Fulcrum Racing 5 DB road wheelset review: free from fuss
A simple, affordable alloy road wheelset that's built to spin many circles.
A simple, affordable alloy road wheelset that's built to spin many circles.
When it comes to buying budget-friendly alloy wheels for a road bike, the lower-to-mid-tier options in Fulcrum’s Racing range have long been a go-to recommendation. Fulcrum’s entry-level options often combine solid build quality, easy-to-service hubs, and a non-offensive price.
For 2022 Fulcrum overhauled its range of entry-level alloy wheels suited to disc brake road bikes. The new Racing 4, 5, and 6 DB received tubeless-ready compatibility, wider internal rim widths, and revised hubs. This review focuses on the middle of the range, the Fulcrum Racing 5 DB (Disc Brake) – a budget wheel that feels equally at home on the road as it does on light gravel.
Note: The Racing 5 DB is also known as the Racing 500 DB, which comes equipped on several big brand bikes.
As you may expect for the asking price of US$404 / £400 / €400 / AU$600 (a pair), the Racing 5 DB is a relatively basic wheelset. Both front and rear rims are wholly aluminium and feature a 24 mm depth with a somewhat U-shaped profile. And they offer a 25 mm external width and a 20 mm internal rim width, the latter having grown by 3 mm from the previous generation.
The rims are hooked, and feature Fulcrum’s “2-Way Fit” tubeless-ready profile that can be run with clincher (inner tubes) or tubeless tyres. The wheels are factory-fitted with tubeless rim tape and nice quality tubeless valves are provided, too.
At the centre of the wheels sit Fulcrum’s own hubs, the same as those found on the more expensive Racing 4 DB. These use cartridge bearings (aka sealed bearings) with adjustable bearing preload given at both front and rear (a feature that the cheaper Racing 6 DB wheels lack). The three-pawl-based freehub is interchangeable with many of Fulcrum’s more premium disc brake wheels, and you can buy the wheels with freehubs to suit Shimano 10/11/12-speed, SRAM XDR, and Campagnolo N3W. The disc rotor interface works with all Centerlock rotors. The axles are sized to fit common 12×100 and 12×142 mm thru-axled road/gravel bikes – they are not convertible to other formats.
Each wheel is strung up with 24 round, double-butted, straight-pull steel spokes held with externally adjustable and commonly-available 14G aluminium nipples. These wheels tip the scales at 1,694 grams (1,660 g claimed), including the tubeless rim tape but not the rotor locking and tubeless valves. That isn’t a super light figure, and you will find lighter options at this price. Still, that’s likely a couple hundred grams less than many generic wheels supplied with more budget bikes. It also happens to be the lowest-weight wheelset within Fulcrum’s newly updated Racing DB range, and spending more for the Racing 4 DB doesn’t save weight, but rather gets you a deeper, stiffer, and narrower rim.
Fulcrum’s consistent build quality and solid parts picks have long kept the Racing range a popular choice. And it’s a trend that continues with the new Racing 5 DB.
Out of the box the wheels were straight to the eye and exhibited less than half a millimetre of measured lateral variance. Consistent spoke tensions are typically a strong indicator of a wheel that is well built and made to last, and again the Racing 5s shine brighter than many. Here, the spoke tensions were all within 5% of each other, with an impressively good balance from left to right.
Many wheelsets exhibit some asymmetry in terms of spoke tensions on the left side of the hub versus the right side. On a disc brake front wheel, this asymmetry is often seen with higher spoke tensions on the disc brake side and less support from the opposing side, while at the rear it is commonly the drive side that gains the additional spoke tension support. Fulcrum mostly solves this asymmetry by using a 2:1 spoke lacing pattern where double the number of spokes are given for the usual high-tension side, and in turn, half the number of spokes on the opposing side are done up to almost equal tensions. Good stuff here.
Meanwhile, a look inside the hubs reveals that large machined aluminium axles spin on a series of replaceable cartridge bearings, further protected with exterior seals. There are two commonly available 6903 bearings in the front hub, while the rear hub axle is supported by four bearings (2x 6903, and 2x 6902). As is often the case with Fulcrum’s hubs, there are no proprietary tools required for service and the bearing preload can be easily set with the wheels installed in a bike. Undoing the bearing preload collar (with a 2.5 mm hex key) is all you’ll need to get into the hub and maintain the simple and well-proven three-pawl freehub mechanism. More good stuff.
These hubs are designed to work with regular Centerlock brake rotors but the specific approach is a little different to the norm. Instead, Fulcrum shares the AFS mount design with its parent company Campagnolo. The AFS design places the rotor lockring threads on the outside of the mount and then employs a unique lockring to hold the rotor in place. The wheels are supplied with this simple steel lockring, and it uses a common 16-notch, 44 mm bottom bracket tool for installation/removal.
Still, the AFS system has some quirks. Namely that the lockring spline interface is narrow and offers little tool engagement. If you were to mangle it, you may struggle to find a store with a spare in stock. And I’m yet to find a six-bolt rotor adapter that works with this system.
There aren’t many more details to share about the rims. Perhaps the flashiest tech detail is the laser-etched graphics which provide a subtle and durable aesthetic. However, these are accompanied on the rims by a few more visible decals.
It’s easy to get rolling with the Racing 5 DBs. The rims offer a good balance between not being a bear to get tyres on/off while still allowing a snug fitment for easy tubeless inflation. Installing a pair of Goodyear Eagle F1 tubeless tyres produced a fairly tight fit but one that was easily popped into place with one flick of a tyre lever. This tyre then seated quickly and produced a tight bead lock even once deflated. Some early air leakage points to the tubeless valve not forming a perfect seal – but tyre sealant quickly remedied this.
Reviewing wheels can be tough. Sometimes a performance wheelset will provide an obvious sense of stiffness that can be discussed in great detail. Others may transform a bike into feeling reactive to power input, or great at holding speed once you reach it. And some may roll on hubs with obvious limitations. By contrast, the Racing 5 DB didn’t leave me with any particular thoughts. Arguably, that’s a good thing.
The Racing 5 DBs do exactly what they need to. They started off straight with consistent spoke tensions and remained that way after months of use. They offer enough rim width to provide decent volume when fitted with modern road tyres. There’s enough stiffness in the wheel to not feel floppy when cornering hard, but equally, there’s enough flex to offer a smoother ride than what a wheel with a deeper rim or higher spoke count would. The hubs roll smoothly when new and are notably well-sealed to ensure they stay that way for an extended period. And if something were to ever happen to the hubs or spokes, then a well-equipped bike shop will be able to keep you rolling without delay.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s what I didn’t notice that I appreciate most. Freewheeling with these wheels reveals a greatly muffled and subtle ratcheting sound, despite the increase to 30 points of engagement (previously 24). And that sound was just about non-existent when the hub was new and packed full of grease, so it’s possible to return them to such bliss if that’s what you prefer.
Part of the quiet freewheeling is likely due to the steel freehub body that mutes the sound more than a lightweight aluminium body. No doubt the steel is a sign of the price, but it’ll also far better resist digging in from lower-cost cassettes (specifically related to Shimano).
I’ve mentioned the ease of servicing above, but it’s a point worth reiterating. You can access the freehub mechanism with a single 2.5 mm hex key. And you won’t even need to remove the cassette or brake rotor to gain access. It’s a good system. And the ability to adjust the preload on the bearings will surely mean longer service life. At the same time, many other (more generic) hubs will sooner have you replacing bearings to remove unwanted wear-based movement.
There are plenty of wheels available at or near this price point. It can be tough to decide which way to go – especially given that just about all of them will feature a tubeless-ready aluminium rim, steel spokes, and cartridge bearing hubs.
Perhaps one of the more closely comparable options is the DT Swiss E 1800 Spline DB 23. This is an evenly matched wheel when it comes to tyre compatibility, rim dimensions, and hub quality reputation. Truthfully, there isn’t a great deal separating these two and you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with either.
Another wheel worthy of consideration is the slightly more expensive Hunt 34 Aero Wide. This wheelset is a little deeper, a fair bit lighter and just generally feels like a higher-performing wheel. Meanwhile, Fulcrum wins when it comes to build quality, hub sealing, and what that spells for long-term durability.
And Fulcrum themselves have the Rapid Red 5 DB, a more gravel-leaning choice. These grow the internal rim width out to 23 mm for better wider-tyre support but come with the addition of 100 grams.
As for Fulcrum’s Racing 5 DB, there’s a lot to like here. However, it’s worth noting that these wheels are unlikely to offer any appreciable performance benefit if you’re looking to upgrade from another low-profile alloy wheelset. At just 24 mm deep, they’re about as aero as a chicken. The weight is fine, but not what I’d call light.
Instead, with the Racing 5 DB, Fulcrum has created a wheel that is arguably most attractive to the Original Equipment (OE) market looking to equip a completely inoffensive product that will easily outlast the warranty period. Equally, these wheels are a fantastic option for the person on a budget who simply wants reliability and easy serviceability without wanting to spend extra for less weight or aero benefit.