Gravel Italian Style

Well, it looks like this whole “gravel” thing may catch on:

Because Campagnolo’s doing a gravel group:

All told, Campagnolo has created a lightweight (2,385 grams) groupset that the Italian company says is the lightest on the market. And it sure is a beautiful drivetrain to behold. On top of that, it’s a wise entry point for Campagnolo’s foray off pavement; the company’s road expertise lends itself to a gravel drivetrain and offers something truly different for discerning gravel riders and racers.

“Beautiful” is not the word I’d use. I mean check those shifters splayed out on that rock, they look like sea lions sunning themselves:

[The one on the left is waving to you with its little flipper, how cute is that?]


And the rest of the stuff just looks like the S.S. Gravel Fred hit an iceberg and some of its payload washed up on shore:

Imagine being stranded on an island with nothing but a high-end gravel group. You’d either figure out how to build a bicycle frame from bamboo, or you’d go crazy, or else you’d do both:


Anyway, I don’t think Campagnolo has made anything that qualifies as “beautiful” since the 10 speed era:

[Via here.]

And remember the skewers?

[Via here.]

I’m not one of those obsessive Campy-philes, but I do find myself regularly thinking about those skewers–especially when I get one of those plastic spoons with the cutout in the handle:

Then I resist the urge to tell whoever I’m with that it looks like a Campagnolo skewer, because that in turn would require me to explain both Campagnolo, and the skewer, as well as their significance in cycling history. These are subjects which, to the layperson, are about as interesting as the spoon itself, so stop yourself before your dining partner starts gagging you with one.

By the way, when I say the new Campagnolo stuff isn’t beautiful, I don’t mean that as an insult. It is 2020 after all, and Campagnolo is in the business of making high-performance bicycle parts, not decorative bicycle jewelry that alludes to some erstwhile heyday. The Dura Ace stuff on my plastic bike is similarly non-beautiful (I find it either viscerally cool-looking in a weapon-like way, or else just plain ugly, depending on my mood), but it also works really, really well, which is ultimately the point. Plus, I’ve probably also reached the point in my life where every new bicycle or bike part will look ugly to me from now on, my aesthetic ideals having been formed when components were still shiny and silver. I guess if you’re attuned to bulbous crabon bikes and comically-flared drop bars you probably do think all this grim and angular-looking stuff is beautiful now–and if so then it is, inasmuch as it’s in your eye and you’re the beholder and all of that.

What’s really ungainly though is the name. “Ekar”? Why not just call it “Record?” They were just an “R” and a “D” away from it anyway, phonetically speaking.

Regardless, at this point the whole gravel thing has reached a level of ubiquity where most of the time the introduction new stuff is hardly even noteworthy. However, this is Campagnolo we’re talking about, so a new gravel group from them is noteworthy indeed. In fact I believe the last time they introduced anything that wasn’t strictly for road bikes was way back in the 20th century:

See, to me that looks beautiful, but I’m sure if I were me then I’d have thought it was ugly too.

Oh, they also did a flat-bar shifter more recently than that, but those don’t count:

As I recall they were for flat-bar road bikes, not off-road bikes, so they don’t count.

All that aside, the big development with the Ekar or Eckerd or whatever it’s called seems to be that Campagnolo have done that thing again where they beat everyone else by one: there’s a 9-tooth cog (Shimano and Sram have been doing a 10); and the system is 13 speed (Shimano and Sram are still at 12). This requires a new freehub design, which I don’t think Campagnolo has done in like 20 years, though it does appear to be backwards compatible:

Disclaimer: I should note that I don’t speak Italian, so maybe that just says it’s delicious and they’re recommending a specific wine pairing.

Or maybe it says both.

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