After decades of dominating the high-end bicycle component market, Campagnolo in the mid to late '80s was gasping to keep up with the rapid changes that were happening at the time. It must have been a major challenge, considering that for the previous several decades, the company made new product introductions only infrequently, and component models would run for years with only the most minor of changes. Take for example the Nuovo Record derailleur, which was made virtually unchanged from 1967 through the mid '80s, and had a basic design that dated back to 1950.
When Shimano released their indexing Dura-Ace 7400 SIS, it seemed nobody was quite prepared for the fallout. SunTour was struggling to get their own indexing system together. Many European component makers started slipping into obscurity. Campagnolo managed to hang on mainly due to the loyalty of older and more tradition-oriented road cyclists, but despite that loyalty the company was still faced with making some major changes to their product line to bring them into the new modern shifting era.
Campagnolo's first attempt at an indexing system, Synchro, was admirable in that they tried to make indexing work with their existing derailleurs. Unfortunately it didn't actually work that well. As already mentioned, their traditional parallelogram derailleur design essentially dated back to 1950 with only minor changes, and adding a shift lever with built-in "clicks" wasn't enough to make them index reliably. Between 1985 and 1990, the company introduced a number of new component groups, and several completely new derailleur designs - each one different from the next. There was the Croce d'Aune with its unique tie-rod activation, the Chorus with its dropped and slanted 2-position parallelogram, and by the end of the decade there were a couple of mountain bike groups with derailleurs that appeared to be modeled after Shimano Deore, but with Campagnolo aesthetics. In the middle of all that there was the Athena which was introduced in late 1988 and positioned below Chorus. Of the new road derailleur designs, the Athena was probably the derailleur that looked the most traditional -- the most "Campy-like." There was no dropped parallelogram to ape SunTour or Shimano designs. At first glance, some less-savvy observers might have mistaken it for a Campagnolo C-Record, with its smooth polished surfaces, and aero-looking upper derailleur cage. Closer examination would show it to be very different.
The Athena has another difference that separates it from most other modern designs: no spring in the upper pivot. While a sprung upper pivot can help with indexing, it may not be entirely necessary. But the upper bolt did have an unusual feature to help the derailleur handle different gear ranges:
Where the Athena really shines, though, is with friction shifting -- particularly with a set of smooth-acting retrofriction levers, like the Simplex, or Campagnolo's C-Record. With the retrofriction levers, the derailleur has nice feel, and offers quick, smooth shifting.
|The Athena design was also released as a lower-end derailleur called the Xenon, with a much more pedestrian painted finish.|