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FSA SLK Brakes

Review: FSA SLK Brakes

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We Liked

So last January I was riding down a short steep muddy downhill, when I awkwardly caught my front wheel on the edge of a collapsed molehill, flipping me over my handlebars, resulting in two cracked ribs. Damn you moles! Since then I have kind of lost my mojo on off-road & off-camber downhills. Having the driest spring and summer in recent Portland history, did not exactly help my mojo with the lack of opportunity to ride murky muddy and ridden off-road downhills. All of that changed with one of the brightest nighttime all natural light shows I have ever witnessed in Portland. Three days before the light streaking thunderstorm extravaganza and concurrent heavy downpour, I spent about an hour installing FSA SL-K Cantilever on my cross rig, so I was ready to play in the mud! (Admission: I did not know about weather forecast, but I do not think the weather forecasters knew either…) Since then I have been trying to get my mojo back this fall happily testing the FSA SL-K brakes.

For point of reference Full Speed Ahead SL-K cantilever brakes are FSA mid-level brakeset, FSA sent us a pair of black pivot arms with white & red graphics. This year FSA SL-K cantilever have only two sets of graphics, one black pivot arms with white graphics and the white & red graphics. The four 40 mm pivot arms, 4-stainless steel bolts, hangers, 4 -pads and 2 straddle cables, come in a very respectable 272 grams. Solely weight comparison TRP Euro X Mags weigh in at about 215 grams for the same hardware, on the other end of the spectrum the Tektro CR720 weigh in at 333 grams. This brakeset was a very a popular site on 2011 Cannondale Super X SRAM Rival builds and well as Kona Major Jakes.

What We Liked: Installation: Installation was pretty easy- straightforward it took about an hour to set them up, I used a full assortment of hex key wrenches and some nice relaxing tunes to complete the installation. I did scratch my head a little bit when I saw how thin the straddle cable was, it is the same gauge wire as a shifter cable! Then I surprised how easily it kinked when threading it through the yoke, but it works just fine. Easily the most difficult part of the installation was installing the single hex bolt and conical washer arrangement brake pads. Eventually I choose to remove the tension springs, which made getting the brake pad placement simple. Still the pad installation is not as tricky and cumbersome as installing TRP Euro X’s.

Performance Intangibles: Testing these brakes I realized that the FSA SL-K cantilever brakes offered a few conveniences I really had not thought too much about until writing my review. First, during the fall/winter I tend to ride my cross bike for most of my training, so I tend to swap out wheel sets between cross wheels and road wheels very frequently. With integrated barrel adjuster the SL-K’s only take a few moments switch out wheel sets. Previously I had used Avid Shorty 6’s and it was really difficult to quickly make a wheel set change, especially when it is something like 38 degrees and raining. Two other things I noticed and really do not miss about my old brakes, I use to occasionally pinch my fingertips when re-anchoring the straddle cable to the pivot arm after a wheel change. Finally I use to occasionally catch my right calf on the end of the right of the straddle cable or pivot arm on my other brakes, while dismounting the FSA SL-K’s pivot arms are short enough this does not happen, but long enough for powerful braking!

Brakes Performance: I have to say I have been really happy with the performance of FSA SL-K’s, thus far I have raced four very muddy cross races at Blind Date and Cross Crusade, and I have tried them out on the fire roads in Forest Park, as well as a tricky switch back road on cross wheels with low PSI. Based on my experience so far, I can say that FSA SL-K’s cantilevers have very good modulation and ample power to stop a nearly 200 lbs. rider. Also mud clearance will never be a problem; I’ve seen the worst case scenario, the SL-K’s design works just fine! Well maybe a course of pure peanut butter might be a problem; in that case these brakes will do better than most.

Essentially good or great brakes must allow the rider to stay in-control while significantly slowing or stopping. To prove this I would like to compare the FSA SL-K braking power with that of the Tektro CR720 brakeset, I used last year on one of the key braking zones at the Blind Date Race at Alpenrose. This key braking zone is a 175 to 200 ft. long, 7% grade, teeth rattling high speed downhill that leads into the dismount to the main run-up. Last year each time I approached that run up using Tektro CR720, the Tektro CR720 did not have enough stopping power, the end result is each time I approached the run up, I always felt like I was going fly through the course tape before slowing enough to safely dismount. It typically took me 35 to 42 feet to slow down significantly and dismount on that downhill. This year with the FSA SL-K’s, I can comfortably brake a little later and hit just the right spot to dismount, time after time. With the FSA SL-K I was braking and dismounting for the run up within 27 to 32 feet!

We Didn't Like

I think FSA has the right product for the middle of their line, any changes that could be made would put too close to the top line.

The Final Say

These brakes may not be the first choice of sponsored pro, but for a mid-pack rider on a budget these would make welcome upgrade from no name entry level brakes. The brakes look great, have good modulation, enough power to stop 200 lbs, rolling down bumpy steep downhill and great mud clearance. Then again as we can see 2013 is the year of the disc brakes, with bike manufactures pushing disc brakes one has to wonder if mid level cantilevers will always be available or will they go away the way of the Dodo birds…

Oh if someone sees my mojo could they return it, I like my FSA SL-K brakes well enough, but I am still braking too early, slowing too much, too often!

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