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The Road War -- Shimano vs. Campagnolo
by: David Diaz Blanco

Campagnolo was the manufacturer that invented derailleurs, and Shimano is the company that nowadays dominates the bicycle market with iron hand. This results in a war where each little movement of the enemy requires an inmediate response. And as always happens in wars, everybody has to take party. We will try to be impartial, and stablish a true comparative between the flag ships of both contenders.

This war started in the mid eighties, when Shimano developed their SIS, the first indexed system that became really successful. This made Campagnolo lose an important part of their market share in the earlier nineties. That age was not easy for Campagnolo: The bicycle world was shaken by the quick evolution of MtB, Shimano and SunTour introduced novelties almost every six months and the Italian company seemed not to be able to compete the Japanese brands.

Finally, Campagnolo decided to leave the MtB market, and focus theirselves on what they knew the best: The road field. By 1995, the Campagnolo range was a truly alternative to Shimano products, and that was too the year that Maeda sold the SunTour brand to Sakae Ringyo, what, in fact, meant a competitor less.

For 2000, and after some years of constant successes, the Italians introduced what a year after has proved to be a revolution that has put Shimano against the wall: The first ten speed rear shifting system. It is not that the Japanese company has lost much of their sales, but lots of road bikers think today that Campagnolo builds the most advanced groupos avalaible. That stands for prestige.

To clear up which one is the best componentry that can be achieved nowadays, we have tested the more expensive each one offers: Shimano Dura Ace and Campagnolo Record.

The best groupos ever?
First of all, it is needed to clear up that both products can suit any road cyclist in the world. Both them are reliable, offer a perfect function of any of their parts, and both them feature the latest technologies to insure a very light weight. So, from the beginning, it is needed to say that, in most cases, there are very slightly differences.

What we will try to explain in this article is which one comes closer to the utopic idea of Perfection. The people that buys these groupos spends lots of money on bikes, so a good shifting or braking action is not enough for them. Furthermore, the pros that use these products need something that, at least, have no influence in the final result of each race. So, a mechanical failure in the middle of a competition is something unacceptable, and so is too any disadvantage due to any componentry’s characteristic.

A general view
Before describing and comparing each component, we will have a look at what Dura Ace and Record offer as a whole. Today´s groupos are a set where each piece is designed to work in synchrony with some others, instead of being just a mix of pieces manufactured by the same company as happened 15 years ago.  Indexed systems, the struggle for weight saving and other technical advances make that sometimes only the front hub, the seat post or the head set has not influence on how the rest of the components work.

There are a lot of independent manufacturers that build products that are compatible with Campy or Shimano groupos, and sometimes they improve the function of the original component in some way, or save a few grams; but my personal experience tells me that you should be very careful when choosing a substitute for an original piece. The most extreme example are Campagnolo brakes: They are suppossed to be compatible with any wheel, and they are, but their pads work best with Campy rims.

It is really pleasant for a bicycle devotee as I am to handle these components. The materials they are made of, and the way how that materials have been worked have almost no comparison with any other product from a different field. Only Formula 1 cars have so much technology hidden in every little piece. Maybe you think this is an exaggeration, but it is not. The way Campagnolo and Shimano (and some other bicycle manufacturers) forge aluminum, and the way Campagnolo works carbon fiber allows both companies to be among the best mechanical componetry manufacturers of the world. And that is why sometimes Ferrari and NASA rely on Campagnolo to build some pieces.

The Japanese components use cold forged aluminum. This procces insures the best possible molecular cohesion, the way each component is extremely strong. But forging cold aluminum is very difficult, because aluminum´s plasticity is low at low temperatures, so extremely high forces are needed to accurately shape it. There are only a few companies in the world that can build cold forged aluminum pieces with the tolerances that Shimano uses.

Campagnolo is known worldwide by metallurgic enginneers as a company that has developed some procceses that nowadays are used by many high precision mechanical devices manufacturers. And the Record is a summary of the most advaced ones. Campagnolo uses both cold and heat forging techniques depending on which piece. Sometimes, using the extremely high forces that cold forging procceses need result in microfissures, only viewable by very powerful microscopes, depending on which alloy is used, so sometimes is better to use a less plastic alloy and forge it at a higher temperature, submiting later the piece to a heat treatment proccess that avoid inner stresses that could appear.

The proccess that should be used for each case is determined by an accurate research of which forces apply to each piece when it is working.

Record’s carbon pieces are truly examples of the highest technology avalaible today. It can seem easy to substitute an aluminum piece for a carbon one, but that is not so easy if that piece has little pivots that turn inside of it. That is that case in the rear derailleur of the ErgoPower. Only the latest techniques allow these pieces to be manufactured in a way they don’t wear or break after a week.

The Dura Ace announces a better force transmission on its drivetrain due to the Octalink interface between cranks and spindle, and Campagnolo allows to mount 10 cogs on the rear wheel.

But this is not all what they have to offer. Next week will will start the comparison!


  Campagnolo vs Shimano Part II

 


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