Testing Campy Centaur 11 Speed on the Cross Bike
February 9, 2023 § Leave a comment
I took a spin on one of my usual mixed surface rides on my cross bike after the recent refreshing of front brake and shift train.
Once bedded in properly, the front brake with the new rotor is working as expected. The major difference is the better feel and modulation due to the appropriate matching of the brake to a road lever’s cable pull. Raw power seems more or less the same, although there were no steep hills on this route to really evaluate that.
But the semi-surprise is related to the performance of the 11-speed Campagnolo Centaur shifters / brake levers and the cassette choice.
My usual mixed surfaces route is flat and involves asphalt and concrete, the dirt adjacent to roadways, dirt roads and sandy dirt paths. This is the kind of terrain that is easily ridden with road gears. And since I can be fussy about losing teeth increments at times, I was anticipating maybe being grumpy about losing some close gears in the pursuit of more total gear range. If anything, the new cog increments are more useful than the old ones. The new cassette is 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-25-27-30-34t and replaces the old 11-27 Wheels Manufacturing cluster which was 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-24-27t. I suspect my major use was always the 15-21 range and this gear range is identical on the new cluster, albeit shifted over two cog positions in the outboard direction. The 24 is bracketed by a 23 and 25 and the 27 remains. Most of the same gear increments are retained. I don’t think I will be missing the single tooth steps above the 15. Those are mostly downhill pavement gears and the Ritchey Megabite tires do not encourage a lot of hard pedaling downhill on pavement. I notice however that I have improved chain line for the bigger cogs, this is particularly notable when in the big ring. Even the 52/27 is a normal usable gear now. This is great for the flatter dirt trails! The fun race I do can be ridden in the big ring so this should be extra handy at race pace. And I still have two larger cogs for the low gear, little ring situations that might come up. The lower gears were expected but I hadn’t really considered the chain line advantage I was going to get from the middle of the cassette.
I have been less than enamored of the shape of the Centaur 11 speed levers. They stick up more and hook a bit towards the inside. I find them less attractive and I didn’t find this to be any advantage for the months I had them on the road bike. On my first cross ride however I did notice the increased support for hands when riding bumpy terrain. My hands actually felt more secure! Another good feature of this change. It’s not that my hands have ever slipped off the old controls, it’s just that sometimes I have to attend to grip, pause shifting actions for a less bumpy stretch or similar.
The Centaur 11 speed also has an altered shape of the upshift lever- this is the short thumb paddle that sticks out on the medial side of the lever body. On the older 10 speed levers, this sticks straight out at rest. The picture below is of a Record 10 speed shifter, but the Chorus looks similar. It is the original Campy integrated shifter design, my 1990s era Athena levers, the ones that hooked me onto Campy Ergo 4 lyfe, had this layout as well. Aren’t they so much more attractive and elegant than the Shimano dual control designs?
On the new lever design the upshift button is angled down. I think the theory is that this improves the ability to shift from the drops. I didn’t like this on the road bike since I rarely ride in the drops. When I am riding in the drops I am not trying to bang rapid up shifts while sprinting madly in a elbow bumping pack. Oh yes I admit that the reshaped lever is an improvement for that one use case. But it felt funny from the hoods, which is where I do the vast majority of my shifting. And I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that this is why it only shifts one gear at a time, when the older ones change up to three in one throw of the lever. The fact that the upper line 12 speed Ergo levers from Chorus to Super Record retain the old style lever (and the multi-upshift capacity) does tend to question the idea this is for sprinting purposes.
On the road bike, anyway. I think my positioning is slightly different on the cross bike. And I noticed a very interesting thing. When I’m on the hoods, my middle finger can wrap all the way around to touch the lever. A tiny stretch move allows me to upshift with my middle finger! While retaining a grip wrapped around the lever body. I can even do this standing up. This seems like it will come in handy on bumpy terrain. Sure I can mostly manage shifting with my thumb in bumpy terrain, but this lends more grip security. A pleasant surprise feature.
Notes: I don’t have super high expectations for these parts. This generation of Centaur was launched in 2017 and positioned below Potenza, which arrived in 2016 and was supposed to challenge Shimano Ultegra. That makes it fourth tier in the Campy lineup. It’s always hard to track Campy names but apparently Potenza replaced a renewed use of Athena, but didn’t last past about 2019. Centaur, obviously, continued. There is a fair bit of chat that Potenza was intended to penetrate the OEM market, presumably that didn’t work. OEM strategies never work for Campy, at least in the US market, which is a shame. It would be great if the entry level enthusiast consumer could see Campy equipped mid range bikes alongside all of the Shimano 105 and Ultegra offerings in their local bike shops.
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