"Where's Gilberto? Has anyone seen Simoni," asks one of the marketing representatives of Fulcrum wheels to the crowd of 30 or 40 riders gathered around the Canazei Bike Park tram station, near Val Gardena Italy.
He is referring to legendary road racer Gilberto Simoni, who is somewhere on the mountain, dressed in full knee and elbow pads that are strapped over his Lycra team kit. After several minutes, Simoni comes careening around a corner and onto the paved road where everyone is waiting.
Simoni, now retired from road racing, is one of the newest additions to the roster of Fulcrum-sponsored athletes. The brand, started by Campagnolo in 2004, started off offering road wheels and introduced a line of high-end cross-country mountain bike wheels three years ago. Most famously, Julien Absalon has used Fulcrum wheels during his back-to-back World Championships in 2007 and 2008, and on his successful bid for an Olympic gold medal in China.
Now, Fulcrum is expanding its line. Last year the company added a 29er, as well as the Red Fire downhill wheel. To support the line, the team sponsored gravity racers Nathan Rankin and Shaun O'Connor, among others, were also on hand in Italy for the introduction of the new wheels.
Despite the presence of Simoni and the DH racers, the biggest news from Fulcrum was the introduction of the brand's Red Zone "Enduro" wheels. The line consists of two models—the higher-end Red Zone XLR and the standard Red Zone. Both wheels are intended for bikes with 130-150 millimeters of travel and share the same 21-millimeter-wide rim and freehub body.
The 1,705-gram Red Zone XLR wheels use aluminum spokes, higher-end nipples and slightly different hub flanges. They are stiffer, weigh 50 grams less and will cost about $990—compare that to $770 for the standard Red Zone, which uses stainless-steel spokes and nipples.
Both wheels have 24 spokes front and rear (laced two-cross in the rear, single-cross in front) and both use cup-and-cone bearings. The XLR is manufactured in Italy, while the standard Red Zone is assembled in Taiwan. The wheels share many features with Fulcrum's other mid- to high-end wheels, such as UST compatibility and a four-pawl freehub body that engages every 10 degrees.
The other new wheel is the lower-cost Red Metal 10. Fulcrum expects this 1,955-gram cross-country wheel, which is assembled in Taiwan and will be offered only as OE (original equipment) spec, to appeal mostly to bike manufactures looking for a quality, affordable wheel for mid-level bikes.
The rest of Fulcrum's Red Metal line also saw significant changes for 2010. Many of the rims received extra machining to further reduce weight. The middle-of-the-pack $650 Red Metal 3 wheels (the line contains the Red Metal Zero, 1, 3, 5 and 10) dropped 140 grams compared to last year and now weigh 1,685 grams a set. The 1,805-gram Red Metal 5, assembled in Taiwan, is a $370 XC wheel intended for the masses. All Red Metal wheels, as well as the 1,466-gram Red Carbon (which hit cash registers at—cough—$3,600 a set), use 19-millimeter-wide rims.
Fulcrum offered two days of test rides on the wheels based out of the Monte Pana Hotel. The hotel is in the heart of Val Gardena and offers easy access to the region's many lifts, trails and gravelly Jeep roads. Many of the test bikes got the full "Euro" set-up treatment and discerning how the wheels performed was difficult at best on 1.85-inch tires that skittered across the loose, rocky trails. But the wheels (we rode the Red Zone XLR and Red Metal 1) felt sufficiently stiff, engaged respectably quickly and few, if any, of the 30 test riders reported any damage more than a flat tire—impressive considering the relatively rugged trails surrounding around the craggy Dolomite peaks.
Stay tuned for a complete long-term test on the Red Zone wheels.