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The Sea Otter Classic is a mecca for everything mountain bike, but there is a lot of drop bar tech hiding amongst all the wide bars. So when I found the new 12-speed FSA K-Force WE groupset, I had to give it a quick inspection and tabletop shift test. The first impression is that it looks exactly the same as the 11-speed version but with an extra cog on the cassette. This road-focused drivetrain, in reality, is very much the same externally, but FSA assured me that internally they had made some big changes.
The system is still semi-wireless, but one of the big changes is the shifters now wirelessly communicate with the front or rear derailleur directly rather than everything through the front mech first. The system is still all synced and automatically trims the front mech depending on the rear position. FSA said that this direct link from the shifter to the rear derailleur has increased speed as well as reliability.
Inside the shifter, they have also changed the brake piston. It now has less metal to lower weight, and they said improves the overall feel too. Yes, the new 12-speed is disc brake only. The brake lever blade looks the same, but the new construction and carbon layup offers better performance.
While they had a few bikes on display with the FSA K-Force WE drivetrain, the only demo they had that I could feel and shift was a tabletop system. There was no cassette, but the electronic shifters and derailleurs worked. The rocker-style buttons have a natural feel and offer a bit of tactile response.
Both front and rear derailleurs are wired to an internal battery with a claimed 4000km of normal riding before the battery needs to be charged. Each shift on the lever seemed to work perfectly, but with no chain or load, it is hard to tell how it will work in a real riding situation.
Visually the front mech, in my opinion, is still far too big and bulky. It houses two buttons and two small top-mounted LEDs that help you set up, program, and activate the system. The rear mech is pretty slick, and while it doesn’t offer any added cage retention, the spring seems fairly strong. This, however, is a road-specific offering and can only accommodate up to a 32-tooth big cog on the cassette.
Overall it sounds like FSA doesn’t have any OEM partners yet, but they are hoping that with the improvements and updates, we might see it on 2025 model bikes. That means at least a year before bikes might come stock with the option. In reality, it is going to come down to its real-world performance and user experience. FSA K-Force WE is competing against some very refined and time-proven competitors, so it will be interesting to see what brands pick it up for OEM.