Fulcrum Red Zone XLR – Wheel Test
Fulcrum is an Italian brand that specialises in wheel production. The company is part of the Campagnolo group and thus has a very long history of bicycle parts development. With this experience they have put together a range of wheel products that cover most uses of mountain bikes.
Sitting at the top of the Fulcrum range in the Enduro category is the Red Zone XLR wheel set. The wheels are adapted for Enduro and freeride use. In this test we have focused on their use as 26″ Enduro wheels.
The Red Zone XLR wheels have been developed to include a number of features, including c21 tubeless ready, a milled rim for lateral stiffness, oversize round section straight pull spokes, aluminium nipples, an oversize aluminium hub with an oversized flange on the drive side, all this is topped off with low friction bearings that are fully adjustable. Also for those who have different axle standards the wheels include the correct adaptors for converting from 135mm to 142mm.
In all then on paper the XLR wheels have had a complete advanced feature set applied to all elements of their construction. Our goal was to see how these features feel on the trail.
Before riding we set the wheels up. The technical setup we chose to run included a 20mm front axle with a 142mm rear axle. As the rims are ideal for tubeless setup, we mounted a Schwalbe Muddy Mary 2.3 to the front and a Maxxis Highroller 2.3 to the back. Both tyres were tubeless specific and mounted on the rims with ease. We mounted Shimano 203mm and 180mm brake rotors with the standard six bolt pattern.
When inflating the tyres the design of the rim allowed the tyres to seat securely and immediately in the correct position. With tubeless liquid added the tyres sealed exceptionally well and retained their air pressure that we set at the start for 2 weeks, before we made an adjustment. There is no doubting that a c21 rim is excellent for those who like to run tubeless. Setup times including swapping tyres for different conditions are exceptional with zero fuss trying adjust rim tapes and pick off bits of dried laytex so the tyres remount better.
Video of Trail Test
Testing wheels may to some, be seen as a strange concept. Is it possible to tell the difference with wheels? This question in this case is a definite yes. When putting together an ideal bike setup wheel choice is often not considered by most riders to be that important, normally strength, weight and value being the main factors most people consider. In our experience of testing, we would consider that wheel choice and performance is fundamental to the overall performance of any bike, the XLR wheel set has been made to increase performance and that was evident as we started our test.
For the testing phase we have ridden a number of trails, our first testing took place on the Superenduro trails of Sestri Levante. Our second phase of testing took place on the Enduro World Series trails in Punta Ala. We also managed to arrange to spend time with a Fulcrum sponsored pro rider Andrea Bruno who was able to take us through the features he felt were important in the wheel performance.
Our first ride was a real eye opener when it came to overall bike feeling and performance, it was immediately clear compared to our normal wheel set that the XLR wheels had a significant lateral stiffness that enhanced our riding precision on the trail. In simple terms the steering became more direct and the bike went in the direction it was pointed more quickly. Also we became more aware of the trail underneath us and were able to push the bike harder into corners and over rocky features. The wheels enabled us to have in our estimation a 20-30 percent improvement in bike handling and feedback compared to our normal average wheel set, it was quite surprising. We have in the past tested various sets of high performance carbon wheel sets, and the Red Zone XLR performance in our opinion was extremely close to those we had previously tried on first impressions.
As one of the factors studied seemed to be improve the wheels defiantly felt stiffer and thus we felt that the suspension system adjustments we made were more noticeable. However the wheels although stiffer in a lateral sense did not have a harsh ride and taking note of Andrea Bruno’s comments we would agree that some vertical movement has been incorporated into the wheel design.
This was where we noticed a huge improvement. The lateral stiffness was vastly improved over a normal spoked wheel set. The bike went where you directed it and also the feedback was greater and allowed significant improvement on correcting errors and sketchy situations on the trail. One noticeable trait that was observed when doing manuals on the trail the bike was easier to hold on the balance point and thus the smoothness of the movement improved. This although not a obvious point showed just how much a stiffer wheel can help with control as the hub no-longer flexes and moves inside the wheel. The increased rim width also seemed to contribute to the tyre being held slightly wider at the base and thus there was a feeling of improved grip in the corners especially at speed.
The hub design meant it was a cinch to adjust bearing preload and the actual running of the bearing was great, they were incredibly smooth and rolling resistance was very low, one of the best bearing feels we have tried in a long time. They are well sealed units with bearing units remaining well protected from the ingress of dirt and dust. The free hub body has excellent power take up with minimal time lag from power on to lock. Overall the hub package was excellent.
We pedalled the bike over a various amount of surfaces and inclines on different trails and the wheel set performs admirably with regards to pedal-ability the stiffness gives a greater amount of speed and energy through-put as a result, compared to our standard Sunringle Equalizer 27 wheel set.
Weight – Strength
We didn’t weigh the wheels this time but holding them with mounted discs and tyres compared to our old set (Sunringle Equalizer), they were noticeably lighter. We can’t conclude anything about strength yet, but suffice to say so far they have remained true despite a few nasty hits and have not needed re-tensioning. After a longer time on them we can re-evalute these characteristics more.
The wheels came with a selection of tools and axle length adjustment collars for converting. The spoke tools are really useful and are easy to adjust the spokes ensuring a precise fit, we have not though needed to retension yet.
If as a rider you are looking to upgrade to a strong light set of wheels the Fulcrum Red Zone XLR would defiantly be at the top of our list. They are an excellent price, look great, performance downhill and uphill is in our opinion top, and up to this point we feel durability is high. We were lucky enough to try the wheel set and have feedback from a top professional Enduro rider Andrea Bruno, and it seems that they stand up very well to his obvious hard riding that he subjects them to. When looking for points to improve the wheel set, we have honestly not got any to mention as of yet.
The Red Zone XLR wheels so far have been plug and play and have increased our enjoyment factor on the bike significantly, reinforcing our opinion that a good wheel set like this adds a significant performance enhancement to any bike, more so than any other single component apart from the frame and fork. We look forward to further time on the bike and longer term testing.