Tour de France tech: A closer look at FSA’s prototype electronic groupset
GAP, France (CT) – The cycling tech world has been abuzz since the second rest day of the Tour de France with the news that FSA has a few prototype versions of its long-awaited electronic groupset on team bikes at the Tour.
FSA is predominately know for its bars, stems, seatposts and chainsets. The company has also had a time-trial-specific mechanical groupset out in the past under the Vision brand: the Metron. Several years ago French squad Cofidis was seen using it on their then Look time trial bikes.
The emergence of the FSA electronic groupset has been expected this season since Etixx-Quick-Step stopped their sponsorship with SRAM and made an announcement that they would be working with FSA.
At the start of stage 18 of the Tour we managed to get a close look at the new setup on one of Bora-Argon 18’s spare bikes. Mechanics Risto Usin and Gerd Kodanik were extremely tight-lipped about the whole groupset and whether it was fully wireless, semi-wireless or otherwise. The only thing they did say was that the initial set up is a little tricky but after doing it once it would be no more difficult than setting up a standard Shimano Di2 groupset which the team currently uses.
The levers feel comfortable even though they are currently made of a single high-density plastic body with no rubber hoods. Our guess is FSA won’t want to produce a multitude of rubber hood moulds until the design shape is finalised.
The shape and feel is very reminiscent of the older Dura-Ace 10-speed 7900 STI hoods. The holes for the bolts that attach the levers to the bars are simply drilled in to the plastic; the same goes for the cable routing for the brakes.
The gear-shifting mechanism itself seems to be a simple rocker switch with a textured blade in a similar position to a standard mechanical lever. It pivots in the middle so that a press of the upper part of the blade moves the derailleur up the gears on to a lower gear, and a push of the lower part of the lever drops the gears down the cassette.
The shifters felt simple and very initiative to use. The blade attached to the brake lever has a small cable that runs up the brake blade into the hood body. Our guess is this is where the transmitter is placed. The rear of the textured blades push on two little buttons that activate the shifting. It’s the same with the left lever and the front derailleur.
The upper part of the front derailleur is quite bulky, roughly the same size as a Di2 version. The interesting thing here is that it has a cable running out of it into the frame via the bottom bracket shell. This will no doubt go to the battery and possibly the rear derailleur.
The mechanics at Bora wouldn’t say that the battery was in the seatpost but there didn’t seem to be anywhere else on the bike for it. The front mech could also be the junction box as there didn’t seem to be one elsewhere on the frame.
Before the mechanics let us have a play with the groupset, we noticed that they pressed a button on the back side of the front derailleur to turn it on. There are three buttons by the looks of things here. Four orange lights and a red one lit up once the mechanic pressed and held the power button.
The arm of the front derailleur is clearly not fully refined yet as it is quite thick metal. The shifting on the front chainrings was as smooth and quick as any electronic groupset we have used though. The thick metal may add to this stiff, positive shift too.
The rear derailleur looks the least refined item in the groupset but it is quite compact compared to other brands though. The rear shifting is not as refined as the front yet — it seems a little slower than Campagnolo’s EPS or Shimano’s Di2 shifting. We were reassured by the Bora-Argon 18 mechanics that FSA is aware of this and they are working on it.
The shifting did seem accurate though and we noted no missed gears. A single push of the lever buttons changes one gear but if you hold the lever down you can run through multiple gears at a time.
There is a cable that enters tbehe rear of the rear derailleur. This could mean it is either connected to a power source or to the front derailleur, or both.
In total it looks a product that is clearly a lot further along in development that many expected. But unlike the SRAM wireless groupset which looks close to being a finished product (all bar one rider on the Ag2r La-Mondiale team is using it at the Tour), the FSA groupset still looks a little way off being a finished product.
The materials are still unfinished and raw and there is no carbon fibre in sight, just alloy and high-density plastic.
The next place we expect to see the FSA groupset will be at the annual international cycle trade festival Eurobike in Germany at the end of August. We hope to be able to bring you more information about the groupset then.