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Road War Shimano vs. Campagnolo Part II, Shifters
By David DŪaz Blanco

Shifters

These are maybe the first components that everybody looks at in a road bicycle. They are also the main interface between rider and the groupset and this is why they are the most important part. Campagnolo and Shimano have taken different paths to create a system that allows to brake and shift with hands on the handlebar.

Shimanoís Dual Levers are well known worldwide, and the design improvement made for the 9s version of Dura Ace, that started to be sold in 1996, resulted in a more friendly system, due to the larger buttons, specially the downshift lever.

We will not add too much to the eternal discussion between those that prefer the ergonomics of ErgoPowers and those who think that Dual Levers are the ones that are easier to use. We will just say that we have used both of them since they were available, and when you adapt yourself there is not a problem with Campys nor with Shimano's. Maybe the Italian levers are easier to use with hands on the drops, but if you are trained to use the Japanese system and someone beats you in a sprint, donít blame the shifters!

Dual Leverís action is really plush, as well for braking as for shifting. A very little effort is needed to take the upshift lever from a détente position to the next one. Once that movement is done, and the system reaches the click point, surpassing this point needs only a slightly increasing of that effort, and a little vibration in your fingers tells you the shift is done. The same as with any other Shimano shifter, but in Dura Ace clicks are always a little louder, what is something pro riders like.

The downshift lever can only move the derail one position each time you push it, so if you suddenly need to shift to a very larger development with a shortly spaced cassette as a 12-21 or 12-23, you will need to push more that once. Again, something typical of any Shimano shifter.

These characteristics are due to type of mechanism used by Shimano: There is a pawl that stops the ratchet and only allows it to move in one direction, which is the upshift direction. The derailleurís spring force pulls through the cable that ratchet in the inverse direction, and the pawl does not allow that movement, so the derailleur gets locked in that position. To downshift, the piece where the pawl is mounted is moved, the way the pawl releases the ratchet. There is another pawl that remains inactive while the first one stops the ratchet, but when the piece where this main pawl is mounted at is moved by the downshift lever, it† is released, and stops the inverse movement that takes place when the main pawl lets the ratchet move freely. This happens exactly at the point when the downshift lever is pushed all the way down. When it is released by the rider, the secondary pawl gets back to its inactive position, and when it loses contact with the ratchet, the main one is waiting for it to stop it in a lower position. Then, the downshift is done.

The main pawl is the one that makes ďclickĒ, and there is a third one that clutches the ratchet to move it to an upper position to make an upshift.

As always, this system has pros and cons.

PROS:

  • The click is very smooth, because the main pawl has almost no resistance to the upshift movement of the ratchet.
  • As the system is locked by a pawl, no matter how much strength the rear derailleurís spring has, the system will never slip from a given position to a lower one.

CONS:

  • This system makes impossible to allow a multiple downshift, because the secondary pawl must control the inverse movement of the ratchet by stopping it.
  • The downshift movement is made in two stages: the first one when the secondary pawl actuates. At this point, a little less than the half of the movement is done. The second one, when the secondary pawl releases, and the ratchet moves until it engages again with the main pawl. This makes the downshift slightly slower, and sometimes when there is friction at cables, although the ratchet makes the second stage described above, the cable does not move from this position, and this results in lost accuracy (this is more common in Mtbís)
  • When downshifting, there is no way the rider can control the movement. They are the different pawls and springs of the system that make work it all, so, if something does not work right, there is no way you can trim the derailleurís position, if not with the upshift lever, which takes too much time and attention. Also, as the movement is made by springs, downshifts are somewhat clunky. This is something that is balanced by the flying upper pulley in the rear derail, but there is nothing that can balance it in the front one, where this effect is clearer due to the larger strokes between different positions

About trimming the lever, if you are in the larger chainring and you shift to the small one, but you are using, for instance the second or third smaller cog, you will need to trim the derail with a touch in the upshift lever. After ten years it still results really annoying for me.

The problems with friction in the cables are not very important when talking about road cycling, and maybe you have to consider them only if you are think about using Dura Ace in a Cross bike.

Weight? Less than you are thinking: just 441 g.

The Campagnolo ErgoPower will surely be where everybody will look at if you decide to mount them on your bike. Their carbon look is breathtaking. I have spent hours gazing at them, trying to find a fiber that is mis-aligned, a little void in the resinís surface (remember the holes in the swingarms of the early Cannondale Super Vís?), ... After all this time, I must confess I have never seen such a good work in carbon fiber. I remember a couple of things that can be considered that good, but not in the bicycle field.

The ErgoPowers are as plush as the Japanese levers when braking, but they are very different when shifting. As the Dual Levers, the ErgoPowers have a little inactive stroke in both shifting buttons, while the pawls each lever has approaches the shifting ratchet.

As they move more cable length for every degree you turn the upshift lever, a little more strength with a shorter movement is needed to displace the shifter from one position to the next one. Once you have to surpass the click point, the strength needed increases a bit, and then you will hear clearly how the system has made a shift.

The same for the downshift lever, which gets a little harder as it surpasses each click point. It is possible to pass over 5 cogs in a single touch, and although it may result in having a larger development than wanted for people who are not trained in using these levers, after a while you will like this very much: Imagine your riding partners trying to give you hell in a slightly steep road, while they ignore that week you feel like a bull. Then you just make a little movement of your thumb as they hear a little sound at their back coming from your chain, and you are three gears up in less than a second. If your legs are beefy enough your friends will not see you again until they get home...

The upshift function feels very "automatic". Because the space between détente points in the shifter is very narrow and there is a spring that adds strength to the action of selecting a larger sprocket, once you unclutch the system from a position, it seems the lever moves to the next one by itself. All this results in a extremely fast action, it feels like machine gun, but it is also more noisy and not so light as Dual Levers.

Why more noisy and not so light? Well, this system is based in a ratchet that gets locked by a pair of springs that have a ďLĒ shape (EC-RE209 in the schematic). The horizontal part of those ďLísĒ engages in the ratchetís notches. Each lever have a pawl. There is also a spiral spring that pulls the ratchet in the upshifting direction (EC-RE055). This spring is there because this ratchet moves a large amount of cable for each degree it turns, what would result in a very hard shifting action if there would be no spring helping, the same way that when you are in a big chainring the chain advances a lot for each degree you turn the crank, but pedals get hard.

To avoid the ratchet to skip from a détente point due to the spring strength, its notches are deep, and that is why when the spring enters there it will make a loud sound. The spring that helps the ratchet to move, insures also that the system gets tightly locked in each notch, making the system more accurate. And to achieve even more precision, the ratchet has a bearing in the inside.††

By the way, the spring that moves the ratchet comes inside a retainer (EC-RE111). That retainer was quite easy to break in the earlier 1999 9s carbon model, and that resulted in a lose of accuracy, but that lose was so slight, that most of the riders that suffered that failure had noticed nothing. Maybe you are one of them, it is easy to know: put the system in the smaller cog, then shift to the second one and look the alignment between the derailleurís upper pulley and the cog. If you see the pulley is not exactly under the cog, but in a place between it and the third one, slightly push the downshift button, not strong enough to shift to the first cog. If now the pulley is right below the second cog, it could be that retainer is broken. Campy sells a new one that is beefier and it is very cheap. Ask at your local shop.

The ErgoPowers marked just 339 g on our scale. If you donít climb fine, donít blame it on them...

Everything in the ErgoPower is thought to provide a reliable, ultra fast shifting, and, even when its action is light and pleasant, you will always notice a shift is done. Chatting with some Euro-pros, they all agree that an ultra-light action is right for a relaxed flat stage inside a Peloton, or for some training, but when the going gets tough, and even those you thought were your friends become your worst enemy, you better notice your bike is doing exactly what you want it to do, and this is specially important with shifting. Also, Campagnolo has achieved an amazingly fast system by adding the new UltraDrive cogs and the new rear mech geometry (later we will talk about them) to the already quick response of these machine gun levers.


Campagnolo vs Shimano Part I Campagnolo vs Shimano Part III
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Last Updated On: 10/16/02