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Campagnolo’s Electronic Power Shift Review

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published November 10, 2011

LINGUAGLOSSA, Italy (VN) — Lennard Zinn, is our longtime technical writer on our sister publication VeloNews. He is also a frame builder, former U.S. national team rider, and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance,” “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Valentino Campagnolo with the Super Record EPS-equipped Pinarello I rode. Photo: Lennard Zinn © VeloNews

While many would say that Campagnolo’s launch of its 11-speed Electronic Power Shift was too long in coming (after all, the company has been working on electric shifting since 1992), I think the press-launch ride on the system on Tuesday came three days too early.

Wouldn’t it have been cool to have started the ride at 11:11 am on 11/11/11?

Oh well; it was an opportunity of a lifetime missed, but the system is crisp, quick, and precise —everything one could really want in a bicycle drivetrain.

After playing around with adjusting and checking the system at a golf club on the flanks of 11,000-foot Mount Etna, I went on a gorgeous ride on a Super Record EPS-equipped, Campagnolo EPS-branded Pinarello Dogma covering 51km of up and down roads on the north side of Italy’s highest peak south of the Alps and Europe’s tallest active volcano. The ride was exquisite, consisting of lightly-traveled, curving, climbing, and descending roads in very good condition, and the rain held off until just after stopping. The fact that the EPS system performed flawlessly — save for two small improvements I would like to see (see below) — was the icing on the cake.

The group has snappy, accurate shifting, albeit perhaps louder and less smooth on rear upshifts (to smaller cogs) than Shimano Di2, but it has better ergonomics. EPS would work great in the cold with thick gloves, while Di2 is less than ideal in that situation; its two buttons are close together and don’t make the same kind of distinctive clicks that the Campy ones do, so it’s easy to shift the wrong way or not at all with Di2 and winter gloves.

The sound of the high-speed (12,000 RPM with EPS) servo motors driving the derailleurs is almost identical to Shimano Di2, as is the action of the chain. As with Di2, the front derailleur automatically moves over to avoid chain rub on the front derailleur as the rear derailleur is run through the gears.

The difference between the two systems really lies in the feel. Besides obvious differences in lever shape, the distinctive click of each shift with EPS feels similar to the click of a cable shift (it requires much less finger or thumb movement, however), whereas the button push is much less noticeable with Di2.

Campagnolo achieves this feel with its “MultiDome” switches — layers of domed spring steel under the lever require two kg of force to compress them and activate the switch below. The lever provides so much leverage that the force from the finger is much less, but the click and feel of the button depressing is quite distinct.

The “Virtual Hand Sling” with EPS

The front shift from small to big front chainring when sprinting out of saddle over the top of a hill that I love so much on Di2 is also possible with EPS, but the shift is slightly less powerful and quick than with Shimano’s electronic front derailleur.

The back side of an EPS front derailleur. Photo: Lennard Zinn © VeloNews

When pedaling moderately hard out of the saddle when cresting a hill in the small chainring, if you hit the left EPS upshift lever, it pushes the chain right up to the big ring, although it is sometimes slightly delayed while it waits for the next chainring shift ramp to come to the top.

But when I was sprinting full out in the small ring over the top of a hill and hit the upshift button, there was a considerable delay before the chain went went up. It still shifted and gave me that feeling of a hand sling and an immediate gap over my proximal riding partners, but the delay was a bit more than ideal.

With Di2, upon cresting a steep hill, if I hit the upshift button on the left lever under full power just as my cadence increases, it consistently, instantly, and smoothly ramps right up onto the big chainring.

Like Di2, one of the ways that EPS manages such a hard shift under load is by overshifting (and it overshifts a different amount depending on which rear cog the chain is on), and then returning to center over the chain once the shift has been completed.

With both Di2 and EPS, no concentration and minimal hand force is required to get this “virtual hand sling” over the top of a hill — just a tap of a button. The acceleration is amazing; to be suddenly going full out atop a big gear without having eased off to make the shift is quite the sensation.

In case you are wondering, you cannot make this shift effectively with cable-actuated systems, because they cannot shift under as much pedaling torque as either Di2 or EPS. I know, because I’ve tried it many times on bikes equipped with 2009 or later Dura-Ace 7900, SRAM Red, SRAM Rival, Campagnolo Super Record, and Campagnolo Centaur.

While there are variations in how each system accomplishes the shift, I have never been able to achieve the same sensation with any cable-actuated system as with the electronic ones.

EPS Multi-Shift

The guts of an EPS Ergopower lever — plenty of room in there for a hydraulic master cylinder if disc brakes ever come to road bikes! Photo: Lennard Zinn © VeloNews

The full-shift through all 11 cogs in either direction I mentioned yesterday, or through as many of the cogs as you choose, by holding down the shift button, is really sweet. Cresting a steep climb and dropping all 11 cogs from biggest to smallest is great, but it turns out to also be easy to just go through, say, just three or five cogs. I had worried that you would have no sense of how many gears you were shifting and when to stop pressing the button, and that it might continue shifting after you let go, but none of that turned out to be the case. My legs told me right away when I had shifted through as many gears as I cared to, and when I let go of the button, the shifting ceased instantly.

Campagnolo claims that the average shift speed is about a third of a second, while it is about a half a second with its cable-actuated systems, and that the entire 11 cogs can be shifted in 1.5 seconds.

Other Features:

In case of emergency: If the derailleur is hit in a crash (and indeed, one of the riders today managed to crash into a wall and do that — he was OK), it protects itself by uncoupling the electronic motor from the mechanical shaft. You’ll know this has happened when it won’t shift to the smallest cog. To re-couple it, you can repeatedly press the upshift button without pedaling until it hooks up and will again allow shifting to the smallest cog, or you can stop and engage the two parts by pushing inward on the derailleur body with your hand until you hear it click back into place. This uncoupling feature can be used to set the rear derailleur on any cog to ride back home when, for instance, the wire has been cut in a crash, or the battery has been completely discharged.

Power down: The system can be shut off for transport or when leaving it for extended periods without riding, to prevent discharging the battery. This is accomplished by inserting a magnet into a small hole in the battery pack.

On the road adjustments: Front and rear EPS derailleurs can be adjusted on a stand or while riding (such as when you’ve taken a spare wheel during a race). Adjusting the front derailleur is simply done on the small-big combination, by bumping the lever while it is in the adjustment mode until the inner cage plate is 0.5mm from the chain. Adjusting the rear derailleur is done by bumping the shift buttons in the adjustment mode until it is quiet on the second largest and second smallest cog. Furthermore, the standard inner limit screw (to keep the chain out of the spokes) and b-screw (to adjust the distance from the cogs to the jockey wheels) adjustments apply as well. Vuelta stage winner Pablo Lastras of Movistar said that he never readjusted his rear derailleur the entire season and used many different wheels on his bike.

The Reality vs. My Hopes

Before I arrived in Italy I wrote about my hopes for Campagnolo electronic shifting. In several areas, Campy met my hopes:

Rear upshift ergonomics: I mentioned the location of the upshift button for the rear derailleur. It is in essentially the same position as the cable-release thumb lever on cable-actuated Ergopower, but it extends down lower, and it takes much less force and less time to actuate it.

The entire EPS group and its charger. Photo: Lennard Zinn © VeloNews

It is a big improvement on standard Ergopower, and it’s better than upshifting a Di2 rear derailleur without the “sprint shift” buttons on the bar, but it still requires unwrapping the thumb from the hook of the bar and reaching up with it, which, for me at least, reduces my sprinting power for that instant.

The Di2 sprint shift button, on the other hand, can simply be set up on the inboard side of the hook of the bar, right next to the thumb when the hand is in the drop, so all it takes is a bump of the thumb to shift. SRAM DoubleTap offers similar performance to the Di2 sprint button: you can pull and hold the right lever against the bar when sprinting in the drops and simply use a slight inward movement of the finger to upshift, with little or no resultant drop in pedaling power.

Movistar’s Francesco Ventoso, who won some big races in sprints this year on prototype EPS, says that he sees no reason for the sprint shifters; he feels that he can shift it just fine when sprinting in the drops. While Ventoso has forgotten more about sprinting than I’ve ever known, I still believe that the sprint-shift button option is one that Campagnolo ought to offer, and I’ll bet he would prefer it.

Aero bar shifters: Another hope I had was for Campy electronic aero-bar shifters and base-bar aero brake levers with integrated shifters. That has not yet come to pass, but Campagnolo electronic engineer Flavio Cracco says he is working hard to supply teams with these by the time the Giro d’Italia rolls around next spring.

Front up-shifting: The EPS front shifting met my hopes; see what I wrote above “virtual hand sling.”

Battery life and recharging: I also had hoped for long mileage on a single battery charge, and quick and convenient recharging. Check. Ventoso told me that he and other Movistar riders only recharged their batteries five times over the entire 2011 season, and they ride a lot more than just about anybody who is actually going to pay for one of these groups.

Campagnolo says that the battery life is over three months for riders putting in 500km a month, and it’s one month or more for those riding 2,000 km a month.; Ventoso’s experience suggests that those numbers are conservative.

It is easy to check battery level — simply push and release one of the buttons on either lever adjacent the thumb switch; a light on the small interface unit that mounts on the stem or the brake cable will light up for a few seconds. The color code is similar to a traffic light; if it’s green, the battery is full, yellow indicates half charge, and red indicates the need for a charge.

Additionally, flashing green indicates a small drop from full, and flashing red indicates that the red light is coming soon.

The 12V Lithium ion battery can be recharged over 500 times without losing significant performance, and it only takes 1.5 hours to fully charge a completely discharged battery. Unlike Shimano Di2, the battery cannot be removed from the bike for recharging, but it’s easy enough to plug a cable into it and recharge it on the bike.

Since the DTI (Digital Tech Intelligence) “brain” of the system is housed in the battery pack (called the Power Unit), it is bigger and more complex than Shimano’s Di2 battery, so it lends itself less well to being hidden somewhere other than on the down tube. My hopes for a seatpost battery like Craig Calfee makes for Di2 is probably unlikely anytime soon for EPS.

Standard wiring: I had also hoped for universality of the routing of the wires in frames already set up for Di2 internal routing, and that is indeed the case. Campagnolo’s rubber sealing grommets fit into the same rounded-rectangular holes that Shimano specifies for its grommets, and the hole locations are the same.

Watertightness: I also had hoped for simple, watertight, modular wiring that could easily be fit to any bike, and that seems to have been realized as well. The derailleurs, wires, and connectors are completely waterproof, and Campagnolo’s lab tests demonstrate their capacity to be immersed in water for 30 minutes at a depth of one meter without any water entering.

Each of the electrical connections has two O-rings that seal it, and it requires no heat-shrink tubing over the connection, as Dura-Ace Di2 does. Each wire is color coded for the particular part (FD, RD, EP), and only one wiring length is available attached to the interface and power unit. Bigger bikes require extension wires with the same connectors.

Reliability: In general, I hoped for a reliable system, and Movistar’s experience last season indicates that there is little concern about that. The team’s bikes withstood the vibration of Paris-Roubaix and continued to work in the cold and rain both during races and after driving with bikes on the roof at highway speeds through miserable weather. Lastras says that despite warnings to the contrary, Movistar team mechanics blasted the electronic systems clean with their high-pressure sprayers the same way as they did cable-actuated bikes and never had a problem.

As I said Monday, the presence of two groups (Super Record EPS and Record EPS) rather than one, and the lower weight of both groups than Dura-Ace Di2, exceeded my hopes and expectations. So did the Multi-Shift of 11 cogs up or down in a single-button push, as well as multiple shifts up or down depending on length of time holding the button down. The feel of the button pushes also exceeded my expectations.

Suggested Improvements:

The Super Record EPS drivetrain I rode. Photo: Lennard Zinn © VeloNews

On virtually any drivetrain, when you shift the front and rear derailleur at the same time, you can run into problems, and this one is no exception, but I don’t think it has to be that way.

You’ve probably learned when you’re climbing in the big chainring, not to shift to the inner chainring at exactly the same time as you shift to a smaller cog, because the rear derailleur cannot pull up the chain slack quickly enough, and you are likely to get chain suck.

I found that the EPS system has the same symptom, namely that if you perform a front downshift simultaneously with a rear upshift, it requires stopping pedaling for a second when you hear the chain slam into the underside of the chainstay to avoid jamming it between the stay and the chainring.

Now, I love that my Audi doesn’t pay much attention to me when I floor it starting up from a stop light on sheet ice. Even though I’m asking for full gas, it will only give me as much gas as I have traction for. I think that the EPS system could do something similar; it could choose to ignore the command for simultaneous shifts and could do one shift first and then the second one, saving the rider from chain suck and chain jam, just like my Audi saves me from fishtailing.

The EPS system prevents chain rub automatically on the front derailleur cage in crossed gears when seated, but it did not prevent it completely when standing. It’s probably just a symptom of being on a tall bike, which will generally have more bottom bracket flex, as others on the ride that I asked about this did not experience it.

But it would be nice if when sprinting uphill out of the saddle that the chain did not rub the inner front derailleur cage plate on each left downstroke when in the big-big combination, or rub the outer front derailleur cage plate on each right downstroke when on the big chainring-third largest cog. (When upshifting the rear derailleur when in the big ring, EPS automatically readjusts the front derailleur outward on the third largest cog.)

The Future:

Campagnolo will have four ProTeams riding EPS in 2012: Movistar, Lotto, Lampre, and Europcar. The entire Movistar and Lotto teams will be on EPS, while Lampre and Europcar will each have their top two riders only on EPS; the remainder of the riders will be on cable-actuated systems, as Wilier Triestina and Colnago had already supplied those teams with frames without internal routing for electronic systems.

Company president Valentino Campagnolo said, “It’s an entirely new direction for the company. We believe it is the future of cycling, and we have invested heavily in it for that reason, even during this economic downturn.” The company has built a second factory in Romania in anticipation of production of electronic groups.

Right now, Record EPS competes directly with Dura-Ace Di2 in both price and weight, while Super Record EPS is in a weight and price class by itself. We can be sure that, like Shimano, Campagnolo intends to push this technology down in price to make it available to more riders in the future.

Campagnolo press officer Lorenzo Taxis says, “It’s exceptional for a company our size to keep working on a product for 20 years as we have with the electronic drivetrain. It has cost us a fortune to do so, but it shows you how committed we are as a company to our vision for the future.”

Lastras says, “For me, it is very much worth the 200 grams of extra weight, because it is much easier to use and consequently safer, especially in the cold and with thick gloves on, than the cable system. And the faster shift speed is a big advantage, especially when coming over the tops of climbs and going quickly through the gears.”

Taxis added, “When the Movistar riders requested to keep the electronic systems on their personal bikes at the end of the season, we knew we had a system that met the test.” And it has met mine as well.

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.