Campagnolo Athena gruppo & Zonda wheels - 5000km review

I bought my first modern road bike not that long ago, it was an Orbea Aqua with Shimano 105 gear and R500 wheels.  Quite a good bike although a touch big for me with a 55cm top tube and a 80mm stem.  I decided to sell this and buy a Cinelli Xperience frame and fit it out with a groupset.  All this imported from the UK which was a lot cheaper than buying a complete bike new.  The groupsets I had in mind were all around the AU$900 mark so my options were:

1. Shimano Ultegra 6700 - A very good groupset with the nice new style STI's with hidden cables.
2. Campagnolo Athena - Effectively like Chorus but a bit heavier, but not by much in the Carbon version.  The ergonomics of the shifter and the ability to drop 5 gears with one stroke appealed to me.
3. SRAM Force - Kinda cool because not many people had it, I have never tried it myself though.

I ended up deciding on the Athena groupset, mostly because it was very light in the Carbon version, looked sexy and I will admit I just like the allure of an all Italian bike and Campagnolo snobbery.  The downside is that the 11sp system is expensive, expensive chains, cassetttes and you need a special tool for the 11sp chain.  All the groupsets listed above have similar weight and price otherwise.  There is slightly less choice in wheels as well but I decided to go with the Campagnolo Zonda 2 way fits, I liked the possibility of going to tubeless easily in the future.


The frame arrived at my office, it was a bit embarrassing because I had just started there only a few weeks before that and I had this massive box being delivered there.  I ordered the groupset a few weeks later, it got held up by customs because it was a shade under AU$1000, I sent customs the receipt to prove that it was less than that (which they claim they didn't receive) so I ended up having to send another one which delayed everything by another week.

Finally, once it got delivered I strapped the box containing the groupset onto the back of my bike and rushed home.  This was the first time I had ever built a bike from scratch using only brand new parts which were nicely packaged in boxes.  I had the frame mounted up and slowly put it together that night, with the help of a few beers I had it almost all done by about midnight, the only missing thing was the joining of the 11 speed chain which requires a special $200 tool .  I had this done at one of the bigger workshops in Sydney, slightly annoying but still cheaper than buying the tool.

The Hirth joint
I didn't come across any problems installing it, except that the instructions for the installation of the shift cables into the ergopower levers was wrong.  The instructions show that you use one of the metal ferrules on top of the gear cable going in, however it doesn't fit in the hole between the bar and the shifter body.  I managed to wrap up the bars with this incorrectly installed and it left a strange lump, also it caused a kink in the cable run which made shifting a bit temperamental.  After some googling it appeared that you weren't supposed to use the metal ferrule and it was supposed to enter the shifter bare, apparently there is a washer inside the shifter body that the cable sits against inside.  Lo and behold this worked, after I went through all the documentation that came with the shifters I found that Campagnolo left a little slip of paper which was a correction to their instructions... bah!  I had to get a few special tools to install everything though, a special 10mm allen key to install the Ultra-Torque cranks (with the stunningly beautiful hirth joint that you'll never see) and a special cassette lockring tool to fit.


After riding it around and adjusting it, I got the limit stops set correctly and set the cable pull so everything was shifting sweetly.  The Campagnolo thumb downshifters took a little while to get used to but I loved the ability to drop down 5 gears with one stroke, something which they have removed from the 2011 Athena - they marketed this new "feature" as Powershift™...  good thing I got the 2010 carbon version which is practically Chorus.  The cassette is Chorus, the cranks, brakes, shifters are very very similar.  The front and rear derailleurs are different, but mostly in the fact that they are all alloy instead of alloy with a carbon top plate on the rear derailleur.  One note is that the Athena rear derailleur is somewhat high profile compared to the Shimano and Sram offerings (perhaps this is due to a MTB influence?), this makes no difference from a performance point of view but makes the derailleur more likely to get scratched or damaged as it sticks out.

The Ultra-torque cranks shift beautifully, the shifters allow you 4 or 5 equally spaced positions (depends where you set the limit stops) which is somewhat a bit like friction in contrast to Shimano's indexed front shifting with trim positions.  The rear also shifts beautifully as well, in all honesty though any of the modern road groupsets more or less shift the same.  They all have ramps and profiled teeth on the cassettes, slant parallelogram rear derailleurs and ramped and pinned chainrings.  The big ring on the crankset manages to have four sets of pins which means that it picks the chain up from the little ring a bit quicker than Shimano cranks which typically have only two sets.  The only gripes are that the shifting feel is a bit more delicate, the gear lever strokes are shorter and have more clicks so you have to adapt to it.  Also when you shift up 3 gears by pushing the front gear lever inwards all the way, it tends to overshift 4 gears then it'll drop back 1 as you release the lever.  A strange quirk.


I can say now hands down that I much prefer the Ergopower shape, you get a nice flat transition from the hoods to the bars, perfectly flat.   The feel of the hoods is testament to the level of detail Campagnolo went to, each part of the hood varies in its softness to match the way your hand falls on it, they call it Vari-Cushion.  As much as I hate marketing BS it actually makes for a very comfortable hood, the Shimano hoods are a much simpler affair in comparison.  I never liked how with Shimano STIs, the brake lever pivots when you shift, I prefer the shifting lever to be separate to the braking.   I love how the gear cables are completely hidden under the bartape as well, you have the option of running it in front or behind the bar with the Ergopower levers.  However the latest Shimano STIs have caught up in this regard and have completely changed the hood shape.  I haven't tried it myself though.


The Athena brakes are of the differential design, this means that only the front is a dual-pivot design and the rear is a conventional single pivot sidepull design.  What this means in practice is that you get better modulation of the rear brake but less power.  This is actually a good feature in reality, as I have always found dual pivots on the rear a bit of overkill, it's much too easy to lock up the rear like this.  With a single pivot on the back I can feather the rear until it's about to lock up.  Both calipers are very stiff, combined with the ergopower brake lever design, I'm able to easily lift up the back wheel braking from the hoods.  The stock brakepads are actually quite good in the wet and dry.  They also don't give off too much dust.


The Zondas hit a sweet spot in value in my opinion, they come in at 1580g for the set for around AU$550 from the UK.  They feature bladed spokes, cup & cone bearings (unlike the cartridge bearings of the lower end Scirocco and Vento wheelsets), milled rim sections and tubeless compatibility.  They were dead straight out of the box and spun silky smoothly.  The rear wheel features the trademarked G3 spoking, I'm still a bit cynical about the triplet spoking however I do think the asymmetric spoke numbers on the rear makes sense.  Just plucking the rear spokes you can hear that the spoke tension is close to even between drive and non-drive, there are double the amount of drive side spokes.

The decals are all stickers which are removable if you wish.  However I wish the campagnolo logos on the hubs were engraved or silkscreened on, having a sticker there seems a bit cheap.  I've ridden with these now for a year, and only now do they probably need a very slight true.  They have performed admirably without a hitch wearing Conti Gatorskins, I haven't been able to try out the tubeless feature yet.  I've recently disassembled, cleaned and repacked the hubs at the 5000km mark in this post. The grease inside was perfectly clean and still white, with no dirt penetrating past the grease seal inside.  Very impressed, as I rode a lot in the rain in the past year.


  In terms of braking and shifting, most groupsets of the same level are much the same, the big difference is how the shifters feel.  In this respect I love how it fits my hands, the shifting action and the braking power.   Shifting and braking are precise and excellent, the ability to perform multiple downshifts is unmatched, the modulation you get with a single pivot rear and dual pivot front is excellent.  The only downside is the complication with joining an 11 speed chain and the cost of replacement chains and cassettes which is higher than the  Ultegra or Sram Force equivalents.  Otherwise, I am glad I made the choice to go with Campagnolo.

Update Dec 2013
I've sold the Cinelli frame and the Zonda wheelset, however the Campagnolo Athena groupset lives on in my new Genesis Croix de Fer cross bike


  1. Grouse bike. How much was the frame?

  2. I bought the frame a while ago, so it was around A$600 for the frame including fork, seatpost, handlebars, stem. The 2011 version is made of Columbus Airplane alloy which is a bit lighter.