Sunday, January 9, 2011

1988 Campagnolo Chorus rear derailleur

As the saying goes: when you are at the top, there is only one way you can go...

I vaguely remember a time when Campagnolo was the unquestioned leader in bicycle componentry. If you were cycling in the sixties and seventies you were either a cyclist that rode Campagnolo or a wannabe that wished you were. Then came the Japanese-led innovations of the 1980s with refinements in componentry design, product integration, manufacturing methods, and mass marketing. Bicycling became more accessible to the general public and the market base exploded. People who had never heard of Campagnolo started to ride bicycles. And, God-forbid, the infidels even started to make inroads into the skeptical, technophobic, Eurocentric professional peloton.

Campagnolo responded. In 1985 they brought out the C Record group which capitalised on the company’s strengths: achingly-beautiful, over-engineered, shop-supported, high-end stuff. And despite being technologically-challenged it hit Campagnolo’s target audience by being both very expensive and highly desirable. At the same time Campagnolo also tried to compete directly with their Japanese counterparts with the introduction of two lower tier groupsets: Victory & Triomphe. Unfortunately all this did was highlight just how much better the Japanese had become.

1st generation Campagnolo C Record

Campagnolo Victory & Triomphe

By managing to be both aesthetically-compromised and technologically-challenged Victory & Triomphe were met with a poor reception and a swift demise (As always: Be beautiful and stupid and you will still make it in this world. Be ugly and stupid and expect ridicule and rejection).

Towards the end of 1987 Campagnolo introduced the Chorus group followed shortly by the Croce d’Aune then Athena groupsets. By the end of 1988 these three ensembles had lined up neatly beneath C Record (in descending order: C Record>Croce d’Aune>Chorus>Athena). And they didn’t just look good (following the flowing, aerodynamic lines of C Record), they also made some (grudging) attempts at modernity. In particular, Campy’s take on this new-fangled, slant-parallelogram-rear-derailleur-thing.

Ultimately, the concept was for the top jockey wheel (guide wheel) to remain as close to the rear sprockets as possible to allow for faster and more accurate shifts (faultless index shifting requires this plus a lot more and won't be discussed here). Each rear derailleur accomplished this in a different way. Athena did this with a toothed insert engaging a series of detents behind the hanger bolt. This allowed for 5 different positions of the rear derailleur depending on the size of the the freewheel. Chorus had a slant parallelogram with an adjustable body (see figure below). And Croce d’Aune managed to make this a complex maneuver with cable pull angling the derailleur body (and jockey cage) backwards as well as driving it inwards. The peculiar external rod guides the movement by angling the travel of the parallelogram along the profile of the freewheel.

Campagnolo Athena RD (fr VeloBase)

Campagnolo Chorus RD (fr VeloBase)

The adjustable Chorus slant parallelogram

Campagnolo Chorus group

Consummation of lust at a lower price-point (ad in Bicycling magazine, April 1988)

Campagnolo Croce d’Aune RD (fr VeloBase)

Of the three concepts, I like the Campagnolo Chorus rear derailleur best. It was the first, it had the best solution (essentially attempting to improve on the Japanese idea), and it had that wonderful art deco industrial style about it. It was also the first time the Italian establishment openly copied technology developed by their upstart Japanese rivals. And boy did Campagnolo struggle with this humiliation - they persisted with an antiquated design on their top-level C Record rear derailleur (a design essentially unchanged since the 1950s) and suggested two alternative solutions with Athena and Croce d’Aune. By 1991 the entire Campagnolo range (including their short-lived offroad ensembles) had adopted the slant parallelogram rear derailleur.

For me the 1988* Chorus rear derailleur marked an important turning point for Campagnolo. It was the point that the Italian giant showed the cycling world that it recognised it had fallen behind the industrious if somewhat bland Japanese. Campagnolo ate humble pie, absorbed (ie copied) new technology into their designs and caught up.

And if none of this means anything to you, then I give you this:

...I’m not quite sure I know what I am doing but I know you want me...

* although introduced in 1987 the Chorus group only became readily available to the general public in 1988, hence the title of this post


Anonymous said...

Great post - love those late 80's Chorus and Croce d'Aune rear derailleurs. They are both things of beauty, finish was outstanding, who cares if their function was questionable.
Recently purchased a NOS set of SGR pedals, beautiful engineering and finish, but the weigh 630 grams (pair). But they are all works of art!

Keep up the good work.

wingnut said...

Thanks anon for your kind words. Blog wordage may be a little sparse over the next few weeks as Brisbane cleans up after its floods.

Anonymous said...

I hope you haven't been affected to much my the floods over there. Heard quite a bit on the news here, we're on the other side of the pond in New Zealand.
I'm restoring a '89 Rossin Quadro and building it up with a Campag Chorus gruppo including monoplanners.

I can't get enough of that 80's stuff, especially those old Bicycling articles.

wingnut said...

Great flickr account there anon!

Anonymous said...

The Malaysian Ebay troll just bought a bike with 1st gen C Record rear derailleur and has been scourging the net for info to no avail.
Just wondering if you could help me with a quick question?
Can this derailleur be fitted to work on a 6 and 7 speed?
Would really appreciate your help!


wingnut said...

Hi Kumar. It will definitely work with a Regina 6spd freewheel as my Bianchi uses one. As you probably know it depends on the freewheel spacing and the travel of the derailleur. Each company is a little different and Sheldon Brown still remains the best source of such useful info If you really wanted to you can use a modern cassette with narrower spacing (using the appropriate chain of course) and with that it will definitely run 7 cogs as in the Planet X previously posted (running a Huret Jubilee). Friction shifters goes without saying.. Cheers & enjoy your new purchase!

Anonymous said...

Confirms my thoughts.
BTW Just wondering, are you a doctor?


Anonymous said...

Sorry if I appeared nosy.
Just find it interesting that another medic has a passion for steel bikes.
I am a practicing ophthalmologist in Kuala Lumpur.
Have really enjoyed your articles...


GRMA said...

Does anybody know whether the Chorus or the Athena work together with the 1992 Record shifters (index only).

These shifters were designed for the 1992 and later generation of RD's, which were all slant and had a cable adjuster.
But the Chorus/Athena from '88-'91 are slant too and have cable adjusters as well.

The shift ratio or cable pull might be different, I don't know?
Who does?

So, would this combination work? Does anyone have experiences with this set up?


wingnut said...

Hi GRMA. Matching Campagnolo's shifting components between these two eras is difficult. When Campagnolo abandoned Syncro and changed to index-only, 8spd, and cassette hubs they also changed and standardised the geometry of all their RD. The idea, à la the Japanese systems, was to fully integrate shifting and drivetrain components which is the only way that accurate indexing will work. This was a major departure for Campagnolo and marked the end of components designed (=compromised) to maintain backward compatibility. In this sense the shift ratio almost certainly changed - ie using the cable adjuster in your situation won't improve indexing but changing cassette spacers or cable line may help. I do recall an aftermarket part (I'm not sure if was made by Campagnolo) that allowed these levers to index 7spd but I'm not sure how well (or whether) it worked with screw-on freewheels or with Shimano's 7spd cassettes. But, if you already have the components, try them together and let us know how you go!

GRMA said...

Thanks Wingnut!!

I guess the spacing won't be the issue since Campa 7 and 8 spd both have 5 mm spacing.
The problem may be the cable indeed.

I found an interesting webpage on shift ratio's for Campa 8 spd and later.

Do you - or anyone else - know what the shift ratio's of the Chorus A and B position are? Or the ratio for the Athena?
That might be (part of) an answer.

I haven't got all the parts yet, but I will certainly give it a try and let you know!

Larry and Heather said...

Larry couldn't help but smile when he read "Campagnolo ate humble pie, absorbed (ie copied) new technology into their designs and caught up." when taken into context with the blatant copy of Campagnolo's work back-in-the-day. Shimano had a bike with their original Dura Ace groupset on it at a recent Interbike show -and from 20 feet away, it was hard to tell it wasn't Campagnolo stuff.