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Verdict: 
Welcome addition to the market but not as smooth in operation as the likes of Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap
Weight: 
842g
FSA K Force WE
6 10

Full Speed Ahead (FSA) has finally launched its first full road groupset and it's gone straight for the electronic market with this K-Force WE setup, challenging the likes of SRAM and Shimano. It certainly has some cool and exciting features, but the fact that it lacks the refinement of its competitors is a frustration.

  • Pros: Comfortable shifter hoods, easy setup
  • Cons: Loose rear mech cable, rocker shifter not as defined as Shimano Di2, not available to buy yet...

After building up a strong reputation for the quality of its chainsets and components, a full groupset has always seemed a natural progression for FSA, and with WE it has created a semi-wireless offering.

> Find your nearest dealer here

What you get is a set of standalone shifters which communicate with the control unit mounted on the front mech via ANT+. From here on in, things are controlled via wires from the internal battery for power to the mechs, and for the front and rear mechs to talk to each other.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - front mech.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - front mech.jpg

On the whole the system works well together, with the shifting at the mechs reassuringly quick and precise the majority of the time – although it can get a little flustered changing gear under load. Shifting isn't quite as crisp as I'd expect; there feels to be a few milliseconds of delay as the mech tries to shift the chain across chainrings or the sprockets of the cassette. I've never felt this with any other electronic systems I've ridden.

Up front the shifters use a rocker style button for moving the chain across the cassette, but although it is simple to use you have to be surprisingly precise to get the best shift. Catch the button anywhere but the extremes and you won't get a very defined shift, and it gets less so the closer to the centre you push it.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - shifter detail.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - shifter detail.jpg

If you are in a race situation and your fingers aren't quite in the right position or the bike is bouncing about a bit on a rough surface, it's easy to fluff a shift. With this test taking place in winter, things were even trickier with thick gloves on.

Shifter shape

The main body of the shifter/brake levers is very nice to use, ergonomically speaking. The hoods have a shape and feel similar to that of Campagnolo's shifters so are very comfortable and don't feel bulky in your hand.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - shifter.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - shifter.jpg

The brake levers are available in two lengths, with a difference of 6mm, plus there are three different positions you can adjust them to for reach. This gives plenty of options if you have small hands.

As I mentioned, the shifters are wireless so instead of drawing power from the main battery they use CR2032 coin style batteries, the same as SRAM's eTap. They are user-replaceable and FSA says they should last around a year, dependent on how much you change gear.

Front mech

The front mech contains the brains of the operation, with the control box sitting above the motor to move the cage from small ring to large and vice versa.

It uses stainless steel hardware and has a maximum tooth differential of 16 teeth, like you get with a compact chainset with its 50/34 tooth chainrings.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - drivetrain.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - drivetrain.jpg

There are two LEDs, which give you the status of the system, battery life, that kind of thing as you change gear. Blue means you've got plenty of juice left before it changes to green and then red as the battery starts to run out.

I rode around 350 miles over Christmas and the new year with the LEDs still showing blue so I'd say you're probably looking at a battery life similar to Shimano Di2.

There is an app that works alongside the groupset, letting you keep an eye on battery life and giving loads of data of number of shifts and so on, so that it can gauge when things will run out of power.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - computer interface.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - computer interface.jpg

You'll also be able to customise the shifting, although at the moment it is still in Beta phase so not all options and adjustments are available yet.

Resetting

I had a few issues with a loose cable (more about that in a minute) so I became quite adept at resetting the system by following a video I found on YouTube, and it was surprisingly simple.

With the chain on the sixth sprocket of the cassette, depressing the buttons on the front mech would put it into setup mode where each touch of the shifter button microshifts the rear mech to get everything perfectly aligned.

Pressing the mech buttons again puts it back in live mode and you are good to go.

Rear mech

Looking at the rear mech, you'll notice that things look a little different. It doesn't use the traditional parallelogram design; instead, it uses a single arm and a mini gearbox featuring three small cogs, which moves the mech from side to side.

It looks smart and is quiet and smooth in operation. The only downfall is where the wire enters – on our test model at least.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - rear mech.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - rear mech.jpg

The cable is clamped into position by a small bolt, as it needs to be removed to allow the charger cable to be inserted into the same position.

Firstly, I'm not convinced this a good design idea, as anything that has to be pinched into place will get sloppy over time. Even worse for me was that on this setup the bolt didn't pinch the clamp enough around the cable, no matter how much it was tightened. As I hit a rough section of road the wire would vibrate away from the contact and I'd lose all shifting at the rear mech.

It took me a while to work out what the problem was, because everything worked fine at home when testing it on the rollers, and even on the majority of smoothish main roads it was okay. Hit that sort of tarmac where you get the resonation from the stones in it, though, and off it went. Not what you'd expect from a £2.5k groupset.

Further compounding things was the fact that our system was linked up to a Wahoo Bolt head unit, which would display what sprocket and chainring I was in. When I clicked the shifter it changed gear on the screen but the change wasn't happening at the rear, so the bike didn't have a clue what gear it was in. I came pretty adept at roadside resets of the system.

I contacted Windwave, FSA's UK distributor, about the loose wire and was told, after some investigation, that it was likely to be caused by the pinch bolt on the rear mech not tightening, pointing to the thread being stripped.

I asked whether the bolt was inserted at the factory, to see how likely cross stripping a thread (and writing off the rear mech) would be for a shop or home mechanic, and was told it's inserted at the factory and screws directly into the composite material of the rear mech body, but that 'this is under revision'.

Mechanical support act

Working alongside the electronic systems are the mechanical support members, like the chainset and cassette.

FSA is probably best known for its chainsets, so this is one area you know you won't be let down, and you aren't. The hollow carbon arms are as stiff as any of the competitors out there, and it comes with an alloy axle.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - crank.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - crank.jpg

The chainrings are 7075 aluminium alloy too, with options of a 53/39-tooth, 52/36t or 50/34t paired with crank lengths of 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm.

Cassette-wise FSA is offering three options of 11-25t, 11-28t and 11-32t, all of them 11-speed with the individual sprockets being a mix of titanium and heat treated carbon steel.

Brakeset

FSA has also developed a new K-Force brakeset to work with the WE group. Dual-pivot front and rear, they are some very impressive stoppers with loads of power and plenty of modulation.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - front brake.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - front brake.jpg

They have an 18-28mm rim width capacity, which should cover most race wheels on the market at the moment, and a reach of 40-50mm.

FSA K-Force WE groupset - rear brake.jpg

FSA K-Force WE groupset - rear brake.jpg

Weight

When it comes to weight, the WE groupset fares well against the opposition, based on the weights that David Arthur used for the SRAM eTap review: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 at 2,047g, SRAM eTap 1,922g and Campagnolo's Super Record EPS 2,098g.

The FSA weighs in at 2,046g for the full groupset, and 710g for the mechs, battery and shifters, which is virtually identical to eTap.

Value

Price-wise, again WE stands up pretty well against the same opposition with its rrp of £2,599 – that's for the complete groupset, mechanical bits and all.

SRAM eTap is £2,472 for the same setup, while the latest Dura-Ace Di2 9150 is priced at £2,964, and Super Record EPS tops out at around £3,650. Bear in mind these are all official prices from the distributors, and shopping around online can find them a lot lower.

Conclusion

To me, the FSA K-Force WE groupset has great potential, but doesn't feel quite finished yet; it's not refined enough, almost like a final prototype. It is a good groupset, well priced and a decent weight, but there are too many little niggles and faults with it for me to say yes, that is progress over what is already out there.

At the same time I was riding the FSA I also had a Lapierre Aircode on test which was equipped with the new Dura-Ace Di2 I mentioned above, and it was absolutely amazing. The shifters are responsive every single time with just the slightest nudge of the button; the way the mechs move, trim function – everything just feels spot on and smooth.

It might have a higher srp than the FSA by £350, but I'd happily pay that premium for it.

If you read David's eTap review I linked to above, you'll see that he rated SRAM's wireless system as even better than Dura-Ace Di2 (the previous version, admittedly), so the competition is tough.

The WE group is almost there, but I can't help thinking there is still work to do.

Verdict

Welcome addition to the market but not as smooth in operation as the likes of Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap

road.cc test report

Make and model: FSA K Force WE

Size tested: 53/39 crankset (weight is for 50/34)

Tell us what the product is for

FSA says, "FSA presents its first drivetrain: after years of study and development, K-Force WE is ready to ride. K-Force WE is a high-tech electronic groupset with an elegant design. A unique product that will make you change the way you ride your bike. Long battery life, different size levers and wireless technology at the shifters for smooth, quiet and precise shifting."

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

From FSA:

K-FORCE CRANKSET

* Hollow carbon arms with UD carbon finish

* Forged AL7050 BB386EVO spindle

* AL7075 100% CNC chainrings

* AL7075 Torx T-30 alloy chainring bolts

SIZES

* Length - 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm

* BCD - 110mm ABS

* 53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T

FINISH

* UD carbon finish

* Black and silver graphic

K-FORCE SHIFTERS

* Wireless technology to communicate with derailleurs

* Optimal ergonomics with levers in two sizes

* ANT and Bluetooth

* Adjustable reach

* UD carbon levers

* 2X front, 11-speed rear

* Compatibility: FSA K-Force WE

* Coin Cell Battery 2032

SIZES

* 2 lever sizes: regular and compact

FINISH

* UD carbon finish and plastic

* Black and silver graphic

FRONT DERAILLEUR

* K-Force WE 2 x 11-speed

* All stainless steel hardware

* ANT, ANT+ and Bluetooth

* Shifter Compatibility: K-Force WE

* Cassette Compatibility: K-Force WE

SIZES

* Maximum Tooth Differential: 16T

* Fits standard braze-on mounts

REAR DERAILLEUR

* K-Force WE 11-speed system

* Shifter Compatibility: K-Force WE

* Cassette Compatibility: K-Force WE

* Energy saving composite pulleys

SIZES

* Max Sprocket 32T

* Total Capacity: 37T

FINISH

* UD carbon finish

* Black and silver graphic

K-FORCE CASSETTE

* 11-speed cassette sprocket

* Titanium and Heat-Treated carbon steel cogs

* Large contact area saves alloy freehub bodies

* High performance and great durability

SIZES

* Combinations : 11-25, 11-28, 11-32

K-FORCE BRAKESET

* Newest and most advanced dual-pivot design

* Greatest power, modulation, and feedback for modern wide-rims

* Low-profile silhouette for superior aerodynamics

* Lightweight alloy components

* Sculpted box-section brake arms providing high stiffness with a positive feel

SIZES

* Integral QR adjuster

* Reach - 40-50mm

* Rim capacity - 18-28mm

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
6/10

A loose rear mech wire takes it down a peg or two.

Rate the product for performance:
 
7/10
Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
7/10
Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
8/10

The shifters are very comfortable thanks to their Campagnolo style shape.

Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

When working correctly the shifting is good, but the shift buttons can be vague and there are some issues to sort with the rear mech.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

Easy setup and smart looks.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Cable vibration at the rear mech.

Did you enjoy using the product? Not as refined as other electronic groupsets on the market.

Would you consider buying the product? No

Would you recommend the product to a friend? No

Use this box to explain your overall score

On price and weight this stands up well against the electronic groupsets from the main competitors, but it doesn't feel quite finished yet. It's a lot of money for a product that isn't near-perfect in operation.

Overall rating: 6/10

About the tester

Age: 39  Height: 180cm  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: This month's test bike  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed

Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.

14 comments

Avatar
StraelGuy [1357 posts] 3 weeks ago
3 likes

It's not what you'd call aesthetically pleasing is it  ?

Avatar
cyclesteffer [329 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

I wouldn't say they've built up a strong reputation.

Everyone I know with an FSA crankset reckons its made of cheese.

This product will die on its arse with a 3 out of 5 review.

Avatar
sammutd88 [82 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like
cyclesteffer wrote:

I wouldn't say they've built up a strong reputation.

Everyone I know with an FSA crankset reckons its made of cheese.

This product will die on its arse with a 3 out of 5 review.

Agreed. Apart from the overpriced K-Force Light range, FSA is synonymous with the “we need OEM parts to cheapen our bikes to meet a specific price point” mantra. No way I’d spend that kind of cash on a groupset with such proven competitors. 

Avatar
Joe Totale [40 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like

What's the USP of this product? 

You'd think that a company without a reputation for making groupsets would need to offer a groupset with a attractive USP so that anyone will buy it. Especially when there are several highly regarded alternatives at the same price from established companies. 

This probably isn't going to go well for FSA. 

Avatar
StoopidUserName [422 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

So it's ugly, doesn't work as well as it's proven competitors and is simiarly priced? Hmmmmm....shame. Drop the price a fair bit and they might get some traction, which'd be good for competition

Avatar
Pifko [118 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like

Am I right in saying that this groupset will not work without the FD being present then?

Avatar
2trax [13 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like
cyclesteffer wrote:

I wouldn't say they've built up a strong reputation.

Everyone I know with an FSA crankset reckons its made of cheese.

This product will die on its arse with a 3 out of 5 review.

 

Unless you start to see it as OEM on loads of bikes, to tick the electronic shifting box at a certain price point. I'm sure the major manufacturers will get a waay better deal on it.   

Avatar
SK [2 posts] 3 weeks ago
3 likes

Verdict should read: "Welcome addition to the market but not as smooth in operation as the likes of Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap or Campagnolo EPS".

I find it strange EPS is often ignored. I had a chance of riding Record EPS for more than 3 months in the US and now discontinued Athena EPS for 2 months in Europe and both groups performed flawlessly. So why ignore EPS? It's tried and tested stuff after all (although VERY expensive, I admit).

Avatar
macrophotofly [308 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Wow, the write-up feels like the three stars are generous. If I had paid anywhere near £2.5k for a groupset with the problems you experienced I would have been been livid. Having to do system re-starts on a ride just to change to the right gear sounds horrific. I'm guessing some of the design choices were to get round patents, but even still the design for securing the RD wire (and having to take it out for recharging) and the rocker switch on the shifters, in particular, are dreadful.

This sounds like one to avoid until a massive redesign happens.

Avatar
matthewn5 [1171 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

That crankset has a look of 'cheap mountain bike 1995'. Only a mother could love it.

Avatar
Miller [112 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
SK wrote:

Verdict should read: "Welcome addition to the market but not as smooth in operation as the likes of Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap or Campagnolo EPS".

I find it strange EPS is often ignored. I had a chance of riding Record EPS for more than 3 months in the US and now discontinued Athena EPS for 2 months in Europe and both groups performed flawlessly. So why ignore EPS? It's tried and tested stuff after all (although VERY expensive, I admit).

How very true and it annoys me too. Road.cc is as guilty of this lapse as any other outlet. EPS is wonderful, it really just works, and if you look around for deals or buy s/h it's not even that expensive. 

I find it depressing that road componentry is such a shimano monoculture nowadays, it's making for very boring bikes with generic frames and 105/ultegra/blah controls. Let's have some diversity!

 

Avatar
fukawitribe [2310 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
Miller wrote:
SK wrote:

Verdict should read: "Welcome addition to the market but not as smooth in operation as the likes of Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap or Campagnolo EPS".

I find it strange EPS is often ignored. I had a chance of riding Record EPS for more than 3 months in the US and now discontinued Athena EPS for 2 months in Europe and both groups performed flawlessly. So why ignore EPS? It's tried and tested stuff after all (although VERY expensive, I admit).

How very true and it annoys me too. Road.cc is as guilty of this lapse as any other outlet. EPS is wonderful, it really just works, and if you look around for deals or buy s/h it's not even that expensive. 

If only - it's absolutely gorgeous, i'd love it, and i've yet to see EPS at anything less than than really rather expensive (e.g. last time I looked, Chorus EPS was in the order of 50% more than Ultegra Di2)

Avatar
srchar [799 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Merlin had Chorus EPS gearsets for £750 not long ago...

Avatar
fukawitribe [2310 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

For a full groupset ? Blimey, never seen anywhere even remotely near £ 1000 let alone that low.. edit : sorry just reread your post, what's in a 'gear set' ?