Italian components manufacturer FSA has announced a new 12-speed update to its semi-wireless K-Force WE road groupset. While one could be forgiven for thinking that the WE groupset, first launched four years ago, had all but died away, FSA has seemingly been busy updating the hydraulic disc brake road groupset over the past two years.
The groupset first received an update two years ago with a shift to hydraulic disc brakes and a claimed improvement in reliability. Today FSA has unveiled a further upgrade, adding an extra sprocket, introducing a new cassette option, and further refining the communication protocols for improved reliability.
As with its predecessor, the new groupset is semi-wireless, with the two shifters communicating wirelessly and the two derailleurs wired directly to the rechargeable internal battery. Previously, the two shifters communicated with the front derailleur, which in turn sent rear derailleur shift commands through the battery to the rear derailleur. FSA has updated the communication protocol in the new groupset so that both shift levers can communicate directly with both derailleurs, to improve response time and reliability.
Furthermore, FSA has retained the ‘shift levers to front derailleur and wired signal to the rear derailleur’ setup as a failsafe, should the new wireless signal encounter an issue on the road.
In addition to the ANT+ signal used in the previous generation K-Force WE, FSA has added Bluetooth 4.0 in the new 12-speed shifters and derailleurs to further improve reliability and reduce signal interference. The shifters are powered by a single CR2032 coin cell battery on each side.
The new 12-speed rear derailleur is now capable of understanding and remembering its exact position on the cassette, thanks to additional sensors included within the derailleur body.
With the 11-speed WE groupset the rear derailleur could only calculate its position in the top and bottom sprockets, but with the additional sensors in the new derailleur, the 12-speed system is capable of calculating and remembering its position in every sprocket. This upgrade is somewhat of a backup for the backup to the backup, ensuring the rear derailleur understands where it is in relation to the cassette should the system somehow still suffer a signal dropout, avoiding the need for a full reset.
While FSA has rightly honed in on reliability improvements with the new K-Force WE groupset, it has kept visible updates to a minimum. The addition of an extra sprocket is, unsurprisingly, the most notable update to the 12-speed groupset. FSA has developed a new chain, cassette, and chainrings to accommodate the inclusion of the extra sprocket. While FSA had already moved to 12-speed with its mountain bike components, it has developed an entirely new and lighter chain for 12-speed road.
In addition to that new chain, FSA has three new 12-speed cassette options in the form of an 11-25, 11-28, and 11-32 12-speed block. The final production version will feature a cast and heat-treated one-piece cassette with Ti sprockets and a carbon cage. Like for like, the new cassettes are 13% lighter than the comparable 11-speed variant, and the new 11-32 block weighs in at 195 grams.
Up front FSA will offer 54/40T, 50/34T, 46/30T direct mount chainring combinations mounted to the K-Force Team Edition crankset with a BB386Evo spindle. Thanks to hollow 3K carbon fibre crank arms and the AL7075 100% CNC chainrings, the crankset weighs in at just 544 grams with a 54/40 chainring combination.
FSA’s claimed weight for a complete groupset is 2,390 g, putting it roughly in the range of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2, depending on exact spec.
The new groupset looks almost identical to the current 11-speed offering, with FSA retaining almost identical aesthetics and touch points throughout the new groupset. The lever shape, hoods, and shifter rocker switches remain unchanged, in fact, the removal of the silver stripe from the brake lever is the only change to the sifter aesthetics.
It’s “as you were” for the derailleurs also, with the brake callipers the only component treated to a design update for improved aerodynamics and integration with modern frames.
One could be forgiven for thinking the 11-speed K-Force WE groupset was some sort of mirage in a component availability desert. In the four years since its inception, I have never actually seen a groupset in the wild. So naturally, one of my first questions for FSA was about availability. While the Italian brand couldn’t provide a concrete date, they were confident the new groupset would be available from spring 2023. Unfortunately, FSA was similarly unspecific regarding pricing, suggesting only that it would be “in line with Shimano Ultegra Di2”.
Furthermore, FSA suggests it will continue to offer the 11-speed K-Force WE groupsets and components until at least the end of 2023.
FSA’s move to include a 12th sprocket is hardly surprising and with the three big manufacturers now moving to 12-speed throughout their performance road range, it was a necessity once FSA had decided to update its groupset offering. The brand’s focus on reliability and communications, rather than a complete design overhaul, also suggests it had its focus in the right area.
FSA told us it does not intend to compete with the big groupset manufacturers, instead focusing on providing “another option” for consumers and a complete package for its OEM partners. It’s this OEM partnership focus that is perhaps most interesting and maybe even the best chance of actually spotting the younger 12-speed WE sibling in the wild.
FSA was always likely to face an uphill battle to break into the groupset market, and its first 11-speed iteration with limited availability and some performance issues did little to inspire the market. But a 12-speed, semi-wireless, and reliable groupset at Ultegra Di2 weight and pricing points could prove attractive to FSA’s already huge list of OEM partners. Especially if said groupset is supplied by the same partner already providing bars, stems, seatposts, wheels, headsets, and more.
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