As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently acquired some Campag Record EPS. I’ve since had it fitted to my bike, and have basically been waiting a couple of weeks for the weather to clear up a bit, not because I was concerned about water and Italian electronics (Campag themselves put up a video on YouTube of the groupset working whilst submerged in a tank of water), but because I don’t like my bike getting dirty. Typically, the weather was awful for a while, but it cleared up enough the other day for a ride on the new gears, so out I went. Hopefully, this should answer some questions about EPS for those considering a purchase, illustrated with some horrendously overexposed photos.
Given the groupset literature says it is only compatible with frames with internal cabling, I was initially worried that I had made a bit of a boo boo, given my Cervelo R3 does not have such a feature. Can you fit Campagnolo EPS to a frame without internal cabling then? In short, yes. The great guys at Activ Cycles, Corbridge, managed to use the existing holes in the frame for the rear derailleur and the like to fit most of the cables inside the frame anyway – in fact, aside from the battery pack, the only hint the bike is electronic is a black cable that runs up the inside of the down tube to the interface unit, which you can’t see from any of the ‘photogenic’ angles of the bike anyway, and looks smart regardless, plus one that curves around the bottom bracket for 10cm. The bike certainly appears alot cleaner and smarter then previously, plus Campags dark silver, red and black colour scheme really compliment the bike’s colour scheme.
My only complaint is that hoods don’t come in black yet – I used to have them in white to match the bar tape, but the new lever design means the old ones are not compatible, but this is purely aesthetic and not a big deal unless like myself, you’re sad enough to think your bike’s style is a big deal.
Charging and other processes
Now the groupset is electronic, you obviously have to charge it up. They should run for 3000km anyway, which is plenty, and the system interface, which sits under your stem or on your cables, has a system of lights that go through a sequence of Green, flashing green, yellow, red, flashing red and flashing red and a buzzer to indicate the charge level. Basically, you’re going to have to go through a helluva lot of warnings before the system runs out, and even then, it will be the more power consuming front derailleur that cuts out first. If you still persist and run it dry, you can decouple the mech and choose a gear manually, although I haven’t tried this as I don’t really want to be pulling at a £500 piece of carbon fibre that came in a padded box.
As for the actual charging, a lot has been made of the fact you have to effectively plug the bike in to charge in as the battery pack is not removable like Shimano’s electric offerings. To be honest, this is no big deal – the bikes people are going to be using EPS on are hardly going to be locked to a garden fence and need extension cables running out windows, and the charging takes an hour and a half, so its really not a big deal unless your significant other shirks at the idea of bikes in the house.
The one oddity as regards the power ins the odd little cut off magnet that Campagnolo have deemed necessary. In theory, it’s a good idea – you insert the magnet into a little cavity next to the charge port on the battery pack and it shuts off all power, so that the system no longer operates, saving power. In reality however, it’s simply annoying – it’s so small it’ll easily get lost, and you don’t really want to carry it around for that reason. It’s even been touted as an anti theft device as *horror* thieves will be unable to ride off with it if you leave it in given they wont be able to change gear, but how many bike thieves try and ride bikes away? None, that’s how many. Pointless.
Personally, I think Campagnolo has a much simpler operation then Di2, as it retains the one lever, one action idea of the mechanical groupset. In other words, the levers for braking, up and down shifts are all seperate by some distance, whilst the Di2 has the buttons next to one another, which can lead to confusion (and I’m not making that up, I’ve ridden with someone on Ultegra Di2 who spent the first 5 miles trying to figure out which button did which thing, and pressing the wrong part of the lever). Campag’s buttons are very simple, with the inside, remodeled paddle to change up a gear excellent in its ergonomics, and the lever to change down behind the brake is wide and well placed. There are also two buttons behind the paddles, which, before anyone asks, are near impossible to accidentally press due to their position as well as the very hard springs beneath them, which can be used to either check battery levels with a single tap of either, or to enter the ‘set up mode’ of the bike to change the derailleur positioning. Of course, you shouldn’t need to do this once done once, as EPS has no cables to stretch and thus nothing to mantain – it should be perfect every time.
Campagnolo have also kept their multi-shift function, which on the mechanical groups, allowed you to, by holding in the lever, sweep across 3 hears down or 5 gears up the cassette, for when you need to ‘dump’ gears on a descent or steep climb. This time, you simply need to hold the button down, and the derailleur will zoom across in either direction. Not that you’d ever do this, but I experimented and managed to get through all 22 gears in less then 9 seconds. In other words, it’s quicker then individually pressing every button and an excellent feature to bring across from the mechanical groups that Shimano does not have.
So was it? Well, it’s frankly excellent, impeccable almost. The throw of the paddles and levers is so short gear changes require so little effort, but aren’t short enough to make them easy to do accidentally. But the gear changing…it’s amazing. Gone are the days where pushing the lever in would result in a ‘clack-clack-clack’ or a mech before the chain begrudgingly moved across with a jolt, halting your momentum and making you curse the manufacturers. The 11 speed rear derailleur (on a side note, 11 speed is great – the gaps are just right to make every gear feel just the right amount harder or easier then the previous one, something that 9/10 speed fails to achieve) simply glides across the cassette, and makes the ride so much more smoother. The changes are slick, fast, and simple, and you basically don’t notice the system as it does its job so well, taking the notion of ‘gear worry’ out of the equation.
Speaking of ‘gear worry’, the front derailleur is a revelation. Oft the problem on most bikes is changing on the big ring, as under torque, mechanical groups simply aren’t very good. Usually when I ride, I come to a T junction which rears up and forces a hill start, but because of the problems of mechanical front derailleurs, I usually don’t bother changing, and heave myself slowly over the top of the rise. But with EPS, i simply tapped the button and the chain dropped silently into the small ring. I span up the slope, turned onto the main road, and pressed the button as I accelerated away. The chain was back on the big ring instantaneously with no fuss, no chain tug, nothing. The front derailleur is the reason to buy an electronic group, as it is just so much more pleasant then the ‘clacety-clack’ of trying to feel the chain onto the rings with a mechanical group set. It’s perfect every time.
Even more useful is the automatic trim. If you change across from gear 11 to gear 1, then the front derailleur, without doing anything, automatically adjusts to eliminate chain rub. Every time to change gear, the groupset self adjusts, with the front always making two noises – one big movement, then another small one back as it readjusts using its magnetic sensor to be in the best position. It’s so pleasant not having to do it yourself or even having to think about it.
So what’s wrong, if anything? Besides the price, the only issue is perhaps with feedback. The system is so effortless and perfect, its sometimes hard to know if you’ve actually changed gear. Campagnolo have always been known for their feedback and ‘connection’ to the bike, with the mechanical groups often making a satisfying ‘thwunk’ sound as gears engaged. That is reduced significantly on the EPS, but the derailleurs are still noisier then Di2, and the buttons have a solid and beefy click to them that helps you know whats going on. Still, it could perhaps be improved somehow, as the sytem has a buzzer that is only employed as a battery warning, which could maybe be used to help you know whats going on. Still, this lack of feedback is easily worth it when compared to the flawless shifting you get in return.
Verdict: Worth it over a mechanical groupset?
The main question you have to ask to justify buying EPS is this: is it really that much better then mechanical? Will I notice any difference? As I hope I’ve made clear, you almost certainly will. Bearing in mind the top groupsets I’ve used are Campag Centaur and Ultegra, and well as Sram Force (which should be destroyed with fire and ash), it’s the best I’ve ridden in every department, and it’s the little things such as no need to ever adjust it, the elimintion of chain rub, the ease and simplicity of the operation and of course that front derailleur which add up to such a powerful and worthwhile package, and that’s before we even get onto the ergonomics and the like.
I feel like writing a letter to Mr Campagnolo thanking him for such a fantastic product. Everything just works so well, and removes so many of the little niggles of mechanical groups that it really is just astounding. Astounding value, maybe not, but for shifting quality, aesthetics and general performance, Campagnolo Record EPS is brilliant. I would heartily recommend it, although as I’ve discovered, you won’t want to get back on mechanical groups!