Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
As we wrap-up the year, I want to reply to a comment that was posted back in June. I would have done so earlier but I only saw it this weekend because the comment was left on a page on our website that I rarely check. But it’s a good query worth sharing and I bet some of you may want to add your experience and recommendations.
The question came from Tom Wojcik, who wrote:
Jim, I had a question that I thought you might be able to answer on behalf of myself and many others who find themselves having to replace Campagnolo drivetrain components.
It seems logical to me that the back end of your bike should remain consistent (e.g. I am aware that you should not try to use SRAM or Shimano components on a bike equipped with Campy – cassette, derailleur, etc.). But, I have trouble seeing how a Campagnolo front shifter would be unable to deal with a Shimano or SRAM chainring group, with a compatible chain (e.g. 11-speed chain for an 11-speed cassette/rear derailleur).
Is not the key factor the ability of the front derailleur to move the chain between the 2 chainrings? and therefore, whether it’s a Campy or a SRAM ring should make no difference?
On the same topic, it seems to me the width of the chain is the limiting factor – therefore you could use an 11-speed SRAM or Shimano chain on an 11-speed Campy gruppo.
Does the same apply in reverse? i.e. if all you have on hand are 11-speed chains, is there a reason you could not use them on an older 10-speed system?
I’ll answer your last question first, Tom. Yes, most 11-speed chains are reverse-compatible with 10-speed systems. And 10-speed with 9-speed and so on. The concern would be that because the chains are narrower they might fall in-between the chainrings during shifts. But, 10-speed and 11-speed cranksets have about the same width between rings so it works fine.
Regarding compatibility between different brand and model cranksets and chainrings, Campagnolo, Shimano, SRAM and most other makers design into their rings, ramps, gates, pins and other features to optimize the shifting (photo). They do this for their components though, not for other brands’ components.
So, if you swap out another brand’s chainring or a complete crank, you’re taking a chance that you might risk balky shifting or maybe even a thrown chain or worse.
However, with the parts shortages of the last couple of seasons, many bike companies have been forced to substitute cranksets from other makers. And that demand incentivized those makers to ensure their cranks played nicely with that other company’s components. So, cross compatibility is possible a lot of the time.
Still, if I were you I would do a little homework to ensure what you’re thinking of changing out to will work properly.
A good resource in my experience is my friend Lennard Zinn, framebuilder, tech guru and author over at VeloNews. If you Google whatever component compatibility question you’ve got you’ll often find that he has tried it and said whether it works or not.
What would you tell Tom?
Readers, if you’re riding Campagnolo components and have successfully (or unsuccessfully) mixed in other brand drivetrain components, please share what you’ve found with Tom. Thanks!
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. A pro mechanic & cycling writer for more than 40 years, he’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Tune in to Jim’s popular YouTube channel for wheel building & bike repair how-to’s. Jim’s also known for his cycling streak that ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.