(From 1997)


Faithful readers of Campy Only know that we've been outspoken in our criticism of the new 9-speed component gruppos (Record and Chorus this year debuted 9 speeds; it is expected that lower gruppos will start switching to 9-speed in the coming years).

We questioned "Why?" Why jam another gear into an already crowded cassette? Why make your existing 8-speed shifters, derailleurs, and wheels obsolete? Why create problems for neutral support in races, who must now carry 8- and 9-speed wheels?

Well, the answer to many of those questions, according to a factory spokesman from Vicenza, is that ShimaNO was going to release a 9-speed group. ShimaNO (which announces its new offerings at least a year ahead of time to allow the bicycle manufacturers to order the stuff) had begun working on a 9-speed gruppo. Like it or not, Campagnolo had to follow. Not to do so would have placed Campy at a psychological advantage--they would be left behind in technology, which Campy has vowed not to do after their near-disasters of the early 80s, when they stuck with non-indexed shifting far too long.

So, we now live in a world in which one single cassette holds almost as many gears as your old ten-speed used to. Combined with two chainrings, you can now have up to 18 different gear ratios to choose from.

We also live in a world in which the parts of your drivetrain which are destined to wear out the fastest are getting thinner and thinner, placed more and more stress on the ever-smaller area of contact between chain and cog. Tolerances are closer, adjustments more critical.


Is it worth it? To help us answer that question, Campagnolo sent us a brand-new Chorus 9-speed gruppo, which we mounted on our faithful Merlin road bike. The following, based on our early testing, are our first impressions of this latest leap in technology. (For a complete breakdown of how 9-speed and 8-speed compare and are mostly incompatible, check out our Tips and Trivia section.)

QUICK GUIDE TO OUR REVIEW

We Like It. All reservations about unnecessary technology aside, it's great having all those gears back there. We agree with other 9-speed riders we've spoken with that it seems like there are more than 9 cogs in the cassette--it seems like 10 or 11. That's just psychological, but having 9 gears to choose from is lots of fun. And, there's definitely a sizeable "gee whiz" factor to this gruppo. For the moment, it's a rare sight on the road, and it's fun to show it off to your fellow riders. The level of finish is excellent (the polish on the hubs and seatpost is mirror-like; you could use it to shave with), although we wonder why Campy didn't spend a little more time on the back side of the cranks. Another nice touch: Everything now says "Chorus" on it. Gone are the days when you needed a field guide to tell which gruppo a part belonged to.

It Works Fine, But . . . After using 9-speed for a month now, we have very few complaints. We were able to set up the gruppo very easily in our home shop, and everything worked fine the first time out. The indexing is right on, and Campy's improvements to the Exa-Drive cassette make it possible to shift all over the cogs at any time. Want to shift to a larger cog while you're climbing out of the saddle? Go ahead. The ramps on the cogs will pick up the chain and move it with only a minimum of complaint. You can't do this with Super Record! The brakes work great--perhaps too well. We never had any problems stopping with our Chorus monoplanar brakes, and the new dual-pivot models work about 200% better. What that means is that you can practically launch yourself over the bars with these brakes. They have certainly put to rest the old jokes about Campy's "speed attenuators" (born in the days when brakes worked best at slowing one down somewhat). For a few more thoughts on our 9-speed stuff, see our Addendum.

A Word or Two About Shifting Did we say the shifting was good? Correct that--it's great! Downshifts (to a larger cog) in particular are so smooth you'll find yourself looking back to see if the chain has moved. Upshifts (to a smaller cog) are crisp and instantaneous. And if that wasn't enough, the shifts are also easier. We switched from a set of '93 Record Ergo levers, and the difference in shifting was immediately apparent. Some might complain that Campy has gone in the direction of ShimaNO shifting, but the action now is much lighter, thanks to ball bearings inside the shift mechanism and springs that help compensate for the action of the springs in the derailleurs. In fact, if you're used to the older-style levers, you;ll likely find yourself overshifting a bit at the start, since it's now so much easier.

A Minor Complaint Try as we might, we're still suffering from a high level of chain noise in some gear combinations. We can't adjust it away--a slight buzzing in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears (counting from the smallest cog). The chain doesn't skip, and it doesn't threaten to jump out of gear--it just makes more noise than in the other gears, when it's virtually silent. (More on those noises here.)

Neat Stuff If you're into looking at your components up close, you'll find plenty to like with the new Chorus gruppo. Small details abound, like the tiny resin guide inside the parallelogram on the rear derailleur, which reduces the already minimal friction between the return spring and the derailleur body. There's a similar resin friction-fighter on the brakes. Other neat features include the tiny spring clips that cover the grease ports on the hubs. Look real close, and you'll see "Campagnolo" engraved into the shiny stainless steel. We've already mentioned the excellent shifting of the Exa-Drive cassette, but there's more to like there, too. The cogs have a polished surface, and they're drilled out and lightened almost in the manner of a 1970's racing bike.

Unnecessary Stuff? There's lots of neat stuff, but we have to ask "Why" about some of it. Example: the dual-pivot brakes sport two tiny allen screws, which use a miniscule 2mm wrench to micro-adjust the centering of the brakes and to adjust the brake "feel." Nice touch, but we wonder whether those tiny parts will cause problems in the long run.

Conclusions? We'll admit, 9 speeds are great. We made the jump from 7-speed freewheel to 9-speed cassette, and it's a whole new world. When we changed from friction to index shifting, we started shifting more, and riding became more pleasurable. The switch to Ergo power increased shifting and efficiency even more. And going to 9-speed is another quantum leap. If you like your current 12-21 cassette, for instance, you can now carry a 23-tooth "granny gear" while retaining all of your existing gears. Or, you can fit yet another gear into your current range. The end result is greater choice, and the ability to select just the right gear for any given situation. But there's still that nagging question: Is it really necessary? The genie is out of the bottle, of course, but would it have been better to stick with 8 speeds?

Road Test Update We're riding our new 9-speed stuff regularly. Here are a few additional thoughts:

  • The front derailleur is great. Combined with the pickup pins and ramps on the chainrings, shifts to the large chainring are very easy. But perhaps the best feature is the wide range of gears which can be accommodated by the derailleur's cage. After shifting to the large chainrings, I can go from the 11 all the way to the 17 (a total of seven cogs) without needing to re-trim the front derailleur.
  • The Exa-Drive system has one small quirk. Based on my experience riding the bike, it seems like the chain waits for the helical ramps on the cassette to come around before starting to move. No big deal at a high cadence, but there's a discernable pause at ver y low pedaling speeds. In the old days, this wouldn't be a problems--cogs didn't have ramps. It's only a tiny quirk, but worth noting here.
  • We're still getting some noise from the cassette, but it's getting quieter. It sometimes makes a difference whether a cog is shifted down to or up to. In general, a cog which is shifted up to will often run quieter. Can't explain why, but that's the way it seems. (Noise Update!)
  • Oh, those quick release skewers. For years, Campy's levers have been distinguished by their classic design--and their extreme weight. Any number of aftermarket skewers are available which weight much, much less (and cost about the same). For 1997, Campy has redesigned their levers. The ends are now made of aluminum (with steel inserts at the lever and locknut), and the lever has been made smaller and more modern-looking. But the lever and the skewer are still made of steel (even in the Record model), making them substantially heavier than they need to be. We have never heard of a Ti skewer breaking, so longevity shouldn't be behind Campy's decision to stick with steel. Maybe next year they'll offer a skewer/lever combination that matches the competition.
  • Have we fixed that buzzing noise? Maybe. We followed the advice of a reader and lubricated the bottom bracket cable guide. That solved most of the noise! Sometimes, a simple fix is the best . . .
  • That annoying buzzing noise! It's not nearly as loud as it used to be, but it's still there. Our friends at Campy tech support can't really help, although we have heard from other 9-speed users who have exactly the same symptoms. Campy's advice? Lube the control cables, and use a slightly thicker chain lube (we use White Lightning). Not a whole lot of help. We recently disassembled our cassette, wiped off all the cogs, and then reassembled it. That helped a bit.
  • BTW, we saw no wear on the alloy cassette body, even after more than 1,000 miles of use.
  • Did we mention how easy it is to lube your hubs with the built-in grease ports? Just stick your grease gun between the spokes, squeeze a few times, and you're done! (Teh grease, incidentally, goes from the inside out, to flush out the old stuff.)

Does Campy have a little secret they don't want us to know? One of our readers wrote in to report that his experiment worked. What did he do? Simpoy used an 8-speed rear derailleur with a new 9-speed Ergo lever and cassette. He reports that everything works just fine. This little secret could make your conversion from 8 to 9 speeds about $150 to $200 cheaper! 

But Beware! One of our readers ( sspielman@skipjack.bluecrab.org ) sent the following:

I read with interest your section on a reader revealing that he got an 8V rear derailleur to work on 9V. I would not recommend it andfurthermore it is DANGEROUS. The upper pulley and inside cage on the 9V derailleur has been carefully narrowed to increase spoke clearance.
While the 8V derailleur may work on some frames, carefully adjusted, and under ideal circumstances, it leaves very little margin for error. Now consider when one usually shifts into one's lowest gear- on a terrible grade and usually at low RPM's and with a lot of pressure; that is the Ergo lever is usually jammed over pretty good, not exactly a delicate operation. Now consider what happens when the derailleur goes into the spokes under these same circumstances. The derailleur is ruined, the wheel is hurt pretty badly, the derailleur hanger and dropout are damaged possibly beyond repair, and the rider probably falls and sustains whatever injury is in the cards on that occasion. No, that $150-$200 is looking pretty cheap. Just remember the good folks at Campagnolo respect the people who buy their parts. I know first-hand that they consider their customers to be "family". They are currently having trouble meeting demand for the new 9V components and do not need to trick people into buying unnecessary parts. Deception and planned obsolescence are the modus operandi of the marketing driven slimeballs of Shimano, not Campagnolo. I don't want to sound humorless, but in this politically correct age, I would think that there is a more appropriate term for the good folks at Campagnolo than "pastaheads". If I could become as accomplished as the folks at Campagnolo by being a pastahead, pass the linguini.


9-Speed Feedback

We're interested in your thoughts on 9-speed shifting. Write to us, and let us know about your pro- or anti-nine-speed sentiments. We'll print the best letters here.


Your Thoughts About 9 Speeds:

Will your 8-speed stuff convert to 9-speed? One of our readers says "Yes" Go here to find out how!
(Thanks to sspielman@skipjack.bluecrab.org)

I am a casual rider that is aware of the finer things in life. Sorry "boys" but I am still stuck between 7 and 8. The compatibility problem existed on that move as it did even more on the 6 to 7. My equipment seems to outlast the fads. At less than 2000 km a year by the time I need new brake hoods they are not manufactured. The only NEW an IMPROVED that would impress me would be a line that is meant to last 10 years with room for growth and complete interchangeability. Come to think of it the Campy stuff is so good that they go bankrupt fast if they did not force everybody to throw away their "outdated" components.

Louis-Philippe Provencher (
LPPROVEN@qc.bell.ca)

P.S. My English may not be as good as it should feel free to fix any problem. Maybe I feel like that because I am too poor to play along?

You're a copycat coward, Campagnolo!
I'm only 15 years old and my bike is fitted with a mixture of campag equipment. And for Christmas my parents got me a real nice set of 96 Chorus Ergolevers and I couldn't have asked for anything better.
I have steadily made my way up through the gears starting at 5 and now up to eight which is plenty. But I think Campag have made a big mistake with their new nine speed system. I don't no why they just keep copying off Shimano. First it was the ergolevers then the dual-pivot brakes which campag have both done a beautiful job of and kicks Shimano's butt in performance. But this nine speed system is one step overboard.
Who do they think we are? All professionals or something? No one can afford it, and if you can your practically up for a whole new bike anyway.
Even though Campag is still the best bike components and probably always will be but this is one mistake that they will probably regret.

From Damon Stefani
(stefani@apollo.moenet.com.au)
(A keen Campag Fan.)

I caved in and bought the Record nine speed drive train. My first complete, ergo-drive train from Campagnolo. The thing is delicious, The cogs seem very sturdy and the shifting is mint. In a couple of years we will all cave in and get one of these things. It is Campy of course. The only thing I worry about is the alloy freehub body, but it looks pretty beefy IMHO. Let you know after I put a couple thousand miles on it.
James Long

The real disappointment, aside from the technical concerns you raise (with which I must completely concur), is that Campagnolo didn't have the gonads to say, "No, riders don't need it, we're not buying into some bloody fad." They should have taken the high ground and made a logical case for 8 speed, instead they showed that they are following Shimano's marketing BS with respect to the extra gear and the lack of backward compatibility.

I will not buy 9 speeds, period. I'm going to stock up on 8 speed stuff once the closeouts get more frequent.

If they had to go to 9 speed, at the very least (and this would have given them a marketing edge over Shitmano), they should have designed the new cogsets to be compatible with the 8 speed hubs, so that people could have saved their 8 speed wheels.

I wish that consumers would realize that Bjarne and Miguel have a whole stable of bicycles and components and mechanics to fix their problems, whereas the rest of us will have to pay for broken chains and prematurely worn out cogs.

Mike

We really have to admit that Campy made a boo-boo. If it's really truth, Shitmano 9-speeds cassette fits on their 8-speeds hubs. Also, I read that if you mount your cable on the other side of the Dura-ace bolt it works with 8-speeds. I heard that 8-speeds cassettes works fine with the 9-speed groups, because they say it's just the chain that is thinner and the cogs spacing has little changes from 8 to 9 speeds. In general, Campagnolo has done a Shit in going to nine speeds. Who need it? In my rides I use a 12-21 8sp, in which I hardly put on 12, 13 and 21. Just ONE time in my life I wish I had a 23. It was in a really big (10 miles) climb in a race, but next year I'll borrow a 12-23 cassette from a friend. That's all, Marcelo Iannini iannini@rudah.com.br

Campy Nine Speed...I remember having to switch from five to six, six to seven, then finally last year..making it to eight when I went from my Nuovo record to 1994 Chorus Ergo... (I will admit to using a Shimano ultegra hub with SRP spacers, but the rest is Campy...). First, I would think that Campy has tried the shifting to prove its durability So I doubt that durability will be a problem at the level most people race at...Second, Those who can afford the record can most likely replace the parts that break (which is a rarity)...If I read your tech tips correctly...the Freehub can be replaced with the nine speed variety making the wheel problem almost negligible...If you are poor like me and have to wait around for people to dump parts I will wait for the 9-speed to trickle down through the groups and into the wheel pits.

Campy plain rules and everyone's concerns here are legitimate

James Long

While I agree that it is a bad move to give up compatibility in the interests of one more cog, I do think the 9-speed concept is technically interesting on its own merits, because we're getting to the point where you can pretty much do away with the front derailleur. After all, if you've got a 12-23 in back, then half your gears are probably overlaps anyhow. Not sure how much weight we'd save by getting rid of the second ring, front derailleur, and shifter, but it would probably make time-trialists salivate.

Reliability is something we'll need to wait and see on. It is possible that with improved metallurgy, the new parts will outlast the old ones.

Shimano has long had a stupid practice of planned obsolescence with its products, creating incompatibilities for no apparent reason other than to force new purchases. What a shame that all component makers haven't tried to agree on some standards, so that everybody's parts would reliably interoperate, and what a shame to see Campy doing likewise.

Adam Rice


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