A wise man once said “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades” and those words still hold true today but for those who are looking for cutting edge wheel technology to aid in their performance, the name Mad Fiber might come to mind. Now, I am the last person on the face of the Earth that wants or needs carbon wheels like this but they’re not even mine. So technically, “Don’t buy upgrades, borrow them from the rep” fits here.
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The Mad Fiber rep here in Austin passed a set of these off to a certain frame builder friend of mine and told him to let a few friends ride them. So when I got a phone call, asking if I wanted to try them out, I said sure! I’ve heard great things about these wheels. They’re made in the USA, up in Seattle, Washington and sport one of the best crash replacement policies in the industry. But what piqued my interest was their claim of no rider weight limit.
If you pay attention to any kind of cycling forum, whether it’s a road forum, frame builder or cross, you’ll hear people’s testimonies of completing eating shit in a race or a ride to find the wheels 100% intact and true. Which brings up something Mad Fiber takes very seriously: you’ll never need to tension these wheels. Ok, all the rambling aside, what does a novice to high-end road gear like myself think?
Once you move past the aesthetics and really look at the wheels, they’re insane. The connection between the rim, the spoke blade and hubs are so effortless. The material itself is clean. They’re not your cheap eBay wheels. But, I just can’t get past the way they look on bikes. Maybe it’s just because I like traditionally-laced wheels? I don’t know.
So why did I put them on my Bishop? I wanted, what I thought would be a neutral testing platform. Now, my logic is probably off here, but I thought I’d feel the wheels more through a steel frame and that’s exactly what I did. Every bump in the road, every change in surface reverberated through my frame but the biggest thing I noticed was the rim width.
I haven’t ridden a narrow profiled rim on a road bike in a long time. All my wheels are 23mm but the Mad Fiber rims are around 18mm (I can’t find my calipers). So a 23c tire at 120 PSI really makes the ride harsh and a 25c didn’t help much either. I ride 28c tires usually and on a 23mm wide rim, the ride quality, especially when cornering is stellar. And even wider, deep section carbon rims will handle better in cross winds, something these wheels do not. The first time I descended on them, even the slightest breeze knocked me over.
On the clincher (pictured) the rim is also aluminum, which kind of seems like a let down (the tubular is carbon). They’ve addressed the main issue with carbon spoked wheels, the tension quite well, so why not put a little more effort into a wider, carbon rim? I’m not an engineer but as a consumer, that seems like the icing on the cake.
Weight is no issue. At 1300 grams for the clincher, 1085 grams tubular, per set, the wheels are noticeably lighter, even on my Bishop. The Ti White Industries hubs help a lot too. It was a cinch to swap the special Mad Fiber cork brake pads out but man, they do not like coming to a stop.
So my final thoughts? I am kind of indifferent. The weight is nice, they feel great climbing, descending, not so much and stopping, hell no. I’m sure they rip through a criterium or a cross race but the rim width is kind of a bummer. Would I continue to ride them? No. But that doesn’t mean I won’t put them on the Argonaut and see how they feel, especially since I don’t think they look so hot on the Bishop.
At $2,899/pair for the tubular and $3,099/pair with ceramic bearings, they’re a hefty investment. But I feel like it’s a well deserved price, especially for a domestically-produced wheel. If you need a cutting edge race wheel, that’s made in Seattle, has a 4-year crash replacement policy like non other and is damn light, these are for you. If you just ride for fun, probably not.