From reading posts within various cycling forums, and numerous comments within social media, I am respectful that electronic shifting and disc brakes are quite emotive subjects. Combine that with the number of cyclists who have a staunch preference for one of the main groupset manufacturers, and this article could have all the ingredients to prod the hornet’s nest!

The purpose of the article is to create a product insight, and to provide the reasoning behind a certain preference, whilst remaining relatively neutral in the “better or worse” debate regarding groupsets. It should be noted that both writers do use, and have a preference for Campagnolo.

To strengthen the depth of the article, I am grateful to my friend, Astrid Schartmuller, for her assistance. Astrid has contributed with her experiences and opinions relating to the groupset. She is a passionate cyclist, and amateur racer, based in the Italian Dolomites. She has participated in national and international races, placing on the podium on a number of occasions.

Astrid’s bike has been equipped with the Super Record EPS disk groupset since its release, and its use range from commuting, training rides and racing, to cycle touring in the Italian, Swiss and French Alps.

Introduction: Astrid

I studied at the University of Applied Sciences at Hamburg, and I am an Engineer for the construction industry. During 2003 I moved to Italy, and have lived and worked there ever since.

Since the beginning, I’ve done the mechanics on my bike. First a little bit, practicing “doing by learning”. Since 1996 I build all my of my bikes. This has saved the lives of many mechanics!! In races my bike has to work perfectly, and as long as only I put my hands on it, there has never been a breakdown!

I always dreamed of a bike with Campagnolo. In 2009 I realized this, with the legendary Super Record (mechanical). 2014 I started to be a Quality Tester for Campagnolo. I changed from mechanical to electric shifting using the Super Record EPS. Last year I made the step from rim brakes to disc brakes, always Super Record EPS disc. For rim brakes my preferred wheelset are the Bora Ultra 35 (front) and Bora Ultra 50 (back) for tubular. Rim in carbon with AC3. For disc there is only the Bora One which is a little bit heavier.

I started cycling in 1992, principally on the road, but some experiences on track and MTB. I made national and some international races, but always as an amateur (not professional).

Introduction: Grant

Experience has led me to have a more open mind to the technical developments which are ongoing within cycling, and the diversity that evolves in the sport. Part of this was born from me previously dismissing items such as electronic groupsets, only to find that I am now yearning certain benefits they provide!

There is no denying that the presence of disc brakes within the road scene is increasing, but people’s appetite for this option still seems to be quite polarised.

My love of cycling includes mountain biking, where disc brakes are a virtual given. With this being the case, there had been quite a long standing desire to experience disc brakes on the road. This is where Campagnolo’s test bike programme came into its own.

In the interest of learning as much as I could from the test bike, I also wanted to experience the Campagnolo Super Record EPS 12V Disc groupset.

Initially, the idea seemed to be doomed, as the list of test bike options did not include my size, with this build. Fortunately, a message to Campagnolo UK, via their Facebook page, soon resolved this, and a test bike in Medium soon arrived at my local Campagnolo dealer (Swinnerton Cycles). The bike was also clad with Campagnolo’s Bora One wheel. I could not wait to get out and ride!

When learning about the performance of equipment and clothing, my preference is to allocate time to using it, in an environment where characteristics become more apparent. I used the test bike during the UK winter. This created the potential for me to experience the performance of the groupset and wheels in an array of conditions.

Part of my earlier research had identified that Campagnolo designed their disc brake to closely replicate the feel of their rim brakes. I am a fan of Campagnolo rim brakes, mainly due to the level of modulation they provide.

The first ride was on damp roads, and I hoped that braking modulation was literal. Brushing speed for a few tight bends, and my confidence was building. A short, steep, descent, so far, so good! Here are our insights into the disc brakes.

Astrid: Disc Brakes

First it is important to outline the differences between rim and disc brakes. In dry conditions a rim brake can feel more aggressive/stronger than a disc brake. In wet conditions the braking effect is delayed until the rim is dry, then it reverts to its normal feel and performance. The rim with All Conditions Carbon Control (AC3) has a very good effectiveness.

The braking behaviour of the rim brake is progressive, the warmer the rim, the stronger the braking effect, during braking you have to release the brake to counteract the progression, this needs some sensitivity. This is also necessary for different weather conditions: cold, warm, humid, dry.

When using a disc, the braking behaviour is always the same, whether dry or wet, cold or hot. The braking curve is linear and can be modulated very well, only the point when you apply the brake could be a little softer. This is due to the fact that the clearance between disc and pads is only a few tenths of a millimeter.

In spite of more weight and complicated maintenance I simply like the braking behaviour of discs. The power input is lower, with the same braking effect and the braking power is more defined. I feel safer with discs, personally. As I explained in braking effectiveness, Campagnolo Rims with AC3 are braking stronger than discs, but with the disc brakes I have learned to use them in a differentiated way, in front and rear. If you can do it right, you can brake later, but be careful as the limit is the grip of the tire on the asphalt! This is especially true on wet roads.

Last year I used in the front 160mm and back 140mm. For my weight it is enough. This year I mounted front and back with 140mm. I feel that the braking effectiveness is less, but it is more similar as the softness of rim brakes. There is less risk to block or to brake too hard and lose the adherence from the tire on the asphalt.

I have tested the disc brakes from other groupsets: Shimano Dura Ace DI2 and SRAM Etap. Shimano I feel is more aggressive and less modular. Sram is not at the same level. The braking effectiveness was not regular, so I my was sure to dose the force on the levers. Campagnolo is the only one which does not make noise, especially after a long decent. Although the discs weigh more than those of the competition, they are stable against deformation by heating or very strong braking.

The great advantage from Campagnolo is, that it is in part always a family business with employees who are enthusiastic cyclists. Through personal dedication in their leisure time, they tested and improved the disc brakes until the brakes worked and were noiseless.

I think that disc brakes are functionally very good, but there is a lot of development to do. To see the state of use of the brakes you have to take out the brake pads and remember which was on the right and on the left side. Otherwise you risk some noise, because maybe they are not wearing the same. It’s not possible to make an adjustment to one side as you can do with traditional brakes. Without specialist tools and a little bit capability, you cannot do the maintenance.

Finally, the ecological factor. The hydraulic oil is special waste. The pads generally need to change about 3000-5000km and although the disc wears faster than a rim (depends how much someone brakes, especially when the rider is heavy and does a lot of elevation with deep long downhills) disc brakes are a big change for the bike, much more than electronic shifting.

Grant: Disc Brakes

I found that disc brakes provide a very different braking experience, in that there are less variables. As per Astrid’s comments, the power provided by the brake feels constant, the main variable being tyre grip, depending on the surface and conditions. Whist riding in cold, wet conditions, I experienced less discomfort in my hands. Maybe this was due to having to apply less pressure to the levers to achieve braking.

An additional benefit to discs, is that it would resolve my poor relationship with carbon clincher wheels (not Campagnolo). Having had rims fail on the brake track whilst descending, I moved to wheels incorporating aluminium rims. Going to discs would broaden my choice of wheel options.

From a personal perspective, my preference will be to have disc brakes on my road bikes in future.

Grant: Gear Shift

Electronic shifting was something I bought into soon after Shimano released their first generation Dura Ace Di2. For me, this groupset had performance benefits over the mechanical version, but after watching a few televised failures, I was not keen on the potential reliability shortfall. At the time, the highlight of the year was a three week bike trip in mainland Europe and the thought of losing days whilst trying to replace a defective electronic component was not pleasing! A number of influencing factors have quelled those early concerns, and a desire to return to a groupset incorporating electronic shifting has now returned. The test bike certainly served to assist me in reaching this conclusion!

When it comes to braking and shifting, my personal preference is the traditional Campagnolo format of dedicating a point of actuation, to each element of these functions. For me, the location of these feels very natural / intuitive whilst riding the bike, whether in or out of the saddle, and whatever the terrain or pace might be.

I am respectful that this is down to the individual, and the EPS groupset can be customised in relation to performance and function. Examples of this are the potential to adjust the speed of the shift, choose options relating to number of ratios transitioned within a shift, vary the lever function, and automate a front shift in response to rear derailleur activity.

Having used the mechanical version of the Super Record groupset (11 speed) for a number of years, part of the transition to using EPS 12V, was to become accustomed to the slightly less prominent down shift lever. In my opinion, this variation in design recognises that less effort is required to achieve a shift with EPS, and serves to reduce the potential of shifting in error, which could be consequential to simply replicating the mechanical lever.

My hands are particularly sensitive to cold temperatures, and it’s common to find me in gloves that are not in-keeping with the season. In deep winter conditions I use various layering combinations with my gloves. Even in quite bulky gloves, locating the shift levers and moving through one or more ratios was easy. The down shift could be even be achieved with the hands on the straight section of the bar, using my little finger to activate the lever, to activate the front or rear derailleur.

My preference is a gear shift that has clear definition when moving from one ratio to the next. This was a key factor when choosing my Super Record Mechanical groupset. The feel of the shift with EPS is different, in that it requires less effort to achieve. However, the definition is there, readily confirming a single actuation, moving the derailleur up or down a single ratio. If the relevant rear shift actuation is not released, the rear derailleur will continue to travel either up or down the cassette as required, to achieve a shift across multiple ratios (also see MyCampy App for potential customisation options).

The front shift has the same feel at the point of actuation, with a single press being the only input needed to shift from one front chain ring to its neighbour, and the front derailleur automatically looks after any trim to avoid chain rub.

The overall function of the front shift has a feel of heightened efficiency compared to the mechanical groupset I use (an earlier generation to the current one). This begins at the reduced effort required to shift, and the speed and accuracy in which the desired outcome is achieved. I anticipate the new chainset contributes to some of this, due to the additional stiffness and refinements Campagnolo have applied to the new chainset and rings.

In relation to the photo above, the temporary sticker remained on the chainset due to this being a “Test Bike”, but this is not an actual representation of the factory finish.

Prior to using the test bike, I had gathered feedback relating to the stringent testing the EPS groupset had been though during development. Riding in some very dismal, wet winter conditions, with the shifting remaining perfect throughout, gave me complete confidence in its reliability. This has also been increased by Astrid’s experience whilst using the groupset over a longer period.

Did the electronic shifting improve the ride? For me, very much so. This is translated by the ease in which gear shifts could be achieved, while retaining the feel of Campagnolo. This served to reduce the effect of the elements, and accumulation of fatigue.

I hope to incorporate Campagnolo’s Super Record EPS Disc groupset into the next bike I build, when replacing my current “best” bike.

I truly hope that Campagnolo choose to offer EPS lower down in their range of 12 speed groupsets, as I believe that myself, and many other amateur cyclists would benefit from electronic shifting being an integral part of their wet weather/training bike.

Astrid: Gear Shift

The electronic shifting has two big benefits. First the precision, you always get what you want. Second the personalisation, which is achieved via the MyCampy App.

I have adjusted the speed of the shift, and changed the lever setting. I use Sprinter B. With the index finger I switch the rear derailleur, with the thumb the front derailleur.

Braking and shifting are part of cornering technique. This is made easy with electronic. When you are racing you need a fast performance. EPS gives me this not only for the precision, but also for time. In fast descents you brake late before a curve, and when you have done the curve you have to accelerate. For this you have to change to a higher gear. With EPS it is possible to brake and shift, so often I do both in the same moment before the curve, thanks to the ease in which gear shifts can be achieved.

With the electronic shifting, once you have changed, you don’t turn back! After all, we switch the light on and off via a light switch and only use candles for a romantic candlelight dinner 😊 !

Experience on the Road: Astrid’s Bikepacking Tour

After a lot of years with plenty of training plans and races, I love riding to see, to live, to feel our wonderful world. For me, the best way to do this is bike packing. I’ve done a tour in France, and in Slovenia and Croatia with a friend.

This particular year I decided to do it alone. I started from home in South Tirol and I returned there, all done with my legs and my bike. 11 days on the bike, 1700km with an elevation of 24000m. I passed through the Swiss Alps and then on to the roads in France. Passing where there should be the world championships at Aigle (Martigny). I saw Lac Leman, Cormet de Roselend (one of the most spectacular climbs I’ve ever seen), Petit San Bernard, Grimsel Pass, Andermatt, Albula Pass and so on, only to call some of the most beautiful points on my way.

For me France is the paradise on earth for the cyclists, and for this reason I would go there, but sure, at the beginning I was not certain that I could do it. Some days there was rain. and when I planed the tour I didn’t know how many kilometers a day I could do alone. Of course, the risk of a mechanical, but thankfully I never had a problem. For this, it is important to have very good equipment and for the worst case, to have a good mechanic with you!

I’m very happy to realize my cycling dream, and I’m just thinking about the next one! I hope that the Covid situation will allow it.

My bike for the tour: Cervelo R5, Campagnolo Super Record EPS disc, wheel Campagnolo Bora One 35 for clincher. The tour was completed on one battery charge.

Grant: Closing Thoughts

Disc brakes and electronic shifting offer an advantage in many situations, and from a personal perspective, this outweighs the bike becoming slightly heavier, or more complex.

I hope that manufacturers continue to offer a choice of mechanical and electronic groupsets with both rim and disc options, whilst increasing the potential for cycling enthusiasts to benefit from electronic shifting, by making it available at lower price points.

Further information: (Clothing)