Ekar review (for n=1)

So, after about 200k on road and half that off, I’ve formed some opinions about the Ekar groupset and thought I’d post it here in case of interest.

The context: an n=1 bike with 2 wheelsets, suitable for use as a fast cruiser on road, and a not-too-extreme-but-capable gravel bike off it. Frame = custom titanium, road wheelset = Bontrager Aeolus pro 37 + Bontrager Hardcase lite TLR 28, gravel wheelset = Borg handbuilt alloy + WTB Venture 40. Road setup 42t/9-42, gravel setup 42T/10-44

So, first a note on the setup. I really wanted the 9-36 cassette on road, but Campag adamantly maintain the max tooth difference (chainring + biggest sprocket) that can work without resizing the chain is 4. Given the cassettes are 9-36, 9-42 and 10-44, that effectively ruled out the 9-36 for me. The mechanic who built the bike up suggested a 6 difference does work in practice, so 42/9-36 on road (78 T) and 40/10-44 off (84T) but that would require a chainring swap before the ride, so I went with the 42T for road and the 9-42/10-44 cassettes.

So, what do I like?

The brakes are genuinely superb - probably the best I’ve ever used – and so far, there’s been virtually no rub or squeal, though they’ve yet to see a genuinely wet ride. The downshifts are lightning quick (as quick as Di2 IMO), sound fantastic, and the new thumbshifter shape works really, really well from both hoods and drops. I’ve never liked Shimano’s brifter design in fairness, but this setup works very well and makes complete ergonomic sense to me. If there’s a significant friction loss in the 9t sprocket, I can’t feel it. The gaps in the cassette are less of an issue than I expected on road, though they obviously exist, and the 10-44 makes tons of sense on gravel. It’s lighter than anything comparable on the market, and is cheaper than Force AXS. It also has the benefit of actually being in stock in a lot of places!

What do I like less?

The biggest issue for me is that the hoods have a marked ridge where my palm sits, and it’s actually causing some numbness. Others have reported this issue too. I have currently rolled them up, and with gloves that’s tolerable, but I’m seeing the guy who built the bike up on Friday and we’re going to see if we can trim them back and/or tape up the bars differently. I find the upshifts less precise than the downshifts – you need to be a little careful to get a single rather than a double shift. It has got easier as I’ve got used to it and the groupset wears in, though. It’s worth noting the indexing doesn’t transfer over absolutely perfectly between cassettes. Ok, it’s only a 2 minute fiddle with the barrel adjuster to solve, it is rideable without adjusting (just a smidge irritating) and to a degree that’s what you get for the 1 bike/2 wheelsets solution, but it’s worth being aware of.

Speaking of wheelsets, the N3W freehub is still a limiter to choice, though that’s improving; all DT Swiss, Campag, Fulcrum, Miche and Hunt hubs now have N3W options, and there are doubtless others I don’t know about or have forgotten. Finally, the clutch mechanism in the rear mech is pretty strong, and there is a real knack to inserting a rear wheel. Practise it at home before you need to do it on a ride!

Overall, I think Ekar is a gravel groupset than can do road, rather than vice-versa, if that makes sense. And in fairness, that is sort of how Campag advertise it! If I could run a 40/9-36 on road and switch that to a 10-44 for gravel without chain issues, that would probably make it a true allrounder. I’m enjoying it a lot, though there are a few minor niggles, as noted above. With that in mind, I’d still suggest AXS with a 46/33 and 10-36 is a probably a slightly better all-purpose solution, but that is heavier, more expensive and currently problematic to source, and of course it’s not 1x, which has its own merits.

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Great review as I am currently debating between Di2, AXS and Ekar on my current build. The Ekar has sparked my interest from the shear fact it is unique.

I’ve ridden all 3 (not GRX Di2 in fairness). If you’re looking at primarily gravel and want the simplicity of 1x, and like Campag mechanical shifting, I think Ekar is a great bet (but check the hoods suit you). For primarily road, I’d probably go AXS. Ok, so a 33-36 probably isn’t going to see much use on the tarmac outside of genuine mountains, but you’re still only losing 1 gear, if that makes sense, and the rest of the block (10-11-12-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32) is effective enough. You could also always run a 10-33 on the road wheel and a 10-36 on the gravel.

IMO Shimano still don’t make a real crossover drivetrain. On road, UDi2 is fantastic - it just works, all the time, brilliantly, and for a performance road-only bike that I’m paying for it would still be my first choice - but a 1:1 bottom ratio isn’t low enough for offroad use IMO (for me/my local terrain, anyway). I know guys who’ve squeaked a SRAM 11sp 11-36 cassette in there, though whether that makes a real difference is a good question. GRX Di2 tops out at 48/11 which might be enough for road if you ride somewhere flat or take it easy down hills, but is a compromise.

6 months since I ordered my ekar equipped bike…just 3 more months to wait :upside_down_face:

Glad that all the reviews I’ve read so far are relatively good. I too am planning to have two wheelsets so interesting to hear about the indexing adjustement needed between your wheelsets. @RecoveryRide are both your wheelsets the same brand?

I agree with everything you are saying here!

I am a big Shimano fan for some reason and I was heavily considering a build as;

Dura-Ace Mechanical shifter/calipers
GRX RX812 Rear derailleur
Sram XX1 10-42 cassette (With XD freehub on my rovals)
1 x 38T wolf chainring

This would be a 85% race gravel bike and 15% group ride bike. We have tested this setup on my buddies bike except with GRX shifters and it works fantastic. I am very torn and reviews like this is fantastic.

Nope. Road wheels are Bontrager, gravel wheels are a handbuilt alloy set. I suspect effective hub width is maybe a mm different or something.

Can you post a pic of the ridge on the hoods that is causing problems? Would be interested to see it as I want to eventually swap my Aspero over to Ekar.

I’m not sure how obvious it is on that image, but hopefully the markup gives you an idea.

Ah, so it is more vertical…I was thinking it was parallel to the ground.

Thanks.

If Hunt makes an Ekar freehub, it should work on most Novatec hubs, so that widens your options quite a bit. Same with DT Swiss (Roval, Bontrager, Swiss Side, Giant, all wheel builders, etc). You’ve basically got 90% of the wheelsets you’d ever want.

If you want to spend some time getting rid of this, there are places that sell cassette shims. So if you figure out which one is further inboard you can put something behind them to match the more outboard one.

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