February 1, 2016 – The name Zipp has long been synonymous with cutting edge wheel design and pushing the aerodynamic envelope. So what was Zipp to do when it wanted to show the world it could make wheels even faster than those already earning a ‘Zipp’ logo?
The Indiana brand’s solution was a sub-brand – NSW. Much like AMG signals a Mercedes tuned to the Nth degree, NSW represents the very best technology Zipp has to offer. NSW stands for Nest Speed Weaponry. The ‘Nest’ was the nickname given to the engineer’s lab deep in the bowels of Zipp’s factory and NSW is the stuff they lavish every advantage on.
The first project to earn the NSW logo was a new 808 which is primarily a triathlete’s wheel, but now NSW is taking aim at the road with an updated 404 – the 404 NSW. This tuned 404 is still 58mm deep, a depth that has seen the 404 become the winningest wheel in recent history. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The shape itself has been tweaked slightly thanks to over 40 CFD studies but is still 27.8mm wide, like the now sold out Firestrike 404. The standard Firecrest 404, if that wheel could ever be called standard, is 26.5mm wide at it fattest. The new shape isn’t about being more aero, it’s about stability. This new 58mm rim is reputed to be as easy to handle as the 45mm deep 303, regardless of wind conditions.
Much of the wheel’s other technologies we have seen before, from the super light ‘Impress Graphics’ that don’t interfere with the dimples to the silicon carbide ‘Showstopper’ brake track. The famed Zipp dimples are in a new sawtooth pattern and Zipp engineers can tell you the exact frequency of the aerodynamic shearing and when it starts – 50hz at 20mph. What does that mean? Small sheet vortices are created that shed at low magnitude but at higher frequency to decrease the laminar bubble effect. What does that mean? We don’t really know, but that’s why this 58mm deep wheel is reputed to handle like a 35mm deep wheel and we know we like that.
The big news with the new 404 NSW appears to be the Cognition hubs. The hubs use a new design intended to increase bearing performance and durability while creating a laterally stiff ride. But the headline is the Axial Clutch mechanism. Using magnets Zipp has created a ratchet mechanism with a very secure 36point engagement that disengages when coasting to reduce drag to the absolute minimum. It’s easy to test this with the wheel in your hands. Spin the wheel and the cassette itself will remain static, isolated from the spinning hub.
The wheels weigh 1555grams, over 100grams lighter than the Firecrest 404, but retain the 18/24 spoke count of the other 404 wheels. The one missing piece feature here is tubeless compatibility, while ENVE, Bontrager and Easton have all gone tubeless, Zipp is taking a wait and see approach, much like it did with the carbon clincher itself. They were late to that party, but when they finally arrived they were the most popular girl at the dance. Perhaps it will be the same with tubeless.
peloton currently has a set of 404 NSW wheels and have mounted them on an eTap equipped Specialized Tarmac. Look for a full review of the wheels in the pages of peloton soon.
Until then, enjoy this look at Axeon Hagens Berman riders, Greg Daniel and Tao Geoghegan Hart, as they validate final production models of the Zipp 404 NSW at the team’s recent Southern California training camp. These two young riders tortured the wheels down multiple descents in the Santa Monica Mountains and came away smiling. We were lucky enough to be on hand and capture a bit of it on video.
1555g wheel set total, 58mm wheel depth, 27.8mm max width,18/24 front spoke count, Cognition hub set. Available February 2015. Pride: $3100.