It may be the thing we never thought we would say. But it’s 2020 so anything goes, right? So let’s say it together: “Campagnolo is going gravel.” The beautiful white dust of Strada Bianche notwithstanding, Campy is ready for the true dirt; the chunky rocks of SoCal, the soupy mud of the northeast, and the forest singletrack of the northwest. Welcome to the dark side, Campy. Here’s an espresso… or maybe an IPA.
And that’s not all. Rather than enter the gravel category for the first time with a range of components that pulls it level with its competition with a high-zoot electronic group, it does so by going with an economical with a mechanical group. And it does so in a 1 x 13 gear range.
Campagnolo claims the Ekar groupset to be the world’s lightest at 2,385 grams with a 36-tooth cassette. We saw the early edition in March, and were impressed with what we saw. It was a look, don’t touch, and don’t talk experience, which left us champing at the bit. Now that it’s all out there, we’re ready to divulge the details.
With the entire groupset produced wholly in Europe (with many parts coming right out of their massive factory in Vicenza, Italy), Ekar, designed pointedly at gravel and endurance road segment, is a solid stem-to-stern offering. Solid CNC-machined steel where needed, a touch of carbon where desired, and tons of gear ratio options make it a truly practical group (what gravel group wouldn’t be) along with a bit of that Campagnolo sex appeal.
The signature Campy experience lives at the brake levers, and it largely remains the same, save for a few functional twists (and no, the lever blades aren’t carbon fiber, but rather tried-and-true aluminum). Being a 1-by group, there’s just one signature inboard paddle shifter on the right brake lever for upshifts, and the standard paddle on the brake lever blade itself for downshifts. That inboard lever takes on a new “C” shape, designed to make it easier to use when in the drops; rather than reaching up to make a shift, one only needs to push their thumb forward to engage the lever and make it activate a shift. While the downshift paddle can dump gears three at a time, that inboard lever can only move one gear per push. The lever is reach-adjustable (hooray for small-handed types) as well.
CASSETTE GEAR RANGE
Yep, 1 x 13, with a range of cassettes that include a 9-36T, a 9–42T and 10–44T. Yep, a 9T. The added 13th sprocket helps knock down the ratio of big steps between gears. The 9–36T is geared toward gravel riders that lend toward endurance road, with the 10–44T targeting those that hit steep stuff on the dirt and want the extra climbing capabilities such a cassette provides.
The rear end will be complimented by chainring options of 38, 40, 42 and 44-tooth configurations. The rings themselves have a steps that alternate between narrow and wide to help keep the chain on the ring when bouncing across the dirt.
The Ekar C13 chain is Campagnolo’s thinnest available to work within that 13-gear rear cluster, and it’s impressive. It features a nickel-Teflon coating and is designed to work with the chainring’s narrow-wide step between teeth to keep the rings from bouncing off. It’ll be available in a classic pin link or C-Link design
That cassette is attached to a new freehub body called N3W. A not-insignificant 4.4mm shorter than its standard cassette in length, the new cassettes are designed to fit the 9-tooth and 10-tooth cassette sprockets. Campagnolo will also make available a 4.4mm deep N3W adapter that affixes to the outer edge of the freehub body, allowing backward compatibility of existing 9, 10, 11 and 12-speed cassettes. Pretty thoughtful, in an industry wracked with upgrade obsolescence.
No, the EKAR rear mech doesn’t have the sex appeal of its road brethren, but it’s still got carbon. It’s more of a carbon/polyamide combo mixed with standard anodized alloys and stainless steel bolts, but given it’s a group that’s bound to get dinged, it’s the right construction for a gravel rear derailleur that’s ready for the dirt.
Wearing the same clean design as its road version, the Ekar rotors are comprised of tempered stainless steel, and paired with DB310 organic compound pads. Options will include 140mm and 160mm diameter versions, as well as Center Lock.
CRANKSET AND BOTTOM BRACKET
Ah, here’s where you’ll get your Campy carbon fix. A molded, unidirectional carbon fiber set of crankarms will employ Campagnolo’s split, splined steel axle. But rather than using Ultra Torque (as the road variety employs), Ekar features ProTech. Yes, cartridge bearings are pressed into each spindle side, but they are not backward-compatible
The crankarms will come in lengths of 165, 170, 172.5 and 175 millimeters, with the crankarm ends coming complete with siip-on plastic protection caps. Chainrings will bolt directly to the four-armed spider. Like its road versions, the Ekar crankset will have the same narrow 145.5mm Q-factor, a key feature for those that prefer a narrow pedal width.
That crankset will mate with a bottom bracket that has a center sleeve. Given the dirty conditions the Ekar groupset will see, it shows foresight that they’d put to use a sleeve to protect the bottom bracket, within the BB shell, keeping things clean and operating smoothly.
The Ekar group will price at $1,764. It’s not an untoward price, especially for Campagnolo.
While it’s not part of the Ekar group per se, a gravel wheel rounds out the segment offering. It sounds sacrilegious to consider getting a Campy wheelset dirty, but again, here we are in 2020, and Campagnolo has a gravel-specific carbon fiber wheelset designed just for that. The Shamal Carbon Wheelset looks a lot like its road predecessors with its signature triple-grouped spoke configuration. With a 21mm inner channel, it can run the gamut of 25mm tires for road use up to 45 or 50mm for high-volume gravel tire accommodation. The unidirectional carbon rim are laced to aluminum hubs with a cup-and-cone bearing system for easy adjustment. The wheelset is tubeless and clincher compatible and available with Campagnolo’s new N3W freehub body, as well as HG and XDR. Rim depth is 35mm up front, and 40mm in the rear.
As a boutique Italian brand, the challenge for Campagnolo has always been getting it spec’d on bikes; Campyphiles would always seek out a Campy Super Record 11 to hang like jewels on their prized road bikes. But finding them as a stock offering? Nigh impossible. If you really want a Campy road group, it takes buying a group, to then part out the stock Shimano or SRAM build.
With Ekar, however, Campagnolo plans on making this not only attainable, but a standard offering. Campagnolo NA confirmed with Pure Gravel that the Ekar group will feature on complete builds from brands including 3T, Ridley, Wilier Triestina, Pinarello and Masi. Not a bad group of bikes to debut with.
We laud Campagnolo for making a bike that’s attractive to ALL of us, not just those with seven-figure bank accounts and a penchant for pasta carbonara and a spritz wile overlooking the Rialto after a day of riding in the Dolomites. We’ll be looking forward to making our Ekar group feel at home out on Grinduro Mt. Shasta’s Gateway Trail network, out Lemontwistenberg at BWR, along the wide, sweeping dirt roads of Routt County at SBT GRVL and the famedflint rock of Emporia.
And yeah, we’ll take the ice-cold IPA, please.
Comments will be approved before showing up.