Intended Use: DH Race and Freeride
Rider: 6’2”, 205 lbs., athletic, technically proficient, modestly fast, and relatively fluid.
Test Location: Colorado Front Range. Steep, fast, rough, rocky trails, with plenty of small and large jumps. Generally rode in dry, dusty, pebbly, loose-over-hardpack terrain.
Duration of Test: 20 days.
Overview: I’ve experimented with various tubeless setups over the years, but I’ve never been truly impressed with the ghetto conversions required to make them work (tape, Stan’s Strips, filleted 20″ tubes). At 205 lbs., the only way that I seemed to be able to keep the tire on the rim was with a proper UST (Universal Standard Tubeless) rim.
I’ve had my eyes on the Fulcrum UST Wheelset since it first debuted at Interbike 2009, and I recently got my hands on a set. So far, I’ve been quite impressed. They weigh in right at 2200g, which is not exceptionally light by today’s standards, but it is certainly reasonable. The Fulcrum is only 40g heavier than the Mavic Deemax Wheelset, the industry leader in UST DH wheels.
Rim: The Fulcrum uses a novel design in which each brass nipple is kept in its respective position on the rim with a magnet. It is a much easier and simpler design than the funky rim inserts that the Mavic EX823 aftermarket rims require, and also opens the Fulcrum up for normal spoke use, which the Mavic prebuilt wheels do not allow. The Fulcrum rim has proven to be quite durable: I bombed them through rock gardens and cased them on several large 20-25 foot doubles (intentionally, of course!) and they have taken the abuse admirably. I haven’t even had to true them yet. The anodized finish on the rim is also quite durable. All in all, it’s a great design.
Since the rims are 32h and use normal nipples, I would even recommend using them to build your own wheels. The rim measures at 22.5mm internal, 30mm external, and weigh approximately 635g each. One thing to note is that the rim is fairly tall, so if you tear a tire and need to stick a tube in there, you need at least a 48mm valve stem. Standard 32mm valve stems are just a shade too short for my Serfas pump, and would likely only work with a Silca pump.
The rim simply accepts tubeless tires, which are easily inflated with a floor pump. Non-tubeless DH casing tires (such as the Maxxis Minion DHF 3C) pop right on with a compressor. It is probably the easiest rim to pump up tubeless tires on that I have ever seen.
Hub: The Red Fire Wheelset is only offered in a 20mm front with a 150mmX12mm rear. The rear hub, which is quick, smooth, and engages properly, features 3 pawl engagement, with 36 clicks per revolution. I was pleased to see that the cassette body is spec’d in steel rather than in aluminum. Sure, it is 40g heavier, but in my opinion, being able to quickly and easily remove your cassette – instead of it chewing into the aluminum body and getting stuck – is well worth it.
The hubs are easily adjustable and do not require special tools. The sealed cartridge bearings are secured with allen pinch bolts on the axle. It’s a simple design that works, and the bearings themselves are very high quality and spin forever. Given Fulcrum’s road wheel background, this is not surprising.
Spokes: The Red Fire Wheelset utilizes Sapim Race 2.0 straight-gauge, straight-pull spokes. I would love to see normal j-bend spokes for simplicity’s sake, but at least the spokes are 2.0, and can use a 266mm length all the way around, front and rear. I simply ordered a set of 20 straight-pull spokes from Sapim and stuck them in my toolbox. Given that they are 2.0, I doubt I will ever need them, but they are cheap, simple to travel with, and easy to replace at any dealer.
Summary: The Red Fire Wheelset is a winner and deserves a good long look, alongside the industry-leading Mavic Deemax. The Fulcrums are tough, light, and easily repairable with accessible parts. They feature great hubs, and they work well tubeless. I’m extremely happy to be riding on them.