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.