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Tech Talk: Reports
Tech Report, with Matt Pacocha - Do androids dream of electric shifters?
Photo Gallery Below
By Matt Pacocha
VeloNews technical editor
Filed: July 31, 2007

Electronic shifting is not necessarily a new idea. Mavic, for example, twice tried to roll out the concept in the 1990s. Remember Zap and Mektronic? While those early efforts never really gained traction, they did represent a first step away from reliance on the old tried-and-true woven steel cable.

These days, there are several systems at various stages of development. A couple even showed up at the Tour de France this year. Hands down, we were most impressed by the effort Campagnolo engineers have put into the project in recent months.

Campagnolo insists that all of its parts are still in the prototype phase, but from the looks of the ‘prototypes' VeloNews saw in the trenches at the Tour, all the parts need is branding before they're ready for the bike shop shelf.

"We just did it for the feedback [from the ProTour racers]," said Richard Storino, Campagnolo North America's general manager. "There's no real live information that I can give you, other than it's just prototype product. It's certainly not slated for '08."

It's almost too hard to believe that we won't see these parts as Campagnolo's centerpiece during the fall tradeshows. If anything the integrated battery and water bottle cage is what pushes these parts past the point of just being prototypes. They work well, say the riders, and now it seems that Campy is working out the details of the group's aesthetic and its overall seamless integration into the industry's conventional constraints for consumer use.

"There's still time for '09," said Storino. "But I don't even know if that's going to happen."

Campagnolo has been working on the concept of an electric group since the mid-'90s. During its decade plus in development the advances in computer and processor technologies have certainly aided in making the concept viable. And now, the real barrier appears to be two-fold. The first question is if the market is really ready for electronic components. And the second is putting it into production so that the end product carries a price that won't just be laughed off.

Still, one might ask, what's the point? Campagnolo's racers and product test riders describe it as being extremely accurate and powerful in its shift action; to the point where a racer no longer has to time shifts before terrain changes or maximum power inputs, like during an attack. It always shifts to the desired position, no matter its environment.

"It's great, just great," said Cofidis's Staf Scheirlinckx, who started the Tour on the prototype group. "It changes very fast and it always hits the right gear. It works perfectly, we did all of the classics with it too."

Each Campagnolo sponsored ProTour team was given two electronic groups at the beginning of the season. The fact that riders found the electronic components good enough for the Tour is a big deal. Prior to this year's Tour, renditions of the group would surface during the spring classics to be raced by second-tier riders. Making it to the Tour is an achievement for the parts and should be considered an indication that they are much closer to becoming a reality for consumers.

At this point none of the group's specifics have been released or confirmed. So all there is to do is to take a good look at the beautiful parts.

Scheirlinckx’s World Star UL Team equipped with Campagnolo’s prototype electronic group.

The right shifter.

The left shifter, with a good view of the thumb button.

The system’s brain

The computer is hard wired to the rest of the parts.

The integration of the battery is seamless.

A view of the battery’s connection on Stéphane Augé’s Time bike.

The front derailleur.

The rear derailleur.

A rear view.