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Campy electric group sparks culture change

Published December 2, 2011

Editor's note: The following article appears in the December issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News. To subscribe to the magazine, click on the link at the upper right.

By Nicole Formosa

LINGUAGLOSSA, Italy—When Valentino Campagnolo was ready to press forward on commercializing his company’s electronic drivetrain, he knew the culture inside Campagnolo’s Vicenza, Italy, headquarters would also have to shift.

To the company, known for its mechanical components steeped in classic Italian racing heritage, the world of electronics was foreign and needed to be led by those familiar with the newer technology.

“It’s mandatory to have an electronics culture,” Campagnolo said in an interview during an early November press launch of its new Electronic Power Shift drivetrain.

“It’s not the biggest part of the job—that would be developing the product itself—but it’s been one of the toughest. You need to build specific technical competency in R&D, specific technical competency in the testing department, specific technical competency in the manufacturing shop.”

Campagnolo hired roughly 30 new dedicated staff for the project and will undergo the same hiring process when it shifts assembly of EPS products from Italy to its two Romanian factories next summer. The company is adamant about not sharing its know-how outside its walls, and while EPS’ motor and interface motherboard are outsourced, both products are tested extensively in-house and developed by Campy engineers.

Campagnolo introduced its 11-speed electronic drivetrain to the international media in November after 20 years of development. The system, available in Record and Super Record versions, includes new Ergopower shifters with three levers to control up, down and braking; the interface, a small black box that communicates with the power unit and mounts on the stem or brake cable; the power unit, or EPS’ brain, which houses the electronics and 12-volt lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack; and the EPS front and rear derailleurs made from a newly developed technopolymer material mixed with carbon fiber.

It’s designed to maintain the audible and sensory “click feeling” a rider would experience with a mechanical drivetrain, and every shift is accompanied by a whirring sound as the rear derailleur moves through the gears. Pricing hadn’t been set as of press time, but Lorenzo Taxis, Campagnolo’s director of global marketing, said Record would compete with Shimano’s Di2 Dura-Ace system, while Super Record would be positioned in a class of its own at the top end. Super Record weighs 2,098 grams—the lightest electronic gruppo on the market, according to Taxis—and Record tips the scale at 2,184 grams, the second lightest.

“We believe this is a great achievement,” Taxis said.

Campagnolo has no intention of leaving behind its mechanical roots, Valentino Campagnolo said. It’s a matter of offering choices to the discerning rider looking for quality, reliability and performance, whether that’s in mechanical or electronic components.

He believes the company’s innovations in electronics will spawn many new products, elevating the Italian brand and keeping it competitive despite its resistance to manufacturing in Asia.

“We don’t want to stay in the middle of the bunch. At least we are aiming to be at the frontier. We believe it will be positive for the bicycle enthusiast. Otherwise we will disappear. It’s a one-way road,” Campagnolo said.

The gruppos start shipping from Italy this month, first to pro tour teams riding it next year including Movistar, Lotto and select riders from Europcar and Lampre, then to OEs, followed by global distributors in the spring. The first production run is 250 units, followed by 500 units per month starting in January.

At least four brands—Pinarello, Colnago, Ridley and Wilier Triestina—plan to spec the setup on 2013 bikes, and product managers from every major brand are invited to test EPS this month at Taichung Bike Week. In the U.S., Campagnolo will support the introduction with dealer tech clinics at the Park Tool Summit, Frostbike, DealerCamp and at its own summits scheduled in every region of the country.

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