Having ridden Shimano components most of my biking life, I was excited to get my first Campagnolo-equipped ride. An Italian aluminum frame by DeBernardi, and Veloce components, this is not a high-end machine, but I don’t generally do high-end on my bikes since I’m a commuter, not a professional. The only Shimano groupset I’ve ridden is 105. Ask any mechanic what the major differences are in mid to high range components and they will tell you it’s durability, with the mid range components being more durable than their more expensive counterparts. Performance should be similar. Anyway, there’s my disclaimer.
What would make a person suddenly switch from one major brand to another? In my case it was a crash. Looking at my crumpled Cannondale frame and battered components, I guess I was ready for a change. The crash wasn’t caused by the brand of course, but the psyche is a mysterious thing. Fair or not, I made an association in my head somewhere between the crash and the brands.
Enough fluff, let’s get down to nuts and bolts.
Riding Shimano is like riding precision. Index shifting, click … click … click and the chain moves to the next cog. When it’s tuned, it’s great. Shimano knows the distance between the cogs and they know how wide their chain is, so why leave things up to chance or feel? Just move it the precise distance and you’re in the middle of the next gear. This is definitely positive. Well tuned drivetrain, spoiled rider.
But what about when things get a little out of whack? Then you expect the next gear but you don’t find it. You get stuck somewhere in the between. Two clicks to find a gear, or maybe a little past it. It’s really annoying. In Shimano’s defense, everything in life is subject to entropy. Nothing stays the way it is. If you ride the bicycle, the gearing is going to eventually get dirty, wear down, and need adjustments.
Most bike shops (OK, all of them) are used to tuning Shimano, so it’s easy to find someone who can get you back in line.
A life spent shifting Shimano index shifting, and Campagnolo was an instant shock to the system. It look me a while to get used to a little more freedom in the shifting. But it was a nice change, I have to say. Now I can easily adjust when I’m not in the right place, and I rely on things like the sound of the gears to know if I need to move a little to one way or the other.
Italians have a reputation for being all about family, and romantic, flexible, and not too worried about perfection … at least that’s how I see it. My experience of Campagnolo is the same. It gets into your heart a little, you love how it looks, and the lack of indexed gearing makes you get more in tune with the drivetrain with all your senses. I look to see how the gearing combination looks from the top to decide whether to shift, and I listen for the sound of the chain on the gears. If it’s quiet, it’s good!
Who knows, maybe someday I will have the money and care enough to buy high end Campagnolo components, and when I do, I expect more of the same.
I guess I need to pick my own favorite between the two. I rode Shimano for 20 years and Campagnolo for only about one. But Campagnolo has taken the top spot for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t just want to be utilitarian in choosing. But Campagnolo made me more in tune with my bike. It might sound silly if you are not a bike person. But when you spend hours every week in the saddle, you kind of form a relationship with the machine. Campagnolo has brought my senses a little more into play when I’m riding. I already enjoy my daily commute massively. So adding a little more enjoyment, is the icing on the chain.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you have experience with both component makers? I’d love to hear your choice in the comments below!