Campagnolo has brought disc brake efficiency to its Chorus groupset - were the rotor stoppers worth the wait?
Disc brakes did not happen in a hurry for Campagnolo. First spotted in 2016, they didn’t arrive on the mass market for another year after that. During which time the UCI had banned and then re-allowed them, whilst British Cycling finally opened the doors to rotor stoppers in domestic racing in 2018.
In April 2018, Campagnolo came out with 12 speed – but thankfully that applies only to Record and Super Record – thus enabling this review of 11 speed Chorus to stay present (at least for now). The discs themselves, calipers and reservoirs remain the same across the new 12 speed groupsets, too.
We’re testing a Campagnolo Chorus H11 groupset – but the shifters, chain set and brake calipers are the same across Record H11 and Super Record H11 – the differences in the groupsets, where Chorus is the lower of the three, are seen in the chain, cassette and derailleurs.
For those looking to spend a little less, Campagnolo has updated its lowest end Potenza version with an ‘H0’ dress up, which uses alloy shifter levers as opposed to the brand’s illustrious status quo: carbon.
To create the hydraulic system, Campagnolo teamed up with German brake and suspension manufacturers Magura – who helped develop the cylinder and oil system. Campag chose to use mineral oil, like Shimano, and the brakes can be bled through a port on the top.
In one of several unique touches, the brand has allowed users to adjust lever bite – providing an ‘Adjustment Modulation System’ (AMS) which offers two positions – one for those who want to be able to slam on with minimal effort and one that responds more slowly. This is adjusted with a 2.5mm Allen bolt in the hood.
There’s also a separate dial which allows the rider to adjust reach in millimetre increments to ensure hands stay comfortable when operating the levers.
The Italian brand has created size specific calipers – with the ability to run 160mm at the front and either 160mm or 140mm at the rear – and they’re designed to fit every flat mount frameset available. There’s no need for spacers, something that Campagnolo says adds to safety and rigidity.
The 22mm diameter pistons have been made from phenolic resin – which apparently offers superior heat insulation. A magnetic spring replaced a standard metal approach, which is meant to return to its original position more quickly and also, Campag says, is more consistent.
A bonded layer on the back of each pad is described as a “patented anti-vibration, noise-reduction solution,” and there’s a handy wear indicator, too, as well as a raised hump which helps get the wheel in quickly.
The steel rotors use an aluminium central carrier – steel was chosen as the primary material because if its heat resistance, which was considered more important than weight. They’ve been rounded, too, to either reduce the chance of injury, or just the perception of its likelihood.
Whilst it took Campag a while to create its disc brake groupsets, it reckons it has done the best job – claiming they decelerate 23-26 per cent faster in the wet, with less force, when compared with “the competition” (Shimano and SRAM, in case there was any doubt). In the dry, the comparison is a bit more variable, at 14-55 per cent.
The brakes – which quite rightly are the centrepiece of the new creation – do indeed react with a reassuring balance of urgency and sensitivity.
During testing, I found that a pull on the lever resulted in immediate reaction, but not one that threatened to decouple me from the bike. Indeed, I set several descending PRs on my first rides aboard a Bianchi Infinito CV suited and booted with Chorus H11 – including on the gravel encrusted oncoming car roulette that is my local 20 per cent plus descent (living in a valley means no ride home is complete without a fast descent).
The bonded anti-vibration layer is designed both to block out judder, as well as brake squeal. The lack vibration feedback is evident – and my hands felt firmly planted even when forced to execute last minute changes – for example for the permanently unexpected right hand swoop of Halliloo Road, Woldingham.
As for noise reduction, the brakes did produce a few squeals on their first ride out on damp roads. However, once bedded they were quiet throughout, the only real sounds omitted being the reassuring mechanical clunk of Italian shifting.
The same carbon fibre H11 Ergopower mechanical shifters are used across the Super Record, Record and Chorus groupsets.
The Potenza groupset uses H0 aluminium shifters, and there’s a different shifter for EPS versions of those named above. All standards share the same master cylinder.
One of the major struggles Campagnolo had was in squeezing the hydraulic braking system into one if its dainty hoods. It wasn’t possible to maintain the hood shape identically, so 8mm has been added to the height. This does, however, allow for easier access to the flat-forearm aero position that most riders wish they could hold for more than 20 minutes at a time.
The brake lever has shrunk by a couple of mm to accommodate for the new hydraulic cylinder, and the lever has also developed a slight outward curve – with the aim of making braking easier on the drops.
The hood has a gummy, textured surface and as ever with Campagnolo – even now the hood has gained 8mm in length – the size and shape makes them compatible with smaller hands as well as the statistical average.
Whilst the upward shifting rear cassette thumb paddle has never been my favourite, I’ll always happily made do for the sake of Campagnolo’s ergonomics.
Campganolo’s ‘Ultra-Shift’ – which allows the rider to pile through the gears in one single movement – is unaffected by the introduction of discs, so you can still clunk your way through several rear cogs in one fell swoop of the lever and with the same audible shift that the brand has long offered.
I’ve been a huge fan of Campagnolo’s shifter shape since first try. Preference is individual – but I’d suggest that if you’ve been a fan in the past, nothing will have changed. The ‘command’ fits a small hand perfectly, and the additional 8mm of height didn’t bother me in the least.
I did find that, as across the range, Campagnolo’s mechanical shifting is a little more clunky than that which you would find from Shimano or SRAM.
This does provide a nice degree of feedback, but I typically found when dropping or piling on gears in earnest (particularity in races, even when using a mechanical rim brake Super Record variant) the action of shifting gear took fractionally more effort – mentally and physically – even when compared to the basic Shimano 105 on my “old faithful”.
If you’re a long term Campagnolo user, this is something you’ll be used to and may appreciate more than me. Indeed the brand’s Global Press Manager Joshua Riddle told me: “[It’s] a characteristic that is intentionally present in the drivetrain as it offers tactile feedback… It is appreciated to the point that the professional athletes of Movistar, when helping us develop the electronic drivetrain, specifically insisted on creating a similar tactile feeling despite not having the mechanical actuation that caused it in the cable operated system”
However – but if you’re a first time buyer, bear in mind that it might take some acclimatisation.
Chainset and derailleurs
Campag hasn’t just added hydraulic disc brakes to an existing system.
Since disc brake frames have altered geo, it’s moved the chain rings out slightly to account for changes to the chain line – providing 142mm of rear spacing with zero adjustment to Q-Factor.
That’s all well and good – but also means that the cranksets and chain rings are not compatible with previous groupsets.
The cranks are available in 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm – smaller riders should be aware of a lack of 165mm option.
In the H11 version – which is featured on Super Record, Record, and Chorus sets – you get a carbon spider which helps to save weight, and of course gives the touch of luxury you expect to find when purchasing from this stalwart of the groupset world.
In its newest version, Campag has opened the world to wider ratio cassettes, offering a medium range rear derailleur that will suit cassettes up to 11-32 as well as a standard option.
There’s no major change to the front derailleur, cassette or chain.
Weight and value
Campagnolo is never going to be the ‘value orientated’ option. However, you are getting a groupset that’s infused with Italian romanticism of the bike and shifters that are ergonomically excellent.
|Campagnolo Chorus H11||£1,339.43||2613g|
|Campagnolo Record H11||£2,231.11||2260g|
|Campanolo Super Record H11||£2,439.68||2228g|
The biggest price hike takes place between Chorus and Record – where there’s also quite a weight drop to the more expensive creation. However, as an overall percentage, it’s hardly huge – at 16 per cent or 363g – Chrous certainly looks like a pretty smart choice of the three.
In terms of comparison, you are certainly paying a price for Campagnolo – Shimano’s Ultegra R8020 (mechanical, hydraulic disc) comes in at £1,099 and weighs an estimated 2,512g (expect small discrepancies depending upon crank length, chainrings and cassettes used). However, if you like its skinny shifters and the Campy clunk, it may be a price you’re willing to pay.
Campagnolo made us wait for disc brakes, but for good reason. What it's developed is a groupset which is reactive without risking over-the-bars worthy moments. The shifter shape is as ergonomic as ever - particularly ideal for small hands - though the shifting itself continues to be notably clunky, something that might appeal to those who like definite feedback, but can become a little tiresome, especially in heated moments.