Italian manufacturer Campagnolo, or Campy as it is affectionately known, is one of the most storied names in cycling, and some of the biggest Tour de France contenders like Nairo Quintana are currently attacking the world's biggest pavement race powered by the Italian components. However, on the dirty side of cycling, except for a brief stint on bikes of Jonathan Page and the Sunweb team in the late 2000s, Campagnolo has remained rare in the mud and dust of drop bar dirt racing, despite a cyclocross-oriented initiative that featured cantilever brakes, cyclocross gearing and extra hub seals.
Perhaps that may start to change. Its biggest change for 2017 is the introduction of the long-awaited hydraulic disc brakes that emerged from its "Disc Brake Project." At 2017 Press Camp, we got an up-close look at the new hydraulic disc brakes that make the storied Italian brand more relevant in the world of cyclocross and gravel riding.
The new disc brakes are accompanied by changes in its cranksets and chainrings to accommodate 142mm rear axles and the introduction of the Centaur alloy groupset to join the Potenza as a more affordable option with many of the features Campy's high-end Record and Super Record "grupos" are known for.
The evolution of Campagnolo is also bringing changes on the cyclocross front. Last year, we noted Campy's cyclocross crankset has been retired and the 46/36 front chainring combination is no longer available. The cantilever brakes introduced in 2011 are long gone, and the alloy Athena groupset that offers a triple crankset is being phased out as well.
Today, we take a look at Campagnolo's new hydraulic disc brakes and the alloy Centaur groupset we saw at Press Camp, and discuss how these changes might affect Campy components as an option for cyclocross and gravel bikes.
Campagnolo's Disc Brakes Have Finally Arrived
Campagnolo's disc brakes were in the works for several years before they finally hit the market earlier this year. The endeavor, called the "Disc Brake Project," has manifested itself in the high-end H11 and mid-level Potenza 11 Ergopower hydraulic disc brake systems. The H11 disc brakes are now an option for the Record and Super Record mechanical and electronic (EPS) groups, as well as the Chorus mechanical groupset, and the hydraulic Ergopower levers for these groups feature carbon brake levers. The Potenza 11 system also features hydraulic disc brakes and a hydraulic H0 Ergopower lever, with aluminum brake and shift levers.
Just as Rotor did for its own UNO disc brakes, Campagnolo teamed up with the German brake manufacturer Magura to produce the new hydraulic disc brake systems. The disc brakes feature dual 22mm pistons with a magnetic spring return, mineral oil hydraulics and share some Magura internals and small parts.
Prefer rolling with organic at farmers' markets, or racing through the farm fields? You're in luck. The brake pads are an organic resin with a built-in wear indicator and the rotors are Centerlock. Got a wet, sandy race? You may want to pack an extra set or two of pads, at least until a company like Kool Stop makes a metallic alternative.
One interesting aspect of Campy's new disc brakes is the choice of calipers for different rotor sizes out back. Only a 160mm caliper is offered for the front brake, and two different sized calipers—140mm and 160mm—are offered for the rear. Campagnolo said lab tests showed heat from braking can liquefy thread locker coatings on bolts, and is not making adaptors for switching between caliper and rotor sizes, which adds another set of bolts per caliper. The drawback of this approach is both the calipers need to be replaced when switching from 140mm to 160mm and vice versa, unless you want to use a third party adaptor.
Campagnolo also is making its own disc brake rotors, which also will only come in Centerlock form in 160mm and 140mm sizes. The rotors feature rounded edges for rider safety in case of accidental contact with the spinning rotors. The vented design is said to offer quiet braking, a priority of Campagnolo throughout this project. The rotor also offers seven "spokes" which make for easier truing than most common rotors designs.
Campy's disc brakes are only offered in flat-mount configurations, the most common road disc brake mount these days. At Paul Camp earlier this year, we observed that many metal bike manufacturers such as Sklar Bikes prefer post-mount disc brakes, and thus the Campy's hydraulic disc brakes will likely take some tinkering to incorporate them into handmade metal builds. The company acknowledges third part adaptors exist but does not endorse them.
New Centaur Groupset Joins Potenza as Alloy Option
Last year, Cyclocross Magazine took a look at Campy's Potenza 11 groupset. Potenza was designed to provide many of the features found on Campy's top-end carbon components in a more affordable aluminum alloy package. The Potenza groupset includes the proprietary Ergopower brake levers and shifters and the four-arm cranks and is designed to compete with Shimano's Ultegra line.
In 2017, the Potenza is being joined by the Centaur groupset, which is being reintroduced after a several year hiatus. The Centaur provides another aluminum alloy option similar in price to the Shimano 105 line, but unlike the Potenza, it is not currently disc brake-compatible. Like the Potenza, the Centaur groupset was designed to provide features found on the top-end Record and Super Record lines at a more affordable price. The four-bolt pattern of the Centaur is designed to fit all three of the chainring combinations offered by Campagnolo: 50/34, 52/36 and 53/39, but notably missing are the 36/46 popular among dual-chainring cyclocrossers, or any 1x system.
One engineering change that Campagnolo has made is redesigning its cranksets and chainrings to have an option that better accommodates the chain line of 142mm rear axles—similar to what Shimano did with the new Ultegra 8000 groupset—without increasing the Q-factor (width between crank arms or pedals). The redesign for compatibility with 142mm rear axles makes the Potenza and high-end groupsets ready for Campy's new hydraulic disc brakes and modern gravel, cyclocross and disc road bike.
Campagnolo's Future as a Cyclocross and Gravel Option
There is a lot to be excited about with the new offerings Campy has for this year. The new Potenza 11 Ergopower and H11 hydraulic disc brake systems have been a long time coming, and with the ubiquity of disc brakes on cyclocross bikes, they are obviously a welcome addition to Campy's lineup. The Potenza 11's compatibility with the new disc brakes and price similar to Ultegra make it an attractive aluminum alloy option with off-road potential.
With Campy phasing out the 46/36 front chainring combination, probably the biggest limitation of Campy components for cyclocross riders is the range of gearing available. Campagnolo currently offers 53/39 and 52/36 road and 50/34 compact road combinations up front and the biggest rear cog that will fit with the Potenza or Centaur medium rear derailleurs is on an 11-32 cassette. Campy's EPS electronic shifting—available on the Chorus, Record and Super Record groupsets—is further limited because it only fits short cage derailleurs with an 11-29 cassette in the rear.
The gearing challenge is compounded because Campy does not offer a dedicated single chainring option nor a clutch derailleur.
For gravel riding and racing, the gearing options are not likely to cause limitations. The 50/34 road compact front chainring provides a climbing gear ratio of either 34/32 or 34/29 and the 52/36 road crankset has a manageable 36/32 or 36/29. The big chainrings also provide enough gear to hammer when necessary.
The levers are noticeably taller (8mm) and longer (11mm), but Campagnolo emphasizes that the default hand position remains the same, meaning millimeter-conscious riders don't need to swap to a shorter stem as they might with other systems when swapping in hydraulic brake levers and replacing a mechanical option from the same brand.
The levers offer adjustments both for reach and for pad engagement via small 2.5mm and 1.5mm hex bolts. Riders can adjust the shift and brake lever positions to accommodate their hand size, but also configure how much the levers move before the pads engage—termed but some with Campagnolo as "free stroke." Bleeding looks to be relatively easy, with easy access to ports to push out the bubbles and change out the mineral oil.
It's unclear as to how modern Ergopower levers, hydraulic or not, will pair with other systems, as we've done in the past with the cyclocross-friendly "Shimergo" setup that employs Campagnolo shifters and Shimano derailleurs. The "Shimergo" combination, especially when paired with a Rapid Rise rear derailleur, baffled observers and delighted users, but others have been known to pair Campagnolo levers with SRAM derailleurs with success.
One final note about using Campagnolo components for cyclocross or gravel riding is worth considering. Campagnolo's long-standing written warranty has stated that riding its components off-road voids the warranty. However, we spoke with members of Campagnolo's North American staff who said they ride their Campy-equipped bikes off-road "all the time" and that they have never rejected a warranty claim solely because the bike was ridden off-road.
See our ever-growing collection of new product spotlights from the 2017 Press Camp here.
Andrew Yee and Zachary Schuster contributed to this article.