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The new Fulcrum Rapid Red 5 DB gravel/adventure wheelset competes well against some of the best in the market in terms of price, stiffness and weight. The wheels are tough, too, taking plenty of abuse.
Fulcrum has a huge catalogue of wheels, but the one thing that's been missing is a gravel range. Now, though, it has released the Rapid Red 5 DB. All the modern trends are there, like a wide, tubeless-ready rim bed, Centerlock disc mounting and thru-axle compatibility.
The 24mm-deep rim is aluminium, as you'd expect at this price, and to suit the wider tyres found on adventure bikes it is 23mm internally (28mm external), not quite as wide as the Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc X-Wide wheels but still offering a great profile when paired with the 40mm Continental Terra Speed Pro Protection tyres currently on test.
Fulcrum says that tyres between 32mm and 46mm will give optimal performance, and I found the Continentals very easy to fit tubeless – our test wheels came with tubeless tape ready fitted – and a set of 35mm Goodyear Transit Tour urban tyres went on simply with a tube inside.
With tyres fitted, it was time to hit the trails and off-road tracks...
The Rapid Reds proved themselves to be stiff when ascending the long, steep road climb I have to take to get to my playground of gravel byways. They gave no feeling of any lateral flex as I hauled my way up the hill out of the saddle, and once on the gravel they felt just as tight when riding, braking and steering hard.
The front wheel uses 24 spokes laced up with 16 on the brake side in a two-cross pattern, and the other side of the hub getting just eight spokes crossing once.
The rear has the same number in a similar pattern, this time with the 16 laced two-cross on the drive side to resist the power going through the cassette, and the other eight on the non-drive/braking side.
Some gravel wheels come with 28 or even 32 spokes for added strength but I found the Fulcrums to be fine for quick riding off the beaten track. They took plenty of abuse, hitting potholes and tree roots at speed, and I had no issues with trueness at the start or the end of the test period. I would like to have seen brass nipples rather than aluminium, as the latter can corrode after prolonged use in tough conditions.
The hubs themselves are pretty chunky looking affairs, which gives a sense of robustness, and although the sealed cartridge bearings in the rear wheel were a little rough when I first collected the wheels, they soon smoothed out once they'd covered about 50 miles for everything to bed in.
If you aren't a fan of noisy freehubs then you'll like the Fulcrum one as it makes just a murmur when you stop pedalling. It is available in HG11 (Shimano splines) and SRAM XDr, like we have here.
Like most gravel bikes on the market, the Fulcrums accept 12mm diameter thru-axle spindles, and in the box you also get a pair of 15mm adaptors for the front wheel if you need them.
When it comes to value, the Rapid Reds offer a good balance of performance and weight for their £349.99 rrp.
At 1,650g (including tubeless tape) they weigh 115g less than the Hunts I mentioned earlier, although the Hunts felt much lighter than that in the real world so the difference is negligible. The Fulcrums are £25 more expensive, though you'll no doubt be able to get them cheaper at retail.
The Hunts feel slightly nicer to ride, too, and their hubs were smoother than the Fulcrums, but I'm talking a very small margin here. They also have a slightly higher recommended max rider weight of 115kg compared to the 109kg of the Fulcrums.
A similar build to the Fulcrums are the FSA Afterburner AGX wheels. They are also solid and can take plenty of abuse like the Fulcrums, but are £270 more expensive and 130g heavier.
Overall, the Fulcrum Rapid Racing 5 DBs are a welcome addition to the gravel market, offering an all-round decent performance and sensible weight without breaking the bank.
Tough set of gravel wheels with plenty of stiffness for not a lot of money
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Fulcrum Rapid Red 5DB gravel wheelset
Size tested: 700C
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?
Fulcrum says, "Bikepacking? Unsupported bike races? Breaking free from the limits of tarmac roads? Unpaved tracks, exciting journeys, trails and new horizons...
B-Road or "gravel" bikes are exceptionally popular, and the Rapid Red 5 DB wheel has been designed and developed by Fulcrum for this kind of riding.
Whilst developing the Rapid Red 5 DB, Fulcrum's R&D department has brought together all the experience and technical expertise gained while creating racing bike wheels, drawing on this to design a model for use on surfaces other than tarmac.
Unpaved roads, paths and dirt tracks call for a wider inner channel - 23 mm in this instance - with a low, ultra-resistant 24 mm rim, to cushion blows and deliver superb ride comfort, regardless of the stresses to which it is exposed.
The profile of the wheel enables tubeless ready tyres of between 33 and 46 mm to be fitted, with an extensive range of set-ups that can be adjusted in accordance with the type of tracks to be ridden. The 24 straight-head spokes are supported by a solid aluminium hub, ideal for tackling rough terrain and for taking the slightly higher weights of a bike that is ready to go on a journey."
They are good all-round gravel wheels that are fast enough to use on the road too.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
TYRE TYPE 2-Way fit Ready (for clincher and tubeless ready)
TYRE SIZE 28"
DISCIPLINE B-Road (Gravel)
ASTM CATEGORY 2
WEIGHT 1700 g
RIM MATERIAL Aluminum
RIM MATERIAL DETAILS Aluminium
PROFILE HEIGHT Low
RIM HEIGHT 24 mm
RIM WIDTH 28 mm
INNER RIM WIDTH (CHANNEL) 23 mm
TYRE WIDTH From 32 mm to 46 mm
BRAKING SYSTEM Disc brake
BRAKING SURFACE/BRAKES OPTIONS AFS
FRONT AXLE COMPATIBILITY HH15-100/HH12-100
REAR AXLE COMPATIBILITY HH12-142
FRONT WHEEL SPOKES 24
REAR WHEEL SPOKES 24
SPOKES: MATERIAL Aluminum
SPOKES: PROFILE Rounded, straight pull
FRONT HUB Aluminum, Aluminum flanges
REAR HUB Aluminum, Aluminum flanges
BEARINGS Sealed cartridge bearings
OTHERS Aluminum Axle
WEIGHT LIMIT 109 kg (Cyclist)
FWB OPTIONS HG11, XDr, Optional: Campy
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
The wheels stayed true throughout the test period and the spoke tension remained the same.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Very easy thanks to the wide rim bed.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
The rim tape fitted neatly and worked with both tubeless and tubed tyres, plus the threads/grooves for fitting the rotors were well within tolerance.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Easily stood up to the stresses and strains of off-road riding.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
The price is impressive for the wheel build.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Slightly rough hub bearings when new (although they did bed in).
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They are priced competitively against some of the best wheels in the market like the Hunts mentioned in the review. There are plenty others out there offering the same sort of build and weight for a lot more money, like the FSA Afterburner AGX.
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
It's a very good package: they're strong enough to take on the rough stuff without having a weight that impacts on performance, all for a good price.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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
As part of the tech team here at F-At Digital, senior product reviewer Stu spends the majority of his time writing in-depth reviews for road.cc, off-road.cc and ebiketips using the knowledge gained from testing over 1,500 pieces of kit (plus 100's of bikes) since starting out as a freelancer back in 2009. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 170,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him, he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. With a background in design and engineering, he has an obsession with how things are developed and manufactured, has a borderline fetish for handbuilt metal frames and finds a rim braked road bike very aesthetically pleasing!