Going (for) Broke: Upgrade Complete

You may remember that this season I decided to go with a more traditional cycling weight-loss program; that is, forking out money I really don’t have to lose what non-cyclists might call ‘an afternoon snack’ – One Kilogram. This substantial weight savings was to be achieved by upgrading my wheels and group set. You can read about the progress here and here if you like.

Well, it’s done and I’d like to tell you all about it, if you don’t mind. First, the facts:

Old Wheels:Fulcrum Racing 7s (stock with the Infinito last year)

New Wheels:Campagnolo Eurus

Old Gruppo:Shimano Triple 10-speed

New Gruppo:Campagnolo Chorus Compact 11-speed

  • Weight of the Bianchi before the upgrade: 8.6kg (18.9lbs)
  • Weight of the Bianchi after the upgrade: 7.6kg (16.7lbs)
  • Cost of the upgrade: 1880 Euros
  • Cost of the look on Shoko’s face when she reads that amount: priceless
Before I get to the review section of this post I’d like to address what I’m sure you’re already thinking to yourself: Gerry, why didn’t you just buy a bike that cost 4380 Euros (upgrade+original bike price) in the first place and get an even better machine? The short answer is that I should have, but I see from the thousands of forums out there on this very subject that I’m not the only cyclist to upgrade his/her bike. I really didn’t know anything about the importance of weight and the quality of components when I bought the Bianchi. At least I bought an excellent frame that is light and rigid, otherwise I might be visiting divorce court instead of just the poor house this season. 

First Ride Review 

The Weight

Did I feel the weight difference? Yes and yes…I think. You all know how much your bike weighs without probably even knowing the numbers. You can tell when you’ve forgotten your water bottles for your ride when you leave home (assuming you need to lift the bike of course) because of the lack of weight, I’ll bet. As soon as I picked up the Bianchi at the shop after the assembly I could tell immediately something was missing…in a good way!

But I really wanted to know if I would feel the lightness on the hills, so I did a couple of my usuals today to find out. There was a difference, I’m confident enough to say, but I’m not sure if it was the weight or a combination of several things (more on that later). The result was that I was climbing at a faster pace than usual (1 to 2 kph) and this is after 5 days off the bike stuffing my face in Istanbul. A good sign, I think.

The Wheels (Steve, are you reading this?)

Yes, yes, yes! Did I say ‘yes’?! This was the first marked difference I noticed when I hopped on the ‘new’ bike. The Bianchi wants to roll faster now, all of a sudden. When freewheeling it is faster, when pedaling it is faster and when descending it seems much, much faster, so I’m really content with this new addition so far. I’m thinking that the pedaling speed could also be a combo of the new wheels and the new transmission, but the descending can only be the wheels. I was hitting 50kph on the back side of my place with no effort at all and I took one of my favorite corners on that descent nearly 3kph faster than usual, going at it even a little conservatively, I thought.

I’m not really sure about the flats yet because it was blowing so hard today. It has to be better, however, since the descending is. I guess the improved rolling of the new wheels could help my climbing as well, since there should be less resistance theoretically. That’s why I’m not sure if it was the 1kg I have saved or the wheels that made me climb faster. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter.

The Brake Levers / Shifting System

Camgagnolo are famous for their craftsmanship and attention to detail and I found this immediately evident on these all-important components – the ones we interact with the most on the bike (with the possible exception of the seat post if you fiddle with yours as much as I do!). First, they are really ergonomic compared with the Shimanos I had. There’s a left and right that are shaped to fit each hand. Here is the left hood; you can see how the hand would fit ever-so nicely on the top – and it does. To be honest, I don’t find it much more comfortable than the 105s, but maybe over long distances I will.

The hoods are also smaller than the Shimano, even though this next photo doesn’t show it very well. I noticed it right away, though, and at least for me, it feels much better.

In this photo you can also see the curvature of the brake levers. These have been designed  to curve in towards the drops so that braking is easier from them (particularly useful on descents). This was something I got right away because I didn’t need to adjust my hands at all to reach out for the brakes, i.e. they were right there, unlike the Shimano, where I had to sort of wrap my hand around to the outside a little to get hold of them. This won’t be an issue for people with big hands, I guess, but a welcome surprise for little ol’ me.

This top shot shows something strange sticking out of the side of the bars.

This is the shifter that changes the cassette (right) and gear ring (left) and is the most obvious change on the bike from Shimano. I wonder how many rides it’ll take before I realize that the brake lever really doesn’t do anything but brake..? There’s a shifter right beside the brake lever, just like Shimano, but you need to remember to use the thumb, too, which I’m sure will become second nature soon enough, But…

…I’m not sold on the positioning at all yet. From the hoods this is where the shifter is.

Meaning, to shift you need to moved your thumb back then down – a seemingly unnecessary move. It can’t be as fast as using your fingers on (or next to) the brake lever, like Shimano. This is the photo from above to show the position from the drops, just as weird, for me so far. It looks natural in the picture, but I needed to reach up to depress it, and then, because of the lack of control on the pressure, I was shifting down two rings at a time.

This is something I expected, having ridden Karsten’s bike a little bit last year, and I’m surprised I haven’t found other people talking about it in the forums I read before buying the Chorus. This tells me that either it’s going to be a non-issue once I get used to it, or people are too afraid to dis Campagnolo (the Apple – when Apple was cool – of bike components, in my understanding).

But shifters are about shifting, too, and this is where Campy shines. People always talk about the ‘mechanical’ feel or sound to the shifting and this is evident right away. Unlike my old Shimano, where I felt I was always pushing the derailleur into gear, Campagnolo just clicks (or ‘clunks’) and you’re there! You feel the mechanics of the instrument, if you follow me. And it works. Well, today it worked.

Then there’s this little gem: when clicking up the rear cassette you can go three rings in one push, and when going back down (harder) it allows you to skip FIVE. Five, I’m not sure about, but 2 or 3 I can easily see being useful. When? For instance, after cresting a hill with an immediate descent you might want to skip a few as you pick up speed quickly on the way down. Definitely when ‘dancing’ on climbs, since I usually have to go down 2 rings when I leave the saddle. ‘Punching’ up hills, same idea. On the other side of things you might need an easier gear when things suddenly ramp up on a climb and shifting up 2 rings in one shot can save time and effort, I imagine. A handy little addition.

The Rest

I have no idea about what happens around the crankset, other than it propels me forward and gives me no end of grief when I drop a chain. So far everything seems to work just fine with the Campy and I’m assuming I’m getting more power with it, since everything is stiffer and built for more power transfer. But that will remain a guess, I think.

You might know that I’ve gone from a triple to a compact (how glad am I to be rid of that shameful extra ring!), and I’m discovering that I have to re-learn some things. The two main rings on my old set-up were 50 and 39, which were not too far apart. So, when I shifted up to the big ring, for example, I could achieve around the same ratio by just shifting up one or two rings on the cassette (skip this section if your eyes are starting to glaze over). However, now I have a 50 and 34 and the difference seems huge in comparison. I haven’t check any charts yet, but it seems to me that to get the same ratio after shifting to the big ring I need to go up 3 or more on the cassette, that is, the multi-ring shifting capabilities of the Campy will come in handy yet again! If you made it through this paragraph, I applaud you. This is about as technical as I can be, so it only gets better from here.

I’ve already mentioned the multi-ring shifting abilities and I suppose that also has something to do with the rear derailleur, pictured here with the last you’ll see of the shiny chain and cassette, I can almost guarantee.

The last thing I should mention is the brakes. The improved cornering with the new wheels meant I didn’t have to use these things much today, but when I did I noticed two things: they work really well and the levers are very sensitive, i.e. easy to depress. This 2nd fact makes it a joy to brake from the hoods, even when using the middle-to-top of the lever.

Time will tell whether the investment was worth it, but if my impression was right about the increase in speed then I think I could possibly be looking at a couple of extra kilometers per hour, but then again I’m an eternal optimist. At least I now have a machine that demands respect, even if its rider doesn’t.

21 thoughts on “Going (for) Broke: Upgrade Complete

  1. Your whole bike probably weighs less than the tyres alone on my slow bike. The downside of all this mechanical perfection is that you’ll have to train like hell now because you won’t be able to blame the heavy bike for a slower time.

  2. There’s nothing like the feel and performance of a Campy equipped bike. Not only does it perform well, it will last a long time. Which is always a problem when trying to justify an new bike to one’s significant other. Remember what they say, the number of bikes a person should own is equal to N – 1. Where N is the number of bikes owned that will cause a divorce. With all this talk about new gear, I think I need a new set of light weight carbon wheels that won’t catch as much cross wind. Yea, that’s what I need.

    Enjoy the new set up.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence and useful divorce advice, Coach. I think I’m at that point now, but just because we have no more space for one more bike. And I’m surprised you haven’t gotten those wheels yet. I remember you talking about them last summer. Could be windy in your Gran Fondo and you wouldn’t want to be unprepared…

  3. Great little piece, Mate! I also have a Bianchi which came with Campag Athena 11. Have another bike with Shimano: Shimano is fine, but Campag is great! You will get used, fairly quickly, to that neat little thumb-shifter; I have no trouble reaching it from the drops, even at speed, by moving my thumb under the bars. Nice to read something from another Bianchi rider who feels so good about their bike that they’d rather upgrade components than buy a different bike! Your wheels sound great; I’m just about to upgrade, also from Fulcrum 7s, to Mavic: we’ll see!

    • Thanks Clive. I’m glad to hear I’ll get used to it. I was sure I would, but the thumb thing still gives me concern. Like I said though, nobody but me seems to be complaining about it, so it must be good. Which Mavics are you thinking about? My first idea was going up to Kysriums, but thought I’d try a step up so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend more money next season. And yeah, I love the Infinito. I think it’s a keeper.

      • Hi Gerry; I’ve gone for Mavic Ksyrium Elites (with Campag of course). As you know, the choice of wheels out there today is, if nothing else, confusing! I went with what I can afford at the moment. I’ll let you how they pan out once I’ve done a few ks on them. Enjoy yours! Cheers.

  4. Hi Gerry, your set up is very correct. Having seen your bike pre-upgrade it would now look brilliant, and will keep you satisfied for at least 2 seasons, thereby saving your even more hard earned Euros!! The upgrade MUST be worth 10 minutes up your next Ol Baldy cruise! Your biggest challenge will be the change from a triple to the compacts, not the awesome thumb shifter. It won’t be long before you will wonder how you ever lived without it. Hope the rain and wind stops soon.

    • I’m already getting used to the thumb thing a little more, but they still irritate me in the drops. I think you’re right about the compact, too. The gearing difference is making my head spin. Glad I have a few weeks to get my brain around it before the Etapes.

      10 more minutes off Ventoux would be nice, but I think it’s more like I’ll be trying to find that missing gear I used to have!

  5. Hi Gerry

    You might remember that I’ve just started dipping my toe into the world of sportives. 3 easyish ones under my belt now so my brother in law and I have persuaded ourselves that next year’s etape is a definite.

    I hope you dont mind but I just wanted to pick your brains on gearing. I’m already on a compact, its the cassette where I’m in unknown territory. Obvioulsy I need some low enough gears to tackle the real mountains rather than our English hills. At the moment I have 12-25 on the back, 12-28 seems common but does that give me enough? I was wondering what you have gone for with the new kit.


    • Hi Simon. My guess is that it all depends on how strong you are, or plan to be by the time next year’s Etape rolls around. There must be a direct link between strength (and weight) and the cassette you choose – just look at the insane things the pros ride.

      I have an 11-27 on my new set-up and I just tested it out on Ventoux yesterday. I’m happy to report that I can do long stretches at 10%+ with this gear and I spent some of the time in my 25 during the climb. This doesn’t really tell you much about what you need, though, unfortunately.

      One of my buddies is going to use his 12-25 for the Etape this year, but he’s pretty light and pretty strong, too. I wouldn’t want that gearing, for sure, since the cadence would be too low for steep sections.

      28 will get you pretty close to what my triple had, I think, so it might be OK, but again, it really depends on you. It might be a good idea to get a lot of your training in and see where you are in terms of performance once it kicks in, then make the decision. It’s an easy change to make.

      Anyone else have any tips?

      • Thanks Gerry. V Useful. Kind of confirms my feel that having 28 on the back should do the job, at least by the time July 2013 rolls around. Lots of 10% territory round here (though not for great distances) and I’m finding 25 a bit of a slow grind but it’s early days. Oh yeah – and I need to shed at least 10kgs!

  6. Hi Gerry, I came across your blog whilst searching google on reviews and advise when changing from a shimano set up to campagnolo. I have to tell you that it was a great read and most helpful, but I was wondering what your experiences / views are of the chorus 11/Eurus set now, since 2012 when you wrote your blog. Did you every get used to the thumb levers?? Did the positive gear change remain consistent? Did the set up require much tweaking or service? If you had to get a LBS to service it how did that experience? Do you still feel positive about changing camps from shimnao to campy?

    I am currently in the process of getting a new bike and to use my current all year round bike as the winter ride. I have a specialized allez aluminium frame with a 9 speed (11-25) Shimano 105 setup throughout. I have had it since 2000 and it’s been a very a great bike, with a few upgrades over the years. But now its time to change and a carbon frame (Canyon Ultimate) has caught my eye which has two options – shimano ultegra di2 with mavic wheels or chorus 11 (2015) with Eurus wheels. On seeking advise most have steered me towards the shimano set up as I am already used to shimano and it’s got the latest electronic gearing, but my heart is telling me to change to campy. The chorus 11 has limited reviews as it hasn’t been out that long but the ones I’ve read are really positive. The Eurus wheels get great reviews and as a whole the campy spec looks amazing.

    Your feedback is going to be valuable as you have made the same change that I’m looking to make, and there really aren’t that many reviews/blogs like yours out there.

    Cheers, Graham

    • Hi Graham,

      Just saw your comment come through, and I’ve got time before my wife gets back, so here goes!

      Yes, it’s been a long time now since the change, and actually, since that time I’ve bought a new bike (as one does) with the newest version of Chorus 11 and carbon wheels. However, I still ride my trusty Bianchi and it has exactly the same components as it had when I wrote this article 3.5 years ago.

      Take this with a grain of salt, since this is what I’m used to now, but I am overjoyed with the Campy groupset. I have rarely had any big problems with it, but I think you could probably say the same thing for Shimano equipment. The thumb shifter was really a non-issue in the end because it’s just something you get used to, like anything else. I don’t even notice it now – it’s just automatic. The shifting is clear and exact and very ‘mechanical’, as I think I might have said in the article above. The new 11 has amazing front ring shifting, too – a big improvement over the old one I have on the Bianchi. It feels different from Shimano, no question. I decided to stay with Chorus for my new set-up because you are still getting the same ‘guts’ as Record and Super Record for a much lower price. Some day I’ll upgrade, I’m sure, but the weight loss didn’t convince me this time again. Oh, and it just looks so much better than Shimano or SRAM!

      The wheels have been magic, to be honest. I’ve done some very rough riding all over Europe with them and they haven’t gone out of true a mm, which is something I can’t say for my new carbon wheels. I will probably buy Campy again on my next bike, either the Eurus or Shamal. I doubt you could go wrong with either of these excellent wheelsets.

      One thing about Campy is, you might be ‘forced’ to buy some of their tools if you want to fix your bike yourself. I did and with a little help from YouTube, I can do a good amount of maintenance myself, which is great. This tools aren’t cheap, but once you have them I don’t think you’ll need to change them over time much.

      Finally, I have nearly bought your Canyon a few times. I have a few clients (I’m a bike guide) who ride the Ultimate and they love the ride. It’s still on my ‘list’. Hope that helps. Would love to hear how it all goes for you.

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