The greatest Campagnolo derailleurs (and two duds)

Since 1933, Campagnolo has made elegant bike components to ignite cyclists' passion and shift their gears (usually). From Gran Sport to Record to Ekar, here are the highlights.

Greatest Campagnolo derailleurs

Written by
Spencer Powlison

Published on

Posted in
Vintage

In the pantheon of road cycling, there is no god above Campagnolo. It is woven deeper in cycling’s fabric than any other marque. After all, Campagnolo has been manufacturing components since 1933. Prior to Shimano’s ascendance, you’d be crazy to forgo Campy on a proper race bike. By orders of magnitude, no other component brand has won as many Tours de France, world championships, or classics as Campagnolo.

Sure, the Italian component brand has fallen out of favor in the last decade or two, but iconic Campy parts from the past century remain sought after for their elegance and enduring performance. And what better part to highlight than the rear derailleur?

So with a little (okay, a lot) of help from The Pro’s Closet’s CCO — that’s Chief Campagnolo Officer — Sean “Sully” Sullivan, we’ve compiled a list of Campagnolo’s greatest rear derailleurs. And, just to keep it real, we threw in a couple of bungles that didn’t quite live up to the high standards Campagnolo has set for itself.

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The most beautiful: 1984 C-Record, first generation

Campagnolo C-Record derailleurWas it lighter than the competition? No. Was it more aerodynamic? Debatable. Did C-Record offer innovative shifting performance? Not really. But in a way that only Campagnolo could, the C-Record’s aesthetics gave cycling purists the butterflies, defying rationality. 

“C-Record worked beautifully with friction shifting but horribly with Synchro indexing,” said Sully. “It’s heavy as a boat anchor, but it reminds me of a 1930s art deco steam train. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful bike component ever made.”

Disraeli Gears concisely described the irrational appeal of C-Record: “in a strange kind of way, the C-Record was a stroke of genius. Campagnolo was well aware that quasi-religious faith, rather than rationality, governed the equipment choices of many road racers. The C-Record, through its very irrationality, preserved that faith.”

See a gold-plated C-Record group on this Colnago C35 from the TPC Museum

A shift for the Campionissimo: 1952 Gran Sport

Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleurImagine the humiliation: Fausto Coppi, arguably the greatest Italian cyclist of all time, the “champion of champions,” shuns Campagnolo in favor of Simplex, a (gasp) French component company. And the Campionissimo goes on to win the Tour de France. What’s Campagnolo to do? Legend has it, this late-1940s soap opera spurred Campagnolo to create the Gran Sport. Perhaps from an innovation standpoint, the Gran Sport could be faulted for copying its competitor’s design, but today, 72 years later, we aren’t making a list of the greatest Simplex derailleurs now are we?

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Purely iconic: 1980 Nuovo Record

Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleurBetween 1968 and 1980, the first man walked on the moon, the Watergate Scandal rocked the U.S., email, cellphones, and Apple computers were invented, plus The Beatles broke up. One thing did not change: Nearly every top cyclist in the world rode Campagnolo Nuovo Record. Although it could be criticized for some stubborn shifting tendencies, this derailleur was, nay, still is, tremendously durable and consistent. Plus, it was a harbinger of the widespread use of aluminum in bike components.

“Nuovo Record is probably one of Campagnolo’s most successful products and one of the most iconic cycling products of all time,” said Sully. “A 1970s NR rear derailleur that has not been overly abused works just as well today as it did when new. Absolutely bombproof.”

Modern marvel: 1983 Super Record

Campagnolo Super Record derailleurAn appropriate derailleur for the age of excess that was the ‘80s, Super Record cost nearly twice as much as Nuovo Record. But was it twice as good? Well … There were some incremental improvements, such as weight savings via titanium hardware and better, yet not perfect, shifting geometry. But the biggest reason to get a Super Record derailleur was that black-anodized aesthetic.

“The radical modern look and titanium parts made it the premier racing derailleur of the ‘80s,” said Sully. “It was also able to handle a 28t largest cog, not that anyone used it!”

See it on Davis Phinney’s Olympic bike in the TPC Museum

Unheralded brilliance: 1988 Chorus A/B

Campagnolo Chorus A/BSure, the Chorus derailleur was panned for its ungainly appearance and chunky weight, but the Italian engineers produced a clever concept. It just never really caught on. For starters, Chorus was Campagnolo’s first slant parallelogram derailleur, finally an answer to Suntour’s superior design. But beyond simply copying its competitor’s cage geometry, Campagnolo designed a derailleur with two slant angles for different cassette spreads. 

“I used to dislike this derailleur, mostly for its aesthetics,” said Sully. “The poorly functioning Synchro index system really hid the brilliance of this derailleur though. Once I got one and set it up with friction shifting I was amazed. It has an A and B setting that rotates the body slightly, in the B setting, it can handle up to a 32t cog. It’s versatility is amazing. I have one setup on a bike now with 52/35t x 14-30t and it has not missed a beat.”

The golden anniversary: 1983 50th Anniversary Super Record

Campagnolo 50th Anniversary Super RecordFrom a technical standpoint, all that’s been said about the Super Record applies to this derailleur. But the 50th Anniversary Super Record tugs at the heart strings because it not only commemorates Campagnolo’s 50th year but also the passing of Tulio Campagnolo, the company’s founder.

“The majority of these groups are kept in their beautiful storage cases and are never ridden, which is a crime — I use mine all the time!” says Sully. “But I sort of understand. Only 15,000 were made. Group #2 was given to the Pope. Plus every rear derailleur has real gold highlights and Tulio’s signature engraved on it.”

Lucky 13: 2020 Ekar

Campagnolo Ekar derailleurFor this list, choosing a modern Campagnolo rear derailleur is perilous. The bar is so high in terms of aesthetics, racing pedigree, and performance. The ‘90s Tours de France were all won with Campagnolo Record derailleurs — not bad, though any result in that era must be viewed with healthy skepticism. EPS electronic shifting is also notable but seems a bit old-fashioned next to the latest Shimano Di2 or SRAM AXS. 

That’s why Ekar gets the nod. This all-black rear derailleur looks muscular, almost post-apocalyptic — that feels right for gravel roads leading beyond civilization. It also works with 13-speed cassettes, surpassing its competitors and doing so with a great deal of backwards compatibility. And finally, Ekar is Campagnolo’s first gravel-specific derailleur and drivetrain, also a notable milestone.

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MTB mistake: 1992 Campagnolo Icarus

Campagnolo Icarus derailleurEarly ‘90s mountain biking was indeed a bright ray of sunlight in the bike industry but Campagnolo surely flew too close to it. The day before the first UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango, Colorado, American Juli Furtado was primed to win it all, except for one thing. The Campagnolo drivetrain on her Yeti would not stay in gear. Yeti owner John Parker went to the Campagnolo tech support truck but was essentially told that Furtado was not important enough to merit their attention. Desperate to give Furtado a shot at the rainbow jersey, he surreptitiously asked his contacts at Shimano for help. Overnight, the techs installed a Shimano Deore XT drivetrain, taped over the Campagnolo logos on the frame and the rest is history. 

To be fair, Furtado’s 1990 worlds win did not single handedly destroy Campagnolo’s mountain bike ambitions. Reportedly, Shimano did the same favor for British riders Tim Gould and David Baker at Mammoth that same year. You can read more about that saga on Mountain Bike Action.

Design disaster: 1987 Croce d’Aune

Campagnolo Croce d'Aune derailleurThink that Chorus derailleur we mentioned earlier is ugly? The Croce d’Aune says, “hold my bellini ...” This derailleur shared some of the odd aesthetics of the Chorus with none of the shifting technology, instead relying on Campagnolo’s classic cage geometry, which by this point was a bit threadbare next to the slant parallelogram designs previously discussed. Not only that, the heavy Croce d’Aune’s complicated cable clamping mechanism and a peculiar tie-rod to maintain even pulley-to-cog spacing led to unreliability. 

In a sad twist of fate, this dismal derailleur was named after the holy ground where Tulio Campagnolo is said to have devised the concept for a quick-release in 1924. Plus, only a fluent Italian-speaker could pronounce the name, so it’s typically referred to in coarse shorthand as CDA.

Honorable mention: 1946 Cambio Corsa (is it really a derailleur?)

Campagnolo Cambio Corsa derailleurCampagnolo made its name with the first quick-release lever in the pre-war era. So why not see if that technology can work to shift a chain! Turns out it did, although shifting between the four rear cogs took a bit more forethought than we’re all used to. Nonetheless, the Cambio Corsa was used to great effect by Gino Bartali, Coppi’s greatest rival. In fact, legend has it that Coppi, fed up with the Cambio Corsa, resorted to the Simplex derailleur in 1949. And the rest is history.

Further reading: Disraeli Gears
Thanks to Mike Kone and Peter Chisholm for providing derailleurs to supplement those from TPC’s Museum.

What is your favorite Campagnolo rear derailleur? Let us know in the comments.

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