Gravel and adventure riding is growing in the UK and it's that scene that Fulcrum is aiming at with its revamped Racing 7 DB wheels. With a wider rim than others in the range, to work with bigger rubber, the Racing 7s compete well on and off road with many on price and weight. A restrictive choice of tyres hampers their tubeless capabilities, though, especially if you stray from the tarmac.
You might have seen Jez's recent review of the Racing 7's big brother, the Racing 5 DB, and a lot of the things he picked up are true of this slightly cheaper wheelset.
Now I normally try to start a review with the positives, and bearing in mind how good the 7s are I had a lot to choose from. But the one major flaw in this otherwise great wheelset is its tubeless compatibility – or lack of, I should say.
Like the rest of the range, Racing 4, 5 and 6 DB, the 7s can be set up to accept tubeless tyres. Fulcrum calls it '2-Way Fit' and you need to buy a kit to get everything to work: tape, valves, sealant eand so on. The big issue here, though, is that you are only permitted to use one tyre, Schwalbe's Pro One.
"Any other type of Tubeless and Tubeless Ready tire is forbidden," it says on Fulcrum's website, because that is the only tyre that has been tested and is compatible with the rim.
Jez went ahead and tried some other tyres on the Racing 5s, albeit still Schwalbe's, without issue, but obviously it's a bit of a lottery when it comes to warranty claims and things.
The trouble is, it affects the Racing 7s even more profoundly. Like I said in the opening paragraph, Fulcrum has aimed this wheel at the gravel market (and a few other genres) and the Pro One is a slick road tyre. There is no off-road knobbly tyre available as an option to use with the Racing 7.
For the one or two punctures I get a year on the road I haven't bothered to adopt tubeless tyres on any of my bikes, and all but one of the bikes I've tested this year have still been running inner tubes. But off the beaten track, with sharp edged gravel and pot holes aplenty, that is somewhere you definitely need the option.
All of that aside, the Fulcrum Racing 7 DBs are a very solid and dependable set of wheels.
The rim width is 19mm internally, with a measurement of 23.6mm (claimed 24mm) across the outer rim face. Fulcrum says this makes them most suited to 28mm tyres through to 62mm, which gives you plenty of options for different terrain and riding styles.
I used them with some Schwalble 35mm cyclo-cross tyres for the majority of testing and they were really easy to fit.
Weight-wise, the Racing 7s nudged the road.cc Scales of Truth up to 1,740g. Although not ground breaking, it's pretty good for wheels of this price.
On the road they pick up speed well and are certainly stiff enough for hard acceleration and out-of-the-saddle climbing.
Fulcrum has gone for a rim depth of 22mm so aerodynamics aren't a consideration, but once you've got them up to speed they feel easy to keep rolling and all of this translates off-road too. Bridleways and dry singletrack tend to be a little more undulating than the tarmac and the 7s were fun to ride.
Most decent road wheels will stand up to a bit of abuse from rough terrain without needing to be gravel-specific (I've put a couple of thousand miles of off-road abuse including Dirty Reiver into some Mavic Aksium Discs without them showing even the slightest hint of fatigue), and the Fulcrums have shrugged off everything I've thrown at them so they are obviously up to their job.
They've been fitted to the Merida Silex 9000 I've been testing (review to come), so most rides have taken in country lanes, bridleways ranging from smooth hardpacked gravel to boulder-ridden tank tracks, and even a bit of twisty stuff through the local woods. I've whacked tree roots with them and pot holes with little repercussion. I can certainly see the 7s having plenty of strength as winter training wheels on the road.
Fulcrum has gone for a slightly different spoking pattern than most. First up, the rims are asymmetric, offsetting the spoke bed from centre to try to equalise the dishing as much as possible.
On a rear wheel, because of the width of the freehub body to accept an 11-speed cassette, the spokes on the drive side are at a much shallower angle than those on the non-drive side, which creates an imbalance. By offsetting the rim bed the spoke angle on the drive side can be increased and the non-drive side lessened to create a more balanced wheel build for strength.
Most wheel builders add more spokes to the drive side again to add strength and Fulcrum is no different, using 24 spokes, 16 drive side and 8 the other.
On the front wheel it's the same, to offset the braking forces from the disc rotor. It's not something I've seen before, and whether it makes a huge difference is difficult to say.
Fulcrum has also used an asymmetric rim here too, to offset the dishing of the spokes on the disc side.
It's been pretty wet of late and the sealed bearings have seen a lot of water, grit and mud and they aren't complaining yet. The wheels are still spinning smoothly and silently, and should anything get in they are pretty easy to take apart and rebuild (I've done it in the past).
Our wheels came set up for 12mm thru-axles which looks to be becoming the accepted standard for road disc brake bikes, but you can buy various adaptors to accommodate different widths (135mm or 142mm) for the rear plus quick release skewers.
Disc rotors from the major manufacturers are easy to fit thanks to Fulcrum going with the Centerlock standard. You literally slide the rotor onto the splines and tighten the retaining ring, just like you are fitting a cassette.
Machining tolerances are good as the rotor sat true with no pad rub.
Overall the Racing 7 DBs are a great set of wheels, sitting well within the expectations for their price range. Both Kinesis and Hunt offer wheels that are lighter and aimed at the gravel market, with the latter costing £359 for a 100g saving. Hunt builds very good wheels, so the fact I'm mentioning the Fulcrums in the same sentence shows my high regard for them.
That tubeless compatibility is going to be the decider for a lot of riders, though, and that's what's stopping the score from being higher here.
Solid performers on a range of terrain, but if you want to ride tubeless away from the tarmac look elsewhere
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Fulcrum Racing 7 Disc Brake wheelset
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the wheel is for
Fulcrum says, "Racing 7 DB wheels introduce you to a new way of experiencing cycling. The choice of larger sized clincher tyres - 28mm or more - offer increased comfort for longer distances and the chance to enjoy more landscapes along the way, without having to stop when you come across gravel sections or white gravel roads - a major plus.
"Racing 7 DB is a gravel wheel, an endurance bike wheel, a reliable, meticulously built wheel that ensures cyclists get the most out of long distance rides. With a perfectly fine-tuned bicycle you can concentrate on the joy of cycling."
I found the Racing 7 DB a very solid set of wheels for all kinds of riding. They are well priced and a decent weight too.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
TYRE TYPE 2-Way Fit Ready
RIM MATERIAL Aluminum
RIM HEIGHT Front and rear 22 mm
RIM WIDTH 23,8 mm, ETRTO 19C
TYRE WIDTH From 28 mm to 62 mm
BRAKING SYSTEM Disc Brake
BRAKING SURFACE/BRAKING OPTIONS AFS
FRONT AXLE COMPATIBILITY QR/HH15-100/HH12-100 (no skewers incl.)
REAR AXLE COMPATIBILITY QR/HH12-142 (no skewers incl.)
FRONT WHEEL SPOKES 24 (16 left + 8 right)
REAR WHEEL SPOKES 24 (8 left + 16 right)
SPOKES MATERIAL Stainless steel
SPOKES PROFILE TECHNOLOGY Rounded, J-pull
FRONT HUB Aluminum, Aluminum flanges
REAR HUB Aluminum, Aluminum flanges
BEARINGS Sealed cartridge bearings
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
Yes, no issues at all even after plenty of off-road excursions.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
No major hassle.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
They came with rim tapes fitted but other than that you get very little in the way of extras.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really tough wheels that feel to be up to the job of dealing with the rough stuff.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
A good all-round package.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Limited tubeless tyre compatibility.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Yes
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Overall, the Racing 7 DB is ideal if you want a strong set of road wheels or something that can blat about on gravel tracks. With a decent price and sensible weight they're good, potentially very good, it's just that tubeless tyre compatibility that muddies the water.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithein
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!