The middle of last year Campagnolo came out with an all-new N3W freehub body standard that is unique in that it is both forward AND backwards-compatible. The first wheels to get the N3W body were actually the all-road Shamal Carbons when 12-speed was still Campy’s largest gear offerings – and “the perfect number“. Two months later, we saw the highly-anticipated Campagnolo Ekar gravel debut, and with it the 13-speeds that necessitated the new freehub.

But even several generations back to 10-speeds, which Campy was the first to introduce more than 20 years ago for Record, this means new wheels are compatible with 10, 11, 12 & 13-speed drivetrains.

Campagnolo N3W: 10-13 speed backwards compatible freehub body

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, f generations from 10speed to 13speed

OK, so why am I so hung up on backwards-compatibility? Well, without calling out too many other brands in particular, I have a lot of bikes in my family, and a lot of wheels come through to test. (It’s not quite Zach’s basement territory, but it’s close.) And those wheels set up for 11-speed SRAM don’t work with anything Eagle or AXS. And talking Shimano there are 10sp road wheels that I’ve built that won’t fit an 11sp cassette. Not to mention the off-road wheels where 10 & 11 worked together, but now 12 threw another wrench in the cogs…

I think I’m not alone in keeping old bikes running. It’s not always about the latest & greatest! So here’s to not making my old bikes entirely obsolete with the introduction of new gear & new standards!

A closer look: 10-13-speed & 20 years of Campy compatibility

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, cassettes with Unior lockring tool

So to check & see if Campagnolo N3W was really going to work with every 10-speed, 11-speed, 12-speed & 13-speed drivetrain, I decided to take one of each apart and see for myself. Having started racing cyclocross on a Record 10 gruppo “years ago”, I just so happen to have bikes still running each of these four gearings. Ever heard the adage that “Campagnolo wears-in, not wears-out”? That’s not really entirely true, but it does remain serviceable.

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, cyclocross gravel all-road road bikes

To get a look at what we’re working with, we have here (left to right): a Khamsin wheel with 33mm Challenge cross clinchers from a steel CX bike with Chorus 10, a Shamal Ultra tubular wheel with 33mm training Tufos from my wife’s steel CX bike with Athena 11, those new Shamal Carbons with 40mm gravel tubeless Tufos off a ti gravel bike with Chorus 12, and a 650b Fulcrum Rapid Red 5 with 47mm tubeless Conti gravel tires that was on a carbon gravel bike with Ekar 13.

More than a decade of Campy groups on bikes up to 15 years old. All off-road road bikes, kind of reminding that gravel-specific groupsets aren’t always required for getting dirty in drop bars…

What’s new in N3W?

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, new body

What’s new about Campagnolo’s N3W freehub body is essentially just that last few millimeters of it. The toothed adapter on its end with the second N3W logo nests into every other spline, extending the freehubs splines to work with older cassettes.

It can be left on to work with traditional 10-12-speed cassettes, or removed to fit the smaller, smallest cog of newer cassettes.

new vs. old bodiesRemoving the N3W cassette body extension ring (which Campy calls the AC21-N3W adapter) shortens the freehub overall to allow the smaller diameter 9 & 10 toothed cogs of 13-speed cassettes to fit over the hub’s axle itself.

Pop the extension adapter back on, and it is the same length as the existing Campagnolo freehub body (black body, above right) that we’ve known for twenty years to fit traditional cassettes down to an 11T smallest cog.

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, lockring options

To make N3W work with those regular 10-12-speed cassettes, the lockring had to be lengthened, extending beyond the extension ring to reach the threads inside the new N3W body. Compare a standard 12-speed lockring (above left) to the one needed to fit a 12-speed cassette on a new N3W-equipped wheelset (above right).

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, extended lockring

Campagnolo includes the extension ring adapter and longer lockring with all of their N3W-equipped wheelsets, as will the dozen or so other producers that we know of already selling new wheels with Campy N3W bodies. Campagnolo will also sell them as a kit separately for anyone who has Ekar 13 wheels, but wants to also use them with older cassettes.

The shorter lockrings that come with Campagnolo 10, 11 & 12-speed cassettes are not long enough to reach past the extension ring adapter to the threads in the shorter freehub body.

How does the interface work?

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, toothed interface

Like Shimano’s freehubs, Campy relies on full-length splines that engage the inner splines of both individual cassette cogs & multiple cogs mounted to a carrier. Campagnolo has relied on 8 deep splines of varying size for all contemporary drivetrains.

The metal N3W extension ring adapter keeps that same general idea, extending four of its own arms into 4 of the 8 standard splines to overlap, transferring power delivered into the two smallest cogs of a conventional cassette into the main freehub body.

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, 4 splines

The reason that works is because modern Campagnolo cassettes actually only have four inward-facing tabs to each cog, and have left those other four spline grooves in their cassettes untouched for several generations.

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, Ekar 1x13 9-42T cassette

In fact, the new Ekar 13-speed cassettes are a bit more like modern SRAM one-piece XD/XDR cassettes, engaging only with tabs close to the hubshell. However the smaller, one-piece machined four cogs also engage the outer edge of the N3W body, and thread into the body with their built-in lockring (which cannot be removed, or misplaced.)

The small quartet of cogs (as Campy calls it) will only work with a N3W freehub body, and is labeled as such on the lockring.

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, new lockrings

The difference in lockrings can also be seen by their size installed with the appropriate cassette. The 13-speed Ekar cassette’s lockring looks tiny (left) compared to the longer N3W lockring on a regular 12-speed Chorus cassette (right).

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, 10sp 11sp 12sp 13sp

The result is pretty much what Campagnolo has claimed, near universal compatibility with all modern Campy drivetrains, like my 10-speed Chorus, 11-speed Athena, 12-speed Chorus, and 13-speed Ekar. Nearly universal…

Universal compatibility, except…

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, not-compatible aftermarket

The trouble that some Campagnolo users (like myself) could run into is with aftermarket cassettes. One long-running complaint from those riding Campagnolo groupsets is the high cost of replacement cassettes. Just like the often lack of easier gear ranges paired to 11T cogs, many riders have adopted cheaper, more flexible alternatives like this 10-speed Miche cassette (above).

While it retains Campy cog width & spacing, it uses all 8 of 8 freehub body splines, which means it won’t work with the N3W extension ring adapter. The simple solution will be to buy a real Campagnolo 10-speed cassette, if you need to replace the old wheels for your old bike with a new N3W-equipped wheelset.

Where can you get Campagnolo N3W?

Campagnolo N3W freehub body Tech Feature in detail, new Campy backwards compatible gravel road bike wheels, 4 generations

The first riders to end up with a Campagnolo N3W-equipped wheelset, have for the most part been the early adopters of gravel bikes built with the 1x 13-speed Ekar groupset. Also, Campagnolo’s own Shamal Carbon DB all-road / gravel wheels were the first to ship out with N3W freehubs. Campy says they are transitioning all new wheels to the new standard, while existing wheels can all be updated with a conversion kit. Their Fulcrum wheel brand will also offer N3W freehubs as their new Campagnolo-compatible option, although for the most part will not come standard for quite some time.

Beyond Campagnolo’s own family wheels 3T, Boyd, Carbon-Ti, Deda, DT Swiss, ERE, Hunt, Industry Nine, Scope, Vision, and Zipp have all so far also announced that N3W freehubs will be available for their latest wheels (including several rim brake wheel options!), for use either with traditional Campagnolo road or new Ekar gravel bikes. With the backwards-compatibility feature, we expect that list to continue to grow.

Campagnolo.com

30 comments

  1. Tommy Barse on

    Nice break down of this simple, innovative system.

    I’ll add that White Industries will also be offering the N3W body to their hub options.

    No big loss not being able to use a Miche cassette. I have found their shift quality substandard for Campy. Besides, with proper maintenance and care the Campy cassettes last a very long time.

    Reply
  2. Andrew on

    I’m a huge Campy/Fulcrum fan, unfortunately I am left disappointed that the N3W freewheel is not compatible with my Fulcrum Red Passion 650B. So much for backwards compatibility…

    Reply
    • Cory Benson on

      @Andrew, are you sure? Those are a five year old set of wheels, true. But I’ve had pretty good luck with sticking Campy freehubs onto Fulcrum 12mm thru-axle wheels that otherwise did not list Campy- compatibility. For years before Campagnolo acknowledged that 650b all-road & gravel were suitable uses for their drivetrains, Fulcrum did not officially confirm compatibility, even though hub & axle interfaces were in fact the same.

      Reply
  3. Morten on

    It will fit every 9 speed cassette from 96 as well, and a few rare 8 speed casettes too (Ghibli wheels from late 1995). Campagnolo introduced 9-speed during the 1996 tour for select riders like Indurain, Riis & Berzin. The Chorus group-set i bought in august 1996 was 9-speed and had the new/current body.

    Reply
    • David on

      As Morten says, we’re actually tanking about 26 years of compatibility here. I still ride a 1996, 9s Veloce on my commuting bike, never missed a beat.

      Reply
  4. Derik Gross on

    Will the N3W hub work with qr hubs? Looking to possibly upgrade my cx bike with 135 rear spacing running qr hubs.

    Thanks

    Reply
  5. bikesnob28hb on

    First I thought, wow how nice of Campa to provide compability for 10 -13 speed cassettes given the fact that Campa has the tendency to make things more complicated than neccessary. However, in the meanwhile we also have a change from rim to disc brakes and from quick release to thru axles. So I do not see too many applications for 10 and 11 speed cassettes with new wheels these days.

    Reply
    • Cory Benson on

      @Derik & @Snob, some of the wheel makers in that “Where can you get” list above are said to include rim brake & disc brake wheelsets. Plus, some allow for easy swaps from thru-axles to QRs depending on each hub design – although it’s unclear which hubs are easily convertible at the moment. Campagnolo has unfortunately said that their “QR 135 and 10 mm axle are not convertible”, and that’s likely the case for Fulcrum as well.

      Reply
  6. Sead Marušić - Krako on

    Hi Cory,

    Small correction, though, since you’re probably too young to know, you’re excused.

    Campagnolo introduced current freehub design with their 8sp Chorus and Record groups, sometime in 1995., for the model year 1996.
    At the time they were used only with titanium cassettes (8sp).

    The following year, 1997., they introduced 9sp groupsets, again Chorus and Record only and kept the freehub design, which they still use today.

    I’m still running Record 9 sp cassette on my old steel Chesini X Uno which has Chorus hubs mated to Mavic Open Pro rims and DT spokes and nipples built in 2005.

    So to be technically correct Campy’s new N3W freehub is backward compatible all the way to 8 sp titanium cassettes from 1996.

    Cheers,

    Krako

    Reply
  7. Johnny B. on

    Tangential to the subject of the article, you mention “a 650b Fulcrum Rapid Red 5 with 47mm tubeless Conti gravel tires that was on a carbon gravel bike with Ekar 13”. The only Conti Terra Trails I’m aware of in 650B are only 40mm wide. Are these a yet to be released variant?

    Reply
  8. Robin on

    BikeRumor peeps, whatever service you guys are using to manage comments is failing badly. No comments are showing up, and that’s independent of whatever browser I use.

    Reply
  9. Sirknowalot on

    “While it retains Campy cog width & spacing, it uses all 8 of 8 freehub body splines, which means it won’t work with the N3W extension ring adapter. The simple solution will be to buy a real Campagnolo 10-speed cassette, if you need to replace the old wheels for your old bike with a new N3W-equipped wheelset.”

    -> or just file off the specific tabs of the cogs interfering with the N3W adapter. There still will be plenty of interfacing left for a durable setup, providing you torque down the cassette enough.

    Reply
  10. satanas on

    IMHO, the solution for fitting Miche casettes could be just to file out four of the splines in the cog(s) that overlap the adaptor, assuming none of them line up with the join. That was standard practice when HG was new and one wanted to fit HG cogs onto older Shimano hubs; it’s quick and painless to do.

    BTW, Campag 9 speed cassettes might fit the N3W freehub bodies too, as the change was made after 8 speeds, not at the inception of 10.

    Reply
  11. Miclaroc on

    As someone with over $20k invested in 2 10 speed bikes that I wouldn’t trade for the world, it’s taken me days to read this article for fear of what I might find. I am so delighted to be wrong. Just the fact they’re taking backwards-compatibility into account makes men so happy I invested in campagnolo to begin with. I am so scared of my two bikes becoming outdated and unrideable especially given the lack of 10 speed cassettes already and their expense (13-29 which I love is already gone it seems and cost me $400 to buy the last one I could find) I’m already limiting my riding and obsessing about drivetrain maintenance because I can’t afford a néw grouppo and don’t know if they will even be compatible any longer. I think there’s probably a substantial market for 10 speed cassettes Campagnolo should seriously consider new production of them so many thousands of perfectly good 10 speed group sets still on the road or potentially could/should be.
    Campagnolo are you listening? Per Favore!

    Reply
  12. Bas Simons on

    Does this mean that the new N3W body will fit on older Campy hubs? Because that I don’t understand yet. Sorry for my english being so bad… That would be really great, so older wheels can get an upgrade to current gruppo.

    Reply
    • Cory Benson on

      @Bas, Campagnolo have a N3W upgrade to fit all of their current & previous disc brake wheels. It’s unclear (but probably not likely) that any of their older rim brake hubs will get an upgrade option in the future.

      Reply
  13. James on

    I’m using a 10s Miche Campy cassette now, 12-23t. It’s got an 18. I can’t tell the difference between it and a new genuine cassette. It shift spot on and runs as quiet. The sound is only a Chorus of Campagnolo.

    Reply
  14. Sin2000 on

    I’m not sure that 9 speed will work on the new freehubs. I happened to take apart a 9 speed cassette the other day and some of the sprockets use all 8 of the freehub splines – though not all of them. You’d need to try it to find out.

    Reply
  15. Jon on

    Could anyone shed any light then on this question
    Im looking to put some zipp 303s on my ekar groupset however currently zipp dont do the hub for this
    If i bought a set with a regular campag free hub body could i then use the n3w adapter to make compatible for the ekar 13spd?

    Reply
    • Graeme on

      @Jon … No, unfortunately you have to have a shorter body for the 13s cassette, not longer.
      The adapter is to make the cassette body suitable for non-13s cassettes. You use the N3W format body without the adapter for 13s, with the adapter for 11 & 12s. The smallest sprockets (9T or 10T) on the Ekar cassette are too small to fit over the end of the “standard” body.

      Reply
      • Jon on

        Ah ok graeme thanks for clearing that up(didnt want to sound stupid ) .campagnolo currently say that zipp is under licence approval for 13spd but zipp just say “ we wont comment on future products “ which is a shame because ive been blown away by how good ekar is ,however my fulcrum rapid reds are a very good wheel in the mean time

        Many thanks jon

        Reply

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