When I think about Italian-made cycling products, I almost always think about road racing gear. Swinging by the Fulcrum booth at Interbike this year changed my perspective. After looking over the lineup of wheels they are sporting for mountain as well as road, I knew that I had to set up a few reviews!
I manged to get my hands on Fulcrum’s top-shelf DH wheelset: the sexy Red Fire.
With their machined rims and straight-pull spokes, an untrained eye may mistake the Red Fires for a red set of another familiar brand that paints their DH wheels yellow.
Fulcrum’s Red Fire wheels don’t just hide behind fancy red anodizing, though – these wheels are something that any serious rider should take a good look at. Starting at the rim, the Red Fire has some important technical features which enables these wheels to handle serious abuse. The most obvious is the milled inner surface, designed to remove weight where it is not needed, while keeping plenty of material around the 32 asymmetrically-drilled eyelet-less holes.
Note: the holes do not go through to the inner rim surface, making these rims UST compatible. Not only is the inner surface not drilled, but the added safety ridges keep the tires firmly in place even at lower pressures (I ran them as low as 22 psi). To facilitate installation when running UST tires, the inner profile has a smooth, curved drop center which allows for both ease of installation and seating of the tire.
To ensure the rim stays round, the Red Fires are welded and milled to increase hoop life and strength. The easy-to-source stainless steel butted straight-pull spokes by Sapim are a great additional feature for this wheelset, so getting a few spares from your LBS shouldn’t be an issue (266 mm). Both front and rear wheels are laced up with 32 spokes in a conventional three-cross pattern.
The wheels feature beefy large-diameter aluminum hubs which house the industrial bearings in double rows on each side of the hub, with a few more in the cassette body for good measure. Speaking of the cassette body, the steel body runs a 3 cam pawl spring arrangement similar to that of the popular Easton Havoc series. What sets these apart is the locking bearing adjustment, which is a nice touch and well-worth the extra 6 grams or so that it adds. The front 20mm and rear 12mm through-axles round out the package and ensure that you’re getting a solid-performing duo.
In the box you get instructions, tire levers, spoke tools and a small stub of a nipple. Do not toss these parts out! The little nipple is magnetic, and the powerful earth magnet that is supplied (also in the package) is used to move your spoke nipples into place in the off chance that you break a spoke. So keep that gear safe.
Installing a set of UST tires on the Red Fires was a snap. I normally use an air compressor to mount tubeless tires, but using a quality floor pump like a Topeak Mountain will work with these tight rims. The inner 23mm width is generous enough to form a decent profile. I typically use 2.4 – 2.5″ tires and both have no issues with squirming on the rim or ballooning.
Although you can install a regular non-UST tire on these wheels, why would you? This is a question that my inner circle of friends have all asked themselves, and now they are running UST tires (those that can afford UST wheels). We all agree that it seems like the best way to go. I went with Muddy Mary and Fat Albert tires and using just a floor pump, it took little effort to snap the beads into place (spray a bit of soapy water on the bead first). A cassette and rotors was next, and away I went!
Testing was done at a smallish hill that my friends and I frequent that’s not well known to many besides a few core riders. This place has all the elements a larger hill has – from rock gardens to table jumps to big step ups and step downs to some of the best groomed, high speed berms in this part of Ontario. The only problem is there isn’t a lift… so down you fly… and up you trudge.
I was out shredding with a number of other riders whose opinions I really trust (including Bob_the_Builder), and we had a real go of it! The first thing I noticed is the super-silent cassette body. I was kind of worried that it wasn’t working because it was so quiet! The engagement on the cassette is bang-on, like Easton and Mavic, requiring very little movement of the crank to engage. Definitely a positive point.
I hardly noticed the 2,200 gram weight. Standing alone on its own merits, I would say this is a fast-rolling set of wheels (stay tuned for a shoot-out test in the future). With a few pedal strokes and gravity on my side, these hoops helped propel the bike up to speed in no time.
Due to the relatively low weight, stopping these wheels is a non-issue. The Red Fire did very well on the big hits and rock gardens, with no signs of damage despite plowing them (sensibly) through rock gardens and sessioning step-downs and jumps over and over again. I was impressed at how laterally stiff the wheels felt when tossing the bike in the berms. Some wheels with straight-pull spokes tend to ping a tad if the wheel bends – but not these – which is a testament to how well-built and strong a wheel can be made. I have not had to turn a spoke to date: the Red Fires are still spinning smooth and free of dents!
All in all this is a great wheel set! They aren’t the lightest out there, but they hold up well to abuse and offer excellent performance. A pair will set you back around $960 and are priced similarly to the other top brands.
A big thanks to the folks at Fulcrum for sending the Red Fires down for review. Stay tuned for more from Fulcrum, and be ready for a wheel shoot-out in the near future!