A few months ago I introduced you to the Red Metal 29 XL, the top-of-the-line 29er wheels offered by the Italian company Fulcrum. The wheels have been through plenty of local rides, a cyclocross race, all three rounds of the Snake Creek Gap Time Trials, a six hour race, and have been used on both a hardtail and rigid bike. All in all I’ve racked up a few hundred miles on them, so it’s time for the final review!
Installation and Set Up
The Red Metal 29 XL is a UST wheelset, meaning the rims are designed to work best with UST tires. I didn’t have any UST tires, and didn’t feel like spending $100+ for a set when I had a bunch of other tires hanging up in the garage. Plus, UST tires are heavier than comparable tires, and I planned on using sealant anyway for punture protection. So, I used a set of Specialized 2Bliss ready tires instead and they mounted up very easily with a floor pump. As the miles piled on I noticed this wheel and tire combo held air better than any I had used previously, and I think it’s due in large part to the rims which are totally sealed with no holes drilled for spoke nipples. I only needed to top them off once a week or so, not every ride. NICE.
The front hub changes axle standards simply by swapping end caps. No tools are needed, and it takes just a few seconds. Pictured are the 15mm thru-axle end caps.
The first thing I noticed riding these wheels: the freehub was silent. Not quiet–my American Classic hubs are quiet. No no, these were silent, no noise at all. The next thing I noticed was the weight, or, the lack of it. The Fulcrums are over half a pound lighter than the WTB LaserDisc Trail wheels I was reviewing previously, and accelerating or climbing felt like cheating.
The graphics on the Red Metal 29 XL’s aren’t too over to the top, especially once you get some dirt on them.
The Red Metal 29 XLs are a stiff set of wheels, in a good way. Thanks to a combination of the rim design, spoke pattern, and the oversized aluminum spokes, the wheels go exactly where you point them. I couldn’t feel any flex at all, and I’m not a super lightweight guy (though I’m not that heavy either).
Fulcrum has set the rider weight limit for these wheels at 240lbs, and they have warnings that anyone 180lbs or heavier should have the wheels inspected more frequently. In my birthday suit I weight right at 180lbs, so I was a little worried about how the wheels would fare hauling me about. After everything I put them through I’m happy to say the wheels still ride like new. Spoke tension is even all around, they’re perfectly true, no dings in the rims despite several rim hits, and the bearings are still butter smooth. The freehub did develope a little bit of noise as it got broken in, but it’s still very, very quiet. I have done exactly zero maintenance, other than gently hosing the wheels off after really muddy races. I pulled the cassette recently to see how the extensively machined freehub body looked, and it’s as good as new. No gouging at all.
I rode the hubs under water several times, and yet after several hundred miles they still spin super smooth. Photo: Featherbrush Photography
Other Bits and Pieces
I converted the front hub axle when I put the wheels on the Slingshot to race the Snake, and it was very easy. No tools are needed–just pull the end caps off, push the other ones on, and you’re done. Takes less than a minute. When I flatted at the Snake I was able to get the tire off and back on without needing tire levers. Tire levers are a pain to deal with at home in your garage, and even more so when you’re sitting on top of a pile of rocks in the cold rain on top of a mountain. I was glad I didn’t need them. I was also impressed with the valves that came with the wheels. They’re very high quality with nice machining and removeable cores so you can easily inject fresh sealant.
Here you can see the high quality valves and machining between the spokes to save weight.
When I review gear I try to be subjective and point out the strengths and the weaknesses of the items. I don’t just leave out the bad, because it’s not fair to you if a review influences your decision to drop your hard earned cash on something. With most stuff out there it’s pretty easy to find at least a few areas that could use improvement. But honestly, with these wheels there’s not much to complain about. The one suggestion I have: it would be sweet if Fulcrum included a few extra spokes with the wheels, one of each length used. I didn’t break any, but if I had it would take a little while to get a replacement since they’re proprietary to these wheels and the local bike shop isn’t likely to have extras laying around. That’s really my only nit pick.
Light and stiff wheels make steep inclines a little easier to scale. Photo: BrianW
The Fulcrum Red Metal 29 XL wheels are fairly light, look good, set up well with tubeless-ready tires (even though they’re designed for UST tires, which will also work well), are stiff, and durable. I wanted to complain about the price, but they’re in line with other high-end wheels. In fact, they’re about the same weight as the DT Swiss XM 1550 Tricon 29 wheels yet cost approximately $650 less, and about $100 less than the WTB Stryker 29 wheels (the WTB’s are about 100g lighter however). These wheels aren’t cheap, but they’re a premium wheelset with lots of engineering behind them, they’re built by hand (that’s a big deal!), and they come with lots of extras parts (all detailed in the On-Test article). You can of course put together lighter wheels for less money yourself, but if you’re looking for a high-end, no-assembly-required stock wheelset with some Italian flair, the Red Metal 29 XLs are worth a look.
Special thanks to Fulcrum for providing the Red Metal 29 XL wheels for review. See Fulcrum’s complete product line up on their website right here.