Campagnolo vs Shimano vs Sram — is one better than the other?

As plans allowed me to start the build of a new road bike, of course I was going to buy Campag. I bought mostly Centaur, the mid-level spec and then bought some Chorus skeleton brake calipers, which are beautiful. Little things like the Campag Ergo levers which are the same shape throughout the range, whether you go with the entry level Veloce or the exquisite Super Record levers, they will fit into the hand superbly. Shimano on the other hand is different, each level is different and upgrading might mean you have to sacrifice comfort if you don’t like the feel of them.

In addition, Campy have always employed internal cable routing as this always looks better. Shimano of old and now anything below 105 unattractively have the gear cables exiting at right angles out of the levers. There’s an old adage; ‘Campagnolo wears in, Shimano wears out’. Arguably, there is evidence of this. I once bought a late nineties Ambrosio bike furnished with first generation Chorus. Every component looked brand new and worked seamlessly, I stripped the bike, sold the hideous frame (it was horrible) and used the components for a further 2 years without problems. Incredible stuff.

There is also something of a following in older Campag kit. Due to the longevity of the brand, Campag parts can be bought and sold at high prices so you could argue it’s a better investment than Shimano. To give an example, a set of late 80’s Delta brake calipers can be bought for no less than £175–200, second hand full groupsets can also go for top money.

A couple of months ago, I wanted to build a winter bike to commute with and cost was a big consideration. I initially looked for a second hand Campy groupset, Veloce/Centaur etc. After some time looking, I couldn’t find one for sensible money, even incomplete sets were going for mega money. After some sleepless nights, I managed to buy a full Shimano Tiagra groupset for a little over £100. I am not great at compromise and I had a twinge of guilt for even looking at another maker. I didn’t like the shape of the levers.

However. And this is a big however….I’m going to have to eat my words….The groupset works unbelievably well. It’s super smooth, quiet and very easy to work on. Ironically, the brake levers even if they don’t look attractive, are really comfortable. The brakes are spot on and light to use. I love it.

What does the future look like for Campagnolo?

Shimano are dominant team suppliers in the Tour de France. In 2015, out of 22 teams only 4 used Campagnolo groupsets. Shimano Dura Ace seemingly being preferred by most teams. It seems to me that Campag will have to keep up with the pack, I understand that they are designing disc brake components in response to demand from bike manufacturers and racing teams in preparation for the imminent transition for future racing tours — they have been slow in the uptake of disc brakes on road bikes, whereas the brands have been doing this for sometime. Campag have been making changes in their manufacturing, moving processes from Italy to other less expensive countries.

To answer my own question as to whether any brand is better…I am going to sit on the fence, there’s no real answer. It’s mostly down to personal preference and what you can afford…although Campag does look better.

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