Fulcrum is well-known among road riders but the brand also manufactures a selection of off-road wheels. The Red Zone 3 wheels are its highest-specification alloy wheels and are designed to cover a range of riding styles. For an alloy wheelset, they come at a premium price, but does the performance match the cost and, furthermore, are they genuine contenders in the best mountain bike wheels space?
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Fulcrum Red Zone 3 wheelset review - Technical Details
The Fulcrum MTB line has a total of four wheelsets, including the Red Metal 5 for trail and all-mountain riding, the Red Zone 5 for cross-country riding, and the high-end Red Zone Carbon. The Red Zone 3 wheels have a low profile of 19mm, a 25mm internal rim width, and a low number of spokes.
The spoke count comprises 24 in the front with a two-cross spoke lacing and 28 in the back with a 3three-cross lacing. One factor that helps maintain the weight is the lower spoke count. Our pair on test weighed 1,635g (775g front, 880g rear).
The hubs have a centre-lock disc brake mounting and cup-and-cone bearings, which sets them apart from most other wheels - with the main exception being Shimano. There are some benefits, with easier serviceability and the ability to adjust the preload but the potential for wearing out the hub and not simply a cartridge bearing is something to note. Fulcrum gives the choice of Shimano HG, Shimano Micro Spline, and SRAM XD, plus an optional Campagnolo N3W freehub.
The Red Metal 3 feature what Fulcrum call "2-way fit" and this simply means they are tubeless compatible but can also be used with tubes featuring a hooked rim design. The wheels were tested with several different tyres and they all were easy to install and inflate.
Fulcrum Red Zone 3 wheelset review - Performance
The rim measures 25mm internally and 29mm externally with Fulcrum claiming this is “Wide Rim Fit”, although for many, and myself included compared to many new wheels, this is relatively narrow for a mountain bike wheelset. I used tyres from 2.25- to 2.35in and all sizes gave a very rounded tyre carcass.
On the trails, the wheels felt fine on more sedate downhills but into faster and more technical sections where the front wheel was being loaded and pushed, there was noticeable flex and twisting and the same into rocky and technical tracks. The flex is likely a combination of the lower spoke count, and 25mm ID rim, proving less support to the tyre carcass.
The rear wheel didn't feel as problematic with no noticeable flex under power, although there was some evidence of flex within the wheel with a small amount of tyre rub on the inside of the chainstay when using a tyre that was on the upper end of the frame manufacturer's limit.
The freehub is a three-pawl, 36-point engagement that is some way behind other hubs with the very quickest pickup, but not to the point that it is too detrimental to performance. If you were moving from a hub with a higher number of engagement points you may notice the difference but, I expect for the average rider, it would be sufficient. In terms of the noise, which is a big factor for some people, it's pretty quiet although not completely silent like Shimano hubs.
At 1,635g the weight is reasonable for an alloy wheelset, although far from being super-light or comparable to the lighter carbon wheelsets currently available. Aimed towards more of a cross-country rider the weight might be a bigger factor, and as a general all-round wheelset they climb well and on tamer downhills, they feel adequate.
Fulcrum Red Zone 3 wheelset review - Verdict
While the performance is reasonable, the combination of weight, price and freehub engagement are some way off the best-in-class wheels, priced at £599. Hunt produces the XC Wide MTB 28 wheelset, although “wide”, just like the Fulcrum is debatable. The freehub is a six-pawl, 36-point design but is considerably lower priced at £349.
Silt wheels, the MTB wheel brand of Scribe, has the XC Alloy wheel with a sub-1,600g claimed weight, near-instant engagement from the ratchet drive freehub and a considerably lower price of £370. If tyre support is important but you are willing to sacrifice a little weight, the Hunt Trail V2 wheels feature a 30mm ID rim and 1,820g total weight, giving away just 200g across both wheels.
Any brand claiming a 25mm ID rim for mountain biking as wide is well behind the curve, with modern wheels, even for cross-country options now pegged at around 30mm. The Fulcrum Red Zone 3 is at a premium price for an alloy wheelset but the performance does not compare against wheelsets at almost half the price. The narrow rim, slow freehub pickup and low spoke count on the front in particular, impact downhill cornering speed and confidence with noticeable flex that doesn’t justify the slight reduction in weight.
The stats for the Fulcrum Red Metal 3 wheelset are matched by several other alloy wheelsets but they are almost double the price, with no performance advantage.
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