I normally write about what I’ve been up to with builds, but sometimes I just need to get some of my ramblings and thoughts written down as it helps me to work out what to do. This time it’s on components as my brain ponders with the dilemma of what parts to fit to a new build. It is the age old question of Campagnolo versus Shimano! It is a really contentious issue in this era of bikes.

Campagnolo Versus Shimano
Campagnolo Versus Shimano

If you mention the word “Shimano” to some folk in the vintage cycling world, you face being mocked. To the purists, it is sacrilege, even treason to even think about anything other than Italian components on top end racing machines.

I posted about my new frame, SB6560, which dates to 1984, and I was initially thinking about how to complete the build and what parts to use. If I wanted to build a bike that was used by the Panasonic Raleigh team in that same year, I would have to go down the route of Campagnolo Super Record; my OCD would also want correct date coded parts and period correct features for the parts that didn’t have a stamped date code. But that route would end up being so similar to my other build, the 1980 TI-Raleigh which I built to the exact specification of the TI-Raleigh Team of the early 80s.

SBDU TI-Raleigh Team Pro SB4059 Campagnolo Super Record
SBDU TI-Raleigh Team Pro SB4059 Campagnolo Super Record

I could also go in the opposite direction and fit something modern. Because SB6560 is made from Reynolds 531, I can modify the rear spacing in the frame to easily accommodate the wider rear hubs needed for modern 11 speed groups. All the other fittings on the frame, even though it is over 30 years old, are compatible with modern components.

Denton Randonneur Reynolds 631 Shimano Ultegra 6800
Denton Randonneur Reynolds 631 Shimano Ultegra 6800

So Panasonic Raleigh at the time were not using Shimano. The Raleigh-Weinmann team that launched in 1984 also stayed away from Shimano. They fitted a mixture of Simplex, Weinmann, Maillard and EDCO to their SBDU frames. So what was wrong with Shimano. It had after all been making bike parts for years and the “DURA-ACE” range was available from the early 70s. The answer is ‘nothing’. Nothing was wrong with it, it just couldn’t make the break into top flight use; that area was dominated by Campagnolo. It was essentially a war between the Italians and the Japanese and the Italians dominated.

You can’t get away from the advances that Campagnolo brought to cycling. Even everyday parts such as the rear derailleur and quick release hub both owe their existence to Campagnolo. In my opinion, the Campagnolo product stayed the same too long; the design and functionality of Super Record in it’s last years during the mid 80s was the same as it was all the way during the 70s since its introduction in 1973, with only very slight changes between 1st and 2nd generation. The product only changed in 1977 because of changes brought upon it by a US Consumer Products Safety Commission safety design.

While Campagnolo continued to have a reputation for everlasting bearing surfaces, beautiful finishes and components that looked like works of art, I think they took their eye off the game with technology. Their new Record group set (also called C-Record, Record C or Corsa Record) introduced in 1986 was beautiful, some consider it to be the best looking bike components ever produced, including the famous Delta brakes.

Campagnolo Catalogue 18 bis 1986 Record
Campagnolo Catalogue 18 bis 1986 Record

Meanwhile, starting in the late 70s, Shimano were designing and working on some radical aerodynamic components and quickly feeding those designs and technologies down the product line. Dura-ace EX was introduced in 1978 with Dura-ace AX in 1981, which was a beautifully designed aerodynamic group set.

Shimano Dura-ace EX
Shimano Dura-ace EX
Shimano Dura-ace AX
Shimano Dura-ace AX

I personally think it was 1984 when the Italian domination began to crack as Shimano introduced the 7400 series group set and within that, index gears in the form of ‘SIS – Shimano Index System’. Starting with 7400 6 speed and moving to 7401 7 speed and 7402 8 speed.

Shimano Dura-ace 1984 7400
Shimano Dura-ace 1984 7400

It took a few years for Campagnolo to join the race for indexing with it’s ‘Syncro’ product which they introduced a few years after Shimano 7400. It was very quickly replaced with ‘Syncro II’ a year or two later. My bike mechanic career started in the late 80s in what seemed to be the middle of the great Campagnolo versus Shimano battle. Everybody had an opinion and stuck to their favourite brand. The rivalry was so intense, other manufacturers such as Suntour quietly died away.

Shimano was starting to pull away from Campagnolo simply because of its index gearing. It was the ‘Killer App’, to use a software term, that made you want Shimano. To help Shimano even more, It was the start of the mountain bike revolution and 90% of mountain bikes came equipped with Shimano. The remaining bikes were probably equipped with Suntour; before Shimano killed off them too. Campagnolo never seemed to get it right with mountain bikers.

Campagnolo struggled badly with Syncro, it just didn’t seem to work. There were coloured gear lever inserts, and cross reference tables of which insert would work with which freewheel and chain combination, followed by lots of trying to get it right with setup. When they did work, they were almost agricultural in performance as they were very clunky. Shimano was getting smoother and quieter and just seemed to work almost from the point of fastening the parts to the frame with minimal setup.

Then in 1991, Shimano pushed the limits again with STI – Shimano Total Integration. Dual control levers that operated both the gears and brakes from the handlebars. They beat Campagnolo to it again. Campagnolo introduced their Ergopower version a year later in 1992.

Shimano Dura-Ace 7402 1991 8 Speed STI
Shimano Dura-Ace 7402 1991 8 Speed STI

My opinion is that the battle was over in 1991 – it had taken Shimano 7 years but they had managed to release the strangle hold that Campagnolo had on the racing market.

All that rambling and research and getting things written down has worked. In the time it has taken to write this blog post and remembering how things were in the 80s, I’ve decided; I’m 100% certain now that I’m going to use 7400 DURA-ACE. It was the best group set available at the time, full of innovation and technology and years ahead of it’s main rival. A perfect partner for my frame.

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About the Author Neil McGowran

Blogger of all things to do with the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU) and TI-Raleigh Ilkeston.

2 comments

  1. I have a 7400 Groupset which I have polished the laquer off. It looked amazing as a mirror finish but obviously very prone to corrosion. I know this is a heinous crime to prurists but I love it.

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