At the Sea Otter Classic, component manufacture Full Speed Ahead had a demo bike equipped with the FSA K-Force WE group set. The system is a semi-wireless setup with the two independent shifters communicating independently with the front derailleur where the brain of the system is located. The front and rear derailleur are wired together with a rechargeable battery in the seat post. Each shifter is powered by a coin cell battery which FSA says should last a year.
Shifts are made using a rocker switch on the lever with each side having a slightly different texture. FSA says that users will be able to completely customize the shift setup on each lever using a smartphone app. Riders will be able to choose what each shift button does, the speed of shifts and what happens if you keep the button pressed down. The levers use ANT to communicate with the front derailleur while it can communicate with other devices such as a Garmin using ANT+.
In terms of potential, K-Force has hit all the right notes of a top performing groupset. It’s a light system, though slightly heavier than Shimano’s and SRAM top-end groupsets but this certainly isn’t a deal breaker for most. It has comfortable hoods and a shifting layout that I quickly got used to. There is also a measure of customization with two different length brake levers available for smaller and bigger hands, and of course a disc brake model is in development. The battery life will also be strong with FSA saying the derailleurs will only need a charge every 4,000 to 6,000 km under a pro rider.
The system is also aesthetically pleasing, looking the part of a high-end groupset. The K-Force WE crank has hollow forged carbon arms with a forged aluminum axle. The rear derailleur has a chunky carbon construction and uses a rack and pinion mechanism for fast, precise and quiet shifting. The charging port is found on the front derailleur and a LED light indicates battery life.
The first shift I made with the groupset was in the front. The chain pleasingly landed on the small chainring in a familiar and precise manner. The rolling hills out of Laguna Seca were great for pushing the system to its limit and as I got out of the saddle on the first hill I was pleased to find the system worked predictably underload. It took me a few shifts to get used to the feel of the rocker levers. Once I got the hang of it, the shifters felt nice, were relatively quiet and provided good feedback.
The system handled shifting well though there was a bit more of a lag time on the front than with a mechanical system. This should eventually be adjustable through the app. On steep pitches, I was able to make clean single shifts up the cassette while out of the saddle.
A few times I tried shifting at the front and dump gears in the back to get in the right gear for a sudden change in grade. The system is designed to handle multiple shifts but it didn’t do quite what I expected. I was told after that the brain of the machine has been programmed to handle multiple shifts but it was not as intuitive right away as I would have liked. I would expect to get used to the groupsets operation on a longer trial but with less than an hour clocked I was just getting comfortable on the setup and had none of the options at my disposal that the app will provide.
The K-Force brakes have a dual pivot design and paired with the braking track on the Vision Metron 40 wheels provided powerful braking. The real test would be how the perform in the wet which on a sunny day in California was not in the cards and I wasn’t complaining.
Overall, the FSA K-Force groupset showed a lot of promise in the hour I spent on it. I would be eager to get my hands on the app when it becomes available to further customize the system and discover its limits. FSA has worked hard to develop a system that will be complete with other high-end groupsets and the short time on the K-Force shows that innovation by other companies other than the big players is coming to the market.