Fulcrum Speed 42 wheelset review: Silky smooth
The Italian brand's latest wheelset brings lower weight, improved aerodynamics, and a whole lot of polish.
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Ask your favorite sage bike shop employee, and they’ll tell you that Fulcrum was started in 2004 by Campagnolo as a way to sell wheels and accessories to cyclists who didn’t want the Campagnolo name on their bikes. There were plenty of folks with Shimano and SRAM parts on their bikes who wanted something high quality and with Italian pedigree but who weren’t necessarily drawn to the Campy brand.
Nearly 20 years later, Fulcrum is still at it. They’re still tied at the hip to Campagnolo, sharing technologies and still making high-quality wheels.
Their latest release is the Fulcrum Speed 42 wheelset. It features a deeper and wider rim, improved hub mechanics, and the same build quality that sets the Italian company apart.
Fulcrum Speed 42 rims are wider and deeper
If one were to go purely by specs, the new Fulcrum Speed 42 wheels look fairly average. The tubeless compatible rims offer a 23 mm internal rim width, with a 29.3 mm outer width and 42 mm depth. Fulcrum claims a Speed 42 wheelset weighs 1,410 grams out of the box.
Solid specs, but nothing especially noteworthy, particularly for what is essentially Fulcrum’s top line of wheels.
But take a further look and there is more than meets the eye of the Speed 42 wheels.
The Fulcrum Speed wheels rely on what the company calls their ‘2-Way Fit’ technology for tubeless compatibility. Their combination of resins and unidirectional carbon fiber features a completely sealed outer wall with just one hole for the valve. The rims themselves are a hooked bead design that Fulcrum says allows for the use of both tubeless and clincher-only tires. More on that later.
Fulcrum claims a lack of spoke holes means there is hardly any interruption to the spoke holes to make the wheels stronger and stiffer. Replacing spokes and spoke nipples might be a bit more of a challenge, but the overall result is a wheel that sets up tubeless without the use of fussy rim tape.
Fulcrum’s latest hub is redesigned. The hubs use Campagnolo’s tried-and-true adjustable, angular-contact, cup-and-cone bearings, but they use the brand’s Ultra Smooth Bearings (USB) system. Fulcrum guarantees that these hybrid ceramic bearings are 50 percent smoother than standard bearings. While I cannot test that, the hubs spin with a silkiness that is hard to match, both in hand and on the road.
Of course, that silkiness is dependent on ensuring the hubs maintain proper adjustment, but Campagnolo’s hubs and bearings have a history of durability.
The freehub sticks to a 3-pawl system with 36 teeth inside. This amounts to a 10-degree engagement speed. Not anything worth bragging about, but plenty for the vast majority of road bike riders. Fulcrum offers freehubs compatible with SRAM XDR, Shimano HG11, and Campagnolo N3W. No surprise there.
One unique bit about Fulcrum’s hubs is that while they accept Centerlock rotors, they don’t use a standard internally-threaded lockring. Rather, Fulcrum — and Campagnolo — place the threads externally and use their own lockrings. According to Fulcrum, this allows for larger, more durable bearings inside the hub and wider bearing spacing, again for improved durability.
Just make sure you have a Park BBT-9 or a deep socket that offers enough room to tighten the lockring around the hub’s large aluminum axle, as many bottom bracket tools won’t offer enough clearance to tighten Fulcrum’s lockring.
Fulcrum uses 24 bladed steel spokes per wheel in their Two-to-One system. That means the front wheel has 16 spokes on the disc side (and eight on the other), while the rear wheel has 16 spokes on the cassette side (and eight on the other). Per Fulcrum, doing so maximizes torsional stiffness where necessary to contrast forces from braking or accelerating.
Interestingly, Fulcrum has intentionally designed this wheelset such that the spokes don’t actually touch as they cross over one another. Doing so should eliminate the creaking that one might find in a wheelset with anodized black spokes, but Fulcrum says it increases the wheel’s long-term longevity.
The result is an impressively well-tensioned wheelset that needed zero adjustments out of the box. I haven’t reviewed many wheelsets during my time at CyclingTips, but it is surprising how often even high-end wheelsets need some sort of adjustment out of the box.
Not to be left out of the aerodynamics wars, Fulcrum claims the wider 29 mm outer rim diameter is best optimized for a 28 mm tire. Fulcrum says the “average aerodynamic advantage in a headwind has been increased by 10 percent compared to the previous [Fulcrum] Speed wheels.” Not much info to glean there, frankly.
I would be remiss to not mention the wheel’s looks. It is absolutely incredible to look at, a truly high-end-looking bit of carbon with metallic logos with hub aesthetics to match the rims. Fulcrum says the rims come straight out of the mold like this with what they call their Direct Inmold Matt Finish (DIMF). But I also particularly like the laser etching they use for wheel details and the metallic foil they use for the Fulcrum badge on the rim and hub.
As mentioned earlier, Fulcrum claims a Speed 42 wheelset weighs 1,410 grams out of the box. Our measured weight of 1,399 grams (648 grams front, 751 grams rear) with tubeless valves makes them about 10 grams lighter than the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels and 10 grams heavier than the ENVE SES 3.4, likely to be the Speed 42’s closest comparison.
Wheels like the Hunt 44 UD carbon spoke wheels (that come in at a lower price point) and Zipp 353 NSW (that come in at a much higher price point) are also likely to be considered.
Riding the Fulcrum Speed 42
If I knew nothing about Fulcrum (and Campagnolo, Fulcrum’s parent company) and the wheels they made, the spec sheet here would allow me to skip over these wheels without much thought. And while this is another example of a cheaper wheel option likely delivering 99 percent of the same performance, the Fulcrum Speed 42 wheels are very, very good.
Setting up tires was relatively easy. Fulcrum’s instructions suggest brushing down the tire and rim hooks with soapy water to facilitate the tire seating. I didn’t have to do that, though I wasn’t able to mount any of my tubeless-specific road tires from Pirelli, Vittoria, and Teravail with a floor pump. You’ll want to find your friend (or a friendly bike shop) with an air compressor to get these tires seated.
Fortunately, all of those tires were able to be fitted with a pair of strong thumbs or one tire lever. All tires snapped convincingly into place and required some massaging to remove from the rim once the air was gone, a positive sign for tire and rim fitment.
Once at speed, the wheels seem almost glide as the freehub is nearly silent in the stand and overshadowed by tire and ambient noise around you. As much as folks like a loud, buzzy freehub, I’ll take a quiet freehub and the sounds of the outdoors every day of the week.
If I were to describe the Speed 42’s ride quality, I’d call it forgiving. The wheels rode smoothly even with tires at a higher pressure and had no trouble cornering confidently on both a racier road bike and a more relaxed endurance road bike.
Further, they had no trouble maintaining higher speeds, whether climbing, descending, or keeping up in a paceline. They didn’t feel noticeably caught up by crosswinds, at least no more than my personal ENVE SES 3.4 carbon wheels, widely known to be one of the most stable carbon wheelsets one can buy.
It all points to a wheelset that performs as well as the very best wheels, with the build quality and stunning good looks to match.
At this price point, however, is a great-riding wheel and superior build quality enough to distinguish it from the competition? I’m not so sure. It may be just marketing hype but Enve, Zipp, Princeton, Reserve, and others have gone for the cyclist who cares about aero efficiency. Fulcrum has shared that their wheels are faster than before, but that doesn’t provide any info on how they compare to the competition.
The Speed 42 rims are contemporary, and the rim profile looks plenty aerodynamic, but until there is proof otherwise, all there is for proof of aero efficiency is a road tech editor at CyclingTips saying, “Yeah, they felt pretty solid, and Fulcrum says they’re better in a headwind than before!”
I’m not sure that’s enough to justify the price point.
Further, Fulcrum’s warranty is a scant two years compared to other brands’ more comprehensive (and sometimes lifetime) warranties. Given Fulcrum’s track record of durability and the wheel’s focus on reliability and longevity, the Speed 42 wheels may not need the warranty, though peace of mind would be nice.
The Fulcrum Speed 42 wheels are one of my favorite wheels I’ve ridden in a long time. The build quality is top-tier. The wheels roll fast and feel even better over rough pavement, and the wheelset’s looks bring a sense of polish to even the nicest road bikes. That will likely be enough for most people to choose these wheels over the competition.
But if you’re looking for the utmost performance advantage from your carbon wheels — as most people are — I am not convinced these wheels are the answer. Hardly any wheelset purchase at the high end is a purely rational decision, however.
If you’re willing to listen to your heart, then the Fulcrum Speed 42 wheels make for a satisfyingly smooth choice.
Price: $2692 / € 2,265.00 / £ 2000 (with Shimano HG11 freehub)