Zipp is best known for firsts. It was the first to unleash the potential of carbon in wheels, it was the first to win a cobbled classic on carbon and it was the first to design wide body rims with a focus on aerodynamics. Each one of these developments changed the direction of wheel design industry wide.
As innovative as the brand is, there have been noticeable exceptions. Zipp was one of the last major manufacturers to embrace carbon clincher technology. Rather than rush to market it waited until it was confident its product was not just fast, light and stiff, but safe as well. Since the launch of Zipp’s carbon clinchers, they have not suffered one brake heat related failure. Recently we have seen it take a wait and see approach to tubeless tires. That wait is over. Zipp has revamped its entire clincher line up – 202, 303, 404, 808 in both Firecrest and NSW spec – to be tubeless ready and disc brake compatible.
On the disc brake front, Zipp saw it as a big opportunity to improve the wheel’s aerodynamics and overall aero balance. All of these new wheels are disc brake specific, from new molds with subtly different cross sections than their rim brake counterparts and the famous Zipp dimples extend to the rim edge. The 404, for example, is still 58mm deep but the old widths – 24.73 at the brake track and 16.25mm internally – have increased substantially to 26.4 and 19mm respectively. Responding to new riding habits the 404 and 808 have been optimized around a 25mm tire, while the new 202 and 303 are optimized around a 28mm tire.
The aero results Zipp has coaxed out of these new shapes, thanks to the removal of the brake track, are impressive. The wheels are slightly faster across all wind angles and side force, wind induced steering noise, is reduced, or the same, across all wind angles.
Considering how fast the original Firecrest and NSW rim brake wheels are, these are impressive gains, but the changes a rider will really feel come from the new tubeless capability. While the 303 was the first to go tubeless, the rest of the line up has now followed – 202, 404 and 808.
Tubeless benefits are well understood. Thanks to the ability to run lower tire pressure, since pinch flats are unlikely, tubeless tires are more comfortable, handle better, offer lower rolling resistance and best of all, they almost never flat if sealant is used. Zipp has reshaped the rim bed, putting small ridges a few millimeters from the rim wall to help the tire bead lock in. Zipp also ships the wheels with valves and installs the tubeless rim tape at the factory.
The ‘X’ factor with tubeless has always been install headaches. With rim and tires usually coming from two manufacturers an extra level of safety was built in by each. Some wheel manufacturers make the rim wall a bit taller, and some tire manufacturers make the rim inner diameter a bit smaller, all in the name of avoiding the bead blowing out. Of course, this makes install a nightmare and road side repairs almost impossible.
Since Zipp makes tires as well, they also launched new 25 and new 28mm Zipp Tangente Tubeless tires. We went straight to the mechanic at the launch event and asked if we could install a set. We were able to install the tire by hand! That was incredible. It took a couple tries to seat it with a Bontrager FlashCharger pump, but seat it did and without any sealant or lubrication of the bead and rim wall. The tire came off with no fuss using a single tire lever. With strong hands, no tire lever would be necessary for removal. Zipp has not embraced Mavic’s UST road tubeless standard, but Hutchinson, like Mavic, makes Zipp’s tubeless tires. Whatever standard they use, the install is simply the easiest we have seen and is actually easier than putting a tube in. We would have no fear of a roadside flat with Zipp’s new tubeless wheels and tires.
Firecrest and NSW carbon clincher lines both get the new rim shapes and tubeless compatibility, but they are still differentiated by some important features. The NSW rims use the Sawtooth dimple pattern that is slightly better at reducing side force, while the Firecrest has the traditional dimple pattern. The Firecrest also has a slightly simplified lay up and less rarified materials which accounts for the NSW’s lighter weights. The other big difference is in the hubs. Firecrest uses the 77/177 disc hub with a five bolt disc interface and the NSW uses Cognition hubs and a center lock disc interface. The Cognition rear hub features Axial Clutch internals that reduce drag while freewheeling for even more free speed. NSW also uses Impress printed graphics, while Firecrest uses decals.
While the 303 was already both disc and tubeless, Zipp did a have a 303 secret up its sleeve. A new 650b 303 Firecrest wheel was launched. While it’s aimed at the new 650b adventure crowd, Zipp also found frame manufacturers asking for 650b road wheels and some of its Canyon/SRAM team riders found 650b wheels allowed then to ride a lower, more aggressive position on the road. With a 21mm internal width, Zipp’s new 650b 303 has a huge range of approved tire widths from 25 to 62mm, but it’s really optimized for 45-55mm tires, ideal for an Open U.P. or 3T Exploro.
All these Zipp tubeless disc wheels ship with the tubeless rim strip and tubeless valve factory installed and all the tool-less install end caps you might need from quick release, to 12 and 15mm. You’ll also get a valve core removal tool, key for getting sealant in the tire after it is seated – although Zipp is not making its own sealant. The wheels are also compatible with SRAM/Shimano hub bodies, but Campganolo hub bodies or XD drivers, sold separately.
Stats for all the new wheels are below. Look for availability in September and October, 2017. For more information go to Zipp.com
New Firecrest Tubeless Disc Wheelsets
202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 32mm Deep
1,530g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,150 / Rear wheel: $1,350
303 650b Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 45mm Deep
1,595g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,150 / Rear wheel: $1,350
404 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 58mm Deep
1,715g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,150 / Rear wheel: $1,350
808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 82mm Deep
1,975g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,300 / Rear wheel: $1,500
New NSW Tubeless Disc Wheelsets
202 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 32mm Deep
1,475g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,400 / Rear wheel: $1,800
303 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 45mm Deep
1,530g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,400/ Rear wheel: $1,800
404 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 58mm Deep
1,715g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,400 / Rear wheel: $1,800
808 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-Brake: 82mm Deep
1,860g wheelset; MSRP: Front wheel: $1,550 / Rear wheel: $1,950