Mad Fiber Wheels: Mad As A Hatter Or Not So Mental After All?Written: June 14, 2012
New Kit, Review
I just couldn’t resist could I? When a product like this appears on the market challenging convention, polarising opinion and dividing those that love from those that hate – generally with a larger percentage towards the latter – I just have to jump in and give it a try.
I first saw the Mad Fiber wheels on this Indy Fab and immediately wanted them for my Corretto, except back then I wouldn’t have dared run tubulars as ‘daily driver’ wheels so I ended up choosing something else. When my Ristretto was making progress at Baum and I was deciding on the wheels to have the UK Mad Fiber rep made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’d ordered them before I could talk myself out of it, and they arrived in time to glue a set of tyres on and give them a brief run out before bringing them out to Australia.
That initial test didn’t tell me a great deal aside from the fact that they felt less brutally stiff than the Lightweight clinchers I had been running, yet they were still stiff enough to prevent brake rub – a relief as that’s a definite pet hate. They felt more comfortable than the Lightweights too, but I put that down to the 25c tubs I’d opted to run. Crosswinds were interesting, although not as bad as I’d expected. They were then put away to await the arrival of my Ristretto…
…Except after a few weeks of them being sat in a wheel bag after we arrived in Sydney the temptation got too much. I couldn’t wait for my Ristretto to arrive – these wheels needed to be ridden. I threw them onto the Corretto and rolled out, and they’ve barely been off the bike since. So with around 500km on them I feel a bit more convinced of my position to review.
You may recall my excitement and raving about my Ambrosio handbuilt wheels? Well, these Mad Fibers have left me a bit confused. They offer all of the same qualities without the weight. Ok so they might be a touch firmer than the Ambrosios, and on that front they probably sit right between the Ambrosios and the Lightweights in terms of overall comfort. They literally do everything the Ambrosios do but they feel faster too.
But don’t get me wrong – I’m not backtracking on my article about wheel feel either. Let’s not forget that my Ambrosios are running 22c tubs, the Lightweights were on 25c clinchers and the Mad Fibers are on 25c tubs so we’re definitely not comparing apples with apples. Besides which these are quite close in ‘feel’ to the Lightweights, just not quite as brutal. That said, compared to the Ambrosios you just can’t ignore a 700g weight difference on a set of wheels! The Mad Fibers are making me want to put some 25c tyres on my Ambrosios and try some side-by-side tests to see how they really compare as I just can’t believe the Ambrosios won’t be more comfortable with the same tyre on.
As for that weight, it has to be said it does make for an impressive package – a 60mm deep front wheel and 66mm rear wheel; stiff, strong, comfortable and fast, yet only 1050g? And when I say “strong”, we’re talking about a set of wheels that broke the testing equipment used to ensure they were safe. As someone who is often too close to carbon component weight limits to really be confident they’re the right choice for me that is a whole heap of most welcome reassurance. This meant that when I hit a hole at a reasonable pace and with enough force to make me wobble on a dark Friday morning ride last week I had no need to fret or panic, and after using some brake pressure to check that no cracks had been generated I happily rode on.
So without meaning to eat my words too much, the weight difference does make for a wheel that spins up incredibly easily – probably something to do with the quality of the White Industries hub internals hiding under all that carbon – and you can’t help but feel like climbing is easier. The times on paper don’t equate to a real-world difference in performance though so I’ll stand my ground on that point. Having also resolved an issue with the valves on the tyres meaning better accuracy in the pressure I’m running them at, it has made these wheels feel every bit as spritely as my Lightweights did.
Despite the pretty smooth and untextured braking surface and cork pads, the braking performance of these wheels is pretty good, in the dry at least (they’re yet to see any wet weather use). I’ll be honest, I want to run some rubber pads and probably will switch at some stage. Doing so does invalidate your warranty on these wheels though so be careful about doing the same. One bugbear of the cork pads is that they’re really tricky to slide into the pad holders – a real frustration if you’re ever planning a ‘quick’ wheel change, and that’s even with the EE Cycleworks pad holders. That aside though, there’s much less of the ‘pulsing’ you usually get on carbon wheels under braking, which leads me to believe there’s a better consistency on the finish of the brake surface.
As for the finish on the rest of the wheels, the hubs aren’t as smoothly finished as you might be accustomed to – this might not appeal to some, but I think it adds weight to the hand made nature of the wheels. It’s nothing that will affect the performance so I don’t see it as anything to worry about. The skewers are almost identical to those produced by Tune and that are on Lightweights – i.e. silly light but do the job perfectly well. The wheels also come supplied with valve extenders.
Along with most wheel manufacturers, Mad Fiber claim some impressive aerodynamic stats. Personally this isn’t important to me – I bought the wheels because they’re different and I think they look good. What does matter to me is the crosswind performance, and that’s one area that these wheels do suffer. To be honest given their depth it’s only to be expected – I previously felt crosswinds on my Lightweights which were 20mm shallower so adding depth (not to mention wider spokes) was sure to enhance this. It’ll only be a major issue if you’re really light, or if you catch a side wind and correct it erratically, but given that a gust can snap at the bike with these wheels on the latter is all too easy to do.
Regardless, it’s a point worth noting, and for some will be reason enough alone to go for the heavier Zipp Firecrest 404 or Enve SES 6.7 which will be the equivalent depth wheels. Incidentally all three wheelsets are a similar price but the Mad Fibers are 230g lighter than the 404s and are around 400g lighter than most standard SES 6.7 options (lighter options are achievable on the 6.7s if you get the rims built into different hubs, but they’ll still be heavier than the MFs and the cost will escalate). The Hed Stinger 6 are a cheaper alternative at a similar weight to the SES 6.7 with a similar shape to the Firecrest which for some might prove to be the ‘happy medium’.
Initially I wasn’t totally taken by them visually, even after removing the perhaps questionable graphics. Many people told me to keep the Lightweights because their visual styling better suited my bike too. Gradually though the look of the Mad Fibers on my Corretto has grown on me, and the deal was sealed when a set of purple stickers arrived thanks to Blacksmith Cycle – who approached me (without prompting) to offer the service of new colour graphics…
Overall I’m thoroughly impressed. Yes, they’re slightly mad looking, but then so are my EE Brakes and my slightly weird bike geometry! I like to think of them as ‘individual’, and that probably entirely sums up what drew me to them in the first place. Besides, it makes a change from all the ‘normal’ looking wheels out there!
The problem now is what to run on my Ristretto, or what to run on the Corretto if these do end up on the Ristretto. Perhaps I need a second set…
Tags:22c,25c,Baum,bicycle wheel,bike wheels,clincher,cork brake pads,Corretto,ht,Lightweight,Mad Fiber,mad fibre,madfiber,Ristretto,Schwalbe,tubular,ultremo,wheels,white industries
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