FSA XC-290 Wheel Set: First Impressions

I did a double test in one shot when I mounted up the Continental Race King 2.2 inch tires on these FSA wheels. The wheels from FSA are their XC/Trail rims and have several smart features. Here are some of them listed below:

Spokes: 32 double butted spokes in a 3X pattern.

Rim: 6061 T6 disc specific. Black anodized. 23.5mm rim width. Eyeletted.

Skewers: “Scatto” skewers (Mavic-like) included along with FSA rim tape

Warranty: Wheels covered by “Limited 2 Year Warranty”

Wheel Build: Built and tensioned by hand and each wheel is individually serialized.

As you can see, FSA didn’t follow any “trendy” low spoke count wheel system build with the XC-290’s. Nope! They went the “tried and true” way and give you a wheel system that has a reliable looking spec and construction. This does come at the expense of weight though. FSA claims 1800 grams for the front and rear wheel. On my digital scale the wheels came in at 1950 grams, 2100 grams with the Scatto skewers thrown in.  I’m not afraid of the weight, and it makes sense when you see the build spec on these. However; FSA should perhaps be a bit more “realistic” with the given weight for the XC-290’s.  You get these solidly spec’ed and built wheels for a MSRP of $549.99.

I mounted these FSA XC-290 wheels on my trusty El Mariachi

I mounted these FSA XC-290 wheels on my trusty El Mariachi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When looking at wheels like these FSA XC-290’s, one would expect total trouble free operation, since the spec is so traditional. On my initial rides, the wheels do not give me any reason to believe that they wouldn’t be solid performing wheels for the long haul. A few things did stand out which I will get to here. First of all, the quick releases are very “Mavic-like” and I happen to be a fan of that sort of lever. The FSA Scatto skewers have an aggressive cam action that gives me the feeling of security with my big wheels and disc brakes. The levers are also fairly hand friendly as well, which is a plus when you are tired and loading up the bike to go home.

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Secondly, I noticed the beefy, larger diameter interfaces on the Scatto levers and the FSA hubs, which are derrived from FSA’s XC-300 hubs. These interfaces are deeply serrated and are made from thick steel inserts. These wheels will get a bite on your frame and fork! Especially with the Scatto skewers cam action being so strong. 

The wheels spin freely enough and were straight and true out of the box. Mounting rotors, cassette, and tires with tubes was standard practice.  I will mention that my rotors seemed to be out of true with these wheels. One was from another wheel set, one that gave no trouble in this regard, and the other rotor was brand new. I am going to order up another set of new rotors and see if the problem is with the hub’s rotor mount or with my rotors. That will be reported on in my next installment on these wheels. Other than that slight annoyance, the FSA wheels were trouble free during the installation phase.

Okay, now it was time to get dirty! I rode these on some of my favorite local trails and they have a combination of steep climbs, rolling downhills, switchbacks, and lots of roots.  The FSA XC-290’s performed flawlessly. I didn’t expect that these wheels would be totally flex-free, but they did hold a line and performed without any weird twitches or odd feelings in corners or off cambers. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the XC-290’s were pretty stiff wheels.  I really came to appreciate this when I “A/B’ed”  the FSA wheels with another set that was slightly lighter weight, (1700 grams) and felt the lighter set flexing on the opening climb. The FSA’s never gave me any reason to think that they were anything other than trustworthy in turns and on off cambers.

The last thing that stood out in my mind was how quiet the freehub is in the rear wheel. I tried to hear the ratcheting while coasting, and couldn’t hear it. I’m sure there is some noise back there, but this is one of the quietest rear wheels I’ve ridden. In fact, the wheel set never made a ping, pop, or twang unless a random twig or branch got into the spokes.  This tells me that the set was stressed relieved well and that I should expect them to stay pretty true throughout the test period.

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The wheels performed well, as I have said, but there are a few things that are a bit curious with them. First, they are not tubeless ready. This is something I think all pre-built mountain bike wheel sets need to be, especially mid to upper end wheels. You can convert these with a strip from “the usual suspect”, but this isn’t recommended by the manufacturer. To my mind, it would be an added incentive to buy the wheels if they were easily converted by a FSA approved rim strip. Maybe this isn’t a big deal to some folks, but why not offer it?  Also, the weight of these wheels is a bit on the high side when you compare other builds at this price point. Again, the weight doesn’t bother me, but it is certainly possible to get into a wheel set of this class (23-24mm wide rim), have it weigh less, and cost about the same.  Then again, you’d have to wonder if it would be as stiff as this wheel set is though.  Finally, the curious case of the slight rotor wobble has me puzzled. Hopefully it is an odd set of rotors and not the hub rotor mounts. I will get that sorted before the end of this review.

Stay tuned for an update coming in a couple of weeks.

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