Sunday, May 03, 2009

Equipment - Which Group Should I Buy, Part 2

So you've read through the history of the rear derailleur, at least as we know it now. Why was that so significant? It's significant because it illustrates how the various companies evolved, how your drivetrain became what it is now.

It's also important because it shows how important compatibility is when dealing with different companies' designs. I'll get back to that in a moment.

When one selects a group though, you normally don't look at compatibility, at least not initially. When you first look at a bike, a real bike, either at a bike shop or maybe at a race, you inevitably touch and feel the shifters. After all, if you don't like the way it shifts or brakes, well, you won't care who it's compatible with.

Nowadays one of the primary differences between groups is how you the shift, what you do to change gears on the bike. All current groups use some kind of shifter mounted on the bars. Shimano began the "brifter" (brake/shift lever) revolution with their STI levers. They've been unique in that the large, main lever works both the brake as well pulling in the cable.

Campy kept their big lever for brakes only, and uses a smaller lever and a thumb button for shifting.

My thumb is on the thumb button, my index finger on the "main" shifter. The brake lever, the furthest to the right, is used only for braking.

Campy's Ergo levers have two, maybe three things going for them. First off, they're rebuildable. Now, granted, if your Ergo lever looks like someone pulverized it with a sledgehammer, it probably isn't worth rebuilding. But you can address something like simple wear, after thousands of shifts, by replacing a few key parts.

Second, Ergo levers allow you to use any front derailleur. Yes, I said "Any". Because the left shifter works like a glorified ratcheting downtube shifter, you control how far over to move the derailleur. There are no defining "high and low" areas. Just a whole bunch of micro-clicks, if you will, letting you decide where to stop the front derailleur. This means that you can use any front derailleur that is cable-actuated and has a return spring. As mentioned before, I used to use a Campy Super Record (the old one, not the current one) front derailleur, definitely not a shift-ramp-sculpted front derailleur.

Finally, Ergo levers let you double-shift into a lower gear with one motion. Okay, some of them do - look for the ones that allow more than one thumb-button shift on the right/rear shifter. If you calculate your gears, you'll find that when you shift from, say, a 53x19 to a lower gear, and you want to use the small ring (maybe a big climb is coming up), the next lowest gear isn't a 39x19. Instead, it's a 39x15. This means that to shift into the next lowest gear, you need to move the chain from the 53 to the 39 while, at the same time, you shift it from the 19 down to the 15 in the back.

That's what they call a "double shift", because you shift both front and rear derailleurs at the same time. It works too, although it may seem like it may not work.

With Shimano and SRAM, you can shift the front derailleur just as quickly as an Ergo lever. However, the rear derailleur shifts only one cog at a time. Therefore you have to rapidly click the little shifter to get the chain over to the 15. Not a huge deal, perhaps, but it's certainly easier to double shift by pressing both thumbs down a bunch of clicks. Brrrrp! and you're done. With Shimano/SRAM, it's Brrp! on the left and ClickClickClickClick! on the left. I even mention my first "live" shift comparison in the middle of a P123 race - me on Ergo, Frank McCormack on Shimano. Personally I think Ergo won, although I have to admit that I didn't do as well as Frank in the race.

SRAM came to the table much later, and they use just one separate lever for shifting. Like Campy, their main lever is just for braking. Here's a good picture on SRAM Double Tap usage. Although there's been talk of how you can grip the bars and the shift lever in a sprint, I find that I can shift an Ergo lever fine while going 100% while in the drops while holding the bars as pictured above.

One must take ergonomic recommendations with an eye on the recommender. Due to the personal nature of ergonomics, one rider may find a particular shifter easy to use while another may find himself confounded by the same shifter.

I have a hard time with Shimano's STI design. Apparently I pull the shift lever towards me when I push it inwards. On Campy- and SRAM-equipped bikes, this has no effect on anything - pulling the shift lever towards you simply moves the shift lever towards you. On Shimano-equipped bikes this same habit almost throws me over the bars every time I go to shift because pulling the shift lever towards you will engage the brake. Since lots of cyclists have absolutely no problem with Shimano's brifters, it's just me (and probably my smaller size hand). But, being risk averse, I'd say that even the possibility of confusing the two actions (shifting and braking) pushes me away from trying to learn myself to use Shimano.

So what else differentiates groups, if not shifting?

It's significant because it illustrates the importance of compatibility, both within a company as well as between them.

It's easier to understand the "between companies" concept. Companies have to choose their allies, define their borders. Campy, history indicates, ends up isolated by the others. Or, if you ask the non-Campy companies, isolates themselves from the others.

Wait for a minute. What do I mean by "compatible?"

To define "compatibility", we need to define exactly what needs to be compatible. For example, most techs expect a crank and bottom bracket to be a one-company unit, with the exception of any bearing upgrades. Likewise, parts that don't interact with anything else, like a headset or a front hub, are pretty much automatically "compatible with everything".

Brake calipers and levers make up a somewhat necessary combination, but, realistically, the days of incompatible brake calipers seem to be over for now. When Shimano first decided to make their brakes different (SLR, or Shimano Linear Response), they made such light action calipers that the calipers could barely open back up after you closed them with, say, a Campy brake lever, cables, and housing. Now that pretty much all the calipers out there work the same way, calipers have become somewhat universal. Compatible, in other words.

So then what defines compatibility between companies' groups?

The three main differences between groups are the cassette splines, cassette spacing, and the crankarm's chainring bolt circles. These three specifications define which drivetrain pieces you can use, your rear derailleur's shifting requirements, and what you can do to adjust your gearing (via chainring or cassette changes).

Campy chose a unique deep spline for its freehub, a slightly wider cassette cog spacing, and an odd 135 mm bolt circle diameter (BCD). Unusually for Campy, they went with the standard 110 mm compact crank BCD, the old mountain bike BCD borrowed by the roadies.

Shimano still uses the same profile they used a zillion years ago, a narrower but more standard cassette cog spacing, and they've stuck resolutely to their 130 mm BCD. If you read the previous post, you'll know that the 130 mm BCD, when first introduced, was an oddity. Now it's the standard. Shimano uses a 110 mm BCD for their compact cranks.

The joker in the deck, SRAM, allied themselves with Shimano, choosing to go with the more common Shimano freehub shape, Shimano cassette cog spacking, and the now-standard 130 mm BCD for the standard size 'rings. For compact, they went with a 110 mm BCD too.

So in compatibility between companies, Campy is unto itself, with its unusual standard BCD, cassette splines, and cassette cog spacing. SRAM and Shimano both allow some interchangeability, especially on rear hubs and crank/chainrings. All of them use the same compact crank chainring BCD.

Okay, now let's talk about compatibility within the company.


Let's go back to the history books just a bit. When Campy first came out with Ergopower levers (their brifter), they had an index shifting mountain bike group. Because Campy is a relatively small company, they have a relatively small budget when it comes to manufacturing things. It makes sense, then, to make their various component pieces interchangeable with one another.

For example, when Campy came out with Ergopower levers, you could use any of their rear derailleurs on your road bike. In other words, Campy made their road bike stuff index the same way as the mountain bike stuff. You could mount Ergo levers on your mountain bike, and mountain bike levers on your road bike. It would all work together. You could pair any 8 speed Campy shifter with any Campy 8 speed drivetrain and it would work.

Let's repeat. With Campy's first iteration of Ergo, with their 8 speed lineup, everything in their line was compatible with everything else in their line.

You could use drop bars on a mountain bike, or mountain bike bars with a road bike. The only sketchy bit would be the brake cable pull (but a simple cantilever straddle cable piece would fix it), but drivetrain-wise, your 8s Ergopowers would shift a triple crank or a double crank, or a long cage or short cage rear derailleur. We'd have guys using long cage derailleurs on their road bikes, and, conceivably, you could install a tight 12-21 cassette on your mountain bike and use a short cage rear derailleur.

In addition, you could move up and down the component range as necessary. Broke your Record rear derailleur in a crash? Slap on your Athena, it would work fine. Or, if your Athena rear derailleur started getting a bit sketchy, you could upgrade to a Record.

Shimano, in their brilliant non-compatible wisdom, initially made Dura-Ace different from everything else in their own line-up. They kept their then-unusual 130mm BCD, but they altered their derailleur specs. If you bought into a Dura-Ace derailleur and shifter, you had to stay with Dura-Ace. Ultegra derailleurs wouldn't work with Dura-Ace shifters and vice versa. Buying a bike meant making a big decision on your bike's disposability - would you be willing to go "all in" to Dura-Ace to get the acknowledged superior shifting, or would you compromise and forever stay in the Ultegra/105 range?

Just recently, the two companies swapped "within compatibility" ideas. This actually prompted my thoughts on this whole topic, because it seemed like a violation of each company's respectful basic philosophies to do so.

To preview what I'll mention, Campy introduced a set of groups that won't interchange (per my definition - cassettes, shifters, rear derailleur) with other groups in their line. And Shimano, for a few years, has offered a Dura Ace that (horror!) allows you to use Ultegra drivetrain pieces with no problems.

So, first, Campy.

Campy introduced 11 speed, a system totally incompatible with their 10 speed line-up. Sure the freehub width was the same, but the cog spacing wasn't, and neither were the derailleurs and shifters. In addition, some 10 speed wheels won't work with 11 speed cassettes because the 11 speed cassette pushes its largest cog deeper into the spokes, and a rear wheel with "bulky" spokes (or a more vertical set of driveside spokes) will prevent the use of an 11 speed cassette. To go 11 speed you must get the new shifters, derailleurs, cassette, and chain, and you have to have a wheel that accepts an 11 speed cassette.

That's fine if all of Campy went 11, but they didn't do that. They only went 11 for Record and Chorus (and Super Record, but that's sort of like Record). Their more economical groups, Centaur and below, remain 10 speed. This means that, like Shimano earlier, if you want the best quality Campy, you have to buy into it.

And you're stuck in it.

On a side note, Campy cassettes are crazy expensive, some costing as much as $400 or more. Shimano's more ubiquitous cassettes, and the non-Shimano compatible versions, typically cost under $150, with a bunch coming in well under $100. Shimano's wear parts are simply less expensive.

With that, let's talk about Shimano.

A few years ago, Shimano made Dura-Ace compatible with everything else. This means you can buy an Ultegra bike with thoughts of upgrading it, or, if you have a Dura Ace bike, you can buy an Ultegra rear derailleur as a spare. For now, all of Shimano's main road stuff is 10 speed, and everything interchanges with everything.

Which group do you think would work the best? Be the most fiscally efficient? For you and me, for the average rider or racer?


What is clear is that the 11s Campy stuff is incompatible with the 10s stuff. Fine, the non-drivetrain pieces are interchangeable (the brakes, for example, didn't change between 10s and 11s). Even the crank arms are identical.

But the wear items, the chains, cassettes, shifters, derailleurs, even the derailleur cables and housing, that's all different between the two sets of Campy groups. 11s doesn't work with 10s in that case. And, technically, 10s doesn't work with 9s, unless you make a minor modification to the shifters and replaced the 'rings. Even if you have 9s, there are a couple versions of 9s, as I recently discovered.

As mentioned before, it used to be like that with Shimano. You had Dura Ace? You could only use Dura Ace. If you had an Ultegra kit on the bike, you'd have to replace the brifters to install a DA rear derailleur. Thankfully they've changed that - now you can mix and match at will.

For me, though, Shimano's greater issue is that combined function brake/shift big lever - I just don't like it. Therefore I scratch Shimano off my list.

(I can do that because it's titled "Which Group Should I Buy", not "Which Group Should You Buy" - I started thinking about this on a reflective moment somewhere out in California this February).

Okay, what about the new kids on the block? What about SRAM? I didn't mention in the above comparison, so I'll mention them now.

They went the Shimano drivetrain route, meaning they made sure that their stuff interchanged with Shimano - Shimano freehub splines, Shimano cassette cog spacing, 10 speed max.

However, they went further. It's as if they looked at Campy's 8 speed intercompany compatibility matrix, liked it, and made their model. Right now, everything that's in their line up interchanges with everthing else in their line up.

You want a long cage rear derailleur on your superlight road bike so you can do Mount Washington with your double chainring? Slap it on. Short cage for a crit the next weekend? Slap it on. Red rear derailleur on your Rival bike? Go right ahead.

SRAM has made it possible for cyclists (and manufacturers) to mix and match parts to their own liking. I have yet to see a mixed SRAM spec bike though, so that makes me think that they prefer the groups to stay "pure" (and forcibly sell them that way, an early Shimano trait). However, I have to imagine that there are individuals out there mixing up their SRAM groups, cherry-picking for stiffness or weight. And when the inevitable part wears or breaks, you can buy whatever level replacement part fits your needs.

This opens a huge range of options for the average racer pedaling SRAM. By cherry-picking the group, especially if upgrading or replacing worn components, a rider can get the best of the line.

I've heard (unsubstantiated) rumors that the Red chainrings are a bit flexy. If that's true, you can put Force (or any Shimano) ring on instead to stiffen things up a bit (I like having stiff rings because it feels so much more solid when you're out of the saddle in the big ring) . Similarly, I like having a steel cage front derailleur so I can do my own tweaking, because I have much lower standards for being able to shift across a cassette without having to trim the front derailleur than do any manufacturer. Therefore, looking at SRAM's line, it looks like I'd prefer to use the Force front derailleur instead of a Red.

Ultimately, for me, 20 or 40 grams here and there won't matter, not if I'm overweight by 10 or 20 pounds. And even for pros, trying to stay over the UCI mandated minimum 6.8 kg bike weight can be tricky with sub-1 kg frames, sub-2 kg groups, and 1.5 kg wheelsets. The number of 5.5 - 6 kg bikes in the non-UCI Cat 3 races astounds me.

So, based on what you've read so far, it seems like I'm leaning towards SRAM. I am, but with one caveat.

A biggie.

See, I really like Ergo levers. I'll sacrifice a lot to be able to keep the Ergos, because I think they work the best for shifting in all situations - regular riding, climbing, and, most importantly, sprinting at 100% out of the saddle.

SRAM doesn't have Ergo levers. But... Leonard Zinn found that Campy's 10 speed Ergo levers work with SRAM rear derailleurs if they're shifting across a SRAM/Shimano 10 speed cassette. Since I like the Ergo levers, I have to admit that I've filed that fact prominently in my head after stumbling across that article.

Therefore, for me, I have the perfect group scenario:

The ultimate group would be a SRAM group (pick whichever one fits your, I mean, my budget - from Rival through Force and up to Red), and a pair of Campy 10s Ergo levers. Centaur would work if you want a new set, and, if you're like me and you have a few older 10s Ergo levers, any of those would work too.

You'll be able to use any SRAM or Shimano 10 speed cassette, chain, and compatible freehub wheels, and you'll get the advantages of the Ergo lever.

Now what to do with all my Campy wheels?


Disclaimer/notes, and there are a few of them:
1. I haven't verified that SRAM works with Campy as described above, but I think Zinn wouldn't say it if it didn't work. His article is not dated April 1.
2. I've ridden SRAM Double Taps only once, and for a short time. I didn't feel comfortable with them, but then I didn't have to learn to like them either.
3. I've never had success riding STI, and I tried for a long, long time (10 years?) to like them.
4. I think Ergo levers are the best (just to clarify what I said before).
5. My thoughts are all theoretical - with three complete Campy 10s bikes, at least 5 sets of Campy (cassette) wheels, the missus's Campy 10s bike, and the Campy-Shimano 10s/9s set up on the tandem, it'll be a long time before we move to another group wholesale. However, if I had to buy a new bike right now, you'd know what I'd do.


hobgoblin said...

I'll take your Campy wheels! :)

Hocam said...

I would double check that ergo-sram compatibility. A mechanic friends #1 reason for hating Lenard Zinn is that he did the exact same thing and the shifting would never stay dialed in. You might get it to work in the stand, but on the road it just didn't mesh.

Also I ride campy on my brevet bike and shimano on the race bike and have the same braking-shifting issue with the shimano shifters. It's taken some time but I finally don't do it anymore.

Aki said...

Hob - lol, although I may not be laughing that long. You can definitely check out the DV46s though.

Hocam - I've been reluctant to post the second part of my little 2 article mini series because I haven't had hands on experience with the SRAM stuff, at least not enough to warrant myself an expert of any kind. The Ergo lever thing was part of it.

I may have to find someone willing to experiment, although finding a spare SRAM rear derailleur (and a Shimano 10s wheel) shouldn't be hard.

I currently use a normal Campy 10s Ergo lever on an otherwise 9s Shimano bike, using the "wrong side of bolt" cable clamping method. Works great, and since a tandem has a bazillion miles of cable that flexes and such, I'm impressed. I figured similar mismatches should work.

I know that SRAM's pull (3.0mm) isn't the same as Campy's (2.8-3.1mm I think), but I figured that the upper pulley's auto-center feature would make up for a 0.2 mm misalignment.

Only one way to find out...

No One Line said...

"There are a couple versions of 9s, as I recently discovered." I see a lot of Campag 9 speed still in use, and I use it. I was going to make a post about identifying the two different versions of 9 speed, which users are going to have to do if they're scrounging for NOS or used bits. But it's probably more worthwhile to just leave a comment here...

The two sets have different cable-pull ratios and aren't cross-compatible. The change happened in '01, so we're talking about pre-01 and post-01 versions. Pre-01 rear derailleurs have the b adjustment screw located at the derailleur's frame mounting bolt, whereas post-01 rear derailleurs have it between the paralellogram and the cage and jockey wheels.

Pre-01 shifters have either the group name or, in the case of Chorus and Record, "Carbon BB System" written on the forward-facing part of the hood body above the brake lever, whereas post-01 stuff says "9 speed."

It's a little bit of a pain. Not just this, but the constant development that renders my parts obsolete and builds a market that suggests that I buy a whole new set of stuff every few years. If I were buying a new bike or a new group (unlikely, I'm a buy-used type) I think the smart thing to do would be to stick with either shimano or sram 10 speed, because of the broader range of compatibility, lower prices for high-end, and longer timeline (apparently/probably) that the technology will be relevant rather than phased down the ladder.

If you like Ergo levers, and they work with SRAM derailleurs, the rebuildable part comes in handy because you can update 8 to 9, and 9 to 10 speed levers by replacing the indexing mech. Which I find really neat.

What to do with your Campy wheels? Use them - but you'd need something like a Jtek Shiftmate, which I think is worth a mention in this post. I've never used one but have been very curious for a while. It's a pulley that the cable is routed through, and it changes the amount of cable being pulled so that a Campag lever can shift a SRAM derailleur for a shimano cassette, or a large handful of other variations - number of speeds, shifter/derailleur/cassette mix-and-matches.

Jeremy Katz said...

Incredibly detailed, as always. When building up my new bike, I couldn't find a way to pay the Campy Ergo tax and don't have so much invested in Campy wheels to make trying something else difficult.

In addition to the brake lever being the shifter problem with Shimano, I also distinctly have a problem with the ergonomics of the hoods and size of the levers.

So, I ended up going with Force. With the very short time I've been using it, I'm happy with it. We'll see how the long-term plays out.

Hocam said...

Aki, I use a shimano 9 speed cassette when I wanna run the powertap with my campy bike but never found a need for the alternate cable routing. It shifts perfectly as a drop in.

Also a big +1 on the jtek shiftmate, a friend uses them with great success.

crispy said...

great post! More! More! :-)

If I have the cash this summer I might spring for Rival - currently on old 9s D/A-Ult. mix. There are a couple of other things on my list before a new groupset tho.

Aki said...

hocam - yes, with 9s the spacing was about the same so I also swapped Shimano and Campy relatively painlessly. I still have a couple Shimano rear wheels from that era.

crispy - thanks for the + comments. I "moderated" your first comment out of existence because I thought it was spam (usually comments that are like horoscopes - can apply to any blog - are spammish). So sorry about that.

crispy said...

Aki, no problem. I have no idea what I wrote anyway. But yeah, I'm a real person :-)

Vicious Cycle said...

hi please to meet ya , i have done such configuration

Pro: campy shifting, shimano smoothness , and overall lighter components.

Cons : fidgety initial setup.
Not all chain works. ( Shimano and KMC works fine )

it can be rather fidgety , the cable being bolt on to the sram derailleur has to be from a certain angle. A small washer is need for the hanger bolt to space it slight further out. B-tension needs to be taunt.

hope this helps.

i have used it for sometime now.