Campagnolo's new carbon Ergo levers, introduced this year for the Record Gruppo, have caused quite a stir among Campy fans. Unique and high-tech, the levers have added a unique element to Campagnolo's top-of-the-line gruppo.

However, we here at Campagnolo Only have begun to hear rumors of poor performance from some who have used the levers. Some riders have questioned whether Campagnolo has pushed the envelope of performance too far this time.

With these questions in mind, we asked Campagnolo to send us a pair of the new levers to test and evaluate. They agreed to send them, and here are the results:

The Road Test Begins

Added March 28th--Photos

As promised, the levers have arrived from Campagnolo--about a week ago (March 18th). We promptly installed them, replacing a set of 1997 Chorus 9-speed levers (leaving the rest of the drivetrain intact). Here are some first impressions after about 200 miles of riding:

  • You'll know these levers are different from the moment you open the box--there's a strong chemical odor (from the resin in the brake levers, probably) that is unlike any other Campagnolo product. It took a day or so for the levers to fully "air out" and lose that strong odor.
  • Visually, the levers are very striking (watch for photos of our test set soon). The brake levers, shift levers, lever bodies, and brake hoods are all black--we combined them with black handlebar tape for a neat "stealth" look. There is nothing like them in the peloton. See photos
  • Minor point--the shift levers, while they are "carbon," are in fact injection-molded of a combination of carbon fibers and resin. The surface of the shift lever (the part that faces out) is inset with what appears to be either a thin layer of woven carbon fiber (like the surface of the brake levers or a carbon-fiber fork) or a decal that looks like carbon fiber. The shift levers are very thin--about half as think as their aluminum counterparts--and the trailing edge (facing the handlebars) is almost sharp. We had to relearn our habit of wrapping fingers around the back of the shift lever, as the thin edge made that uncomfortable.
  • Installing the levers was very straighforward. There's nothing different about installing the carbon version, although you'll probably want to be a little more delicate than usual to avoid scratching the clear coat on the brake levers. Note: Expect some hassle getting them on the bars. The bolt that protrudes from the mounting clamp is about 2 mm shorter than the same piece on my Chorus levers. You need to back off on the bolt that holds the body and the clamp together to slide the levers onto the bars, but it's very tough not to have the bolt come completely undone. And when it does, it's quite hard to get on again. A little more length in the bolt would add a fraction of a gram to the assembly, but would be very welcome.
  • Once on the bike, the levers were easy to set up. Dialing in the indexing took only a few minutes on the workstand and a couple of fine-tunes on the road.
  • How do they work? We are told by others that the levers take a few hundred miles to "break in," after which they work better than the '98 version. Our experience thus far is that the left-hand lever works much better than our time-tested Chorus levers, even brand-new. Shifts to the larger chainring are easier, and downshifts to the small ring work great, too. On the right-hand side, shifts to smaller cogs are amazingly smooth. The action is much smoother than what we are used to. Shifting to larger cogs works OK, but the "clicks" are a bit on the stiff side, and the lever occasionally needs to be held for a 1/2-second longer than usual until the chain moves over. They're getting better, but at this point are still not up to the Chorus levers. Note: Rumors to the contrary aside, these levers are definitely being used in the European peloton. Check out the March issue of VeloNews, and you'll see quite a few photos of riders using the levers, including the Het Volk classic being won by Frank Vandenbroucke on a Campy-equipped bike.
  • Are they worth it? In other words, "Do I need these levers?" At this point, hard to say. At about $300, these may be most expensive shift levers on the planet--it's quite possible to buy a very serviceable entire bike for what you'll fork out to first on your block with these shifters. If you're a weight freak, you'll be pleased to know that they are very light--about three ounces lighter than the Chorus levers they replaced (we measured the carbon version at 7.2 ounces for the pair). That's a pretty amazing weight loss in an already light component, but it's hard to say that a 23-gram drop in weight from last year's Record levers is going to make the difference between winning and losing a race. Check your bank account, then decide--as Tim Laflin says in his review of this year's gruppos, Chorus is hands-down a better value, but for those who must have the best, Record is there.
  • Other thoughts--Just one so far: Don't crash with these levers! Strong as they are, those carbon levers sure look like they would be badly scarred in a battle with the pavement.
  • A few photos--Presented below are a few photos of the new levers:
Front view   Side view
Photo above: Front view of the new levers. The "Record" lettering is underneath the clear coat over the top of carbon weave. In the background, our test platform, a Merlin Ti road bike.   Photo above: The shift levers are injection-molded carbon fiber; the weave insert is placed where your fingers touch the levers.
     
Inner side view   Mode button
Photo left: The inner side of the levers. The shape of the levers and the body of the levers is the same as the '98 aluminum version.   Photo right: The levers are "computer-ready"--each has a small button on the hood covers, with a cavity beneath the button for future mounting of Campy's upcoming integrated cyclocomputer. The left lever's button will operate the start/stop function; the right (shown above) will change mode.

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