The launch of Campagnolo 13-speed EKAR brings to an end a 5-year saga for me. In this post I’ll tell you all about my discussions with Campagnolo in that period, how it influenced some 3T bikes that are already on the market and what this means going forward.
Early discussions (Campagnolo 13-speed is still far away)
At Eurobike 2015, Campagnolo’s engineers and sales manager invited me to a sneak preview of their first disc brake groupset. I love these sorts of meetings, because I have always been obsessed with drivetrains, gear ratios and the like, but without any desire to get into that business. So whether it’s SRAM, Shimano or Campagnolo, if people want to brainstorm, I’m in.
The brakes they showed me were very nice, but the rest of the drivetrain was pretty standard. So with the eternal “drivetrain ratio” spreadsheet in the back of my head, I tried to convince them to go radical, to change to a 1x drivetrain and really leapfrog the existing group sets on the market.
We had a great discussion about flatmount and postmount (that was still a thing back then), on how much range future road and gravel bikes would need, how to potentially do that with 1x while getting enough range and small steps, and funnily enough I told them about wanting a 9T starting cog (remember I never had any desire to be in the drivetrain business).
I didn’t actually think any of this would happen, it was just a couple of engineers dreaming out loud. A few years later we introduced some 3T cassettes, 11-speed and starting with a 9T cog. Not because I wanted to, but because we needed it for the Strada.
When I told one of the Campagnolo engineers that we actually found surprisingly good drag numbers on the 9T cog, he said he was not surprised. Seems they had already been thinking the same things (and probably 1000’s of other things I had never considered).
Meanwhile in 2017, we introduced the Strada, the aero road bike designed around comfort with wider tires and a 1x drivetrain. At the time, 1×11 was the standard, and although that works for a group of riders (and a little better with our 9-32T cassette), we also knew that 1×12 and 1×13 would make things even better. We knew several drivetrain makers were working on those, so we launched in anticipation of them appearing.
And then it went quiet. It was only in the first half of 2019 that SRAM AXS 1×12 arrived. Obviously it came a little later than we had thought, but it immediately lifted the appeal of the Strada.
12-speed electronic shifting, beautiful levers, good brakes, lightweight, it all matched perfectly with the Strada. Until today, our entire Strada line-up consists of SRAM AXS bikes.
I had already heard some things about a new Campagnolo 13-speed drivetrain and at SeaOtter 2019, they showed me a groupset that was everything I wanted: 13-speed, 3 cassette combinations almost exactly as I had on my spreadsheet and unbelievably: a 9T starting cog for 2 of the 3 cassette options.
The trick of starting with the 9T helps to space your cogs more closely in the middle of the cassette. It’s something crucial for 11-speed cassettes where each cog is at such a premium. But even with the abundance of 13 cogs, it does wonders.
The final EKAR groupset
As you can see in the photos, the final Campagnolo 13-speed EKAR groupset is beautiful. Carbon crank, intricate rear derailleur, “industrial chique” brake calipers and nicely sculpted (and very comfy) levers. but most importantly, 3 great cassette options:
Keep in mind that because of the 9T cog, your chainring can be a lot smaller, so a 40T chainring is probably enough on your road bike (and otherwise a 42T). That in turn shows you how generous the climbing gearing is, even on the 9-36T cassette.
One thing people may be surprised to see is that the groupset is mechanical, not electronic. I’m agnostic on the subject, I really don’t care if my shifters are mechanical or electronic.
I see an advantage for electronic on the front derailleur (automatic trim) but for 1x that obviously doesn’t apply since there is no front derailleur. Almost everything else on a drivetrain is more important to me than mechanical vs electronic.
And personally I think a little bit of reliable old-school thrown into this revolutionary drivetrain is rather neat.
Strada Campagnolo 13-speed EKAR edition
To celebrate the launch of EKAR, we’re introducing a limited edition Strada with a custom Campagnolo paint, EKAR drivetrain and Campagnolo Shamal Carbon wheels (If you’re more interested in an Exploro gravel bike with EKAR, then check this out).
A very limited number of them is available today, some more will be available in October and November. So be sure to order yours today.
Below are some more photos of the bike, while specs can be found here.