FSA RD-600 Wheelset
By James Sharp
Pick up any road bike wheel catalog and youíll see the same thing: manufacturers touting how fast their wheels roll, how light they are -- even if they arenít -- and how responsive their particular wheel is. This didnít use to be how people bought wheels. Not that many years ago, if you wanted a pair of wheels, you chose a hub, rim and spokes, then you chose a builder -- or if you were brave you built them yourself. Mavic changed all that when they introduced the Cosmos. Now, pre-built wheels -- as they are known -- are de rigueur. Of course this opened the doors for other companies to follow. Now, the market is pretty well saturated, making it difficult for a wheel maker to differentiate itself in the market place. This has led to some unusual designs, some better than others. About a year ago, FSA introduced their three-flange system to the world. Is there a benefit? Was it purely for cosmetics? Is it just different for the sake of being different? How does it affect the ride? These were our questions, so we called them up and had them send us the RD-600 wheelset. This is their second-from-the-top wheelset. The only one above it are the high-zoot carbon tubular wheels. After spending the summer on them, I have some answers.
The RD-600 features a deep 30mm rim with 18 radially laced spokes up front and 24 spokes in the rear. Both the drive side and non-drive side spokes are radially laced, with the center spokes one-cross. This makes the center spokes the drive spokes, more on this later. The nipples are hidden in the rim for aerodynamics, which is nice. However this requires that the tire and rim strip be removed in order to true the wheel, which is not so convenient. The right and left side spokes are straight pull, while the center flange uses J-bend spokes. The center flange is 110mm. The hubs roll on cartridge bearings. The rear hub uses a 7075/T6 freehub body in either Shimano or Campagnolo configurations -- and it can be swapped easily down the road, should you decide to change drivetrains. All of the spokes are aero, with the center spokes being slightly larger and teardrop shape. The wheels come with a spoke wrench, rim strips and FSAís Scatto quick release skewers. Our set came in at 1635g without the rim strip or skewers, about 55g -- or 3% -- more than the claimed 1580g, and thatís not bad.
The first thing I noticed when I went to put the wheels on my bike is that the skewer ends are larger diameter than the skewers they replaced. This is good and bad. The good is that there is a larger area being clamped and should reduce the chance that the wheel slips, and the bad is that the ends were too big to clear the "lawyer lips" -- the little nubs that keep the front wheel on if the quick release opens up. This left me in a quandary: do I swap skewers or file off the nubs? The dropouts on this particular fork were aluminum so I filed off the nubs. Not something I recommend, nor something Iíd do had I had carbon fiber dropouts. Once that was completed, the skewers worked as they should; they held the wheel well, and I never experienced even the slightest slip in the dropouts. The rear fit fine from the get-go, and I had no issues there.
The next thing I noticed was that the wheels were stiff enough for the hardest out of the saddle hammering, or the sharpest corners. I felt like I was able to lean the bike over as hard as I had the guts to, at speeds that made some question my sanity. The wheels didnít wander, didnít squirm and didnít do anything that would have made me nervous. I picked my line and the wheels held it. Period. That being said, however, they didnít ride harsh. They arenít as comfortable as a wheel with non-metallic spokes, but they are much smoother than the current crop of aluminum-spoked wheels.
Part of the wheels stiffness under load can be attributed to the third flange. Whether or not the wheels are more aero with this spoke arraignment is, sort of, moot. By placing the rear wheelís middle flange in line with the rim -- zero dish -- and making it the drive flange all of the torque goes into the rim, not into trying to pull the rim out of true. The other part of the wheels stiffness I attribute to the deep cross-section rim. The deeper the rim on a wheel, the stiffer that wheel is, in general. How much advantage the front middle flange adds, I canít tell, to be honest. It might help the aerodynamics, but then the deep rim and bladed spokes already make a bit of difference there. Anything above that will be pretty small.
The aero rim and bladed spokes were a mixed bag. On the one hand the wheels rolled plenty fast, thanks to the deep rim and spokes slicing the wind like a Ginsu knife, but in cross winds the wheels would be blown about much easier than their round spoked counterparts. This isnít something unique to the RD-600, mind you, but if you havenít ridden aero wheels, this is something you might want to think about. Speaking of rims... tires were easy to get on and off, something I, personally, like.
Unfortunately, all was not roses. After a few hundred miles the rear hub started creaking like crazy. It was very, very loud. One quick email later, and the problem was determined to be insufficient grease on the rear axle and in the freehub assembly. Two 5mm allen wrenches, some grease and 10 minutes later, the problem was solved. I am happy to report that the creaking hasnít returned. Another problem I ran into was the rear wheel didnít want to stay true. Iím told that the wheels are now getting a wicking thread locking compound added before they are shipped and this should alleviate this problem. The wheels arrived true and round. Frankly, the wheel coming out of true was made even more aggravating by how difficult this wheel is to true. The center flange spokes pull the rim in, but do nothing to help the wheel stay true. The leaves a ton of rim between the alternating side spokes. Combine this with the tendency of the straight pull spokes to rotate when you are trying to true the wheel and it becomes an exercise in patience. However, if you have these wheels and you do need to true them, the wicking thread locker can be applied by the end user, too.
Finally, the last issue I had was a pulsing in the rear wheel. The rim caused this, and no amount of changing brakes or brake pads helped. In the end, I just lived with it. Is this an ideal solution? No, not really, and Iíd expect a little better out of wheels that cost $780.
Summary: FSAís RD-600 wheels are different. I feel, however, that in part, they are different for a reason. The center flange helps to transfer the load applied to the cogs, through the up, down the spokes and out to the tire very well. These are aero wheels, and behave as aero wheels should. They arenít the lightest wheelset out there, but they arenít heavy either. Cosmetically, they are great looking wheels. I had some problems during the testing, but for the most part, these were resolved fairly easily. If you are looking for a wheelset that stands out, one that you wonít see on every other bike, and rides well, take a look at the RD-600, theyíre different, and thatís good.
James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com; more of his ramblings and a look at upcoming reviews can be found at his blog: Lactic Acid Threshold.
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