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FSA may not be the first manufacturer you think of when it comes to road groupsets but the American-Italian company has been working hard over the last two years to refine its K-Force WE offering in an attempt to not only capture a slice of a Shimano-dominated market but also rank as one of the best road bike groupsets.
FSA launched the rim-brake version of this groupset two years ago to bold acclaim, the most notable attribute being the hybridised electronic shifting system. The K-Force WE system (an acronym for Wireless Electronic) combines the very best attributes of Shimano’s fabled Di2 and SRAM’s Red eTap system - something the company reckons might entice a new audience. Below we take a closer at the new K-Force WE Disc version.
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Design and aesthetics
In terms of design and execution, the team at FSA have knocked this one out of the park. As a holistic product offering, the groupset is a beautifully designed system that neither complies nor follows the design rhetoric of its rivals. Instead, the aesthetics are in line with what we've come to expect from FSA over the years - bold and svelte with complementing stealthy black, grey and silver hues rounding off the visuals. The use of red WE accents are strategic yet striking and distinctly feature on each component.
Looking at each item individually, it's clear FSA wanted to do things differently to its rivals. Starting with the shifters you'll notice the hood and lever mechanism are unchanged over its rim-brake sibling benefitting from the same slender reservoir design and textured grip. The shifters are wireless in functionality meaning they draw power in the same vein as SRAM's eTap, a CR2032 coin battery to be precise but this approach also helps save weight. Like SRAM's system, the batteries should last around one year.
The levers can be specced in two size options to cater for different hand sizes: standard or compact while reach can also be tweaked in one of three positions. Like the hoods, the lever touchpoint paddles are textured and both the up and downshifting buttons are actioned from the outside paddle (the inner or main lever is for braking only). On the other end of the brake system are the flat-mount brake calipers. Not only are these easy to set up and align with the disc rotors but they're also more refined than that of the post-mount variety.
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In a move which signifies the company's outside-the-box rhetoric when it comes to product design and application, the rear derailleur has ditched the traditional parallelogram design in favour of a servo-actuated single-arm system. While we haven't been able to put it to the test just yet, it certainly looks very tidy.
FSA is widely known for its light, carbon-fibre chainsets which feature across myriad bike brands. As expected, the K-Force WE crankset is beautifully executed, retaining the dark hues of the complete system as well as incorporating slivers of unidirectional carbon-fibre to bolster the aesthetic qualities even further.
The circular parts such as the disc brake rotors and cassette are every bit as functional as they are visually intriguing. The 11-32T cassette sprockets are forged from titanium and carbon steel for greater longevity and shifting precision. At 190g not only is the cassette appreciably light but it's characterised by a half-charcoal, half-silver colour scheme - a harbinger of its lightweight traits. FSA elected to go with the pro peloton standard of 160/140mm front/rear when it came to the disc brake rotors. The discs have been aerodynamically fashioned with a rounded edge for improved safety in the event of a crash. The complete rotor set weighs in at 213g (126g front, 105g rear).
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How it all works
As previously stated, the FSA K-Force WE Disc groupset is a hybrid electronic setup. In terms of wiring, like Shimano, the front and rear derailleurs need to be plugged into the system's large-capacity battery to draw power, which is located in the seat post cavity. The shifters, however, use an ANT+ signal to prompt the system's brain, located in the box above the front mech, to fire off the shifting protocol - in that regard, it's a lot like SRAM eTap. On paper, the hybridised approach seems to be a novel principle and reviews of the disc-brake version lauded the groupset for its 'rapid' and 'precise' shifting.
Looking at the mechanics in greater detail and I'm talking drivetrain specifications here, the aluminium chainrings can be specced in 53/39T, 52/36T or 50/34T derivatives and can be combined with crankarm lengths of 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm. Cassette options span three 11-speed options - 11-25T, 11-28T and 11-32T, all of which are compatible with the short-cage rear derailleur. The crankset itself was designed with durability and lightness in mind - as a complete system, it weighs 615g (52/36T, 172.5mm cranks). The crank arms are hollow in design and come with a BB386 Evo alloy spindle.
The brakes look good, too. Each caliper weighs just 140g (with fluid) and connects to the brake levers via braided hoses. The caliper and hose design is clever in that it features a Quick Connect system where users can easily remove the hoses from the calipers without the worry of losing brake fluid or introducing air into the system.
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On first impressions (and this is all based on visual scrutiny at this point) the FSA K-Force WE Disc groupset looks like a promising alternative to the segment incumbents. The level of detailing and execution is on par with, if not more refined than its arch-rivals Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo but thorough testing will prove just how well the various surfaces and contact points hold up to continuous use.
In terms of weight, FSA claims the K-Force WE Disc groupset tips the scales at 2,057g which shaves 332g off Shimano's Dura-Ace R9170 while besting SRAM's Red eTAP AXS by 461g. Of course, it's not just weight that defines a groupset and FSA will have a lot to prove in terms of the user experience, after-sales service and whether or not it can offer the same level of refined operation as its well-established adversaries.
Price-wise the FSA K-Force WE Disc groupset will set you back £2,980 / $2,607 / €3,270, which is a lot of money, but still significantly cheaper than what you'll get at the same level from Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. For now, however, it's going to come down to how well FSA bolsters its brand cachet and whether or not it can take a slice out of a highly competitive market.
Tech Specs: FSA K-Force WE Disc groupset
- Price: £2,980 / $2,607 / €3,270
- Shifting: Electronic (Cable and wireless hybrid)
- Battery life: LI-ION 7.4V seat post battery: 4,000-6,000km / CR2032 coin cell: one year
- Speeds: 2x11
- Chainrings: 53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T
- Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-32T
- Brakes: Disc, hydraulic (160/140mm front/rear)
- Weight: 2,057g