

Mid 80s C-Record grouppo: one of the best looking component sets of all time

“So…is anyone talking about how ugly this group is? I just don’t understand the aesthetic that Campy is going for these days. When C-Record was introduced back in the 80s, nothing else even came close from a visual standpoint. That aero crankset, the delta brakes, the beautifully sculpted rear derailleur…all were several steps above the competition in attention to detail and aesthetics in general.

Somewhere along the line though, Campy dropped the ball and started making functional, but ugly, components. I am sure that the hardcore Campyphiles will disagree, but I see Shimano and SRAM introducing visually pleasing grouppos, while everything from Campagnolo looks like a chunky, rough prototype wrapped in carbon. Seriously, I want someone to tell me with a straight face that is not the ugliest rear derailleur they have ever seen.

Beyond aesthetics though, I don’t see the same level of functional innovation from Campy anymore either. The components work well (and rebuildable brifters are nice), but Shimano has led the way in drivetrain innovations in the 20 years or so (with indexed shifting, STI, Cassette freehubs, etc.). There is no doubt that Tullio Campagnolo’s inventions changed the bicycle dramatically over the last 80 years, but what has the company that bears his name really done lately that is truly innovative? I still want to like Campy, but if they desire to continue commanding a premium for their products, they should work harder to set them apart from the competition…or they should at least try to make them look good.”

Maybe I was a bit harsh, and I certainly don’t except everyone to agree. I would love to hear your opinions about the design of these EPS groups and about Campagnolo design in general though. Have they lost their position as design leaders in the industry… or am I just missing something?

Update: In addition to the pics and video on Bike Radar, you can see more detail shots of the new EPS components at Bicycling and VeloNews.

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25 Comments

    • jack March 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm -  Reply

      I think this author is totally wrong. The new dura-ace with the flat black finish looks cheap and probably saves Shimano a lot of polishing money which they pocket. The Delta brakes were very heavy with zero modulation and were not good brakes. Pretty doesn’t make it at 45 m.p.h. The best gruppo ever made was the 7800 dura-ace. the cranks are beautiful and the parts shine and shift a lot better than the new dura-ace. But Shimano needs to keep on selling the consumer something that they don’t really need. They make hollow chainrings which cost $250 to replace. How many of you out there are going to buy a $5000 Campy electric gruppo? Maybe Mr.Lance Livewrong………

  1. Jorvay November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm -  Reply

    As somebody who doesn’t care for aesthetics one bit, I like riding my Campy kit because it does exactly what it should do (just like Shimano and Sram) but has the slight advantage of providing the most comfortable hoods of the three.
    I’m of that group that believes that if you have time to stare at your bike and judge its appearance, then you aren’t riding it as much as you could be.

    • christian November 11, 2011 at 10:34 pm -  Reply

      I agree completely. I ride Campag now, rode Shimano before and will try SRAM in the future. None of them have a monopoly on ugly looking groupsets. I’ll take functionality anyday. Scrolling down the front page of this site I’ve seen more eyesores than I care to remember. If this is the future of bike design then it’s better to not place too much emphasis on the visuals.

  2. ross November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm -  Reply

    Add ‘heavy’ as well. (At least regarding no-carbon fiber.) They have been leaning away from the light alloys that made them not just aesthetically appealing but always competitively light and strong. They used to use forged alloys, now it seems they’re using the casting methods Sugino and Shimano used in the 80′s and 90′s on midlevel bikes.
    The Campy stuff might be ugly but the Shimano Dura Ace cranks of the past several years with that boxy design looks more like a flaccid penis, (look at a 2006 model) not an elegant design. My tastes run toward vintage Sampson, Topline, and Magic Motorcycle cranks before Cannondale bought them. Or for a treat, google Ofmega Mistral cranksets from the mid 80′s. THAT was design.

    • Stephen Almond November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm -  Reply

      flaccid? I thought those Dura Ace cranks were amongst the stiffest!

    • Sascha November 12, 2011 at 12:34 am -  Reply

      Heavy? They’re on par or lighter than they’re competitors…

  3. Milessio November 11, 2011 at 7:35 am -  Reply

    For an in-depth review of Camagnolo, check out the 10 pages: http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/italian-job

    Campy used to produce elegant, well performing groupsets ranging from the top-end Record down to the lower mid range. Now they seem to have lost the elegance & abandoned the lower ranges.

    Skeleton brakes seemed good in principal, but only saved weight by using single pivot rear; and lost the elegance of the original design.

    The EPS groupsets look functional & assume work well, but unfortunately nothing more (except RD having breakaway feature). Where’s the ‘Classics’ battery for one day of racing? With aerodynamics being such buzz, why no aero aesthetic?

    Having owned Campy for almost 20yrs, I do want them to keep fighting, but they seem to be fighting Shimano & SRAM head-on, and being 1/10th the size how can they win? No, 12spd won’t do it!

    • Sascha November 12, 2011 at 12:33 am -  Reply

      I love classic Campagnolo and have a few bikes with the stuff but you guys are all stuck back in the retro days…people want carbon components in a stealth black these days! Just look at http://weightweenies.starbike.com/

      Campy are trying to keep up with the Jones’s next door and centre-pull callipers just don’t cut it anymore. I think they’re doing a pretty good job when considering the size of they’re competitors, in one aspect you complain about their lower end ensembles but still expect high quality, classic styled components through the range.

      Think you’re expecting a bit too much…

      • Nick F November 12, 2011 at 11:57 am -  Reply

        I think that’s exactly the problem though – most of their new stuff just looks like generic carbon crap.

        It wouldn’t be hard to make the components lighter, stronger, and more considered – Rather than using omnidirectional carbon or a standard weave fabric , they should have custom fabrics made where the weave matches the stresses and movements of the component.

        This sounds expensive, sure, but I think you’re right about one thing – Campy’s volume is fairly low. They should treat that as an asset, however, and use the lower volume to make each of their components more bespoke. They are already way more expensive than their competitors… why not make it a little more expensive and give people something spectacular?

  4. Torben Finn Laursen November 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm -  Reply

    James, I totally agree with you, that past Campagnolo were design masterpieces, but compared to what Shimano perform today, again from a purely aesthetic point of view, they are still leading. Japanese gear levers is a disaster, clumsy and without ergonomics. SRAM is somewhere in between, again on design. In overall functionality SRAM is still no. 1 l in my openion. But Italian design mama mia

  5. etienne November 11, 2011 at 11:23 pm -  Reply

    “a chunky, rough prototype wrapped in carbon” that is it! They should, as many others too, get over the “carbon sells” marketing statment that gets you nowhere.

  6. Ross Nicholson November 12, 2011 at 2:57 am -  Reply

    Yes. You are completely right. These components should be covered up. Fairings can be opaque!
    What is totally ridiculous to me is the absurdity of there being TWO shifters in a micro-processed world. Aren’t bikes in favor of lightness and simplicity? One shifter should rule them all, or both front and rear, and why not?Derailleurs can work together if they’re electronic, they could pick optimal gearing for speed and conditions. I’m hard-pressed to understand why it is that they go to all the trouble to use electric wires (radio code would be better–bike computers are wireless, why not brakes & derailleurs?) and then act as if everybody knew how to ‘dual it out’ with their transmission ratios like ‘da pros’.
    One button could run everything, press real hard for braking! Click and hold for multiple shifts. Computers to learn the gps route and program shifts automatically.
    Wow, I’m starting to say the same things over and over again!

    • Ross Nicholson November 12, 2011 at 2:59 am -  Reply

      Oh now, wait a minute. That was Steve Jobs.

  7. Kenzo1979 November 13, 2011 at 7:32 am -  Reply

    The early 20th century Modernist architects focused on a dichotomy: form and function. This way of analyzing design was prompted largely by an explosion of new materials and technologies at the time- and made sense as a new way of appreciating “beauty” from not just a visual perception of form, but a consideration of material and efficiency at the same time. The critiques I am reading about Campy are all biased to form- not function, and “innovation” not reliability.

    Of the component makers now producing full gruppos, Campagnolo has the best integration of form and function to my eye and mechanical judgement. I think the most obvious place to see this is in the brake/shift levers- which are brilliantly functional as well as sensuous in form. Whether carbon fiber is better looking than polished aluminum is more a matter of taste than a balanced critique of form and function. The ability to customize stiffness by carbon build scheduling is a huge advance in control of structural characteristics in manufacturing. I find carbon fiber “beautiful” because when I look at the material I see a visually compelling geometric pattern that is also strong and efficient in its physical structure.

    I agree that Campagnolo has not produced a product as revolutionary as those that made its name in the early days of racing and development, but I do think- just on the form/function question- Campagnolo leads Shimano and Sram by a long-shot.

    One last thing: The love of Delta brakes is well founded- I owned them and loved the way they looked. However, Campy dropped them because they were heavy and difficult to adjust, and did not produce any more modulated stopping power than a simpler side pull design.

  8. Andraz November 14, 2011 at 3:46 am -  Reply

    Since components ware out faster than frames it is nice to find some retro components to fit some old bike with, only Campy has Athena, that somehow does the job… most other stuff look like parts of fake futuristic spaceships with tons of unnecessary details and/or graphics.If the decorative function of components wasn’t the primary concern, there would be no problem – any groupset would look good on any bike.
    Personally I find Shimano road groups repulsive, Campy is heavy doesn’t shift too good, I fancy Sram the most … like Gipiemme that was superior to Campy but never prevailed.

  9. art November 18, 2011 at 10:23 am -  Reply

    You’re not missing anything. The last of the silver finished Campy hardware is so visually distinctive, you could spot it five wheels up in a pace line. The new carbon stuff is practically camouflaged. All of the carbon weave might turn the geeks on when it’s in a display case, but out on the road it just disappears.

  10. Nicholas Hardrath November 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm -  Reply

    This post opened my eyes a little, I’m no doubt a Campy guy. I have, unlike many, used all 3 component manufacturers – Shimano, SRAM & Campagnolo. I’m a little confused on why people see lack of innovation, there’s plenty of innovation, the problem is there were huge gains in technology in the 70′s & 80′s, and Campy was a frontrunner. Now the technologies trickle in a bit slower so they aren’t as evident, but still there. Ultra-torque, skeleton shifters, 11 speed, and they DO have their own carbon weave (wheels). These are all pretty cool things and perhaps overlooked. I like that SRAM is US based, and they were totally overlooked as a competitor, the design and direct marketing efforts proved that wrong. They no doubt make some decent stuff, but no where even remotely close in craft as Campagnolo. Example: I bought a new cross bike this year with new SRAM rival, the less than 6 months I blew out a rear shifter, blew out the external BB cups, and lost shifting many times. The good news is SRAM sponsors the Race Support and they replaced everything stating they knew some of my issues were known – that is pretty good service. But it doesn’t take away from the lack of quality manufacturing within the product. Now, if it were Campagnolo, I would of had a much harder time replacing and/or fixing those parts, but it’s more than likely those parts would not of broken either. I’ve had 11 speed Chorus for over a year now and have never had a better riding experience, everything is beyond crisp and more ammo than I truly need. The parts are beautiful and highly functional (black parts on a black bike – not any different than highly polished 80′s parts on a beautifully lugged bike). Just my 2 cents, as a designer, bike racer, bike & parts connoisseur and truly skillful product tester.

  11. Bob November 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm -  Reply

    Hmm… I disagree.

    If one don’t see the exact same design principles, in both those derailleurs, just separated by technology eras, then that person needs to go back to design school.

    Everyone will have an aesthetic that they prefer, but to think or even suggest that Campy should be still designing in over-weight aero sculpted aluminium is to not see what the industry focus has become.

    Campagnolo are still the industry leaders in design and technology. I have yet to see a full carbon rear derailleur at the level of Super Record from either Shimano or SRAM.

    Sure, it looks “different”. Sure it looks out of place on a Cinelli Supercorsa or XCR, but it’s made for a Pinarello, Colnago or De Rosa…. full carbon.

    It would be foolish for Campagnolo to not design their components to suit those bikes and even more foolish to imitate automotive lines/form like the others.

    • James Thomas November 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm -  Reply

      Bob, perhaps the juxtaposition of images of the two derailleurs from different eras is a bit misleading. I certainly don’t think Campagnolo should be rehashing iterations of designs from the past, but I do think they have lost something in the way that they unify the aesthetics of their groupos. You may not personally like the “automotive lines” of the newest Dura Ace group, but it is hard to argue that those components were not designed to visually work as a complete set.

      I absolutely agree that Campy components should have a completely different aesthetic from their competitors’ products, and I have no problem with their choice to embrace carbon. Unfortunately though, I think that the carbon material itself is the only unifying element in the Record and Super Record grouppos. The front and rear derailieurs look unrefined, not because of the material, but because of the form (which was never the case with old Campy designs).

      You may be correct in stating that it makes sense for them to design components that suit the modern carbon frames from Italian companies. Those brands still have loyal followers, but I personally am not a big fan of the curvy, over-shaped Pinarello frames with Onda forks, and similar overdesigned carbon frames. I think those designers are the ones who need to “go back to design school”, but that’s just my opinion.

  12. Alex Liauw January 2, 2012 at 11:42 pm -  Reply

    Just my 2 cents – I think the current campy when put on a modern frame does look great, complementary, and not overwhelming. On the other hand Shimano is just ugly. The current Ultegra and Durace cranks just look awful. As a crank / object – they look fine, but assembled on a bike they are overwhelming.

    I actually like the look of the new electronic campy too – it looks robust, and calculated. And I think thats not a bad aesthetic for an electronic group. It also seems that it is all about form following function, or form follows technical package. And theres nothing wrong with that.

    I also know if I had the money for a $6500 carbon from – it would definitely run Campag. and if I was getting a Pegoretti it would have Campag. The current aethetic goes with both.

    And as far as design and function, there is no better brake lever / hood design than campag. It fits your hands, and shimano simply does not. And I find it amazing that shimano cannot come up with something better.

    Of course all my opinion, and I am running campag chorus on my road bike – switched from ultegra.

  13. A Yarrow January 20, 2012 at 8:57 pm -  Reply

    I like the looks of Tiso! They make very stylish campy Compatibles.
    Perhaps Campagnolo should contract them to head a new groupo for a wonderful start.

  14. Mechanics Matter February 20, 2012 at 11:29 am -  Reply

    Personally, I really like where Campag has gone with Chorus – Record – Super Record, and now EPS. Campag would have been dust in the wind if they never changed their styling.

    Can anyone here honestly say that new Ultegra and Dura-Ace are attractive groups? Campag have gone Formula 1 while Shimano has gone Mechano/Tonka.

    The UltraTorque crank design is strong, stiff, and beautifully serviceable… rebuildable shifters are a godsend in a world where a replacement set of Dura-Ace shifters will cost you $620 online, Red shifters go a little under $600, and Campag have no standard shifters that cost more than $500.

    There are a LOT of technical reasons to like Campagnolo, and I love what they’re doing with their better groupls. Athena, on the other hand….. I’ve just recently completed a Cervelo R5 VWD with Athena for a customer, and the group is horrible!

  15. Al Dente January 22, 2013 at 10:49 am -  Reply

    To me the silver finish Athena group is pretty hansom but do they really have to plaster big Campagnolo and Athena logos on the crank and R changer? Everyone can tell from a glance they are Campy so a subtle logo would have been better. Other than the silver finish alloy Athena group I’m with you; the new gruppos are butt ugly. Then again, most of what Shimano and SRAM produce are butt ugly as well.

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