Fulcrum’s Red Zone 3 wheelset is the newest alloy wheelset from the Italian brand, announced alongside a premium carbon version as well. Sitting atop the Red Zone alloy wheel range they still fall within the best budget MTB wheelsets.
Fulcrum’s aim with the Red Zone 3 is versatility, which means a drop in weight and a wider 25mm inner rim diameter over the existing Red Zone wheelsets. While this is still on the narrow end of the mountain bike spectrum, even for cross-country wheels, it’s right on the money for covering a range of applications from gravel to downcountry and everything in between.
We have been riding the new Fulcrum Red Zone 3 wheels to see how they stand up against some good Scottish winter cross-country action.
Design and aesthetics
Fulcrum’s new Red Zone 3 offers a notable upgrade over the existing Red Zone 5 budget alloy XC / marathon wheelset in Fulcrum’s range and is aimed at becoming a do-everything-go-faster wheelset. The CNC-machined rims are made in Europe and Fulcrum has increased the rim diameter too, which now measures at a 25mm internal diameter to better support wider tires between 2.2in and 2.4in.
The rims use an asymmetric design laced up with 24 spokes in the front and 28 spokes in the rear. The rims are 19mm deep and feature a smooth matt finish with laser-etched graphics and a red Fulcrum sticker.
The rims come tubeless ready, taped up from the factory and have valves included, so it’s just a case of fitting your best mountain bike tires and pouring in some sealant. That was my exact experience when I fitted my test wheels with some Pirelli Scorpion XC tires, which popped into place with a couple of good cracks at around 30psi.
Available only in Boost spacing, the hubs use simple cup and cone style bearings so riders who are into working on their own gear should be able to easily refresh the hubs and get them spinning smoothly again. If you want something a bit faster, the hubs are upgradeable to USB Ceramic bearings, which should offer an extra edge out on the trail.
An almost completely silent freehub doesn’t dilute the sound of tires on soil and while I do enjoy a buzzy rear hub, the silent glide was very pleasing on the trail too. Internally the 36T ratchet with three pawls gives 10-degrees of engagement, which might feel a little laggy on the first pedal stroke if you are used to faster hook-ups.
The full weight of the wheelset is 1,649g, which makes them decently competitive with many of the other mid-range alloy wheels and even some ‘budget’ carbon wheels that can retail for twice the price. The weight means that they are light enough to be fitted to a gravel bike without slowing things down too.
Performance and riding experience
I fitted my test wheels to my Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 1, a bike that sits squarely in the progress end of modern cross-country mountain bikes. Firstly it must be noted that our Red Zone 3 wheels and Pirelli Scorpion XC M and XC R 2.2in tires weighed just a touch heavier than the carbon Giant XCR 1 and Maxxis Rekon 2.4in stock that they replaced. Despite what would technically be a downgrade in wheels, there was little effect on the climbing and overall agility of the bike.
If you are moving from a stock alloy set of wheels, which often sit around the 2,000g mark, you are going to experience a dramatic enhancement in agility. At 1,649g (actual), they should present a noticeable gain in acceleration over most stock gravel wheelsets too.
They aren’t the snappiest wheels off the line, but after the hub engagement and initial wind up, they willingly spin up to speed and hold momentum well too. What comes across as a slightly docile feel from standstill reincarnates in a far more positive manner, offering a smooth ride quality. The smoothing effect is noticeable whether it’s high-frequency or proper chunder too, so you should feel the benefits on both gravel bike and mountain bike alike. When things get very chunky the Red Zone 3s are very forgiving, allowing you to slither through rocky straights rather than pinballing off line. If you are the type of rider who doesn’t get hung up with the trail detail, this can result in a superbly fast set of wheels that take your rough guidance on line choice and figure the details out themselves.
This can lead to some proper fast descending as the forgiveness becomes more apparent the harder the Red Zone 3s are pushed. Of course, with lightweight and compliant XC wheels, there is always the risk of an Icarus moment where you catch an edge or rock and everything comes undone, so you have to be wary as to what you are getting yourself into. Luckily I had no such moments during testing and my test wheels are still running straight and true.
Under high torqued turning maneuvers where you are really leveraging the increasingly wider cross-country handlebars, they do become a bit twangy. Struggling with the load up they can start to feel a little uncommitted to your line choice when compared to tighter wheel builds, stiffer carbon or heavier alloy options. This can result in some less than ideal ‘that will do’ line choices when attempting very dynamic direction changes, however, the same lateral flex that put you in that position seems to somewhat offset it. So as long as I kept the tires on the track they would usually sort out the mistakes they made.
A little twangy in high torque turning situations which can hinder precision during dynamic riding, however these lightweight wheels will flatter your riding with a silky smooth ride quality. Despite being rather unfairly tortured on rowdy downcountry descents, our test samples are still running true as well. Setup was simple and the well-considered dimensions and competitive weight make these a great budget performance boost for everything from rugged adventure bikepacking to sporty XC razzing.
Tech Specs: Fulcrum Red Zone 3 wheelset
- Price: $760 / £599.99 / €635
- Weight: 1,649g (755g front, 894g rear)
- Sizes: 29er, Boost
- Freehubs: XD, HG, Shimano MicroSpline
- Rotors: Centerlock
- Internal rim diameter: 25mm