Fulcrum's Racing 3 is a mid-range wheelset that, if it coincides with your budget, should be on your upgrade shortlist. They're quick, nimble, stiff and offer good value for money, arguably putting some more expensive competitors in the shade.
- Pros: Quick, nimble, stiff, won't break the bank
- Cons: Not tubeless-ready, a touch heavy versus a key rival
When it comes to mid-range hoops, around £500-£750, there's a lot to choose from, and all the major manufacturers stake a claim to be top dog in this area. Fulcrum, with its Racing 3s especially, has always been there or thereabouts, and the latest model has received an update, with a widened 17mm internal rim bed (22.5mm external) that's been milled out – triple-milled, if you read Fulcrum's press – and 'pre-aged' for added reliability and longevity. That makes it a suitable width for both 25mm and 28mm tyres – which is pretty much the norm now wherever you look in the road scene.
The wheelset retains the manufacturing techniques of the previous model: the MoMag method of installing spoke nipples removes the need for drilling in the rim bed and ensures that it remains smooth, negating the need for rim tape in the process and theoretically reducing rotational weight while improving rigidity. Plus, the milling process sheds unnecessary filler weight between the structural nipple areas. You see much the same thinking with Mavic's Ksyrium Elite USTs and Stu really liked those.
However, the Racing 3s are not designed to be run tubeless, which, in a world where tubeless compatibility is coming to not only the Ksyriums but more entry-level products like the Aksium Elite USTs, seems a little shortsighted.
You do get a tweaked hub flange design, which is said to shave a few grams while increasing lateral stiffness, and that marries to a 2:1 spoke count to better support the drive side in the rear wheel. Throw in aero bladed spokes (16 up front and 21 at the rear), a heat treated freehub and a thought-through 25mm front wheel depth matched to a 30mm rear wheel depth, and it's an impressive spec sheet for £549.99.
So, how do they ride? Well, after a good six weeks with them, I can tell you this: they're just about as good as it gets at this price, and can also arguably challenge more premium hoops for out and out fun too.
At 1,600g for a set, they're a reasonable weight at this price point without standing out from the crowd – in fact, you could argue that the 1,532g non-tyred weight of the Ksyrium Elite USTs, complete with tubeless bead hooks, puts them well into the shade – but it's clear that the weight is exactly where you want it, near the centre of the wheel, rather than rotating around the outside.
This means that acceleration is very good for a wheel of this price – more or less matching the very good performance the equivalent Mavics offer – and that really pays dividends when climbing. In or out of the saddle, it gives plenty back for your efforts and you never feel held back by either the price tag or the material they're made from.
I quite like a 'chunky' sounding freehub (as long as it doesn't bore my ears out every time I stop pedalling), but Fulcrum's is almost silent. Whether that appeals to you or not, there's no denying that it does give the impression of a well-oiled construction.
It feels smooth too, as does the entire experience. I fitted 25mm Michelin Power Endurance tyres, and the overall rolling quality is markedly better than on, say, my own previous-generation Mavic Ksyrium Pros, which have had this very set of tyres fitted on them.
Those are a bit more lively (as are, I suspect, the direct Elite rivals) – a bit sharper when really putting the hammer down, and they feel more likely to give a faster time up a climb when all other things are equal – but there's no doubt that the Racing 3s have the edge when it comes to comfort and reducing transmission of road buzz, even without a tubeless setup.
I'm also impressed by the rolling speed of these wheels too. The shallow rim depths suggest you're not going to be getting much in the way of aero performance, but while that is technically true they maintain their speed with smile-inducing efficiency. I guess it's mostly down to that quality freehub, while the slightly deeper rear wheel could also be having a small influence.
What don't have an influence on your direction of travel are crosswinds – the Racing 3s proved incredibly stable throughout testing, boding well for sometimes blowy conditions found in the darker season.
A 'pre-aged' 6082-T6 aluminium brake track provides ample braking performance. Using my Shimano Dura-Ace setup (and standard brake blocks), I got good feel through the levers, and the braking forces were very controllable. The 'pre-aged' treatment should boost longevity, and while these days disc brakes in general and fancy rim brake treatments tend to win the day here, the alloy track is dependable and reliable in a wide range of conditions, if not that great in the wet.
My only other small gripe with them, aside from the lack of tubeless compatibility, is how they look. They're a little plain to my eye, which is a shame when I'm used to defaulting back to an Exalith brake-tracked Ksyrium Pro wheelset when I don't have a wheelset on test. To be honest, though, I'm really picking holes in what is an otherwise outstanding budget performance wheelset, build quality and all.
Not the mid-range wheel for tubeless devotees, but other than that a great performance deal
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Fulcrum Racing 3 C17 wheels
Size tested: 28in tyres
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: "All-rounder, Endurance, Training... the words that can be used to describe this model are infinite. It is a wheel that has always been chosen as the ideal mid-range solution and has heaps of character.
"With Racing 3 you can't go wrong.
"This is a sturdy and comfortable wheel ideal for long distance cycling thanks to the enhanced shock absorption guaranteed by its aerodynamic steel spokes.
"Reliable and ultra-stylish there is no need to compromise.
"It is suitable for two types of cyclists: those who use it for training and don't want to compromise on a quality cycling experience and passionate cyclists who go out for long rides and place importance on the versatility and comfort the Racing 3 offers."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Fulcrum lists these features:
- RDB™ RIM DYNAMIC BALANCE
- 2:1 TWO-TO-ONE™
- DRSC™ - DIRECTIONATED RIM-SPOKE COUPLING
- ANTI-ROTATION SYSTEM™
- F.I.C. FULCRUM IDENTIFICATION CARD - 100% HANDMADE QUALITY
- WIDE RIM TECH
- CUP & CONE
- DIFFERENTIATED RIM HEIGHT
- HIGH STRENGTH
- ALUMINUM OVERSIZE FLANGE
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
Yes, no issues here at all.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Very easy – standard clincher recesses do still make this easier than the vast majority of tubeless-ready hooks.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
No rim tape, but skewers were good quality with no issues.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well indeed, especially as a simple performance clincher wheel.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Quick, nimble, stiff, won't break the bank.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Not tubeless-ready, a touch heavy versus a key rival.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
I've compared these with the Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST wheels throughout this review, and with good reason. Those are a couple of notes cheaper, and you get tubeless compatibility, tyres and less weight in the wheel itself.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Yes
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes, but I'd also be championing the Ksyrium Elite USTs pretty hard too.
Use this box to explain your overall score
If push came to shove, I'd pick the Mavic Ksyriums with their 9/10 rating and on-paper stats, so it's fair to award the Fulcrums 8/10 as they're very, very good if you're still resisting tubeless tech.
About the tester
I usually ride: Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL (2016) 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: time trialling, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding