Let’s cut to the chase. The Campagnolo Athena Electronic Power Shift (EPS) system works really well. The buttons and levers embedded in the brake hoods are ergonomically well positioned. The shape and feel of the ‘down’ button, usually activated by your thumb, is sloping and snug.
The feel from the lever lacks the reassuring clunk that the Campag Ergopower is rightly celebrated for, but you still feel a ‘click’ even though there are no cables being activated in EPS.
The shifting is quick and precise: under load, out of the saddle, on the down-stroke of the pedal, up steep hills and even wearing winter gloves the number of fluffed changes was insignificant (ie the same as with any other similar system).
None of this should be a shock, since the electronics and ‘brain’ of the system is essentially the same as that used by the more expensive Super Record and Record EPS systems introduced in November 2011. The technology is the same, only the materials used in parts manufacture has been downgraded, mostly from carbon to aluminium.
It’s also worth noting that the wiring looms of the systems are different, so there’s no mix ‘n’ match option for the cost-conscious consumer.
When the system is correctly set up, when the battery is charged and after bedding in has taken place, then the shifting is slick and efficient.
The best thing about the Athena EPS system – and the one thing that a mechanical system can’t do – is self-trim on the front mech. Rather than having to fiddle around with the three-way setting on a mechanical system front mech trim, the EPS takes care of it all, adjusting the position to avoid chain rub in every gear combination.
Anyone familiar with the existing Campagnolo Ergo levers will adapt very quickly to EPS. It takes very little getting used to. Which is a good thing, right? Of course it is! Except the same is true in reverse.
You quickly get used to a well set-up non-EPS system. You can switch more or less thoughtlessly from electronic shifting to a good ol’ fashioned mechanically activated drivetrain. And when this thought strikes you, you start to ask yourself what the point actually is. If EPS feels like mechanical shifting but with slightly less effort and a lot more technology and cost, well, what’s the point?
Ironically for a system that is said to need little adjustment after initial set-up, there does appear to be a ‘bedding in’ period. Considering that there’s no cable to stretch with EPS, after a few rides, the rear mech slipped out of perfect alignment and chattered a little.
The front mech decided to throw the chain over the top on the upshift and unship the chain between chainrings on the downshift. Whether it was simply springs, bushings and lubricants ‘stretching’ or some other voodoo is impossible to know, but the system was easy to re-calibrate using a system of lights and buttons that could, if you were smart enough, be done on the fly – but a lot less of a faff doing it off the bike. Essentially, you can align the set-up in 0.25mm increments using buttons housed in the lever hoods to get everything spot-on.
As for fears of battery failure leaving you in 53×12 on an Alpine sportive; that can’t happen – the system shuts down and automatically drops onto the inner ring. Disregard the ‘battery low’ flashing warning lights and audible warning bleep at your peril. But, apart from the default shift onto the inner ring, you can also pop the spring on the rear mech and select the sprocket you want to ride home on.
From flat to full, a battery will recharge in four hours, but you’ll need to be able to move your bike close to a socket because removing the battery unit isn’t straightforward.
Keep it covered
Once the battery has been topped up, remember to replace the protective power port grommet – it shelters both the battery and motherboard, so leaving it open to the elements isn’t the wisest move.
Campagnolo does claim the battery is waterproof to a depth of one metre – an important consideration in the British climate – but we suspect the water protective plug is there for a reason, so suggest it’s not worth gambling with leaving it off and then riding in the rain.
With recent mechanical shifting improvements, the electronic shifting v old-fashioned cables debate is somewhat back on the table for the first time since digitalisation. However, as with all electronic shifting, if you are not mechanically minded or have a workshop to fettle from, then the tool-free set-up of Athena EPS is a definite advantage.
Plus there’s an intangible psychological benefit to having the latest and greatest technology bolted onto your bike.
That bit is, of course, harder to measure – unlike the initial financial outlay, which tipping over the £2k mark isn’t a cheap one, especially when you factor in a possible new frame with electronic-compatible drillings