For nearly 20 years, Fulcrum has been making wheelsets in Vicenza, Italy. Earlier this year, Fulcrum released both the Red Zone Carbon and Red Zone 3 alloy mountain bike wheelsets, as their official return to the dirt. Built for today’s challenging XC and marathon terrain, I have had the Red Zone 3’s mounted up and rolling for a few months on a couple of different bikes and it’s time to share how it’s been going.
Fulcrum Red Zone 3 Wheelset Features:
- Straight-pull, double-butted stainless spokes (24 front / 28 rear)
- 2-Way Fit™ Ready(tube & tubeless ready)
- 29er only with Boost 148 rear and 110 front spacing
- Centerlock rotor compatible
- 36T freehub with 10-degrees of engagement
- Premium steel adjustable cup and cone bearings
- Asymmetric design with double-polished matte surface and laser-etched graphics
- Shimano HG, SRAM XD or Shimano MicroSpline options
- Made entirely in Europe
- Inner width: 25mm
- Depth: 19mm
- Weight: 1640 grams (set, actual, with tubeless valves)
- MSRP: $760 per pair
Pushing into the Red Zone
Now positioned as Fulcrum’s best alloy mountain bike wheelset, the all-new Red Zone 3 arrived with a lot of expectations. Would they be capable enough to handle the demands of my typical terrain. Would they be light and fast enough to climb up anything and not weigh me down? How about durability? Not having ridden a set of alloy wheels in awhile, how would these modern alloy hoops stand up to abuse?
With a new set of fast-rolling WTB Ranger 2.4 tires, my first test was aboard the Alchemy Argos Ti hardtail. Setting them up was a breeze. I was able to install the tires by hand and then seat them with a simple floor pump. You can run tubes or tubeless with the Red Zone 3, but let’s not kid ourselves… you’re gonna run these tubeless. With about 5 oz of WTB TCS Tubeless Sealant, I was ready to go. I inflated them to my typical 21 psi. front and 23 psi. rear, then proceeded to rip on the Argos.
The combination of the fast treads and light casing of the Ranger’s and the fast-rolling hubs on the Red Zone 3’s had me at the first pedal stroke. Honestly, nothing dogs a bike more than a bad wheelset. And, if you’re replacing the stock wheels on your trail bike, these wheels will likely remove several hundred grams of rolling weight — which makes a noticeable difference. 1640 grams isn’t svelte, but comes in at or below comparable wheels from other brands.
Looking closely at the rims, you’ll immediately notice the asymmetrical design to compensate for pedaling and braking forces. The rims themselves look fantastic and certainly have a high-end flair to them. The Fulcrum hubs use a standard cup-and-cone bearing system with a compression ring to keep everything in place. It’s a proven design that’s not as widely used these days, but when set up correctly, allows these wheels to spin for days. In fact, in my roll-to-stop tests, these fared on the upper end of mountain bike wheelsets.
Trail testing time
These wheels and tires transformed the Alchemy Argos Ti into a completely different bike. I dropped over a pound of weight and it turned that bike into the type of bike it should be. Spinning up and maintaining momentum feels natural and smooth and I quickly settled into these wheels. On chattery terrain, they do offer a good amount of compliance for an alloy wheelset. But, I had forgotten about the “ting ting” of rocks hitting the alloy rims (carbon wheels have spoiled me). You’ll get some of that as rocks and other debris is kicked up and hits the rims. The finish is ultra-durable and I haven’t noticed any scratches on them.
As mentioned, I’m used to rolling carbon hoops these days. And, with that, I’m also used to rolling low pressures. At 175 lbs., I typically inflate the rear at 23 psi. and the front to 21 psi., so that’s what I did with these for ideal traction and comfort. However, as I found out it’s insufficient air to prevent rim damage. In hindsight, I think it would be wise to at least get a tubeless insert in the rear wheel to prevent this sort of damage. On the plus side, the rear tire has remained seated without leaking any sealant — in spite of the noticeable damage. Give yourself an extra couple pounds of pressure just in case and I’ll be carefully bending this rim back into place.
As you can guess, I charge pretty hard and expect my wheels to respond. After several weeks aboard the Alchemy Argos, I then installed these wheels onto the Trek Top Fuel 9.9. Compared to the Bontrager Line 30 wheels on that bike, the Red Zone 3’s did add about 80 grams, but isn’t noticeable. Comparatively, I’m not finding any hesitation or differences with cassette engagement with that wheelset swap. I can pivot and change direction and have never felt any significant lag. Fulcrum’s freehub doesn’t offer the fastest engagement, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point. Long climbs are wonderful and they do a great job maintaining momentum on the uphill.
When it comes to descending on swoop terrain, I had zero complaints. They do respond well to changes in rider input and track well through choppy terrain. I will say I should have been a little more choosy with my lines, so keep that in mind if you want to avoid rim damage. The only time I noticed any lateral flex was on seated, off-camber climbs where I felt like the rim deflected underneath me. Other than that, I didn’t notice any undue flex.
More on the freehub… it coasts very, very quietly and I LOVE it. Some hubs sound like angry hornets, but I really appreciate just how quietly the Fulcrum hubs roll.
- Excellent options for XC/trail use
- Competitive weight for alloy wheels
- Nice-looking rims
- Hubs are serviceable when needed
- Roll really well
- Responsive and smooth
- Freehub is nice and quiet
- 25mm internal width is still narrow by today’s standards
- Can’t run my typical low pressures
- Matte finish is always hard to clean
- Having a hard time finding retailers at the moment
The Bottom Line: Fulcrum Red Zone 3 Wheelset
Let me wrap things up for you. These are a great alloy wheelset if you can’t spring for a set of comparable carbon hoops. Inflating them to the proper pressures and/or using inserts will save you from dinged-up rims if you ride in particularly-rocky terrain. At the end of the day, these wheels spin up well and roll efficiently. They also confidently snake through all types of trails and obstacles with flair and work well with 2.4″ tires, though I do wish they were a little wider, internally.
Fulcrum has revamped their entire lineup of mountain bike wheels this year. Each one is an improvement over previous designs and the Red Zone 3's are no exception. With just enough width to support today's larger tires, these wheels spin up well and roll along efficiently. Stiffness is good, with only a few noticeable cases of flexing under load, but keep those pressures up to avoid damaging the sidewalls.
- Lateral Stiffness
- Ride Quality
- Rolling Efficiency
- Tubeless Setup