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
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
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.
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?
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.
Removing 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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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?
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.