What's the difference between Campagnolo and Shimano components?|
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This is a question that I get asked at least once a day here in the shop. People
read magazine reviews, or talk with friends that own bicycles, and develop questions
about the differences. The answer could fill a book if you catch me on the right
day, but I'll try and keep it shorter than that for this article and not get bogged down
in minutiae. To keep it a little shorter, I'll just cover what I think to be the
most important component choice...that is the Shift/Brake levers. The brake lever is generally the most expensive part of the group, and affects both comfort and usability.
There are 4 important things to consider:
1.) Functionality - Several years ago, the component companies pulled a cruel trick
on us here in the Northwest. They invented shifters called STI (Shimano) or Ergo
(Campagnolo). These new shifters were mounted right inside of the brake levers and
were much more convenient to use. Unfortunately, along with this design came new derailleurs that
were designed to work only with specific gear configurations for the front chain
rings. But, here in the Northwest, we are either riding downhill or uphill and rarely
on flat ground. (I discovered this when I first moved here from Southern Idaho and
rode my bike to work for the first day). See, most places don't need quite the range
of gears that we use here. We started selling the Shimano STI shifters when they
came out with a model that would shift a 'triple' chain ring. Then we started changing
out the chain ring sizes for people to meet their specific needs (as we always had
done before). The Shimano manual said that the chain rings must be specific sizes,
but who believes what they say anyway? Well, in this case they were right. If we varied
even slightly from the stock setup, the bike just wouldn't shift smoothly (or at
all). So, we investigated other options.
The Campagnolo shifters use a different method of shifting for the front derailleur,
and allowed us many more options for chain ring sizes. This was the first reason
we started to use the Campagnolo shifters for tandems and touring bikes (these folks
are much more likely to want wider gear ranges).
Obviously, we sell both brands, and both Shimano and Campagnolo shifters work very
well. The Shimano setup has evolved to be a little more flexible than it originally
was. If a customer has a need to vary his or her gearing up front though, the Campagnolo is still more flexible and works better for that.
2.) Comfort - Here is a feature often overlooked by a customer shopping for a new
bike, but is by far the most important consideration when choosing components. Since comfort is so important, I always have people try the feel of both shifters
before deciding. Both brands work well mechanically, and do what they are supposed to do, but Campagnolo has taken the next step and redesigned their shifter to fit the human hand better. If your bike is fit to you properly, you're riding on the top of the brake hoods
70-80% of the time. Therefore, it makes sense to make that position the most comfortable
position on your bike. If you look at the Campagnolo design carefully, you'll see a difference in the way it fits the hand. Campagnolo redesigned the shifter in about
1998 and our customers have loved them ever since. All it takes is a quick grab
on both shifters to feel the difference. Most people prefer the smaller, thinner
feel of the Campagnolo. They also like the way that the shifter mounts flat and becomes
an extension of the handle bar.
There is another difference in the comfort factor. If you examine both shifters closely,
you'll find that the pivot point for the braking mechanism is mounted closer to where the cable is pulled on the
Campagnolo. This means that when you are braking from the top of the hoods, it requires less leverage. I consider this a comfort issue because in the Northwest, if
you're not climbing, you're braking. The leverage advantage to the Campagnolo means
less work for your hands, so it's more comfortable.
The last thing that I would say about comfort is to compare the front shifting of
each make. The Shimano requires that the brake lever be pushed sideways a considerable
amount before the shift is made. The Campagnolo can be pushed a few clicks, then
returned to resting, and then a few more to make a shift. This becomes a comfort issue
if you have smaller hands than the average male that the shifters were all designed
for. For people with smaller hands or shorter fingers, the Campagnolo is usually
the preferred choice.
3.) Serviceability - Here is the closest that I will tread to minutiae. Keep in mind
that I've been a bicycle mechanic since I was the 8 year old kid who fixed any bike
tires that were brought in to my father's gas station in Jerome Idaho ( a town of
about 2,000 back then). Being able to repair something runs in my blood, so if there
is ever a choice between buying something that is repairable vs. buying something
that is disposable, guess where I go?
No matter how good something is, some part of it will wear out at some time. Campagnolo
shifters are built with serviceability in mind. They are bolted together, the Shimano
is more or less riveted together. The small parts list for the Campagnolo shifters is several pages long. I can usually order any small part for a Campagnolo shifter and fix any
problem that it might have. This level of serviceability carries through to the
entire line of everything Campagnolo makes, derailleurs, hubs, etc.
Shimano components are made with more of a 'replacement' philosophy. The small parts available list for all models of Shimano shifters is less than 1/2
page, and contains very basic parts only (name plate, name plate screw etc...).
Almost every Shimano shifter that goes bad requires a new shifter to be installed,
and that costs a lot more than just fixing an old one. The replacement philosophy carries
through to everything that Shimano makes. While there is nothing wrong with either
philosophy, the Campagnolo serviceability philosophy just fits in better with my
own, and that's one reason that I prefer it.
4.) Price - There is a difference on the price between the two. Bicycles equipped
with Shimano are available at price levels from $450 and up, whereas Campagnolo equipped
bicycles start at $2,000 or so. If you're shopping for a new bike, and your price
range doesn't allow you to spend $2,000 or more, Shimano is really the only choice, and it's a good choice. But,
if you're budget allows you to spend $2,000 or more, I recommend that you try both and
pick the brand that's comfortable for you.