Campagnolo EKAR 1x13 new drivetrain

Gerard Vroomen 24. Sep ’20 General
If you follow my posts, you may know I like 1x drivetrains. The front derailleur is such a primitive tool - two plates pushing against a chain until it falls off the chainring - as an engineer that I find that slightly offensive for a 21st century solution. Compare that to the intricacies of a rear derailleur.

Anyway, there is a place for 2x drivetrains, I just think in the future that place will be smaller as more and more cogs are added. When I ask people if they'll switch to 1x11 they may say no, but when I ask if they would switch to 1x13, almost everybody says yes. At some point, enough is enough and going 2x13 simply doesn't add much (other than lots of  overlapping gears).

Well, today is the day: Campagnolo is introducing a 1x13 group. I am very happy that this EKAR group exists, and from such an unexpected source. You see, at Eurobike 2015, Campagnolo gave me a preview of their first ever disc brake groupset. At that time, I told the engineer they should focus on 1x as they could make a real impact there. I also suggested they make a cassette that starts with a 9T cog. This makes it easier to have a good gear range without having jumps that are too big in the middle of the cassette.

In the years since, I asked every now and then if there was progress but I sort of lost hope. I even started offering a 9-32T cassette myself for the road because I didn't think anything would ever happen. Until 18 months ago that is. There, at SeaOtter 2019, I was shown this EKAR groupset. Not only was it 1x, not only did it have a 9T cog to start but it also had 13 cogs, making it infinitely better than the 11-speed cassette I had done.

Now that it's in production I can say, it's a very, very nice groupset. For me the most relevant features are:
  • 1x is all about the cassette ratios and Campagnolo has got it right. They offer 3 options: 9-36T, 9-42T and 10-44T. I've been telling every drivetrain maker in the world that 380-440% range is the sweet spot for gravel (of course it depends on the strength of the rider and where they ride). So to have one cassette at 400% and another at 440% in this new EKAR group is a gift from heaven for me. And the 9-42 is even bigger than that, so great for extreme rides and thanks to the 13-speed, the steps are still reasonable.
  • It's mechanical. I have nothing against electronic drivetrains, but I also have nothing against mechanical shifting. You push the lever, it shifts. What more can you wish for? And of course if you go into the wild, you have a better chance to MacGyver a mechanical derailleur than an electronic one.
  • There is just one rear derailleur that works with all cassettes, So no medium and large cages. This means that if you set it up well, you can switch between the cassettes without even changing the chain length. That's a great feature if you ride in a wide range or terrains or if you have separate road and gravel wheelsets that you switch between regularly.
  • The parts are beautiful, as you would expect from Campagnolo. The rear derailleur, the carbon crank, all very nice.

There is one thing to note when ordering the EKAR brakes:

  • For the front brake on a U-Turn or R-Turn fork, you need to order the (140mm) EKAR brake caliper without any adaptors plus the 160mm brake rotor. That together will work perfectly on the fork. The offset is already in the fork so no need for the adaptor.
  • For the rear brake on an UP or UPPER, you need to order the (140mm) EKAR brake caliper plus the adaptor for the 160mm position plus the 160mm brake rotor. Alternatively you can put the (140mm) EKAR brake caliper on the frame without any adaptor and pair it with the 140mm brake rotor.
  • For the rear brake on a MIND or the WIDE, you need to order the (140mm) EKAR brake caliper without any adaptors plus the 160mm brake rotor. The offset created by the adaptor is already built into these frames, so the 140mm caliper matches automatically with the 160mm rotor.

With the arrival of EKAR, you now have several nice drivetrain options:
  • If 1x12-speed is enough for you, SRAM Force/Eagle AXS gives you electronic shifting and massive gear ranges up to 520%.
  • If you want the most speeds in 1x and/or mechanical shifting, Campagnolo EKAR is your group.
  • 2x11 options come from Shimano with GRX, both mechanical and electronic.
  • For 2x12, our favorite is the Force AXS electronic groupset (best value for money) with the Max 36T rear derailleur and 10-36T cassette. Up front we prefer the 46/33T chainrings as it comes with the narrow Q crank while the 43/30T comes with a wide Q crank. Note that once you have the 46/33T crank, you can later change to the 43/30T rings on that crank and it keeps the narrow Q.
Update: If you’re interested in the Ekar groupset, we now offer it on several bikes:

  • The U.P. with Ekar creates a very versatile bike for paved road and gravel riding. We spec it with the 9-42T cassette for maximum flexibility. If you run 2 wheelsets, then it may make sense to use 9-42T on your gravel wheels and 9-36T on your road wheels (although there are also plenty of customers who run 9-42T on everything). The bike is finished with an ENVE cockpit and my favorite wheelset, the HED Emporia GA Pro (700c and 650b options). This alloy gravel wheelset is very light but at the same time durable, a you would expect from the wheel pioneers at HED.
  • The U.P.P.E.R. with Ekar offers the same versatility but obviously with our lighter frame.
  • Last but not least, combining the Ekar groupset in combination with the WI.DE frame is perfect for more extreme gravel riding, in particular if you go all-out with the 650b wheel option.
Note: the photos in this post are of the personal WI.DE. bike of Campagnolo engineer Nicolo Martinello. So the spec is not exactly the same as our complete bikes. Please check the spec list here for the UPUPPER and WIDE.