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November 27, 2012
For a long time now I’ve wanted to review a set of Mad Fiber wheels. I first saw these exotic looking wheels last year on someone’s bike on Beach Road and he was raving on about how using them are practically cheating. Last week I finally got my hands on a set of Mad Fiber clinchers and had a couple rides on them. Here are my impressions…
BEFORE THE RIDE
It’s obvious from the first glance that these wheels are built differently than all the rest. But first thing’s first – the looks. There’s no sitting on the fence here and your opinions will be polarised. You’ll either love them or or you’ll hate them. Personally, I prefer a more traditional looking set of wheels, but I’m intrigued by their innovative design and how this translates into performance. If you don’t like the looks of the decals, there is a stealth option now available.
The rims are built from three distinct pieces: the two sidewalls and the tire seat (aluminium on the clinchers, carbon in the tubulars). Most carbon wheels are manufactured using a system of bladders and molds to create the complete rim shape. Mad Fiber says that their method enables exceptional control of the carbon manufacturing process, minimizing voids and eliminating the use of excess resin, resulting in increased strength and decreased weight.
The spokes are perhaps the most standout feature of the Mad Fibers. Their philosophy is to get away from emulating the way an alloy wheel is built and to maximise the strength and properties of carbon fiber. They bond wide carbon spokes to both the rim walls and the flanges. This eliminates the issue of spoke hole drilling/reinforcing, and it spreads the wheel load over a broad area, increasing strength and aerodynamic benefit while decreasing weight. Mad Fiber says that creating a hole in the rim weakens the rim right at the point where the spokes and nipples apply a stress concentration.
You’ll probably notice that there’s no provision for being able to true these spokes. According to Mad Fiber, truing is not necessary – ever. “Our precise engineering and exacting production methods mean Mad Fiber wheels emerge from the manufacturing process perfectly true. And because they are singular constructs there are no parts to rub and wear against each other; there are no structural metals that can elongate or deform with use. In other words, they do not go out of true. There is no provision for wheel-truing, because it is completely unnecessary. Mad Fibers are made true, and stay true.”
I could carry on about the unique design of these wheels but it’s much more informative to watch this video on how they’re made.
The rear wheel has a one-piece driveside rear spoke (i.e. the entire group of spokes is one piece).
• Rim Depth – 60mm front, 66mm rear
• Spokes – 12 five-ply bladed carbon spokes front, 18 rear
• Weight – 1,300g/pair
• Hubs – titanium cassette body, cromoly axles, sealed cartridge bearings
• Bearings – 6802 front, 6902 & 6802 rear cartridge bearings
• Skewers – Mad Fiber titanium
• Brake Pads – Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo compatible proprietary composition
• Warranty – 4 years with crash replacement policy
• Rider Weight Limit – None
• Compatibility – Shimano/SRAM, Campagnolo
• MSRP – $3,445/pair, $3,695/pair with ceramic bearings (AUD incl. GST) (Tubulars same price)
• UCI approved for competition (see the full list of approved wheels here)
My mate David Everett took a tour of Mad Fiber’s factory in Seattle last year to see how these wheels are built. Note that the production capabilities of Mad Fiber have increased substantially since the time of this video.
AFTER THE RIDE
I took these wheels out for two rides. One on a fast bunch ride on Beach Road, and the other on a ride into the hills of the Dandenong Ranges.
The first thing you’ll notice is how incredibly well these wheels accelerate. Once they’re up to speed they hold their momentum remarkably well for such a light wheel. Mad Fiber claims some impressive aerodynamic test results, but I’m not so certain that I experienced the same thing in real world conditions. Granted the front wheel is 60mm deep, it’s very unpredictable in the crosswinds. This is compared to my own experiences with the Zipp 404’s or HED Jet 60’s, which handle very well in the wind and don’t throw you around the way the Mad Fibers do.
In terms of performance and feel, I’d be comfortable comparing these to the Lightweights that I used to own. Similar to the Lightweights they were solid, accelerated amazingly well, have that same “whoosh rattle whoosh” sound, but both are unpredictable in the wind. They’re not quite as stiff as the lightweights but offer a slightly more comfortable ride (however tyres are a big factor which weren’t necessarily identical). In terms of practicality, they’re quite similar as well. The spokes cannot be fixed without sending back to the factory and both have a fairly rough finish (or “character” as some might call it).
Mad Fiber has a 4 year damage and replacement policy. The way it works in Australia (only if purchased locally) is that you simply send the damaged wheels back to the local distributor, pay $400, and he gives you a new set of wheels from his stock. This takes only a few days.
With regards to braking, I do question their design. The clinchers have an aluminium rim bed but the carbon is bonded right over top of it. I’ve asked the local distributor about this and he tells me that this design choice is intentional. The carbon comes all the way up to the top of the aluminium bed and wraps right around for strength. The braking performance of an aluminium surface is far better than carbon so I’m disappointed that they didn’t use this to their advantage. Mad Fiber recommends using their proprietary brake pads which come with each set of wheels.