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: