Do Fulcrum’s new super-wheels challenge the domination of the Mavic Crossmax? They’re well-made and lighter, but spendier too.
Rolling out on the Fulcrum Red Metal Zeros, you’re aware of the structural solidity of the wheels. Not only are they stiff, but they also have an impressive ability to shrug off bumps and knocks.
With lightweight tyres they sing along the trail. Although they’re nearly 200g heavier than the lightest mountain bike wheels around (28-hole Tune King/Kong hubs and Stan’s Olympic ZTR rims), that extra weight is the equivalent of seatbelts and full airbags in a car – your peace of mind in the event of a mishap.
So, do the Fulcrum Red Metal Zeros beat their obvious opposition, the Mavic Crossmaxes in any respect? Well, they’re a whisker lighter at 1486g next to the Mavic’s 1525g, but they don’t appear to be better built. At £680 for a set, they’re £100 more expensive than the SLRs, too – yet we reckon the decals make the Fulcrums look cheaper.
Despite that, this is are great race-bred wheels which offer a genuine alternative to Crossmaxes for buyers looking for the best cross-country hoops. Providing Fulcrum can distribute them widely enough and ensure they are specified as original equipment on enough new bikes, then the Red Metal Zero might just be a pretender to the Crossmax’s throne.
The details: chasing the mighty Mavic
Fulcrum engineers have been working hard to make a wheelset with the credentials to win world championships and Olympic gold medals. We first heard about Fulcrum’s new mountain bike wheels back in mid-2006 – the development wheels (anodised red rather than black) appeared at a few races throughout 2007. Various cross-country racers have been using them, most notably world and Olympic cross-country champion Julien Absalon, who has fitted them to his Orbea Alma carbon hardtail.
Like Mavic’s Crossmax, the new Fulcrum wheel has 24 aero pro?le aluminium spokes. Fulcrum builds the rear wheel using a 2:1 spoke ratio with 16 driveside spokes laced three cross, and eight non-driveside spokes laced two cross. The front has the 16 on the disc side and eight on the non-disc side (crossing as per the rear wheel).
Fulcrum says this offers the best compromise between stiffness and low weight, making a wheel that is flighty enough to satisfy the desires of the top cross-country racers, yet durable enough to be used day in, day out by regular (albeit well heeled) mountain bikers. Of course, Fulcrum could have gone lighter, and rumours abound that Monsieur Absalon has top-secret versions that weigh a bit less than the standard off-the-peg jobs.
The Fulcrum’s 23.5mm wide rims (Mavic Crossmax SLR’s are 21mm) are works of art. They have fully sealed spoke beds that enable you to run UST tubeless tyres by using the supplied valve stems, or you can opt for standard tyres and tubes. We tried the Red Metal Zero with both, but ended up on the lightest possible reliable combination: regular tyres, no tubes but with a dose of Joe’s No Flats sealant to make them air-tight.
Between the spoke holes, Fulcrum uses a triple milling process to machine away the aluminium, paring the weight and adding to the overall aesthetic. On the subject of style, we’re not madly keen on the big red and silver stickers that adorn the rims – they look a bit cheap to us. (Not that the Mavic decals are all that, but at least they’re simply white on black.)
The hubs are made by Fulcrum and are machined from alloy billet, with some of the most intricate CNC work we’ve seen since the Hope Pro 3 hubs appeared a year ago. Like the Mavic Crossmax hubs (and the Hopes), the Fulcrums use a straight pull spoke, so the hubs technically have slotted sockets rather than traditional holes. The 20mm axles will keep you rolling smoothly up World Cup climbs or simply over the top of the moors.
The wheels use sealed cartridge bearings which roll well, are adjustable and cheap and easy to replace. Sealing is good, and should see you through several of even the wettest British winters before you ever need to delve inside.
Overall build quality is superb, and the aerodynamic flat-profiled Zircal alloy spokes remain tight – and, if they’re anything like their Mavic counterparts in terms of durability, you’ll be unlikely to need a spoke key.