Review written by OORR chief product tester, and professional cyclist Aaron Bicknell
For this review, I took ownership of a set of FSE EVO 35C Carbon Fiber Clinchers for 3 months. In those 3 months, these wheels were essentially brutalised on the unforgiving and chaotic roads of Sydney city and surrounds - ridden on tarmac and dirt, raced in crits, road races and the twice daily ‘Commuter Cup’ through grid lock from the North Shore to Sydney CBD and back.
After 12 weeks and 7,350km, I can say confidently that these aren’t just some of the best value wheels on offer, but they’re also some of the best wheels I’ve ever ridden, period. That’s just the skinny though, and if you want the full story about how these wheels stack up, read on.
“Strong, light, cheap. Pick two” … Keith Bontrager.
Cycling technology has come a long way in the last ten years. The once niche market of carbon wheel making is now flooded to the point of near saturation, with an endless list of possible variations in weight, depth, style, quality, and price. There’s also an ever growing canon of literature about how wheel choice (and indeed, almost any component choice) can impact performance. Any study on a brand or product that is tendered by a manufacturer always predictably suggests that every single product they sell is apparently the best option for… [insert situation].
I’ve never really paid much mind to what a wheel manufacturer says their product does, because in my experience, when the rubber hits the road none of the lab tests really seem to matter. There’s also a huge focus on wind tunnel testing, which I find problematic, namely because I don’t ever ride in a wind tunnel. Instead, I ride on the road with my friends, who also seem to ride almost exclusively outside of wind tunnels. Therefore, my intention is to keep this as simple as possible, and posit the idea that our mate Keith’s mantra (above) might be a bit outdated, or at least it is when you’re talking about FSE EVO 35C carbon clincher.
Are they cheap?
I figure price is the best place to start, given that most of us start from our budget and work back from there, and the answer is an emphatic yes. Very cheap in fact, especially considering what you get for the money.
At around $1,390AUD (depending on the strength of the USD), these are cheap wheels even in objective terms. Sure, they don’t have the CULT ceramic bearings that Campagnolo’s Boras boast, or ZIPP’s mysterious cognition hub, but the FSE proprietary hubs are both light and hard wearing, without denting your back pocket to the tune of ~$4,100 like your ZIPP, Enve or Campagnolo counterparts would. It’s also worth considering what you could get for those respective RRPs. $1,400 on Bikebug these days gets you an alloy wheel set, such as the C17 Fulcrum Zero or Campagnolo Shamal Mille - both of which weigh in at around 200g more than the EVO 35s and have no aero profile to speak of. $4100 meanwhile could get you a 2011 Toyota Corolla with full service history. I may have muddled the point there, but what I’m trying to say is that in the modern market, you don’t need to spend the most to get the best, and for just shy of $1,400 you can buy a set of hoops that easily rivals the supposed ‘best’. The good people at FSE will even ship them to you, gratis.
Are they light?
You bet. With a claimed (and confirmed, for my set) weight of 1,350g for a 35mm clincher, one thing we can say with absolute certainty about the EVO 35s is that they’re about as light as a carbon clincher gets at this depth. At that weight, you’re in the same category as a Bora Ultra 35 or the ZIPP NSW 202s (and it’s worth noting that the ZIPP 202s aren’t as deep, and both are 10-15g heavier than the EVO 35Cs) but you’re looking at less than half the price of that ’11 Corolla. Climbing is without a doubt this wheel’s domain, and they spin up inclines with ease. That said, the light weight means the FSE 35s are also incredibly responsive when it comes to changes of speed, so they’re no slouch on the flat or technical courses either.
Are they strong?
So far, so good. Over the last 7,350km I’ve raced these wheels in countless criteriums at Sydney’s infamous Heffron Park, I’ve taken them off road for gravel grinders, I’ve hopped and dropped off kerbs and I’ve ridden them in every conceivable weather condition short of blizzards and monsoons. I’m no whippet either. At 188cm and anywhere from 76-80kg depending on how big dinner was the night (and week) before, I’ve had mixed (read: negative) experiences with carbon wheels before, but the 35Cs have stood up. FSE contend that the wide 26.65mm profile gives this wheel strength that one might expect from a 40-60mm profile, and based on my experience with everything from Shimano's bantamweight C24 tubulars, all the way to ZIPP's now discontinued heavy-hitting 1080s, my experience mostly backs up this claim. The 35s even seem immune to the initial teething issues I've experience with most carbon wheels I've owned or ridden, as these are as straight as the day I got them with no truing required. Even with the brake pads dialled in very closely, only the most exaggerated tossing of the bike seem to cause any brake rub, albeit minimal.
And now for a couple of things that Keith maybe didn’t consider, but I think the people probably want to know. So here are my answers to the questions the modern rider asks these days.
Do they stop?
In dry conditions, when paired with the wheel specific pads (which look to me to be almost identical to ZIPP’s Platinum Pro pads), their stopping power easily matches the ZIPP 'showstopper' braking surface that I tested recently on a set of NSW 303s. Admittedly however, carbon is carbon, and when the rain starts to fall, so too does the bite of the pads, but such is the nature of carbon rim brakes. If you’re really worried about this, either don’t ride carbons, or go disc. On that, with a full suite of disc wheels available, FSE have you covered.
Are they aero?
Look, I think so, but admittedly I don’t know so. As I said before I don’t much care for wind tunnels, but I believe the 35C, with its wide stance, is a great performer. Some may point to the lack of depth in the profile, but I've always thought it's worth asking what good a deep profile is when you consider all the drawbacks. Even the most aerodynamic of wheels will feel slow to get up to speed if they're pushing 2kg, and how useful is an aero profile in the real world if it's so deep that you can barely manage one hand off the bars in windy conditions? Even the best wind tunnel results can’t account for how a wheel feels when you stand up, sit down, weave through traffic and tip it in to corners on a steep descent.
I can say that they descend fast, and seem to fly through corners both on descents and on the flat. I’m not the most foolhardy descender, but since I put these hoops on I’ve found that when the road tilts downwards, I can follow my faster mates with relative ease. Now that’s no scientific analysis I know, but the proof is invariably in the pudding when we’re talking wheels in real world conditions, and I believe these wheels have more than proved themselves in practice.
Do they look cool?
Yes. Very much so. So much so in fact that I’ve caught people snapping photos of the wheels while I’m having coffee or ducking in to the servo. Sort of creepy, but who can blame them? The filament spun, jagged carbon weave catches the light in such a way that they seem to turn heads everywhere I go. The decals they offer should appeal to most - personally, I like bold signage on my equipment, which you get more or less from the white decals, but the ‘ghost’ option gives that stealth look that’s incredibly popular these days, and I would think these options would satisfy most tastes.
Too long, didn’t read, what’s your point?
These wheels are great. They’re about as light as a clincher gets at 35mm, they can cop a beating and the price is amazingly reasonable for this quality of product. As I said at the outset, these aren’t just the best when it comes to value, they’re also pretty damn close to the best, generally speaking. With the 35mm deep, 26.65mm wide profile, they offer a discernible aerodynamic advantage over alloy clinchers and seem to hold their own against much deeper, more cumbersome wheelsets, all while keeping weight at an absolute minimum. With a big thumbs up to the team from FSE, I’ll be very sad to box these hoops up and send them back to the company’s HQ in Nashville, Tennessee.
If you want to land yourself a set, head to FSE.bike