Mad Fiber Carbon Road Wheels Review by Twain Mein
- $2599 MSRP, 4 year warranty
- 12 spoke front, 18 spoke rear full carbon tubular wheels
- 60mm front, 66mm rear rim height
- 1085 grams/pair. 430 grams front, 655 rear.
- 1980 grams/pair with tires and 13-29 cassette (1280 rear/ 700 front)
- White Industries rear hub
- QR levers 44 grams/pair. 21 front, 23 rear.
Ric Hjertberg (pronounced "yurt-berg") is something of a legend in cycling circles. Those who live in the SF Bay Area may remember his famous Wheelsmith store located in Palo Alto, established in 1975. The shop was as much a museum as a place to buy and service your bikes and parts. Ric distinguished himself as a master wheelbuilder and continued this pursuit later on, bringing back wooden-rimmed wheels. Recently, Ric has also been working as Technology Manager for component maker FSA. But he came upon a new idea to truly "reinvent the wheel" with the creation of "Mad Fiber" carbon wheels. They are unique in that they use carbon fiber spokes bonded to two rim pieces. Ric claims that carbon fiber "likes" to be placed under tension-loads. The pieces lay flat prior to gluing and then are stretched out, origami style to fit over the hub; he claims "It is the first wheel designed for carbon fiber". Despite their diminutive weight, Ric claims they can handle a static load of 700 pounds each, and there is no rider weight limit. Yet the weigh in at a breath-taking 1085 grams complete; weight weenies rejoice!
Speaking of weight, the Mad Fibers compare to the Reynolds RZR 46 that weigh 910 grams and retail for $6000 for the set and the Lightweight Obermeyer that weigh 960 grams and retail for $6495. At nearly a third of the price and only 100 grams more, the Mad Fibers are a value leader in the ultra-high end wheel category.
[youtube width="640" height="385"]httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9pjSP97PNc
Ric Hjertberg explained the new Road Wheels when we visited Mad Fiber headquarters in Seattle.
So how did they ride?
I wanted to evaluate the Mad Fibers in both climbing and a time trial, so I mounted them (and the cork brake pads) on my Scott Plasma triathlon bike. Once up to speed, the wheels had a "disc-like" thrum when spun up to speed. I immediately noticed that maintaining speed was more effortless. In fact, compared to my old Easton Ascent II's, the Mad Fibers seemed 10% faster. On roads where I'd typically go 20 mph, I was going 22. On descents where I'd average 28, I was going 31 mph. Accelerating from 24 to 28 mph was noticeably easier. However, at 35 mph, there was a new "hum" and vibration from the wheelset; this was slightly unnerving. I didn't go faster than that though I wonder if that hum would go away at faster speeds. Regardless, the wheels were remarkably smooth as the carbon spokes seemed to mute road imperfections. They would be great in a long triathlon or century as the ride was incredibly smooth.
Remarkably, the braking performance was awesome. Of the carbon wheels I've tested, these were the most drama-free. There was no screeching or grabbiness. They felt like "normal" alloy rims. Impressive.
In any case, off to the climb, where I thought these wheels would shine. Despite weighing nearly 3/4 pound less, it wasn't clear if the wheels improved my climb time. On the benchmark Old La Honda, my previous PR on the Scott Plasma was 19:14 (18:38 on my Cervelo R3 road bike). Though I gave it a solid effort, my time was a somewhat disappointing 20:07. Not sure if it was conditioning or something else, but I thought the 3/4 pound weight savings would have been more beneficial.
Later on, we motored over to do a the local time trial course on Canada Road. And this is where the wheels really shined. The course is 5.2 miles long with two rises in the middle; it's difficult to maintain 20 miles an hour over these rises. My previous PR was 12:57, using an aero helmet and Jet 60/disc combo. Using the Mad Fibers, my time was an incredible 12:02, averaging 25.9mph, nearly a minute faster than my previous best effort. Considering that I'd done the hill climb previously, the results are truly remarkable
These wheels are remarkably different. They offer extremely low weight and are comparatively less expensive than other offerings in this weight range. They should be fantastic Ironman wheels and are a wonderful indulgence for those who have the means.
Many thanks to Gebhard Ebenhoech, manager of Veloro Bicycles, for providing these extremely rare wheels to test. Gebhard is a walking encyclopedia for bike weights and parts. He is the first distributor of Mad Fiber wheels and we thank him for giving us this set to demo.