Regular readers and friends know we're fans of the equipment from Vicenza, Italy - CAMPAGNOLO.
When Larry spoke with them about becoming an Official Supplier to CycleItalia he described the partnership as probably the worst kind of "sponsorship". Why? He explained that first, both of us grew up in cycling using Campagnolo equipment and have enjoyed using it ever since, meaning they would not be stealing any customers from their rivals. Second, even if they turned us down, we were not going to run off to seek support from one of those rivals and third, we'd likely keep using it for the rest of our cycling lives. So why should they bother helping us?
Luckily for us, they saw some wisdom in a more formal relationship and have become good friends over the years. Just as in our other Official Supplier partnerships, we don't require agreements to "get X and provide Y" but just agree to help each other out whenever the opportunity arises. For this season they fixed us up with skewers to hold your bike atop our van's roof rack. Campagnolo wheel skewers are the ONLY ones we trust with your (and our) bikes!
So now we're going to tell you about their new groupset, POTENZA. This is NOT a $multi-thousand.00 groupset used only by pros or rich folks - not that there's anything wrong with those, but they wanted a 11-speed groupset that bike makers could equip their bikes with so potential customers could try Campagnolo out on a test-ride.
Back-in-the-day, customers wanting higher-end "pro quality" bikes most often chose a frameset from their favorite maker, then a component groupset, wheels, etc. to end up with a complete, custom-assembled bicycle. Sadly, those days are long-gone.
Now the trend is to buy a complete bike right-out-of-the-box. Campagnolo's competitors have been very good at supplying component groups to the big bike companies who now dominate the market. Just take a look at who sponsors pro teams these days - they're the only ones with the sales volume and budgets to pay teams millions to ride their bikes in addition to supplying a large fleet of them. Unless you're a big star (and sometimes even then) the days of having custom bikes made-to-measure for you by a trusted builder and then painted in the team livery are gone.
This means potential clients start out with bikes equipped by Campagnolo's competitors and with the shifting mechanisms varying from the most (we think) intuitive like Campy's "thumb does one thing, finger does another" to fingering two different levers or fingering the same lever but a little bit or more than a little bit, depending on which way you want to shift, people tend to stay with what they're familiar with - meaning unless you have groups spec'd on entry-level bikes, you lose out.
Campagnolo's known this for awhile but now they finally have an answer to this issue. The Potenza group claims to offer all the engineering and function of the top-end groupsets, but saves money with less expensive materials. Aluminum, steel and some composite bits vs carbon fiber and titanium for example. This used to be the case back-in-the-day at Campagnolo but they drifted away from it awhile back. Our standard rental bikes are equipped with 9-speed Mirage components that work just as well (and have lasted just as long) as the high-end stuff from the same production period!
What else do you get? How 'bout a 34 X 32 low gear? Finally Campagnolo offers a larger cogset for that "after-lunch gear" or to get you up the Passo Mortirolo. The rear shifter, unlike many of Campy's competitors, lets you shift up THREE cogs with one motion, making that "Ooops, I need to shift up to bigger cogs NOW!" moment much easier.
The new crankset looks like the latest 4-arm carbon fiber versions but is aluminum, something some of us prefer, as well as the polished silver finish available in addition to black. The new Power-Torque + crankset comes apart with no special tools. We STILL wish there were three rather than two chainrings for more individual ratios and to eliminate the rather large gap from 50 to 34 if you want low gears for real mountains, but we'll save the whining for another day.
We just put a Campagnolo Athena 11-speed triple groupset on Heather's bike in order to promote it a bit for our friends, but now it seems it'll be going away in favor of Potenza? (Update: Athena 11 triple is still shown in Campagnolo's 2017 catalog) We'll need to get our hands on one of these new groupsets sooner rather than later, so we can share more information about it's performance with you.
Why do WE even care about these lower-priced groupsets? First, they're affordable. We'd rather spend money on a great frame instead of on components that are lighter since we're far from featherweights ourselves. Second, we think Campagnolo's idea is a good one, we find those who rent our bikes and have never used Campagnolo often end up preferring it once they've spent a week riding around Italy with it. Potenza can only help that process!