25 January 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Fulcrum Red Metal Zero wheelset

Would it be right to recommend a wheelset on the sound of its freehub alone? If it were, I would reartily recommend Fulcrum's Red Metal Zero as the finest mountain wheelset I've tried. As befitting a $1,300 wheelset of any type, the freehub's sound is pitch perfect. Quiet enough to ignore but nuanced enough to bear examination, the Red Metal Zeroes' purr asserts the mechanism's quality without feeling lesser components' compensatory need to draw attention to themselves. This should be no surprise- Fulcrum is Campagnolo's "non-Campagnolo" wheel and component brand., and Campy know sexy wheels. Not flying the Campy flag not only allows the company to produce Shimano and SRAM-compatible wheels and cranks, but also to explore the off-road market it retreated from 15 years ago.

Of course, there's more to a wheelset than the song it sings while coasting. There are also the (arguably more important) considerations of function, weight, durability and price. After a good talk with the company at Interbike and feeling a bit flush last fall, I decided to replace my bikefix Pick Mavic Crossmax ST wheelset with Fulcrum's range topping Red Metal Zeroes (which I found on sale), in their 15QR, Centerlock (or AFS in Fulcrum-speak) iteration. I have to admit that it wasn't necessarily a rational purchase- the 1600g advertised weight was on the high side for a top end XC racing wheelset and the retail price is borderline absurd for anything that's going to be ridden in the dirt. Of course, it's widely understood that the decision to purchase Italian machinery in any form is largely an emotional one- a fact that I can now personally attest to.

In some ways, the 1600g weight was a form of justification. Any XC wheelset could be made lighter, especially by a company as experienced as Fulcrum, but the decision (and I reasoned that it had to be a conscious decision) to make a slightly heavy wheelset was obviously made in the name of durability- in order to keep their wheels rolling for that much longer. Following this logic, the Fulcrums could almost be considered an investment. Of course, I really just fell in love with something about the Fulcrums- any justification came after the decision had been made.

On their arrival, the Red Metal Zeroes were much as I expected. The machining of the rims, somewhat angular and severe, removes a good deal of unneeded material between the nipples. As is my preference, the Fulcrums have an uninterrupted outer wall, making for a true tubeless-compatible rim. In order to build a rim without perforations in the outer wall, Fulcrum insert nipples through the valve hole and lead them to their holes using magnets. Magnets. Cool, right? It's not an obvious solution, but it keeps the holes in the rims simple (unthreaded) and is pretty slick (and elegantly skirts competitors' patents). The spokes are handsome bladed aluminum- though the provided spoke magnet didn't fit. The 2:1 spoke lacing (twice as many spokes on the dished side of each wheel as no the non-dished side) looks cool and should help balance spoke tensions. In this version, Centerlock rotors (I mounted a pair of Shimano XTR's) are held in place by external lock rings, which use the now-standard Hollowtech II bottom bracket spline. Only one of the two provided really fit my Shimano tool, but I was able to get both on without too much bleeding or cursing. Tubeless and TNT tires both mount up easily, and I've been using ammonia-free Effetto Mariposa Caffelatex to minimize the chance of damaging my investment.

With Centaur, Icarus, and Record-OR, Campagnolo established a reputation for beautiful, pricey and somewhat heavy mountain bike components. In a new century, it seems as though Fulcrum are keeping that tradition alive. When I pulled the Red Metal Zeroes out of the box, I threw them on the scales of injustice for a reality check. The results were a bit alarming, to say the least. Finding that, at 770g and 935g (less a few grams for the valve stems I didn't remove), the Red Metal Zeroes (without skewers) came in 100g heavier than advertised, I felt a bit nauseous and betrayed. I've double-checked everything, but the weights stand. The rear wheel alone is 60g heavier than Shimano's XTR, each with the provided Centerlock lockrings and valve stems installed. That's heavy for a wheelset targeted at cross-country racers- especially a pair that cost 30% more than their clearest competition.

So far, the Red Metal Zeroes' performance has been good- though I haven't been particularly hard on them yet. As the 15QR front hub had to wait for my 2010 Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti suspension fork, I have about one month more on the rear wheel than the front. While I'm a smaller rider (145lb), overall wheel stiffness seems on par with the Crossmax ST's and a smidge better than Shimano's XTR wheelset. Of course, given the weight difference, they should be.

Before touching dirt, the Red Metal Zeroes have two major strikes against them, which make any other aspects pretty hard to discuss. Their performance just can't be separated from their weight or price. If they were within a few grams of their advertised weight, riders looking for a durable XC wheelset might be convinced that they were worth the money. Coming in at $500 more than and 15g heavier than the actual weight of Easton's wide-rimmed Haven trail wheelset (1686g) and about 65g heavier than Crossmax ST's, very few will even consider the Fulcrums. As they're really too heavy to be race wheels, I'll be using mine as trail wheels, hoping that they hold up, and trying to focus on their beautiful sound...




kippsters said...

Hmmmm, almost as heavy as a 29er wheelset.....

bikefix said...

Almost? 3 y/0 29er wheelset weighs ~1625g...


Marek said...

Regarding weight Red Metal 1 XL (2010 model) with Alu spokes came in at 1620g (30g below spec). Older years were generally 50g heavier.

bikefix said...


That's good to know- as much as I'm disappointed by the RM0's weight, I do like the design and the hubs seem very nice. The RM1 XL are certainly on my list.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc and thank you for the splendid review,
I really like your review. These wheels seem fantastic and fulcrum is getting good reviews from different sources. Just a little bonkers about the weight though. In a comment to the review at Bikeradar.com of the RM Zero (2008) are supposed to weight 1665g.
Since I’m tired of punctures I’ve decided to go UST tubeless instead, .so I’m in the market for a new set of wheels, replacing my Hope “Hoops” (DT swiss 5.1 laced on Hope pro 2 hubs).
Since I weight between 190 and 200 lbs, I’m thinking of getting the Red Metal 1 XL instead, because they should be little bit sturdier, having thicker spokes (2.8 mm). I also have a Rock Shox Revelation Dual air Team fork with 20 mm Maxlite axle and the RM1 XL are the only weels in Fulcrums xc-trail wheel range that is possible to get as a 20 mm specific.
RM 1 XL are 50 grams heavier than the red metal Zero, but I think it might be worth it?
The wheels are going to sit on my 5.5 inch Orange Five trail bike and I don’t intend to do any bigger drops on the new wheels (I’m going to use my current Hope Hoops, paired with Minion tiers, for rougher riding (like I going to bike parks ).
My choice is between the Red Metal 1 XL and Mavic Crossmax ST wheel sets (the price is about the same for both here in Europe). Mavics are lighter but unfortunately I’ve red many bad things about the high level of maintenance and frequent change of the freewheel body and bearings on Mavic. Is that True? Is the weight saving worth the extra TLC (and maintenance cost)? Which one should I choose?
I’m kindly awaiting your opinions. All help in deciding is very much appreciated.

Jan (Sweden)

bikefix said...

Thanks! I have to say, the more I ride the RM0's, the more I like them. They are too heavy, but I'm more or less over it. I think that you'll do well with either the Crossmax ST or the RM1XL's. Mavic's hubs are dramatically better than they were a few years ago and parts are readily available around here. The Fulcrums might be a bit heavier and have longer service intervals. They might. Running a 20mm thru axle will limit you a bit- I'm not sure if the Fulcrum can be converted to 15mm, which I personally think is the future for trail bikes- if it can, and for the same money as Mavics, I'd suggest going for it. You won't notice the 50g- I have a feeling it's in the hubs anyhow. Let us know how it goes!