For a long time now I've wanted to review a set of Mad Fiber wheels. I first saw these exotic looking wheels last year on someone's bike on Beach Road and he was raving on about how using them are practically cheating. Last week I finally got my hands on a set of Mad Fiber clinchers and had a couple rides on them. Here are my impressions...
BEFORE THE RIDE
It’s obvious from the first glance that these wheels are built differently than all the rest. But first thing’s first – the looks. There’s no sitting on the fence here and your opinions will be polarised. You’ll either love them or or you’ll hate them. Personally, I prefer a more traditional looking set of wheels, but I’m intrigued by their innovative design and how this translates into performance. If you don’t like the looks of the decals, there is a stealth option now available.
The rims are built from three distinct pieces: the two sidewalls and the tire seat (aluminium on the clinchers, carbon in the tubulars). Most carbon wheels are manufactured using a system of bladders and molds to create the complete rim shape. Mad Fiber says that their method enables exceptional control of the carbon manufacturing process, minimizing voids and eliminating the use of excess resin, resulting in increased strength and decreased weight.
The spokes are perhaps the most standout feature of the Mad Fibers. Their philosophy is to get away from emulating the way an alloy wheel is built and to maximise the strength and properties of carbon fiber. They bond wide carbon spokes to both the rim walls and the flanges. This eliminates the issue of spoke hole drilling/reinforcing, and it spreads the wheel load over a broad area, increasing strength and aerodynamic benefit while decreasing weight. Mad Fiber says that creating a hole in the rim weakens the rim right at the point where the spokes and nipples apply a stress concentration.
You’ll probably notice that there’s no provision for being able to true these spokes. According to Mad Fiber, truing is not necessary – ever. “Our precise engineering and exacting production methods mean Mad Fiber wheels emerge from the manufacturing process perfectly true. And because they are singular constructs there are no parts to rub and wear against each other; there are no structural metals that can elongate or deform with use. In other words, they do not go out of true. There is no provision for wheel-truing, because it is completely unnecessary. Mad Fibers are made true, and stay true.”
The rear wheel has a one-piece driveside rear spoke (i.e. the entire group of spokes is one piece).
• Rim Depth – 60mm front, 66mm rear
• Spokes – 12 five-ply bladed carbon spokes front, 18 rear
• Weight – 1,300g/pair
• Hubs – titanium cassette body, cromoly axles, sealed cartridge bearings
• Bearings – 6802 front, 6902 & 6802 rear cartridge bearings
• Skewers – Mad Fiber titanium
• Brake Pads – Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo compatible proprietary composition
• Warranty – 4 years with crash replacement policy
• Rider Weight Limit – None
• Compatibility – Shimano/SRAM, Campagnolo
• MSRP – $3,445/pair, $3,695/pair with ceramic bearings (AUD incl. GST) (Tubulars same price)
• UCI approved for competition (see the full list of approved wheels here)
My mate David Everett took a tour of Mad Fiber’s factory in Seattle last year to see how these wheels are built. Note that the production capabilities of Mad Fiber have increased substantially since the time of this video.
AFTER THE RIDE
I took these wheels out for two rides. One on a fast bunch ride on Beach Road, and the other on a ride into the hills of the Dandenong Ranges.
The first thing you’ll notice is how incredibly well these wheels accelerate. Once they’re up to speed they hold their momentum remarkably well for such a light wheel. Mad Fiber claims some impressive aerodynamic test results, but I’m not so certain that I experienced the same thing in real world conditions. Granted the front wheel is 60mm deep, it’s very unpredictable in the crosswinds. This is compared to my own experiences with the Zipp 404′s or HED Jet 60′s, which handle very well in the wind and don’t throw you around the way the Mad Fibers do.
In terms of performance and feel, I’d be comfortable comparing these to the Lightweights that I used to own. Similar to the Lightweights they were solid, accelerated amazingly well, have that same “whoosh rattle whoosh” sound, but both are unpredictable in the wind. They’re not quite as stiff as the lightweights but offer a slightly more comfortable ride (however tyres are a big factor which weren’t necessarily identical). In terms of practicality, they’re quite similar as well. The spokes cannot be fixed without sending back to the factory and both have a fairly rough finish (or “character” as some might call it).
Mad Fiber has a 4 year damage and replacement policy. The way it works in Australia (only if purchased locally) is that you simply send the damaged wheels back to the local distributor, pay $400, and he gives you a new set of wheels from his stock. This takes only a few days.
With regards to braking, I do question their design. The clinchers have an aluminium rim bed but the carbon is bonded right over top of it. I’ve asked the local distributor about this and he tells me that this design choice is intentional. The carbon comes all the way up to the top of the aluminium bed and wraps right around for strength. The braking performance of an aluminium surface is far better than carbon so I’m disappointed that they didn’t use this to their advantage. Mad Fiber recommends using their proprietary brake pads which come with each set of wheels.
The valve stem hole shows a perspective into the compact carbon construction
The finish on the hubs is quite rough but adds to the "handmade" story of these wheels
You can see the rough finish of the carbon bonded to the aluminium rim. This may get worse as tyre levers are used more often
The carbon sidewall is bonded to an aluminium rim and the braking surface is completely carbon. The resin finish does not seem to hold up well and I was worried about using a tyre lever to remove the tyre since you can see that damage that I did in my initial attempt. From what I understand, getting tyres on can be very difficult and the use of talc is needed & recommended.
I'l always applaud anyone for thinking differently and Mad Fiber has certainly done this with their wheel design. They've capitalised on the strength of carbon fiber and have made a remarkable wheel that performs amazingly well at a price point that's less than similar offerings such as Lightweight and Mavic.
Includes 4yr damage and replacement policy
Better price point than similar offerings
Maintenance not very practical for most of us
Unpredictable handling in the crosswinds
Carbon braking surface instead of aluminium
Poor carbon bonding finish on the aluminium rim
Rough finish on the hubs, but adds to the "handbuilt" nature of the wheels
I had the opportunity to buy a pair of the mad fiber tubular rims, and as part of the evaluation, asked the shop owner if i could ride his for a week in exchange for his riding my 2010 zipp 303 tubulars.
* comfortable (absorbed shock well)
* light (about 90-100g lighter than the zipp 303)
* great looking
* strong (I didn't test this)
* extreme "flex" or deflection laterally at the rim when out of saddle
* aerodynamics (per their own tests)
* poor crosswind performance
Verdict: no thanks: happily went back to my zipp 303
* flex: i weigh about 175lbs, and am more a sprinter or rolleur, and everytime I put the power down out of the saddle (honking) the rims hit the brakes. Under a strong sprint, the tire hit both inside chainstays (original cervelo r3sl). By comparison, the zipps will deflect enough to barely hit the brake pads under full sprint, which I was afraid to do on these wheels. The shop owner races cross on them, so they are strong, but they deflect easily.
* aero - their own article bears this out - they only do well at huge yaw angles, otherwise they are far behind the state of the art
* value: why pay more than the zipp 303s for a little incremental gain in weight, but worse aero performance? overall that means pay more money, go slower? not for me.
If they stiffen these up laterally, and keep the price and weight the same, then match aero performance of zipp and hed, maybe.
If I was going to buy them, it would be for fashion alone.
Value For Money
Only recently purchased, but after 12+ months of circling. Koiled were good to deal with, and the risk-benefits of contraband/grey-import gear should be considered.
The 2013 wheel-sets feature still further improved design, detail and finish. They can be distinguished from CTs by the additional circular disc layered onto the drive-side spoke/flange assembly. They now have Shimano 11-speed & Campag compatible White Industries hubs (just swap the FHB's) ?based on the White Industry T11 hubset. The gluing and edge-treatments seem to have made further advances wrt appearance.
I emailed MadFiber a few months ago to ask about tubeless-clincher compatibility. Not recommended any more as apparently the 7 mm bead on the tubeless tyres places much more stress on the rim side-walls. Not sure how so many punters get away with tubeless conversions, and the rim-hole-free rim beds are just so tempting, but anyhow....
I think the responsiveness and climbing compatibility from dumping 300 gms, cf other carbon and carbon-alloy deep-rim clinchers, make these wheels worth considering. Also full cred to a small company (with significant background in the principals) that takes an innovative and customer focused approach.
Value For Money
Had these on advance order for six months; rode them a few times when they came in and swapped them for the Enve 6.7 clinchers.
Really excited about the ability to run them tubeless, which would have been unique for carbon aero clinchers. Mounted them and they started to buckle. Company then weaseled out of the tubeless claims they'd marketed them with.
Could have lived with that, but the aerodynamic were a complete blocker. They became seriously, scarily floaty at exactly 41 mph, so they were completely unnerving on descents. Almost like the front wheel was completely weightless. Crosswind stability was unpredictable.
Then, when I took a closer look at their wind tunnel data, at realized there hardly was any and it was dodgy at that. Almost like they assumed they would be fast because they looked fast, then did a little testing after the fact. So, quoting another reviewer, totally behind the state of the art.
Gains from saving 200g are more than cancelled out by aero/stability issues.
Was disappointed, because I really thought these would be the perfect wheelset.
Value For Money
Best wheel I have ever owned or ever ridden. Incredibly light! Wasnt crazy about the look at first but have definately grown to like them the more I ride them. Top quality build!
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