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by Matt Wikstrom
February 11, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Fulcrum is well known for its wide range of road and off-road wheelsets. Now the company is moving forward with wider rims, disc-equipped wheelsets, and lower-priced carbon rims. All of these refinements are found in the new range of Racing Quattro wheels, and in this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom reports on the performance of the Racing Quattro Carbon wheelset.
Fulcrum Wheels was established over 10 years ago, in 2004, by Campagnolo. The Italian company needed a fresh identity to promote sales of its factory-built wheelsets because the holy groupset war — Shimano versus Campagnolo — had polarised consumers. The Japanese manufacturer had succeeded in dominating the market, but Campagnolo could see there was new territory up for grabs.
Campagnolo entered the wheel market in the mid-‘80s, starting with a collection of alloy rims and the first iteration of its iconic Ghibli disk wheel. The company was quick to embrace new materials and aerodynamic technology, giving rise to the alloy Shamal in the early ‘90s — one of the industry’s earliest high-profile wheelsets — and then the carbon Bora.
By the turn of the century, the market for factory-built wheelsets was starting to grow and while Campagnolo was able to offer its wheelsets with Shimano-compatible freehub bodies, the groupset war had fashioned a strong prejudice in consumers. Hence the need for a fresh identity — a neutral nation — that wouldn’t inflame traditional loyalties.
It was a canny move by the company and Fulcrum has succeeded in gaining new territory in the marketplace. At the same time, Fulcrum’s catalogue has grown considerably, with wheels to satisfy a variety of cycling disciplines, including MTB and CX. The current road range comprises 20 products with a choice of alloy, alloy/carbon, and all carbon rims with depths ranging 19-80mm.
In the last 12 months, Fulcrum has started overhauling its road wheel collection with wider rims. They have also added disc-equipped wheelsets and introduced lower-priced carbon rims. Where once the Racing Quattro was a single product, now there are three that embody the latest refinements.
The Racing Quattro LG wheelset has a 35mm alloy clincher rim that is 24mm wide; the Racing Quattro Carbon has a 40mm carbon clincher rim that is also 24mm wide; and the Racing Quattro Carbon DB adds disc-compatible hubs, front and rear, to the 40mm carbon rim.
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding the Racing Quattro Carbon wheelset, courtesy of FRF Sports.
The Racing Quattro Carbon wheelset is Fulcrum’s first mid-level carbon wheelset that is priced at $1,799. The carbon clincher rims inherit some of the technology that was developed for Fulcrum’s (and Campagnolo’s) high-end carbon rims combined with the economical hub design that was developed for the Quattro platform.
The Quattro Carbon rim is an all carbon clincher with a traditional arrowhead profile. The rim is 40mm high and 24mm wide with a 17mm bed. The rim is constructed by Fulcrum in its Italian factory from 3K carbon fibre — which is visible at the brake track and along the rim bed — and dressed with a uni-directional carbon fibre layer and a high gloss finish.
Fulcrum does not make any strong claims about the aerodynamic performance of the 40mm Quattro Carbon rim, but the simple blade profile is clearly reminiscent of Campagnolo’s Bora wheelset. Independent testing of the Bora in the past has demonstrated the profile offers a modest reduction in aerodynamic drag, so I’d anticipate much of the same performance for the Quattro Carbon.
The brake track of the Quattro Carbon rim is finished using “3Diamant” technology originally developed by Campagnolo for its Bora wheelsets. A diamond-tipped tool is used to machine the brake track of the rims to produce a very smooth and consistent surface. This treatment also ensures that there is no need to run in the rims or the pads to achieve optimal braking performance.
The Quattro Carbon front wheel has 18 straight-pull stainless steel spokes, laced radially, while the rear has 21 spokes, laced in a triplet (or 2:1) pattern. All of the spokes are bladed and secured with alloy nipples.
The Racing Quattro hubs have oversized hollow alloy axles running on cartridge bearings. The latter is an economy for Fulcrum, which prefers an adjustable cup and cone assembly for its high-end hubsets. Nevertheless, a locking dust cover threads onto each axle of the Quattro hubs so that the bearing pre-load can be adjusted.
There is no need to install a rim tape on the Quattro Carbon rims since the rim bed is not drilled for installing the spoke nipples. Instead, Fulcrum installs the spoke nipples via the valve stem hole using a magnet. At face value, the undrilled rim bed is ideal for tubeless tyres, however Fulcrum stresses that the Racing Quattro Carbon wheelset is not tubeless-ready.
The Quattro Carbon wheelset sent for review weighed 1,497g (front, 666g; rear, 831g). Buyers have a choice of Campagnolo or Shimano/SRAM freehub bodies and the wheels are supplied with a pair of skewers, two tyre levers, and two pairs of carbon-specific brake pads (Campagnolo or Shimano/SRAM, according to the freehub body). The recommended retail price in Australia is $1,799 AUD.
For more information, visit Fulcrum Wheels and FRF Sports.
For this review, I installed 23mm Clément Strada LGG tyres and inflated the front wheel to 75psi and the rear to 80psi. Those pressures may seem low to some, but they’re well suited to the wider rim design of the Quattro Carbon. That’s because the tyres expand to suit the width of the rim: in this instance, the tyres measured 24.5mm after they were inflated.
I found the Quattro Carbon wheelset was immediately comfortable and sure-footed. It was also quick to change direction as I weaved across the road and aimed for the apex of turns.
Perhaps the easiest test for the responsiveness of any wheel is to jump out of the saddle and push against the pedals; any lag in acceleration is a mark against the wheels. I found the Quattro Carbon wheelset was quite satisfying in this regard: on the flats, they were eager to move, but there was some hesitation on the slopes that was most obvious on steep grades.
The rims were firm without being overly stiff. I didn’t notice any brake rub at any point, nor was I bothered by harsh road surfaces. Overall, I found the wheels were versatile performers and I enjoyed riding them over any terrain, including dirt paths.
The 40mm rims suffered in the wind though, with strong crosswinds able to steer the bike to some degree. Keeping the bike steady required an ongoing effort, but I never felt like I was wrestling with the bike. Compared to other rim designs that are more sophisticated (and expensive) (e.g. Enve SES 3.4), my impression is that the Quattro Carbon rims were a little more susceptible to the wind, but buyers hoping to remain unbothered by the wind should consider a low profile design instead.
The Racing Quattro wheelset was reasonably easy to ride at high speeds but I never had the sense that I was experiencing “free speed”. Swapping the wheels for a low profile alloy wheelset (Pacenti SL23 rims laced to DT 240s hubs) had no impact on my speed or perceived effort, so riders looking for a fast race wheel will be better served by taller rim profiles from other brands.
I was impressed with the feel and performance of the 3Diamant brake track. Indeed, the Quattro Carbon wheelset essentially matched Campagnolo’s Bora Ultra 35 wheelset in this regard. The brake track was very smooth and the quality of braking predictable, but like any carbon rim, riders should allow for extra braking distance.
I’ve been riding wide rims for almost five years and I’ve developed a strong preference for them because of the extra comfort and grip they offer. Moreover, there is no obvious downside to the design other than incompatibility with some frame designs (especially aero bikes). Major wheel manufacturers like Shimano, DT and Mavic have been slow to adopt wider rims, but that may be changing now that Fulcrum is introducing them to its catalogue.
The Racing Quattro Carbon is a good-looking carbon wheelset that performs well on the road. The wide rims add a lot, improving the comfort and grip of the wheels, as does the 3Diamant treatment for the brake track. However, the wheels don’t really shine in any regard, and while their versatility shouldn’t be overlooked, there isn’t anything on offer — other than the allure of carbon rims — that distances the Racing Quattro Carbon wheelset from a high-end alloy wheelset that costs $300-500 less.
It is worth noting that there aren’t many carbon wheelsets on the market that cost less than $2,000 AUD that also have the backing of a major manufacturer. When viewed from this perspective, the Quattro Carbon has some appeal, but if I was prepared to spend near $2,000 AUD on a carbon wheelset, then I’d also start wondering what I could get by spending more, like Fulcrum’s Racing Zero Carbon wheelset.