Fulcrum has given its flagship Racing Zero wheels a carbon fibre makeover and the result is a much lighter wheelset with excellent performance, especially in the hills, and impressive braking – in the dry.
In the switch from aluminium to carbon, Fulcrum has developed a 30mm-high rim made from unidirectional carbon fibre with a 3K finish for the brake track. The rims have a rounded front section and measure 17mm internally, 24.5mm externally, which provides a good platform for wider tyres; 25mm tyres go very well with these rims.
The brake track gets the same 3Diamant treatment first seen on Campagnolo wheels a couple of years ago. The name comes from the process that involves using a diamond-tipped tool to shave away resin and produce a uniform surface on the brake track, so the special compound brake blocks are pushed directly against the carbon.
Combined with carbon-specific brake blocks supplied with the wheels, the braking performance is excellent in the dry. Powerful, consistent and predictable, with lots of feel at the lever allowing you to apply just as much force as you need in any situation.
Initially, braking was accompanied by a lot of squealing, but after several weeks' use the noise reduced quite a bit, though they're still not the quietest wheels. What did change over time was an improvement in performance, as the blocks and rims bedded in.
Performance in the wet is a different matter. I've yet to ride a carbon wheelset in the rain that doesn't fill me with dread, especially when riding along busy roads with lots of hazards. Despite the specially produced brake track, braking retardation dramatically reduces when you add water to the mix.
Hub of the matter
Spinning away at the centre of the rims are carbon fibre hubs with aluminium flanges and ceramic bearings, which save a smidgen of weight and are meant to provide improved longevity and smoothness. The rear hub has a dramatically oversized driveside flange to provide greater stiffness, and the freehub is Shimano and SRAM compatible with 10/11-speed cassettes.
It's carbon for the rims, and aluminium for the spokes – big bladed aero spokes. There are 16 radially laced in the front wheel, while the unusual lacing pattern in the rear is due to the 2-to-1 approach, with 7 spokes on the left and 14 on the right, all straight-pull. It's something that parent company Campagnolo developed in an effort to produce a rear wheel that copes with the forces placed on it and provides 'greater reactivity at each pedal stroke' – which essentially means the rear wheel is better at transferring your power to propel you forwards.
To improve wheel stiffness, the rim bed isn't drilled. Installing spoke nipples requires dropping them in through the valve hole and positioning using a magnet – luckily the wheels come assembled as it doesn't sound like a fun task. Fulcrum calls this MoMag and it also means no rim tape is needed. And no, it doesn't mean they're tubeless-ready.
In a spin
Installation of the wheels was a painless process. A pair of new Michelin tyres popped onto the clincher rim with no tyre levers necessary, and with the supplied brake blocks fitted to the bike and a cassette slotted onto the rear hub, it was out onto the open road to put them through their paces.
My first impression was just how precise and direct they feel. These are very stiff wheels. They provided my bike, a Cannondale SuperSix Evo, with a quicker response to input and changes in direction than other full carbon wheelsets I've ridden.
The shallow section rim, although rounded in a concession to smoothing airflow, isn't what you'd called aero, and speed merchants only interested in battering along the flat might want to look elsewhere. The wheels didn't exactly feel slow, but nor did they have that feeling of rapid pace that a deep-section wheel generates at higher speeds.
Where these wheels are right at home is on rolling terrain with lots of hills, short and long, and ever-changing gradients. The low weight provides a helping hand on the climbs and the high level of stiffness delivers very precise handling when weaving the bike through the turns.
They feel highly responsive when powering the bike forward over a crest and there's no lag when you need a quick burst of speed. The rigidity is highly impressive and I couldn't discern any flex at all, even during all-out sprints or leaning on them really hard through corners. They're forgiving wheels as well, and deal with rough roads and the odd gravel track without problem.
The only place these wheels really come unstuck is in the rain; not such a huge problem on the flat, but if you've got T-junctions at the bottom of very steep and long hills to contend with, it takes the shine off an otherwise impressive wheelset.
Otherwise, the Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon wheels are lightweight, stiff and durable, with silky smooth hubs. For an all-round wheel, these are a decent choice – provided you don't plan to ride in the rain much.
Light, stiff and silky smooth wheels, but wet weather braking performance leaves a lot to be desired
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon Road Wheels
Size tested: 30mm high carbon bike rim
Tell us what the wheel is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
"Racing Zero switches to carbon for the first time, and does it in its own way: they are the first road bike wheels on the market that combines a carbon rim with aluminum spokes.
This new hybrid technology combines the legendary rigidity of the aluminum Zero with improved reactivity, thanks to the carbon bike rims, which reduce the peripheral weight and so the moment of inertia.
A light wheel, with a superior handling and an optimal power transmission to the ground."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
30 mm high carbon bike rims with a wider cross section: this wider base provides more grip, more comfort and a superior handling.
The rims are made from UD - unidirectional carbon, among the best-performing currently available on the market.
The use of 3K fiber on the braking surface provides better braking feedback.
Racing Zero Carbon setup provides aluminum aero spokes: this choice was made to ensure optimal rigidity whilst paying special attention to aerodynamics.
The legendary Racing Zero's steering precision starts here.
Racing Zero Carbon are the first road bike wheels on the market with carbon rims and aluminum spokes: this means that the nipples, the connection between the two different materials, had to be studied and redesigned.
The new nipples, inserted thanks to MoMag™ technology, are specially shaped to facilitate the assembly process and to stay in place without the addition of any other cushioning material.
The front hub has been redesigned, the new model is smaller and so lighter.
Smoothness is ensured by the famous USB™ ceramic bearings.
Carbon hub with oversize aluminum flange and Two-to-One™ technology: the doubling of the spokes on the cassette side provides greater torsional stiffness and therefore a greater reactivity at each pedal stroke.
This means greater efficiency in the transmission of power to the wheel.
Carbon wheels are an expensive purchase but they are getting more affordable all the time; there's certainly a lot of choice at this price range.
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
Remained perfectly true through the test period.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Very easy to fit tyres without levers.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
The wheel skewers are very pleasant to use.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very good performance, very stiff, light, and smooth.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Stiff and responsive performance and great braking in the dry.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Poor braking performance in the wet.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Maybe
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
They're not the cheapest nor the very lightest, but they provide a really nice ride with predictable braking in the dry. The hubs are silky smooth and durability is impressive, but they simply can't match an aluminium rim for wet weather braking performance or value for money.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.