Okay, it looks lovely. But let me get this straight: it’s got improved shifting at the front, and is generally better. And instead of making this the standard super record, they’re only making 2,000 copies.
Campag are becoming more niche than ever.
That moment when you’re riding and: hang about. Legs don’t feel quite right. Power’s there. Fluidity’s not. Something feeling bunched up. Cramped.
No more than a few millimeters, but enough to wake the brain up.
Ah, slipping seatpost. Sorted.
I was lucky enough to get a cyclocross bike late last year, for both CX and winter training. One of my requirements was for a bike that would suit both off-road and road, and needed to be something of a ‘hack’.
I bought off the shelf knowing that I’d be doing more miles on the road than bridleways/paths, so wanted something that would be more bling than you’d usually associate with entry-level CX.
Thus, my CX/winter trainer hybrid has Ultegra 6800.
The bike I bought came with with Shimano’s CX specific chainset, a 46-36, paired to an 11-32 rear cassette, giving a spinny 30 gear inches at the granny end, and 110 gear inches at the other. It’s just fine for me, as I’m a bit of a spinner rather than a power pusher. It’s the long cage version too, due to the large range of the rear cassette. You do want something in CX that allows you to smoothly wind your way through mud. Breaking traction is not the greatest of ideas.
Before getting into the details, a bit of a confession: I’m usually a SRAM fanboi. I’ve ridden both a 2008 Rival setup, and have 2012 Red on my Sunday best road bike. Prior to that, I was a low end Campag (which I really didn’t like. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk). My mountain bike has Shimano, which I do really like. When looking around for a CX bike, it was pretty much all SRAM or Shimano…and the one I plumped for had Shimano. Call me open minded for trying it, but I thought…why not?
Yeah, it looks good. It’s all so personal, that I’m not going to go into details.
It’s really clean, and doesn’t generally miss a cog. The connection between the lever shift ‘click’ and the rear mech moving to the new cog is precise. It’s pretty quick, and seems to keep on trucking when totally caked in mud, even though it sounds pretty grindy (more on this soon).
Going down the cassette isn’t quite as quick as going up, and lever clicker feel is a little waffly. It’s not as crisp as I’d ideally want, but at least you can just mash it and you’ll go down – unlike SRAM, where nailing it hard might result in an upshift (doh).
Given the massive range of the rear cassette, and the fact you have to run the top pulley further away from the sprockets to compensate, shifting is overall excellent.
With 11 cogs at the rear, shifting precision is pretty important. I’ve been riding in muddy conditions off road, and it’s done well to cope. Shifting does become a little slower as mud clogs. In fact, for CX, the rear cassette isn’t ideal. They’re prone to clogging, which then means the chain gets even more crap embedded. It’s a minor quibble, at best. There are no hollow bits in this chain, so it’s not KMC-amazing at shifting crap out. Shimano: see what SRAM have done, and copy it.
Front shifting is beautifully light, and I love the fact that the lever throw is small and has a “hard stop”. This—if what I’ve read on t’internet is true—is in stark contrast to the previous iteration, which required quite a heavy hand (Ultegra 6700 was the first generation with internal cable routing, and I think there were working out the kinks, no pun intended).
I think the quality and speed of the front shifts—at least in my case—will have something to do with the tiny 10 cog jump of the CX chainset. Compared to the 16 tooth jump on my 2012 Red, the Ultegra FD doesn’t have work that hard in either direction. Certainly, I don’t feel the need for a chain-catcher, because of the two phase downshift. Which leads neatly onto..
Having forgotten all about trimming since riding Red 2012 with yaw, going back to having it is…acceptable. The majority of gear combinations that I ride in don’t seem to suffer from it, so you only have to occasionally trim.
If you’re in the large chain ring, there’s a ‘half’ click down to trim. A full press on the downshift lever will drop it onto the small cog. When in the small cog, another half click will take the FD to the maximum inward position. Small to big again takes it to the maximum outboard position.
A piece of plastic on the inside of the cage plate reduces the rasping sound. It’s a nice touch, though I do wonder whether it would increase the range of chain lines before rub if it wasn’t there.
One of the contributing factors to the ease of shifting has to be the Shimano cabling. It’s excellent. Coated in PTFE (or Teflon™, as DuPont would have you call it), they’re _really_ slippy.
I first became aware of them through the bike that came with Red 2012. The cabling was Shimano – the bike manufacturer must have bought a job lot. Anyway, they shipped the bike with the PTFE DuraAce cabling, and shifting was a-ma-zing. For one reason or another, the cabling was replaced with standard non-PTFE cabling used. Shifting: not bad, but not as silky smooth.
It’ll be interesting to see how long the smoothness lasts, as the outer coating does appear to be wearing down a little around the BB curve up to the FD.
I’ve used top of the range Jagwire cabling before (sealed, all smooth etc), and it’s nowhere near as nice as the Shimano stuff. It’ll have to be something special to give up, especially since Gore have retired from the cabling business. The stuff that SRAM pushes looks an awful lot like Jagwire’s kits, just rebranded. Not as good as the Shimano cabling, in my opinion.
So far, so standard for high end road gruppo. I like the feel of the levers. They’re smaller than the SRAM Red ones I ride, but they’re equally comfortable. There’s no nobbles or ‘roughness’ on the rubber, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fair in the warmer months without gloves. Slipping might be a problem, but I can’t report just yet.
There’s something that has been bothering me quite a bit since starting to ride the bike, and that’s the down shift lever behaviour. If you move the brake/shift up lever slightly inboard, it disengages the downshift lever. In practice, if you’re gently resting your hands, it’s okay, and doesn’t cause many problems (I’ve learned not to do it). However, jump out of the saddle, and you have to be _really_ careful how you hold the lever, because I’ve not been able to shift down on numerous occasions due to unconsciously moving the lever inboard slightly. It becomes annoying when you want to drop the rear cogs down a couple for climbing, and you’re over-geared whilst you readjust hand position. Not pro.
Another minor irritation is the affordance on the FD upshift lever. (CAVEAT: this is undoubtably made more of an issue by the small 10 cog difference in the CX specific chainrings). So, this is where I’m coming from: SRAM, when the FD is in the big ring position, the shift lever is ‘fixed’ with zero play. Great feedback about position. When the FD is in the small chainring position, there’s a ~5° play with the lever, giving me feedback I can shift up. Granted, I usually know where I’m at on a 50-34, but it’s still nice to know without having to look down.
And the Ultegra levers? The FD could be in either position, and both levers will move. It’s a problem, because of the wide closeness in ratios on the 46-36. If you want to confirm, it’s either push it all the way over and see if it shifts, or look down. This might all have to do with the trimming, but it would be nice if the extreme positions had that positive, SRAM like tactility.
I really like this groupset. Shifting is really smooth, and I like that very much. I haven’t ridden Red in quite some months now due to crappy UK weather and Red being on my Sunday best bike. SRAM has always sounded quite industrial, and I like the contrast with Shimano’s approach. When everything is clean, it’s like a jewel.
I wouldn’t have any hesitation about recommending it to someone, if you can live with the minor issues with front derailleur lever feedback.
"Long time, no see" should probably be the title of this post. I’ve not really seen anything ‘hacky’ enough to warrant posting as a bike hack — it’s a shame, but perhaps the overall standard of steeds has improved?
Well, that’s not likely…it comes down to laziness. I’ve not been keeping my eyes open to them. Will try harder.
What I am going to do is start to review more kit (oh, god, not another kit blog). Starting with Shimano Ultegra 6800, because there are so few reviews, and I wanted to give my perspective as a SRAM user….