Mad Fiber Clinchers – First Look

We’ve never had the chance to show up at a Starbucks in a Lamborghini Aventador wearing nothing but spandex. However, we suspect that when we showed up at a local group ride on a set of Mad Fibers, the strange looks we received may have been similar. Love it or hate it, the look of the Mad Fiber Clinchers is more Lamborghini than Chevrolet.

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But we don’t buy wheels for looks. We buy wheels for improving our performance. And when reviewing a set of Mad Fiber Clinchers, there are two numbers you need to put front and center – 1,300 and 2,889. 1,300g (1299g recorded by our scale) represents the weight of the wheelset (not a single wheel, but the entire wheelset). $2,889 is the price of the standard MF Clincher. The set we tested here, which includes the ceramic bearings, goes for $3,099. For comparison’s sake, a set of Zipp 404 FireCrests will set you back $2725 and weighs in at 1,525g. According to the numbers, this is a very light—but not exactly economical—wheelset. However, numbers can only tell half the story.

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Construction

Mad Fiber calls its technology “Carbon Optimized.” And considering that the set comes in at under 1,300g, it would be easy to assume that this means nothing but carbon construction, but you’d be wrong. Carbon is good for many things. However, where many wheel builders today have simply substituted carbon for aluminum, Mad Fiber wanted to design a quality wheel using the strengths of carbon while recognizing its weaknesses. Additionally, Mad Fiber sought to avoid building a wheel compromised of 20+ individual parts. Instead, they strove to build a wheel that is one single unit.

Mad Fiber’s wheels are built in three pieces. The sidewalls are full carbon, while the tire seat is aluminum (excluding the brake track, which is covered in carbon via the sidewall). The pieces are then bonded using heat-activated commercial aircraft-grade structural adhesive, which hides the aluminum. The spokes are five-ply carbon ribbons are just .7mm thick yet have a load capacity of 4,500 lbs (part of the reason why the wheels have NO rider weight restrictions). What’s interesting is that the spokes do have some flex, and in a worst case scenario could even twist a full 90 degrees (a possibility if something got into the spokes).

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The weight loss program for the wheels didn’t just end at the rim. Both the cassette body and skewers are made of titanium. Even looking at the skewers, one can see a minimalist approach that translates to a super lightweight wheelset.

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Aero

When AeroGeeks started preparing for this review, the aero properties of the Mad Fiber wheelset was one of our major questions. We have become so used to the wide rim toroidal design seen from Flo and Zipp. Yet here was a 21mm design that seemed to take the traditional V-shape and kicked it up a notch. Mad Fiber is the first to admit that at low yaw angles its competitors’ (specifically Zipp 404) wheels are more aero (3 seconds over 40km at 30mph). Triathlete did its own test and found a 404/808 combination would beat the Mad Fiber Clincher by about 16 seconds (here – thought they tested over 180km so to get a 40km time we divided the 70 seconds indicated by 4.5).

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Part of being aero is stability at speed. Because of this, manufacturers moved to a wide toroidal shape to obtain higher speeds, as well as to stabilize deep wheels. Therefore, there is an expectation that Mad Fiber’s deep V wheels will not be nearly as stable as its competitors at speed. The documentation that comes with the wheelset also suggests that riders will find some instability due to the extreme light weight nature of the wheel as well. Mad Fiber does help offset this a bit with the staggered 60mm/66mm design of the wheel, which lends some added stability. However, we had some concerns going into this review as to what we’d experience when the wheels were exposed to our usual South Florida cross winds.

First Impressions

We could not have found a more polar opposite wheelset from the Flo 60s. Where the Flos were extremely aero, they suffered from weight issues. Here we found a wheelset that is extremely light weight, but the data tells us it may be slow and unstable. This is why we do extended road tests—to validate the data firsthand.

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Over the past two weeks we have put more miles on this wheelset than we usually do prior to a First Look article. This was partly due to some unusual timing, and partly due to a race this past weekend. With that said, we’ve had the chance to take these wheels on a hill workout AND race them in the 12-mile leg of a sprint triathlon. For some sites this would be enough to complete an entire review and call it a day. But here at AG, we’re just getting started.

First, these wheels spin up QUICK. From naught to 20 happens near instantaneously (as one would expect a wheelset with such minimal mass). Climbing is even more fun. When doing a hill workout you can typically feel the weight of every last centimeter of the circumference of the wheel. But with the Mad Fibers you only feel the weight of the frame and forget about the wheels entirely. Needless to say, it’s a very different experience then we’re used to.

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Stability wise we have seen no issues since becoming comfortable with the wheelset. Since the wheels are so light, we tended to put more weight into a turn than we actually needed, which led to some overcorrection issues during our first ride. Since then we’ve found the wheels to be supremely comfortable cruisers—even with a 10 mph cross wind on race day. What’s more, while we heard other riders on 60-80mm rims complaining that they were fighting their wheels, we never once experienced so much as a flutter. Mike’s personal opinion was that this was one of the most stable race day wheelsets that he had ever ridden.

So far we have found two areas that merit increased study. First is wheel flex. During our hill climb sessions we could hear the wheel rubbing the brake track when we were throwing the bike back and forth up the hill. At this time we don’t know whether this is flex in the wheel itself or the skewers. We have also found that after transporting the bike in a Kuat hitch rack that the wheel tends to get a little out of place and has to be reseated in the fork. We suspect the skewers may be at play here and plan on swapping them out to see if that makes a difference.

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We also want to spend more time analyzing the braking surface. When we first researched the Mad Fiber wheelset we believed the braking surface was aluminum. However, once we got our hands on the set we realized they were in fact carbon. As we mentioned with the FLOs, when you ride carbon you forget how fast aluminum can decelerate when compared with carbon. The Mad Fibers come with a custom set of cork pads and we have found the braking to be on par with other carbon wheels—we’d just hoped for more.

What’s Next

We have quite a few more miles to put on these wheels before we can give our final thoughts. We also want to have a second member on the AG staff put in some time with them to help to complete our review. Until then, keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates