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review

Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF

8
£929.99

VERDICT:

8
10
Expensive, but top performers if you want top tech in an alloy rim brake wheelset
Light
Very stiff
Very efficient
Premium construction
Expensive
Heavier than claimed with tubeless valves
Weight: 
1,540g

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If you're after a very fast and efficient rim brake wheelset for climbing hills, with an aluminium construction, the Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF is a very strong contender. Now tubeless-ready, it comes with pro-level trimmings such as carbon hubs and ceramic bearings – for a cost.

The Racing Zero 2WF is Fulcrum's top-of-the-range alloy wheelset for rim-braked bikes, sitting above the Racing 3 wheelset I reviewed back in 2018, taking weight-saving even further while featuring some high-end components to improve performance.

Construction

The rims are shallow – the front wheel is 27mm deep, the rear wheel slightly deeper at 30mm – with material milled out of the rim to save rotational mass. On our scales, they weigh 1,540g for the pair, which is decently light for an alloy wheelset, although it's 50g heavier than Fulcrum claims on its website, probably down to the supplied tubeless valves.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - rim detail 3.jpg

The '2WF' stands for 'two-way fit', which refers to Fulcrum's own overall design that optimises the rim for use with both tubed and tubeless tyres. It has a hooked design, with an internal width of 17mm, 22.5mm external.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - rim bed.jpg

The spoke nipples are fitted using Fulcrum's own 'Momag' process – essentially, using a magnet to guide the nipples into the pre-drilled holes of the outer rim, instead of drilling all the way through to the internal rim bed. The result is a completely smooth rim bed (save for the valve hole) and, Fulcrum says, a stronger, stiffer construction.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - spoke nipple.jpg

Additionally, there's no need for rim tape, which itself saves a little installation pain if you're a tubeless user.

The bladed spokes are arranged in an 8/8 and 7/14 configuration, with the rear wheel drive side benefiting from double the number of spokes in a two-cross pattern to promote rigidity. They're arranged in a tri-spoke format on the rear wheel, which in my opinion looks pretty cool.

At the centre of each wheel are carbon hubs, which are fitted with ceramic 'USB' bearings. USB stands for 'ultra-smooth bearing' here, with claims of 50% smoother performance compared with standard bearings, plus linked benefits on the scales as well as for longevity and reliability.

The freehub is Fulcrum's 'Plasma' model, which you'll find only on the Italian brand's high-performance wheelsets. Distinctive for the white body, it's said to be light without sacrificing hardiness, and delivers a very smooth, quiet thrum of a sound when spun up.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - rear hub.jpg

Overall, the build quality and attention to detail is excellent. Since I first got them out of the box, and now through testing, the Racing Zeros look great and haven't skipped a beat with any spoke tensioning issues or otherwise. Even the quick-release skewers seem high quality and clamp down with a reassuring action.

Although out of the scope of this review and likely outside their normal target use case, I'll be interested to see how well they stand up to winter conditions too.

Performance

There's no place that the Racing Zero 2WFs are more at home than on a climb. Although they weigh a little more than claimed on the road.cc Scales of Truth, they're rapid when heading uphill.

The stiff construction transfers every watt of effort into forward motion – get out of the saddle and put the hammer down and you instantly shoot forwards. There's fast engagement at the freehub, but I think it's the light rims paired with impressive stiffness that really lights a fire when ascending.

For comparison, on one local climb where gradients tip towards 14 per cent in a couple of areas and average almost 10 per cent for the whole segment, my climbing speed was about the same as when using a 40mm-deep carbon Vision SC 40 wheelset and holding a seemingly equivalent effort.

There's a 130g difference in overall weight between the two wheelsets on our scales, and I think conditions on the respective days were slightly favourable towards the carbon set, but it suggests alloy wheelset performance can be right up there in the right situations when you're shopping in the sub-£1,000 bracket.

Naturally, they can't compete in the aero department – the aero bladed spokes and a slightly deeper 30mm rear wheel are a nod to an attempt at cheating the wind, but in reality on the flat they'll always be found wanting versus deeper section carbon rims.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - rim detail 2.jpg

That said, the ceramic bearing hubs are a delight to roll on. Accepting the lack of aero performance, the ride quality is superb, while freewheeling does feel 'without drag'. This also contributes to the impressive climbing ability, and if you find yourself in the middle of a group of riders sheltering from the wind, suddenly you can find your effort levels dropping off a small cliff as you let everyone else do the wind-pushing work and you get to drift along.

The Racing Zeros are very stable in crosswinds, as you might expect, especially once you're used to riding them. The low rotational weight does mean the front wheel especially responds very quickly to your inputs, which can initially feel a little over-sensitive.

For example, on my first rides whenever I got hit by a strong sideways gust, I'd respond to it by tweaking my body weight distribution and pressure into the handlebar, which would bring about a 'darty' reaction from the front. Immediately before testing, I'd been used to riding a completely different, heavier setup, which meant that I needed to soften my developed instincts when challenged by a gusty wind.

But, once you're used to the Racing Zeros' tendency to respond to the lightest input, they feel very stable and largely unaffected by crosswinds. Unsurprisingly, it's the human on the bike that's more affected by them!

The handling is impressively reactive, leaning more towards a knife-edge style of behaviour than duller responses that can characterise heavier wheelsets. The slightest input at the bar brings an immediate change in direction, which makes descending a real pleasure. As I've already alluded to, it can take a little time to build up confidence in their 'lightest-touch' characteristics, but once you're used to them they make dropping down a twisty, technical descent a breeze.

The alloy brake track performs well in all conditions, delivering reassuringly strong and controllable stopping power in the wet when paired with my usual pads of choice. If you're still riding rim brakes, an alloy brake track versus most carbon alternatives, especially at this price point, still offers arguably the best all-round performance.

2022 Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF - rim detail 1.jpg

I suspect that speed merchants who want to hit the fastest top speeds on a more sweeping Alpine or Pyrenean descent will miss the aero performance that a deeper wheelset will provide, but if ultimate top speed doesn't matter to you, the Racing Zeros will deliver a satisfying experience time and again.

Also, their overall light-footedness really does make them a great partner for long rides. Aside from the obvious aero performance shortfall if you're comparing them against similarly priced mid-depth carbon wheels, the ride is otherwise very efficient. Getting to the end of rides with tired legs (my rides often end in a climb to where I live), I was finding myself genuinely grateful for the lightweight performance they offer.

I've had the Racing Zeros set up with inner tubes for testing, using 25mm Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance tyres (the previous generation to these tested by Jamie in 2020), to test with a known benchmark. Supported by the 17mm internal rim with the built-in channel, they blow out to just a shade over 25mm under my usual tyre pressures.

Set up like this, they deliver decent levels of comfort too, given their stiff construction, even if the internal rim bed trend these days is heading even wider. You can, according to Fulcrum, run up to 38mm tyres if you choose – not that any rim brake bike frame would be able to accommodate them. With my Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-equipped Canyon Ultimate, for example, you could perhaps squeeze on 28mm rubber before things got too tight for comfort.

Value

At the £1,000 price point, there's a real question around opting for carbon or alloy wheelsets.

I've tested a couple of excellent sub-£1,000 carbon rim brake wheels in recent times: the Vision SC 40s I mentioned earlier, a few pennies shy of £970 when I reviewed them, though now £1,089.95, and the Hunt 36 Carbon Wides, now £699, which are also available with deeper rims for a few quid more if you wanted more aero performance from that design.

Liam's also tested the brilliantly priced £600 Prime RR-50 V3 Carbon Clinchers.

Each of those wheelsets received 9/10 overall scores, seriously impressing when it came to value too, though none of those come with the trimmings of ceramic bearings or carbon hubs.

> Buyer’s Guide: 10 of the best road bike and gravel bike wheels

Looking at alternative alloy offerings, Stu tested the Token DHuezz Zenith wheelset through the summer of 2020, giving it 8/10 overall. It features a ceramic-coated brake track for impressive performance in that department, and is light and stiff to boot – and now costs £749.99.

You can get great performance for a lot less, too – Hunt's Race Aero Wide wheelset and Scribe's Race wheelset both cost well below half the price – currently £399 and £410 respectively – and though they lack the same attention to detail in areas like the rim milling, they are still light and impressed us. Again, ceramic bearings and carbon hubs are out of the question at these prices.

Conclusion

At a penny under £930, there's no getting away from the fact that the Racing Zero wheelset is expensive, even if it's a top-performing one – and that's before you start looking at the competition from good value carbon wheels too.

You do get great performance, though; aside from the aero shortfall, they handle sharply and the ceramic bearings offer a very smooth, efficient ride. They're very well made, the milling takes all the unnecessary weight out of the rim, and they're stiff as you like without ever feeling harsh – making them excellent partners for long rides and for climbing. Plus, the alloy brake track offers good feel and stopping power.

In short, they're about as good as you can get these days for an alloy rim brake wheelset, and if that's what you want, the Racing Zeros are a strong option. It's just that in today's world of rising costs on so many fronts, you can probably get the vast majority of the performance offered here for much less.

Verdict

Expensive, but top performers if you want top tech in an alloy rim brake wheelset

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Fulcrum Racing Zero 2WF

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: "The gold standard among high-level aluminum road bike wheels.

"With the unmistakable character that everybody knows well, the absolute ability to transmit your energy on the asphalt, its extreme riding precision. Unrivaled in the peloton: extraordinary performance and high impact aesthetics make these road bike wheel the point of reference for cyclists. Race after race, Zero wheels have become synonymous with excellence, quality, performance, reliability... and now tubeless too!"

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?

Fulcrum lists these key features:

- 2-WAY FIT™

- RDB™ RIM DYNAMIC BALANCE

- USB™ - CERAMIC ULTRA SMOOTH BEARINGS™

- 2:1 TWO-TO-ONE™

- MOMAG™

- ANTI-ROTATION SYSTEM™

- F.I.C. FULCRUM IDENTIFICATION CARD

- 100% HANDMADE QUALITY

- TRACEABILITY

- SQUARE MILLING

- DIFFERENTIATED RIM HEIGHT

- CARBON HUBS

- PLASMA FREEHUB

- SPECIFIC NIPPLE HOUSING

Rate the wheel for quality of construction:
 
9/10
Rate the wheel for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the wheel for durability:
 
9/10

So far so good, and first indications give me confidence that they'll last through winter seasons too.

Rate the wheel for weight
 
8/10

Light, but not as light as some rivals, and the claimed weight doesn't factor in the valves (25g each).

Rate the wheel for value:
 
4/10

Okay, you get some high-grade components here that go some way to justifying the price tag. Ceramic bearings and carbon hubs often live at the very top of the performance world. But you can get some seriously good wheels for less than half the money – and carbon wheelsets that offer good aero prowess too are also available for markedly less.

Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?

Yes, I had no issues.

How easy did you find it to fit tyres?

Very easy – the rim design offers a little more space than I'm used to, which is nice.

How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?

Great, the skewers are high quality. And there's no need for rim tape here thanks to the Momag assembly method.

Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Very well, it's one of the best performing lightweight alloy wheelsets around.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel

Light, very stiff, very efficient, premium construction.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel

Expensive compared with some very good alternatives.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

Whichever way you look at it, the Racing Zeros are expensive, even factoring in the carbon hubs and ceramic bearings. Do those premium parts really add so much value? Check out the value section in my review for a longer discussion.

Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes

Would you consider buying the wheel? I'd shortlist it.

Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Possibly, if they wanted something delivering best performance from an alloy wheelset. But there's loads of competition that I might more readily recommend.

Use this box to explain your overall score

If they were better value, perhaps £100 or so less to compete with the likes of the £750 Token DHuezz wheelset, then it might score higher overall. There's no doubting this wheelset's performance and quality, though.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 32  Height: 188cm  Weight: 80kg

I usually ride: Canyon Ultimate CF SL (2016), Fairlight Strael 3.0 (2021)  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Under 5 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Dabble in Zwift training and racing

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