Campagnolo has joined the gravel drivetrain arms race with its new 13-speed Ekar groupset. Inspired by the gravel roads of Mt Ekar near the Campagnolo headquarters, it claims the Ekar groupset is the lightest and most reliable gravel groupset available.
As the popularity of gravel has blossomed so has the demand for innovation and subsequently the investment by brands to fill the market with gravel-specific components. Drivetrains have been an interesting area of development, as riders started exploring, gravel riding drivetrains were a sticking point. Existing road groupsets lacked the gear range, durability and security on rough surfaces and incompatibilities between mountain bike drivetrains and road bike levers caused headaches. Cherry-picked setups and mechanical workarounds from Problem Solvers and JTek lead to Frankenstein 1x setups that worked adequately but they were far from perfect.
This MacGyver approach, however, showed a demand and the viability for the big brands to get involved, Shimano claimed the 'world's first' with its GRX gravel-specific groupset and SRAM followed with Wide versions of its road groupsets (although pre-Shimano GRX, SRAM already had a range of 1x road, plus its pull-ratios and AXS wireless system allowed road and MTB cross-pollination). Now it's the turn of Campagnolo.
- Best gravel bikes: Fun and fast adventure bikes for your next off-road ride
- Campagnolo groupsets: The full range explained
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Design and aesthetics
It might seem like Campagnolo is late to the party but it’s easy to forget that the market of gravel-specific componentry is still very much in its infancy. After all, GRX was only released in May 2019.
The development of Ekar has been a four-year project for Campagnolo, starting with a survey of 4,500 gravel riders to determine key values and technical goals. The Ekar groupset was built from the ground up as a gravel groupset to take over gravel duties from the Chorus 12x2 endurance road groupset.
By starting with a clean slate Campagnolo has been able to consider the entire system when designing the Ekar groupset. It’s still distinctly Campagnolo with the one-lever one-action control philosophy, sleek flat carbon cranks and beautiful attention to detail throughout however starting fresh has allowed a progressive design of new technologies.
Weight was a key value for Campagnolo which has resulted in its claim that Ekar is the lightest gravel groupset available, although Campagnolo is keen to stress this isn’t at the cost of durability. According to Campagnolo’s figures, it claims Ekar is 86g lighter than the next lightest groupset (SRAM Force 1x11) and 343g lighter than Shimano GRX 800 1x11.
Some may be disappointed to see that Campagnolo hasn’t chosen electronic shifting for its Ekar groupset but this was an intentional decision to make the groupset more affordable and the research showed that gravel riders appreciate the simplicity of mechanical groupsets. Considering that Campagnolo has already developed its electronic EPS technology for the road we speculate an Ekar EPS groupset could make an appearance in the future.
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The 13-speed Ekar signifies a step ahead of SRAM’s Eagle 12-speed and GRX 11-speed although cassette one-upmanship is becoming somewhat reminiscent of Spinal Tap. Campagnolo lists three cassette options available - an endurance 9-36T, gravel race 9-42T and gravel adventure 10-44T.
What makes the Campagnolo cassette interesting is the spread of gearing available. The top half of the block has very close ratios allowing finer tuning of cadence on the high-speed gravel and road riding while the lower end features comparatively larger variations in ratio than rival cassettes to give a lower range for steep terrain.
As Campagnolo is able to fit a smaller 9T sprocket, this, in turn, reduces the need for large dinner plate cassettes to achieve low-end gears and shifting is faster as there is less of a jump between low-end sprockets.
Campagnolo’s new N3W driver body standard, released earlier in the year alongside the new Campagnolo Shamal gravel wheelset, has been designed to accommodate the extra sprocket and smallest 9T option. To the relief of the consumer, Campagnolo has designed the N3W to provide compatibility with the current 12-speed and 11-speed cassettes using a spacer lockring and has made the driver body standard available for other companies to use so you won't be restricted to Campagnolo wheelsets.
The new Ekar 13-speed derailleur is a gravel-specific design that uses a 2D parallelogram trajectory to achieve the precise shifts required for a closely spaced 13-speed cassette. Built from carbon ﬁbre-reinforced polyamide and anodised 7075 and 6082 alloys, the Ekar derailleur is compatible with all three Ekar cassette sizes. Alongside the 12T upper and 14T lower jockey wheels, Campagnolo has developed a clutch to control and secure the chain over rough terrain. The C13 chain is a 13-speed specific model designed for Ekar and is available in Classic Pin and C-Link options.
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Chain security is further enhanced with a narrow-wide chainring, available in four size options – Adventure (38T), Pure Gravel (40T), Fast Gravel (42T), eGravel (44T). The design of the chainring and crankset allows the chainring to be removed without dismantling the cranks, ideal for riders who are looking to increase the versatility of their 1x bike.
The crankset has the unmistakable Campagnolo shape and uses a two-piece ultra-torque 630 steel axle and UD carbon arm design. The crankset has a narrow 145.5mm Q-factor and is available in 165, 170, 172.5 and 175mm crank arm lengths. Rubber crank boots are included to protect the crank arms against pedal strikes when tackling technical terrain.
The bottom bracket uses Campagnolo’s patented ProTech external sealing and compatibility extends across all threaded and PressFit standards including BSA, ITA, BB86, BB30, BB30A, BB386, PF30, BB RIGHT and T47.
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Ekar is only available with hydraulic brakes and uses flat-mount calipers that share similar internals to Campagnolo’s other groupsets. The DB310 pads use a new organic compound that is better suited to the dirtier conditions that are a part of gravel riding.
Ekar uses thicker 1.85mm tempered steel rotors for added strength. They are available in 140mm or 160mm and a road alloy carrier version is also available for additional weight reduction.
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Campagnolo has opted to use its one-lever one-action philosophy for the controls. Downshifting is handled by a paddle lever under the brake lever which allows up to three shifts with a single action. The upshift is a single change and uses a lever on the inside of the hood as found on other Campagnolo groupsets. The shape of the lever has been remodelled to curve down making it easier to reach from the hoods and drops.
The hoods themselves feel quite small in the hand but the shape of the Vari-Cushion hood has been designed to provide a secure grip in a range of riding positions. The levers have an ergonomic adjustable reach to suit a wide range of hand sizes more comfortably.
As Ekar is a 1x specific drivetrain only, the right-hand lever is available with shifting internals which will be a disappointment for those radical gravel riders who want to run an obsolete left shifter as a dropper post lever.
Cyclingnews was lucky enough to receive a test sample pre-launch and I have spent a fair bit of time putting Campagnolo’s Ekar drivetrain through its paces and so far the performance has been very impressive. Our test bike was equipped with the adventure friendly 38T chainring and gravel race orientated 9-42T cassette.
Shifting is smooth and despite grinding through some seriously boggy terrain, the gear change stayed pleasantly quick and precise. Often drivetrains are lauded for their silky silent shifts, however, Ekar has quite an audible clunk as you shift through the block. I didn't find this detracted from the experience - instead, it created tactile auditory feedback as you grab another gear on fast-paced sections that I found quite satisfying. The derailleur does a good job of handling gear changes under power as well should an incline be steeper than expected. Despite clutched derailleurs being a foreign concept to a drivetrain manufacturer that has only dealt with road groupsets, Campagnolo has done an impressive job taming the chain over rough terrain and giving a quiet ride. Even on teeth-rattling descents or rooty singletrack, the chain hasn’t dropped once and while I have found on other drivetrains the chain can sometimes come into contact with my heels, this wasn’t the case with Ekar.
The spread of the cassette feels excellent with the closer range gears catering for cadence refinement on the road and smooth gravel before opening up into leg relieving ratio jumps as gradients push past 20 per cent. The lowest 38T x 42T was more than enough to winch up all but the nastiest of gradients and unless you're heading out with your local chain gang, the 9T was satisfactory on the road. With the wide-flat carbon profile of the cranks, it is no surprise that there isn’t any noticeable flex during steep climbs which also helps maintain precision through fast-paced chattery sections. The included fork boots are a nice addition to protect your investment, especially as gravel bikes are becoming longer, lower and slacker.
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At the controls, the hoods are well-shaped and give secure purchase over rough terrain and the rubber Vari-Cushion (variable cushioning) material used around the hood provides a high level of grip in muddy conditions, although my preference of riding gloveless did leave my hands sore after very long rides. The upshift lever is easily actuated in all hand positions and gives excellent ergonomics when in the drops. Downshifts are easily selected although it took a couple of rides to become accustomed to the lever throw, which resulted in the odd double shift or ghost shift. The one lever for one action certainly simplifies controls however there are a couple of limitations which are highlighted when riding gravel. The single upshift is a little frustrating if accustomed to the multi-shifting of electronic groupsets and the shifter is unable to downshift and brake at the same time. This might not be such an issue on the road but when tackling steep loose technical pitches often found at river crossings, there is a little more forethought required to shift down then brake before powering up the other side.
Brake lever action provides good modulation and accuracy from the hoods and drops although for technical riding the drops still provide a significant improvement in braking control due to the levers' pivot position. The bottom of the levers has been treated with a textured finish to increase grip although I would like to see a little more texture for added purchase. Braking performance is impressive and despite tackling some serious brake torturing descents, there was no fading of power. The levers offer great feedback and a predictable bite point which meant, although my test bike was set up with the brakes euro-style rather than my UK preference, there were no unexpected lock-ups.
The risk of going lightweight usually comes at the cost of reliability but I think Campagnolo has focused on weight saving in the right areas. Durability during testing has been excellent and despite putting it through a ride so wet it probably equalled Italy's yearly rainfall and subsequently churning the groupset through Scotland's finest hub-deep bogs for hours, shifting remained sharp and accurate.
Despite this being Campagnolo’s first true gravel groupset, Ekar presents an interesting and functional groupset that should give enough breadth of performance to appeal to a range of 1x riders, whether gravel adventurer or KOM hunter.
The Campagnolo Ekar groupset offers an alternative to the other existing players as well and with its lighter weight and spread of gears, it brilliantly lends itself to high tempo riding and gravel racing, too.
Tech Specs: Campagnolo Ekar groupset
- Shifting: Mechanical
- Speeds: 1x13
- Chainrings: 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T
- Cassettes: 9-36T, 9-42T, 10-44T
- Brakes: Hydraulic disc
Campagnolo Ekar weights (claimed)
- Derailleur: 275g
- Cassette: 340g (9-36T), 390g (9-42T), 410g (10-44T)
- Crankset: 615g (172.5mm, 38T)
- Chain: 242g (117 links / C-Link)
- Bottom Bracket: 50g
- Ergopower levers: 420g (pair)
- Brake calipers: 110g (front), 95g (rear)
- Rotors: 157 gr (160mm), 123 gr (140mm)
- Total weight (1x 13-Speed Disc Brake, 9t-36t): 2,385g
Campagnolo Ekar pricing
- Derailleur: US $256 / €247 / £210
- Cassette: US $274 / €265 / £226
- Crankset: US $360 / €347 / £297
- Chain: US $48 / €46 / £40 (117 links / C-Link), US $46 / €44 / £38 (118 links / Pin)
- Bottom Bracket: US $33 / €33 / £28
- Brakes: US $395 / €382 / £326 (With RH Ergopower, hose and oil), US $316 / €304 / £260 (With LH Ergopower, hose and oil)
- Rotors: US $41 / €36 / £31
Logbook: Campagnolo Ekar
- Time: Six weeks
- Rides: 16
- Mileage: 967km
- Weather: 8-25 degrees, dry to extremely wet
- Ride types: Road, smooth gravel, radical gravel