Now I hate to ruin the surprise right out of the gate, but the Vulcan Alpha Bumper Plates are probably the most unique, versatile, durable, and reasonably priced bumper plates currently on the market, and I’m extremely excited about finally getting to review them.
I realize that there are more exiting things to actually read than a bumper plate review, but I truly believe that you’ll be glad to have discovered and read this review if and when you find yourself in the market for new plates, as they are about as close to the perfect bumper plate as you can get.
Last Updated January 2018 – minor revisions and price checking.
Alpha Review Intro
The first thing that you should know about the Alpha Bumpers is that they are made using a completely different rubber compound than what is used for the run-of-the-mill virgin rubber and crumb rubber plates. Now I’m no rubber expert by any means, but it’s pretty clear that this new compound offers more advantages and more versatility than the classic materials. It is almost as if Vulcan managed to find a material that unites all of the best features of the other bumper plate styles. The most notable of these features being:
- durable enough to be used both indoors and outdoors (from stall mats and platforms to gravel, asphalt, and concrete.)
- quiet enough to be used in gyms and boxes where noise is a genuine concern.
- high enough density to deliver a dead blow when dropped – no bouncing and skipping around the platform like crumb rubber plates.
- extremely accurate to claimed weight.
- all the while being thinner than just about all other non-competition bumpers.
When you consider the above items along with the fact that Alphas are colored you can see why I say that they have all of the best features of the other plate styles – HI-Temps for their indoor/outdoor versatility, XFs for their noise dampening, basic black bumpers for their slim profile and low bounce, and competition discs for their accuracy and color theme. On top of all that, Alphas are priced very competitively. They sell for less than HI-Temp and Eleiko XF, and much less than competition style plates.
Below is a chart showing set prices for the Alphas, HI-Temps, and XFs. These numbers are pre-shipping, but it’s possible to get both the Alphas and the HI-Temps shipped for free (you will not be so lucky with the Eleiko XF). Also, set sizes do vary slightly so it’s not completely apples to apples, but the chart still paints a pretty clear pricing picture.
I didn’t compare the Alpha price to basic bumpers because basic bumpers don’t offer any of the advantages of the Alphas or the crumb rubber-style plates; like say indoor/outdoor use or noise dampening. Interestingly enough, while the smallest 160-pound set of Alphas runs about $50 more than the same size basic bumper set, that gap gets smaller and smaller as the set size goes up. Additionally, if you compare Vulcan Alphas to colored basic bumpers you’ll see that Alphas are generally less expensive.
I own 320-pounds of Alpha Bumpers (no 10’s), and I put each and every plate on the scale to check for accuracy. I kid you not, every plate was spot on.
Full disclosure, my scale is only accurate to within a tenth of a pound, so I cannot claim that these plates are within 10 grams of stated weight or anything like that, but then again they very well could be – which would be pretty awesome considering no such claim is made by Vulcan. Perhaps someone else with a set of Alphas and a more accurate scale will chime in regarding the accuracy of their plates down in the comments section.
In any case, having every single disc in a non-competition weight set come in precisely at their stated weight is quite impressive, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen it happen among such a large quantity of plates.
Appearance / Color
Vulcan Alphas are basically the same mold shapes as the standard black Vulcan Strength bumpers. The difference is in the rubber compound that’s used, and the specks of color in the rubber.
In the pictures the color specks make the plates look like crumb rubber, but when you see the plates up close and are able to touch them, you’ll notice right away that the plates feel much more like a regular bumper than a crumb rubber bumper. With crumb rubber there is a sort of rough texture that you can feel as you run your hands across the surface, and you can’t feel that with the Alphas – they are smooth and seamless.
Of course the colors themselves correspond with the IWF-color scheme, with the 25’s being green, 35’s yellow, 45’s blue, and 55’s red. There really is no IWF-color for a 10-lb plate, so like what most companies do, Vulcan went with grey.
Alphas have just the slightest bit more bounce than the high-density, basic bumper plates, but it is negligible. The real difference is between Alphas and crumb rubber plates. As you probably know, crumb rubber has a tendency to skip and bounce about the platform. There is none of that chaos with the Alphas – just a reliable, dead blow.
Prior to the Vulcan Alphas, the only plates that could consistently handle being dropped on abrasive, outdoor surfaces were the crumb rubber plates like the HI-Temps. Standard virgin rubber bumpers are just too firm to be safely dropped on asphalt, gravel, and other uneven outdoor surfaces.
Crumb rubber is still a completely viable option for outdoor training and WODs, but you still have to deal with the erratic bounding; bounce that can be even more unpredictable when dealing with uneven surfaces. Again, Alphas don’t have that insane crumb rubber bounce – they dead blow like a basic bumper.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to convince you that Alphas are 1000x better than crumb rubber when it comes to the outdoor use thing, but because of the low bounce, IWF colors, lower price, and the fact that Alphas don’t flake apart like crumb rubber, they are arguably a better value.
The Alphas have a stainless steel hooked insert. These are like normal inserts, except they have welded rebar that the rubber of the bumper gets molded around; with the point being to create a more permanent and improved bond between the insert and the bumper. What this means to you as an Alpha owner is that your bumpers are unlikely to ever experience insert separation. Sure it’s not the most common bumper issue, but it does happen and it’s always nice to know that it’s been addressed. You’d be surprised how few companies even bother to use hooked inserts despite them having no impact on cost.
It’s also worth noting that the inserts sit flush with the surface of the plates. When you have plates stacked against one another on the sleeve there isn’t excessive rubbing and wearing down of the inserts themselves. Many cheap bumpers (and even some of the nicer plates) have the inserts actually sitting above the rubber surface, and this slowly wears down those inserts. Again, not the hugest issue to have, but at least it’s not going to be your issue.
Vulcan Alphas have the advantage of being roughly 30% quieter than virgin rubber plates when dropped from an overhead position. That 30% figure is Vulcan’s based on tests they did with a decibel meter, which I cannot confirm, but I can confirm that they are noticeably quieter. I’d say that they are about as quiet as XFs (for those of you who have used those in the past), but without the excessive width, unpredictable bounce, and high price.
Reducing the noise that comes from a dropped bar is important for a lot of lifters, personal trainers, and coaches. Garage/home gym owners have neighbors and families to think of, and many CrossFit boxes share walls with retail stores. Prior to the Alphas, your only real choices for quiet bumpers were HI-Temps and the aforementioned XF. HI-Temps are thick, bouncy, and slightly more expensive – and not that much quieter than basic plates. XFs are certainly a quiet plate, but they are insanely thick, over-priced, and carry a bad warranty.
With the Alphas you get quiet plates at a reasonable cost. On top of that, you get a normal plate thickness, less bouncing, and even added color. I have no problem with HI-Temps or XFs from a functional standpoint, nor do I worry about their durability (for the most part), but I’d be lying if I said they compared to the Alphas when it comes to features and price.
You know that awful smell when you get new rubber products? That horrible, lingering smell that forces you to store your plates outside the first week or two? Well that smell is less of an issue with the Alphas. Again, Alphas are made from a completely new and different rubber compound, and while they don’t smell like roses or bubble gum, they certainly aren’t offensive like virgin and recycled rubber, and what little smell there is dissipates quickly if cleaned and stored outside overnight.
Clean? Yes, there is a thin layer of silicone on the plates that you need to wipe away with a rag and some soap, but as you probably know from other rubber products, that’s not all that unusual. That silicon is put on deliberately at the factory to protect the rubber from blooming and discoloring as it oxidizes. Pretty normal stuff.
Again, rubber stinks when fresh from the factory, but there are varying levels of this odor and some people are more sensitive to than others.
Plate Width & Diameter
Alpha Bumpers are the same 450 mm diameter as any other Olympic bumper plate. The only exception to this is the 10-lb Alphas which are closer to about 400 mm (below image has the 10’s stacked on the 25’s).
This is very interesting to me because with pretty much all other bumper plate brands and styles, the skinny 10-lb plate is by far the most fragile and the most likely to fail. It’s also the plate size that comes with the worst warranty. All Vulcan did with their Alpha 10’s is take 11-12% or so off the diameter of the plate and add that material back to the thickness. Now you get a pair of 10’s that is only moderately smaller, more durable, and much less likely to ever need to be replaced. And yes, they can be used for technique purposes.
In terms of the thickness of each plate, I have attached the dimensions in the chart below. You’ll notice that not only are Vulcan Alphas thinner than the HI-Temps and XFs, but also marginally thinner than basic plates as well. By “basic” I am referring to standard bumper brands like the HG, AB Sports, and so on – these brands and models all share just about the same overall plate dimensions.
|Bumper Plate Widths||Vulcan Alphas||Basics||HI-Temps||Eleiko XFs|
* Vulcan Strength didn’t round their Alpha plate widths for the product description like everyone else seems to have done, so I didn’t either.
So what difference does the plate width make? The thinner plates are generally considered better because you can load more plates on the bar, you can store more plates per storage horn, and they are less cumbersome to move around the gym. Sure 45-pounds weighs 45-pounds, but does it seem easier to move around a 3″ wide 45-pound plate, or a 5″-wide 45-pound plate?
The warranty for Vulcan Alphas is fantastic, and also very specific. You get one year on the 10-pound Alphas, 3-years on the 25-pound Alphas, and 4-years on every other size. This is hands down the most competitive warranty for non-competition bumper plates around.
In the basic bumper plate market, a good warranty is a full year on the 10- and 15-lb plates, and 3-years on the 25-pound plates and above – you can find this warranty from a handful of the more reputable bumper vendors. However, the industry norm seems to be about one year on the whole set, with there commonly being a shorter 3-6 month warranty on the 10’s and 15’s. Eleiko, for instance, offers only a year on their premium XF Bumpers, and that 1-year doesn’t even include the 10-pound plates.
That being said, I feel as though I should remind everyone that you simply will not destroy 25+ pound bumper plates without literally setting out to do so, and about the only situation in which I can see a 10-pound plate being thrashed within the first year is if you are using them in lieu of technique plates in an Olympic training center or newbie CrossFit box; which you really have no business doing. Frankly, if you teach the Olympic lifts to new lifters, you need to invest in some tech plates – that’s what they’re for.
At the end of the day I’m impressed with the Alpha warranty – it’s extremely generous, and better than what you’ll get on any other basic bumper plates.
Alpha Bumpers Review Summary – Pros & Cons
Vulcan Alpha Pros
- Alphas are extremely accurate to stated weight – it’s like lifting with competition plates at a fraction of the price.
- Just as quiet as Eleiko XF crumb rubber plates, but not nearly as thick, cumbersome, and expensive. Alphas also won’t flake apart like crumb rubber tends to do.
- Alpha bumpers can be used both indoors on platforms and rubber mats, or outdoors on concrete, asphalt, and gravel without any risk of damaging the plates. Virgin rubber and recycled rubber plates cannot handle being dropped on these abrasive and uneven surfaces for any length of time.
- The price for Alphas blows away the price you pay for HI-Temps or Eleiko XF; the only other models that are both quieter than virgin rubber plates, and suitable for outdoor use. Not only is the price better, but the Alphas are slimmer and include IWF colors.
- Alphas have a dead blow much like virgin rubber plates – no erratic bouncing. Compare that to the crumb rubber plates that bounce and skip all over the place (HI-Temps are especially known for their crazy bounce.)
- The famous odor associated with new bumper plates doesn’t exist on new Alphas. They do have a slight odor, of course, but it’s nothing compared to virgin rubber, and it dissipates quickly once removed from their packaging.
- Vulcan opted to use the the anchored insert in the Alphas. This goes a long way to prevent insert separation, and it’s a feature that none of the crumb rubber plates have. The insert is also seamless, which is pretty normal – save for the Eleiko XF.
- The Alpha warranty is solid – much longer than the industry average for basic bumper plates.
Vulcan Alpha Cons
- Technically Alphas cost more than basic black bumpers, but so long as you buy 260-pounds or more, the difference becomes negligible. Plus, if you look at all the pros, that price difference seems meaningless anyway.
- When the heavier plates are lying flat on the ground, there isn’t much of a bevel to get your fingers under when you go to pick the plate up. This is becoming oddly common I’m finding.
- Alphas are out of stock more often than not. This speaks to their popularity, but waiting for a product that you wanted in your gym yesterday does suck, and is a drawback.
I don’t want to sound like a salesperson, but there are really no significant drawbacks to the Alphas. It’s rare that a new product offers this much versatility & value without a significant drawback or three, but I’m just not finding anything negative here. I’d have to start making stuff up in order to bad-mouth these plates, and of course I see no reason to do that. Fact is, Alphas are solid.
Then again, if you don’t care about noise, accuracy, training outdoors, or any of those other perks I discussed, I certainly wouldn’t fault you for sticking with basic bumper plates. But if any of those features are important to you, I think that you’ll find that the Alphas are the way to go. I just don’t see anyone regretting an Alpha Bumper purchase.
If you have any questions about these plates, or if you are an Alpha owner who would like to contribute your 2-cents, please use the comment section below. I welcome all feedback – positive or negative. I also greatly appreciate those shares.