Campagnolo has launched its first gravel specific groupset, and in the process, it’s added an extra cog to its cassette with the arrival of Ekar 13-speed.
The first of the big three to launch a ‘gravel’ groupset was Shimano, back in 2019. Shimano GRX is now rumoured to be the Japanese juggernaut’s biggest seller, largely via the OEM market, with gravel bikes waltzing out of bike shop doors quicker than any other category.
SRAM followed with a wide-range groupset earlier this year, this was designed for gravel and road riders but met a lot of the needs of the former. That timeline makes the Italian brand the last of the trio to market – however, in a repeat of 12 speed on the road (which Shimano has still to crack), it’s broken through the cassette constraints once again.
As well as having an extra gear, the mechanical only Ekar groupset is the lightest gravel option on the market – shaving 86 grams of the nearest competitor, SRAM Force 1×11.
There’s only one spec level, with four available chainring sizes – 38T, 40T, 42T and 44T. The 13 speed cassette features a new 9-tooth sprocket, enabling a wider range with limited jumps. The cassette is spaced so that the higher gears progress naturally with small jumps and limited effect on cadence, whilst gaps are bigger at the low gear (large cog) end to allow for plenty of range.
The lightest configuration – with a 9-36 cassette – comes in at 2,385g, whilst SRAM Force 1x with a 10-42 cassette comes in at 2,471g. Theis group is pitched below the Chorus option, a full groupset retails at 1,449 / $1,764 / €1,696. Comparatively, we found a full SRAM Force eTAP AXS 1×12 groupset retailing at Wiggle with an RRP of £1,300.
This is Campagnolo’s first foray into the gravel market, so before setting out in the design process, the brand says it interviewed 4,500 gravel riders as well as mechanics and brands to determine what they considered most important.
Of course the geographical location and motivations of those riders will have impacted the results – but the requirements seem pretty sensible to us: durability, braking control, chain stability, gear range and the ability to run 1x – in that order.
Interestingly, weight didn’t feature in the top five – but Campagnolo is still proud of its achievements there. It also stated its intention to make the groupset “financially accessible to younger riders and OEM brands expanding their gravel categories” – noting that competitive pricing is not an attribute Campagnolo is renowned for.
There’s no need for any additional tools on top of existing Campag tools, but users will still need a Campag cassette tool (the same as that used by the 12-speed groups) and Campagnolo Tool UT-BB110 to fit the crankset.
Most of the innovation comes at the cassette, chainset and chainrings. However, you can have the smoothest drivetrain in the world, but if riders don’t like the lever shape, then it’ll be a hard sell – so we’ll start there.
Campagnolo has embedded what it calls a ‘Vari-Cushion’ to the hood, the goal being to provide a comfortable and safe grip. Many gravel riders like to tackle technical sections in the drops, especially if they’re running flared bars. The lever shape has been designed to be easy to use in this position and there’s an additional laser-cut texture on the lever blades to provide grip in the wet.
The reach is adjustable, suiting varying hand sizes – this is a departure from previous Campagnolo systems, adjustment has not been possible in the past, creating issues for those with smaller hands – especially when trying to use the thumb paddle to shift.
The thumb paddle has been designed in a ‘stepped’ style, making it easier to reach whilst on the drops. This lever was also updated when the brand launched Campagnolo EPS, with older styles a sticking point for many small-handed riders. It has to be said, angled in a ‘D’ shape, it does look very different to the traditional Campag thumb paddle.
The 1×13 rear mech is universal across all cassette sizes and comes with a clutch lock – designed to make wheel removal easy. Keeping an efficient chainline is high on the agenda, and this is achieved in conjunction with tweaks to the chainrings and chain.
The rear mech is constructed from carbon fibre reinforced polyamide and anodised 7075 and 6082 alloys, whilst the bolts are stainless steel in the interest of longevity.
Like SRAM in its recent wide range cassette offerings, the rear mech moves horizontally as opposed to following a more diagonal path as per a traditional system. Campagnolo calls this “2D parallelogram trajectory” – this is more suited to rutted roads, roots and rocks as it helps reduce the chance of chain clatter.
The 13-speed cassette is designed to offer at least the full range of 2x groupsets. The options, of which there are three, are 9-36T, 9-42T and 11-44T.
The additional cog comes in the shape of a 9 tooth option. Campagnolo has kept the jumps close at the high gears, and wider at the low gears – the logic being that riders can find the perfect level of resistance at the top end when at speed, with plenty of range for steep climbs.
The cassette is machined from steel, in two pieces. The larger cogs are attached to an aluminum spider, whilst the small cogs are all machined from one block.
The cassette is designed to work with a new N3W driver body, which was revealed as part of the Shamal wheelset launch back in July. Those using the Ekar cassette will need to run this hub, but it’s also compatible with the current 12 and 11-speed cassettes, via a spacer lockring. The system is open and trademark-free licensed – so can be used by companies complying with the tech spec and Campagnolo’s terms.
Compatible Campagnolo wheels are the Shamal Carbon, Rapid Red 300 and Rapid Red 900.
It wouldn’t be a Campangolo groupset without a bit of naked carbon. The two-piece crankset is made up of an ultra-torque steel axle, with UD carbon arms.
There are four chainring sizes: 38T, 40T, 42T and 44T. Like Campagnolo’s 12-speed groupsets, released in 2018, the brand has used a narrow-wide tooth design which, when paired with the clutch rear mech, provides greater chain security once the front mech has been taken away.
The alloy chainrings are easily interchangeable, and the crank arms come in four lengths: 165, 170, 172.5 and 175mm. The Q-factor is 145.5mm, which is 1-2mm narrower than the competition.
Campag says it has used ‘ProTech’ technology, joining the two semi-axles inside the BB whilst oversized bearings sit outside the shell – this allows for easy access when it comes time to change the bearings and also reportedly offers strength and a smooth pedal stroke.
Campagnolo has developed a chain specifically for the Ekar goupset. The wide-narrow teeth match the chainset, adding to security, and Campagnolo has said it’s used a ‘unique ultrasound bath lubrication’ to provide long term efficiency.
The chain is narrower, because the gaps in the cassette cogs are narrower, to suit the extra gear.
There are Pin and C-Link options.
Gravel riding can get wet and mucky, so the bottom bracket has been designed to offer extra protection from water, mud and grit. It uses a patented external sealing ring, paired with a fiberglass-polyamide tube and large, protected external stainless steel bearings which attach directly to the crank arms.
The bottom bracket is compatible with all threaded and press fit standards.
The hydraulic brake calipers share the same internals as Campagnolo’s other hydro systems, using DB310 pads with a “unique organic compound” designed to perform in wet conditions as well as the dry.
The rotors measure 1.85mm thick, and are made from stainless tempered steel. There are 140mm and 160mm options. You can opt for a road version with alloy spider to save weight.
We’ve yet to get out hands on the Ekar groupset – but look forward to putting it through its paces at a gravel event in the not too distant future. When we’ve had a go, we’ll bring you a first look and follow up long-term review.
This content was originally published here.
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