Just 7 months after the launch of their high-end EPS Electronic groupsets, Campagnolo announced the launch of Athena 11 speed EPS. Shaving over £1000 off the current EPS price and bringing Campag's new technology to more affordable levels, Athena is guaranteed to be a popular choice. Using slightly different electronics with a slimmer cable design but still manufactured in Campagnolo's Vincenza factory the Athena EPS has the same combined 'Brain' and Battery pack giving approximately 2000km of riding between charges and the same self-diagnosing characteristics as the more expensive models. Like mechanical Athena, the chainset - Bottom Bracket interface is Power-Torque rather than Ultra-Torque
Many may not know that Campagnolo have already released an electric groupset: over 2 decades ago. The Campagnolo EPS (Electronic Power Shift) has been a long time in the making and Campagnolo have addressed several of the concerns raised by riders using Shimano's Di2.
Campagnolo have carried the design of their mechanical shifters over to the EPS units. Whilst there have only been a few niggles with Shimano's Di2, they key complaint is that the shifting is often muddled because the levers are so close together, work in the same way and are difficult to distinguish, especially in the winter months when full fingered gloves are often de rigeur. There is no such potential issue with EPS as the levers are on opposing sides of the hood. Die-hard fans of Campagnolo have always loved the definite 'click' of the mechanical shift and in addition to maintaining the layout in EPS, Campagnolo have designed the shifters so that they provide the same resistance, feel and sound as the cable-actuated shifters. The thumb lever has also been redesigned so that it is easier to reach when in the drops and the design allows you to shift gears whilst braking and sprinting.
Another plus point of Campagnolo EPS is that a multiple shift is still possible. Indeed, rather than furiously tapping away at your lever, the rider can simply hold down the shift lever and shift across the entire block in 1.5 - 2 seconds depending on the direction of the shift. You can also do the old Campag 'double-shuffle' - shifting both front and rear simultaneously, a feature we have always loved.
Battery life on the Campagnolo EPS is slightly better than Shimano though Shimano offer high capacity batteries should you feel the need. A rider averaging 500km a month should get up to 2000km of riding out of a single charge. That said there are many variables with battery operated systems and temperature and the frequency of shifting are just two that can have a direct bearing on battery life. Ultimately you aren't likely to be charging your battery very often and the simple light indication on the power unit will tell you the percentage of charge remaining with a buzzer should it become critical. The EPS battery is good for 5,000 charge cycles and there is a fair chance that you're body will be knackered before it is!
Campagnolo have come up with an excellent way of protecting the rear derailleur in case of a crash or accidental impact - simply put it will disengage to avoid damage. Re-engagement is achieved by simply pulling the mech back to it's original position where it resets. This mechanism of uncoupling has the additional benefit of allowing the rider to position the rear derailleur on a particular sprocket in case all the low battery warnings have been ignored, allowing them to choose the most appropriate gear to get home on.
As with the Shimano system, EPS is most impressive at the front end. The immediacy of the front derailleur shift is incredible. The precision of the shift is a result of two key elements. Firstly the accuracy of EPS - the front derailleur is set-up to within 0.5mm of the chain (the rear is accurate to 0.05mm!) and secondly the force with which the mech shifts. EPS generates 52Nm of torque (enough to mangle your finger if you mess with it) when shifting up which means the shift happens immediately. This amount of force is the reason Campagnolo strongly advise against using 3rd party chains or chainrings - they might just snap. If you use a braze-on derailleur on a carbon mount like those found on Cervelo, Look or Scott then you would be wise to use the specific device designed by Campag to spread the load generated by the front mech.
Both front and rear derailleurs carry out over shifting - the idea being that the mechanisms will move beyond the point of the shift to ensure correct positioning of the chain, before returning to a position where the chain line is optimized - a bit like maintaining the shift on a cable based system. EPS is very clever indeed, not only will the front mech self-trim (like Di2) but once the rear mech is set up it will know exactly (to within0.05mm) where the chain sits. In use this means that you have very definite shifting that is crisp and efficient, even under high loads. It also allows the use of gear configurations that historically caused problems on mechanical set-ups.
EPS is manufactured to an extremely high standard and this is evident as soon as you take it out of the box, the IP67 waterproofing certification is testament to the lengths Campagnolo have gone to to ensure a perfect shift regardless of conditions: EPS will function submerged in water to depths of up to a metre! With the usual attention to detail and classic Italian styling, Campagnolo have spent a long time ensuring that it looks as good as it functions - being Campagnolo, they have kept the look very much in line with the mechanical groups, a glance at the rear mech and you may not even notice that it is electronic.
We are impressed. At 700 we have mixed feelings over Di2 but it is safe to say that our issues are dealt with using the EPS. The seamless shift that is accurate every time and has a solid feel at the shifter, a front derailleur that engages instantly and that keeps the chain-line perfect allows you to ride without worry - the only thing likely to interrupt your rhythm are others wanting to see it!