First Impressions: Full Speed Ahead Afterburner Disc Brakes

Full Speed Ahead (FSA) might not be the first name that pops into your head when you think of hydraulic brakes, but the Washington-based company aims to change that with the introduction of their new Afterburner and K-Force disc brakesets. Knowing how stiff the competition is in the brake market, FSA didn’t just slap their name on an existing brake plucked from a catalog. Both models feature one-piece forged calipers, tool-free reach and pad-contact adjusters, front- and rear-specific hoses, and utilize mineral oil instead of DOT brake fluid.

The Afterburner and K-Force share the same internals, but differ in materials used for the caliper, lever, and hardware.To keep the price down, the $289 MSRP Afterburner is spec’d with forged alloy levers and aluminum calipers (the $369 K-Force gets carbon levers, magnesium calipers, and stainless steel mounting hardware). We tested prototype and production versions of the Afterburner brakeset with FSA’s optional lightweight (160mm) rotors. Weight for one lever, hose, caliper, and rotor was 340g.

Installation of the Afterburner brakes was simple and straightforward. FSA supplied the brakes with hoses pre-trimmed to our specs, so bleeding wasn’t necessary (we’ll save that for a future update). The slender levers paired nicely with microSHIFT and SRAM trigger shifters. Adjusting the angle of the brake hoses via the banjo fittings required only an 8mm socket, and didn’t result in the loss of any brake fluid. Centering the calipers took only minimal effort, and neither rotor required truing. Note that rotors and adapters are not included with Full Speed Ahead’s disc brakes. By offering those items à la carte, riders can select the exact bits-and-pieces needed for their setups.

When you grab the Afterburner levers for the first time, you immediately notice how quickly the brakes react. There is no perceivable lag between pulling the lever and when the pistons begin to move. Thanks to the front- and rear-specific brake lines, both levers feel evenly matched when it comes to stiffness (the longer rear-hose is optimized to help reduce expansion). The levers’ tool-free reach adjusters offer an impressive range of adjustment that should suit riders of all sizes. And once you’ve dialed-in the levers’ reach, you can easily fine-tune the pad contact/engagement via the indexed adjuster (located on the perch, near the main pivot).

On the trail, the Afterburners have a very linear feel. Braking power is good, and it’s easy to modulate the brakes. Unlike some brakes that have a noticeable spike in power–which often translates to an on/off feel–the Afterburners offer superior control and predictability. We found that unwanted wheel lock-ups were all but eliminated, especially in tight, technical terrain. While we haven’t yet tested the brakes on extremely long descents, we can report that there have not been any issues with overheating or pad glazing. As an aside, the stock semi-metallic pads have been blissfully quiet during our review period.

Can the company known for its cockpit components and cranksets compete in the MTB brake market? We’d have to say yes. FSA has succeeded in bringing to market a brake that delivers features and functionality that are easily on a par with the more-established brands’ offerings.

Disclosure: Full Speed Ahead provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.