About every five years or so, the big-wigs in the component market overhaul their product lines, resulting in better, more reliable, and more aesthetically pleasing components. It’s that time again, with Campagnolo having just released it’s 11 speed groups, Dura Ace is now 7900 (or 7970, Shimano’s electronic Di2 Dura Ace) for those with deep pockets) and, although slightly older, Sram’s Red gruppo is holding it’s own. But which one is really better than the rest? Here’s my opinion.
Being someone who is drawn to aesthetics and quality, Campy is hard to beat for me. I love the ergonomics of the shifters; the way every bolt is precisely machined, and the lack of plastic except for the pulley wheels. For me it screams “passionately designed.” It’s like Campy put their heart and soul into manufacturing every detail of these illustrious parts. 20 speeds not enough? How about 22 for those of us who have to have that perfect cadence. On the downside, they don’t shift as precisely as Shimano, and Super Record is only marginally lighter than RED, but costs almost twice as much. True, Record 11 is less than 100 grams heavier for the gruppo than Super Record and considerably less on your pocket book (not to mention all the tour teams running Campy are riding Record, not Super Record) but SR is still the flagship. So, is the cost of Campy justified? If you care about heritage and where your product is made then I say it is, and if you’ve met many Italians, you would probably agree. Some people say there isn’t a difference in quality between Shimano, Sram and Campy, but they probably can’t see the difference between an E colored diamond and an F. (Neither can I, so my wife got an F.)
Though I love Campy, I can’t justify the cost over Shimano. 7900 is amazingly good. It’s ridiculously light, and arguably is the most precise and accurately shifting gruppo. Consequently, it rewards finesse. A smooth rider will have no trouble feeling immediately at home on a 7900 equipped bike. Shifter actuation is light and almost delicate compared to RED and Super Record. Super Record tends to be notchy, which isn’t a bad thing, it just means shifting is more pronounced. RED is simply robust, requiring the most effort but being the most positive and direct. It shifts the bike into gear with all the subtlety of a shotgun blast – not the most precise, but hard to miss. If I could complain about 7900, it would be that it’s no longer possible to shift down 3 gears at a time as with 7800. And, although comfortable, the shifter hoods aren’t as ergonomic as Campy’s. I’m eager to try 7970, since the shifter hoods were redesigned and look a bit more ergonomic. So far, Shimano is still my favorite. But I can’t forget about Sram, so let’s move on.
As I said before, Sram has the most robust shifting feel. It’s also a bit lighter than DA and only barely heavier than Super Record at 2/3rds the price. Sram has 2 distinct differences compared to the other gruppos. The first is Double Tap, Sram’s innovative mechanism that allows one finger shifting. Difference isn’t always an advantage, as Campy’s shift mechanism is different than Shimano’s. But Campy’s requires you to use your thumb and many don’t like that, plus it’s been around forever, making it seem a tad routine. Shimano’s action is light on up shifts, but heavier on downshifts. Unless you’re the Hulk, you’ll need two fingers for the downshift simply because you’re moving two levers. Sram’s shift lever never needs more than one finger which simplifies the process. Many people have already fallen in love with Double Tap. Others strongly dislike it, but they seem to be in the minority. And it’s hard to get away from the light weight in an industry that places so much worth on total grams. Plus, it’s almost impossible to miss shift RED, thanks to it’s incredibly direct and positive shift action, and don’t forget about the Power Dome, the ingeniously designed one piece CNC’d steel cassette. Lighter and stronger? Yes please.
But for me, overall, Shimano is just too good. The smoothest shift action of the bunch is hard to pass up, though I’ve thought many times about switching to Campagnolo—maybe some day. Until then you’ll find Shimano on my bike. But what about you? Let’s hear your thoughts on these incredible component gruppos. Is the Campagnolo heritage unbeatable? Is silky-smooth Shimano the evolution of perfection? Or is the newcomer Sram RED enough to make you take the leap?
If you want to know more, as always, feel free to check out our website, ArtsCyclery.com or drop me an email and please, by all means, tell us what you think.