You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Italian bike component maker Campagnolo has released its new Campagnolo Ekar gravel groupset. It was just a matter of time, right? Shimano has its gravel groupset that came out in May 2019. SRAM has been gravel-friendly for years. While Campy was on bikes back when gravel roads were simply called “roads,” it has been tarmac-focused for decades. (Yes, there was the OR [Off Road] mountain bike group in the early ’90s, but really Campy is performance road cycling.)
Although Campy has its roots on bumpy routes, it’s just now getting into the gravel space. It’s a wise move given the popularity of gravel riding. So, no surprise there.
Another not-such-a-surprise piece of news is the 13-speed cassette that is part of the Ekar group. In July, close readers saw that Campagnolo’s new Shamal Carbon DB wheelset had a new freehub body, the N3W. It’s shorter than the classic Campagnolo body. There’s also an N3W adapter that, as Campy writes, offers “backward compatibility with 10- 11- 12-speed cassettes.” Backward from what? Well, now with the Ekar, we know: a 13-speed cassette.
A 13-speed cassette like only Campagnolo would do a 13-speed cassette
Before looking at the new Ekar 13-speed cassette, let’s look back at the 12-speed. When Campagnolo launched the 12-speed cassette, it did so with one-tooth increments from the first cog (11-tooth) to the seventh (17-tooth). That’s a progression that suited pro road racers as they managed the undulations on the surfaces they rode. One-tooth increments mean you can keep a more regular cadence between shifts.
There are three Ekar cassettes with the following ranges: Endurance 9-36 tooth (9-10-11-12-13-14-16-18-20-23-27-31-36); Gravel Race 9-42 tooth (9-10-11-12-13-14-16-18-21-25-30-36-42); and Gravel Adventure 10-44 tooth (10-11-12-13-14-15-17-19-22-26-32-39-44). Once again, Campy prioritized one-tooth jumps for the smallest cogs, in this case, the six smaller sprockets. For riders looking for really challenging routes, the Gravel Adventure cassette offers the biggest jumps after the seventh cog to the 44-tooth thirteenth sprocket.
The Endurance cassette, Campy says, is 340 g. The Gravel Race is 390 g and the Gravel Adventure: 410 g. In contrast, an 11-speed 11-32 tooth Shimano GRX cassette weighs 320 g.
Each cassette is built with two blocks. The Gravel Race and Gravel Adventure cassettes are made of two groups of four and nine cogs. The Endurance cassette is made of a three- and 10-cog block. At the heart of each block is heat-treated carbon steel. Nickel-chrome-satin surface treatment reduces wear and friction.
The Campagnolo Ekar new thumb lever
While Campy now has the most cogs on a cassette, it already had the distinction of most levers. The company has long been an advocate of one action per lever. The brake lever brakes. The lever behind the brake lever moves the chain to a larger cog or chainring. The thumb lever moves the chain to a smaller cog or ring. With the Ekar group there are only three levers on the right Ergopower lever.
The new thumb lever has hooked, C-shape. I’m curious to try this out. It doesn’t look comfortable. I am a big fan of the feel of the levers for the 11-speed systems, which are strikingly comfortable. The 12-speed levers featured a very slight compromise in comfort. I hope the trend doesn’t continue with Ekar.
Campagnolo Ekar, cranks very much
The Campagnolo Ekar groupset has for chainring options: 38-tooth (Adventure), 40-tooth (Pure Gravel), 42-tooth (Fast Gravel), 44-tooth (eGravel). There are four crank length options: 165 mm, 170 mm , 172.5 mm and 175 mm. The axle is steel. The arms are carbon. Campy says you can swap an alloy ring without having to take apart the whole crankset. The 172.5-mm, 38-tooth crankset is said to weigh 615 g.
Where does it sit in the Campagnolo lineup?
Canadian pricing for the Campagnolo Ekar lineup is still to come. The company says it will be one of its more affordable component options, sitting just above the Centaur group (which is roughly equivalent to Shimano 105 with regard to performance) in terms of prices. Above Ekar—increasing in price and moving toward smoother surfaces for application—are Chorus, Record, Super Record and Super Record EPS.
As you saw in July, the new Shamal Carbon DB wheels come with the N3W freehub, making them ready for 13 cogs. Campy also lists two alloy hoops as Ekar options: Rapid Red 300 and Rapid Red 900. Both come in 700c and 650b versions. The Rapid Red 900 wheels are the heavier sets. The 700c pair is 1,950 g, and the 650b set is 1,870 g. Rapid Red 300 is 1,690 g for the 700c and 1,620 g for 650b. The Shamal come in at 1,585 g.
Ekar riders aren’t confined to Campagnolo wheels. The company has worked with 3T, DT Swiss, Newman and Roval to ensure other wheel options.
A new cassette means a new chain and rear derailleur (but not new brakes)
The Ekar C13 chain, at 4. 9 mm wide, is thinner 0.25 mm narrower than Campy’s 12-speed chain. It mates with the wide-narrow teeth design of Ekar’s chainrings and cogs. The chain’s inner links are steel with a nickel-Teflon surface treatment to increase their lifespan. The outer links are also steel, NiCrMo2, which Campy says is stronger because of its higher carbon content.
You can set your Ekar C13 chain with a pin. There is also a model with Campagnolo’s new C-Link, a master link, for easy removal and cleaning.
The new Ekar rear derailleur is made of a mix of composite and aluminum. The one mech works for all Ekar cassettes. The derailleur features a clutch to keep the chain under tension and operating smoothly. The jockey wheels are different sizes: the upper wheel is 12-tooth while the lower is 14. Campy says the size differences help increase shifting performance.
The hydraulic disc-brake system of the Ekar has the same insides as Campagnolo’s other groupsets, but with Ekar-specific graphics. Their DB310 pads, made of an organic compound, are designed to withstand the various conditions, both wet and dry, that gravel riders encounter.
The system relies on mineral oil. The stainless-steel rotors come in 140-mm and 160-mm diameters.
More than just components: Bags
If you are going to take your Campagnolo Ekar groupset on long, multi-day rides, you might as well carry your gear in Ekar bags. There’s the seat bag, Cluster 7, the top-tube bag, called the Node, and the frame bag, sporting the sci-fi sounding moniker of Internode 2.