I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the unique selling proposition of products. Some products compete based on price and land on the market as maybe not the best option but cheap enough that they’ll do. Other products go a different route and strive to be the best out there no matter what that does to the price point. By and large, no one waxes poetically about the cheapest product, but a company that produces beautiful, iconic, products that inspire lust in the eyes of both the users, and everyone who has the opportunity to see it, definitely get some words thrown their way.
The Campagnolo Super Record V3 groupset is one of those products that aim for being the best. It’s built to be the most functional but also a work of art. Of course, there will always be the competition, and there will always be those that choose something different for a variety of reasons, but when a great company makes a product designed to be the best, they rarely fall short of at least being a part of the conversation.
After I finished the “Do it All” project bike, I took a step back and asked what if I was only looking for the best performing products around? What kind of bike would that be? At that point, I started a new project designed to be a platform for discussing the absolute best products. Of course, best is always open to some interpretation, and a variety of directions, but for me the best meant a practical bike that could be used a lot, as well as be exceptionally light, without sacrificing strength.
It took me months to line up the products to be included, but from the very beginning, I knew it was going to be based around the newly released version three of the Campagnolo Super Record EPS. And after a little over a year of hard riding including over 7700 miles, 1403 shifts on the front derailleur, and 32,313 shifts on the rear derailleur, I’m finally ready to discuss the system.
There is a lot to unpack when it comes to any groupset, but there is even more when it comes to an electronic groupset. First, let me answer the most obvious, to me anyway, question of whether electronic is worth it compared to mechanical. Yes. Full stop. Yes. Electronic is more reliable, easier to tune, and a whole lot more pleasant to actually use.
When you see discussions of this, people generally discuss a range of issues that are more about differences than they are about which one is better. There are differences between electronic and mechanical, and if you’ve been doing things one way for a very long time, it can be difficult to make the change to something else, even if it’s ultimately better. You will have to spend some time reviewing videos and manuals to figure out how to do things you’ve done as second nature for years. Once you do that, though, I expect you’ll be a lot happier with the new system.
For me, a perfect example is fine tuning the shifting of the rear derailleur. On a mechanical system, you can turn the barrel adjuster to get things just right. Obviously, there’s no barrel adjuster on an electric system. Once I figured it out, though, I found it a better system. For the Campagnolo Super Record EPS V3, you hold down the mode button on the right control lever until you see the LED on the interface unit turn purple. At this point, you can use the shift levers to adjust the position of the derailleur, in the same way you would a barrel adjuster, then press the mode button once more to finalise the adjustment.
Once this is done, you’ll never have to do it again because of cable stretch. At least for me, this is a significant improvement over turning the barrel adjuster. I know which direction to go without thinking it through, I know that each press of shift lever is exactly 0.2mm, and I never have to worry about unscrewing the adjuster to the point that it comes out.
Some other issues you might see discussed include battery life and finding mechanical support. As far as battery life goes, the reality is you do have to charge the system, but I go months without even thinking about it, so I’d hardly call it an issue. Finding mechanical support is actually the only thing I might say is worth considering. Even in a bike friendly city like Portland, Oregon, it can be hard to find people who know how to work on Campagnolo products, and among that small group, finding someone to work on electronic groupsets can be even more difficult.
This will change over time, but if you live in a smaller town, it’s possible you’d want to think about the level of support you have. Of course, the best solution will be to support yourself, and electronic will make this easier in my opinion, but if you are expecting to drop your bike off somewhere for mechanical work, then you might want to ask around to see what kind of knowledge people have.
Once you’ve decided to go electronic, the next hurdle will be installation. Unlike with a mechanical system, you will need to think about your frame. The wire connections for Campagnolo EPS are slightly larger than Shimano’s DI2 and when a company lists a frame as being electronic compatible they invariably mean Shimano Di2 compatible. In this area, The SRAM RED eTap fundamentally changed the conversation by getting rid of the wiring completely.
The reality is that this is only an issue once, not something ongoing, but SRAM certainly does have the most compatibility with frames. In this case, I used a Fuji frame, and it required drilling out the hole in the seatpost to make it large enough for the Campagnolo wiring to fit. The other entry points to the frame had plenty of room, but the one on the seatpost needed drilling. It likely could have been done at home, but given that it’s an expertly engineered frame and relatively inexpensive to have done, $100, I opted to have it done by an expert (Ruckus composites in Portland, Oregon).
The Campagnolo Super Record V3 was a significant update from V2. There are many who would call this a catch up, although I believe they also took the opportunity to leapfrog a bit, with Shimano, in terms of packaging and usability. Gone are any weird battery configurations and charging holes. The battery fits into the seatpost now, and there is a fairly standard looking, if you are familiar with Shimano electronic groupsets, interface unit that can be attached to the bottom of the handlebar stem.
The interface unit is where you charge the system as well as a place where the system communicates via coloured lights. The only oddity that I found was that the battery sits far lower in my seatpost than Campagnolo seems to expect it will. The sticker that is designed to show where to place the included magnetic strap for deactivating the unit, for service or travel, can’t be used. The strap itself needs to be placed, in my use case, essentially as far down on the seat tube as possible, but it does work just fine when placed in the correct location.
Aside from the interface unit, and its coloured LEDS, the other way in which you communicate with the system is via a smart phone app. This is an area in which I believe Campagnolo has leapfrogged Shimano, as no computer is required, and it’s a wireless connection. But it’s far from perfect. In the positive column, it means that you can adjust things such as the speed at which the system shifts, or you can activate shift assist so that when you shift the front derailleur, the rear shifts as well.
But on the negative side, it’s clear that Campagnolo is not an app company. It does run well on both iOS and Android. But when I tried to update the firmware on the system, after being prompted to do so, I experienced a crash every time I tried. I attempted to do this on a variety of Android devices until I eventually gave up and asked someone with iOS to give it a try. The iOS app fared no better but eventually someone’s device was able to complete the upgrade.
The other piece of the app is a tracking system for your equipment. It’s possible to turn on the app when you ride, and it will track mileage for each piece of equipment you enter and suggest maintenance based on that. Unfortunately, there’s no way to sync a ride from elsewhere, so I pretty quickly decided I didn’t see much advantage to running a second tracking app on my phone and stopped using it. Strava tracks equipment mileage just fine for me.
Campagnolo officially lists three capabilities of the mycampy app:
1) The “My Garage” section of the app is fairly straightforward. It’s designed to “Keep track of all your cycling equipment, know exactly how many kilometres each and every component, wheel, chain or cassette has done and when it might be time to perform general maintenance to keep things functioning like new.”
2) The “My Sessions” section of the app is something that I’m glad exists, and I certainly find interesting, but ultimately isn’t something I use. The description is: “An unprecedented and sophisticated analytical tool that offers a unique look into your performance in addition to how it is affected by your use of the drivetrain. Track each and every shift, know exactly where, when and how you were riding a specific segment in addition to receiving tips and suggestions to improve your efficiency on the bike all thanks to the newest wireless capabilities of the V3 EPS interface. Learn more about your riding than ever before with Campagnolo.” Basically you’d have to track your rides with the app then you could examine the data as it relates to your shifting. It’s one of those things that I’m sure someone can extract value out of, but for me personally, it’s just not necessary.
3) The last section of the app “My EPS” is the section I think is the most important. This section allows you to “Interact with your Campagnolo electronic drivetrain by connecting wirelessly with your EPS groupset. Once connected MyEPS allows you to customise the functionality and performance of your drivetrain to suit your personal style of riding and your preferred set up of controls. Select from several factory preset modes or create your own customised style. Change the actions of each button on the Ergopower commands, customise the speed of shifting and even personalise and activate different shift assist modes. MyEPS, your custom riding experience”.
This section is the heart of what the app really needs to do. It’s here you can choose the speed of the shifting or change which buttons do what. I’ve always left the shifting on its fastest setting and the controls alone, but I have played with the shift assist settings a bit. What shift assist does is allow you to control how the rear derailleur behaves when you shift the front. Shift the front from the big ring to the small, or vice versa, and the rear will shift a certain number of cogs at the same time, so that you can maintain a similar cadence.
On paper, this sounds really cool, and I’m sure if I were on a TT bike, I’d use it more, but what I found in use was that it was disconcerting. For one thing, I’m used to shifting a certain way and having the bike do some of that for you is slightly unsettling. Pretty sure I could get used to that quickly, though. The main reason I ultimately don’t use it is because I found the gear changes to be so fast that I prefer to do things a bit slower.
This section also allows you to adjust how many cogs the rear derailleur will shift when the button is held. This is analogous to a long throw shift on mechanical systems, and what I found is that because the shifting is so fast, I leave the shift assist off and almost always press the gear button once per shift vs holding it down. I do have it set so that it will shift through the entire range if held down, and I do occasionally use that, but generally, I will just press the button multiple times. Multiple presses on EPS is still quite a bit faster than a mechanical system, and that way, I can keep track of how much it’s moving.
Of course, because Campagnolo builds wireless capabilities into its system from the start, the Super Record EPS V3 groupset does report what gear you are using to compatible cycling computers. This means I can see a visual, or numeric, representation of what gear I am in on my head-unit, but it’s one of my old school quirks that I still like to count my shifts in my head most of the time. Truthfully, that visual really shines on long climbs when I start wondering if I’ve got another gear left.
The system is more than the sum of electronics, though. At the heart of it, this is still how you interact with your bike. The way in which the gears are shifted and the brakes activated. In fact, the piece of the story I think deserves more attention is that of the brakes. The brakes on the Campagnolo Super Record EPS V3 could benefit from a bit more clearance. Clearance both for larger tires, 25mm tires on a wider rim are a tight fit, but also just to allow mud and leaves to more easily exit the tires. More importantly, though, the braking performance is astounding.
While there’s nothing I love more than climbing as fast as I can, I’m a cautious descender, and I was totally unprepared for how impressive the stopping capabilities of the Campagnolo Super Record brakes with the Skeleton arm design really are. This is, of course, somewhat dependant on the wheels you are pairing with it, but when combined with a good brake tract, it’s not hyperbole to say that I can not detect a difference between disc brakes and the rim brakes I’m using.
Typically, when a car company moves to the next generation of an iconic model, they will release a special edition of the current model first. It’s the best of everything they’ve learned, and refined, over the course of the generation, and I’ve always felt like the Campagnolo Super Record V3 was analogous to a special edition of an outgoing automotive generation. It feels like the absolute best of what is currently possible without fundamentally changing the design, and as I’ve been testing the system, and writing this review, that shift in design has happened.
Campagnolo now offers a disc brake electronic groupset and a 12 speed mechanical groupset. The writing is likely on the wall for an 11 speed rim brake groupset, but this is the ultimate refinement of that technology. The ergo power controls are perfectly contoured, and both the shifting and braking performance is the best I’ve ever used. This is Campagnolo going all in on the best they can create before they start over with a new design, and they’ve not missed the mark.
I didn’t cover every aspect of the Campagnolo Super Record V3 groupset, but what I wanted to convey were the pieces that stood out to me the most. You can install it on a DI2 compatible bike, but it may require some small modifications to the frame, the app could be honed a bit but delivers where it needs to, and above all, the human/machine interaction is as good as you hope it will be. There will always be more technology around the corner, but what’s here now is fantastic.