Campagnolo and the death of hope

by M

This is not a love story.

I fell into Campag quite accidentally. My first serious road bike purchase – after the fixie and the somewhat oversized Cannondale – was from a popular internet retailer, which I’m going to call Wibble. Not for any particular reason, I just like to be ornery. Anyway, it came with a full Centaur groupset.


Ostensibly it was pretty good; it looked expensive with its carbon shifters and it worked well. I had no idea of the rabbit hole down which I’d be lead.

For starters, limiting yourself to Campag compatible wheels greatly complicates and reduces your options. In theory, all the major manufacturers support Campag and have done since Tullio invented the Pret wrap so his jersey pockets could remain unsoiled, or whatever it is he’s famous for.

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It’ll come to me.

In practice, third party support for Campag often feels like an afterthought. I had a set of Reynolds MV32 clinchers, which use DT 240s hubs. With the correct DT freehub fitted, a perfectly straight hanger, and a correctly set up rear derailleur, the mech would gently ‘kiss’ the driveside spokes in the biggest cog. This was with a 10 speed cassette. Given that Campag’s 11 speed cassette overhangs the base of the freehub even more, I don’t see how it could ever have worked. The internet is littered with the accumulated angst of a hundred similar problems.

Also, kittens.

Back to the Centaur. Most of the time it shifted fine but sometimes, it just wouldn’t. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on; it seems that by buying a bike in 2009 I’d unwittingly volunteered to be a guinea pig for one of a series of rolling changes Campagnolo was making to its product lines. Some critical details of the shifter internals were changed and long story short, they fucked up. In tacit acknowledgment of this, Campag actually made an upgrade kit (the memorably named EC-CE110) but it was only available for five minutes and I was too busy lancing saddle sores to notice.

Anyway, like I said, it worked most of the time. So like a good roadie, I put up with a little adversity.

Andy Hampsten Gavia

The snow is a metaphor for Italian engineering. Photo: Sirotti via Cycling News

Roll on 2011 and, dutiful gear-o-tard that I am, I built myself an honest to goodness titanium bike-for-life-not-just-for-Christmas and what did I choose as a groupset? Why, Campag of course – Veloce. Specifically, the new shiny downgraded Veloce featuring Power Shift (TM) levers and Power Torque (TM) cranks. Ah yes, those.

Again, on paper Veloce was a really good buy. It was cheap and in its defense, it’s quite nicely finished and the shifting is ok. Well, the rear is. The front is pretty agricultural.

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Gratuitous cow photo.

But the cranks? The cranks are really stupid. When Campag released this system there weren’t even any official tools for removing the chainset. You could install them no problem, assuming you had a totally standard and in no way unusual and massive 14mm allen key lying around. Removing them, on the other hand, requires an automotive style gear puller of the kind literally no bike mechanic owns.

Two years down the line, various tools are now available, with the Park version (a combination of the CBP-3 and CBP-5) costing around £100 at the time of writing. In comparison, a Shimano Hollowtech II chainset needs a £2 preload cap tool, a 5mm allen key, and a mallet to remove.

At some point I decided that my astonishing souplesse demanded the fitting of a compact in place of my standard double, and in any case I was sick of my cranks bearing mute metallic witness to my mechanical impotence, mocking my inability to remove them. I refused to buy the proper tools as this was to be a one time job, so with an £8 gear puller from a well known auction site, some odds and ends, and a lot of swearing and wincing, I got that fucker off and sold it.


Photo: AFP via Cycling News

As an interim measure, I’ve replaced the Veloce monstrosity with an older Centaur Ultra-Torque (TM) chainset. UT comes with its own drawbacks, but at last it’s easy to take on and off whilst I plot Campag’s demise.

Does any of this matter? Of course not. But it’s symptomatic of a company that frequently outdoes itself in its defiance of common sense. When Campagnolo introduced 11 speed in 2008 they stipulated that their chains could only be joined using their own chain tool (retail circa £150) because of the need to peen the end of the joining pin. Soon enough third party joining links became available, but naturally such an idea is far too simple for the likes of Campag.

Then came the Power Torque (TM) fiasco and most recently, in response to the plethora of crank and bottom bracket standards, Campagnolo thought it could do better and launched Over-Torque (TM). Would this be a study in mechanical simplicity? A paean to the company’s engineering heritage? Would it fuck. Yes, it’s light and stiff and carbon and whatever, but it requires yet another overpriced proprietary tool.

Don’t get me wrong. Campag makes and has made some beautiful components, but I’m done here.