US brand Zipp, part of the SRAM group, built its reputation on aerodynamic efficiency at a time when most other high-end wheel companies were concentrating their efforts on light weight.
Zipp is continually updating its range. For example, it has recently updated its entire rim brake Firecrest lineup, plus the 202 tubular wheel, with new 77 (front) and 177 (rear) hubs that are designed to be low maintenance and durable.
Zipp says that improved efficiencies in the manufacturing process have allowed it to reduce wheel prices recently.
Here’s a look at the entire wheel range.
Wheelset RRP £645
Zipp launched the aluminium 30 clincher, along with the 60 (see below), about three years ago, the idea being to take aerodynamic performance to more affordable price points. We see it as a year-round training and racing wheel.
The 30 uses what Zipp calls a “hybrid toroidal” rim profile, toroidal being a ring doughnut shaped object with curved surfaces. It’s rim that’s 21.5mm wide and 30mm deep.
Like many other wheel brands, Zipp has been shifting to wider tyre beds over recent years to support the general shift towards wider tyres. Zipp says that a wider tyre bed improves both rider comfort and cornering grip.
Zipp reckons that the hybrid toroidal rim shape is more aerodynamically efficient than many V section rims that are twice as deep, and estimates that using this wheel will save you 42secs over 40km (25 miles) at 48km/h, compared with a box-section rim.
The hub shell is made from 7075-T6 aluminium and houses high precision steel bearings, and the 30 uses Sapim’s excellent CX-Ray spokes.
The Zipp 30 is not tubeless ready. Zipp claim a wheelset weight of 1,655g (765g front, 890g rear).
When we reviewed the Zipp 30s we found that they were well built and felt smooth. We think they’re great all-rounders although the price is a touch high.
Wheelset RRP £800
The new Zipp 30 Course wheelsets are designed for use on endurance, gravel, adventure and cyclocross bikes. They’re available in four different flavours: Disc-brake Clincher, Disc-brake Tubular, Rim-brake Clincher, and Rim-brake Tubular, all complete wheelsets priced at £800.
All of the wheels have aluminium rims that are 25mm wide and 26mm deep. A 21mm internal rim width is designed to give greater stability to wider tyres.
Zipp says that, “The 30 Course’s rim shape incorporates design innovations from the Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher profile, resulting in low aerodynamic drag as well as greater stability and predictability in crosswinds.”
The clinchers are Zipp’s first tubeless ready wheels, allowing you to run lower tyre pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
The disc wheels are thru-axle compatible (front 12x100mm and 15 x 100mm, rear 12x135mm and 12x142mm), with end caps that can be swapped by hand according to the frame/fork you are using.
Wheel weights start at a claimed 1,490g for the rim-brake tubular version.
We’ve reviewed the 30 Course Disc-brake Clinchers and reckon they’re a really good set of wheels for all-round use. They're solidly built without being over-heavy, they run true, they're easy to convert to tubeless and they come with all the axle fittings you're likely to need.
Wheelset RRP Discontinued but still available
Zipp unveiled the 60 at the same time as the 30 (above), but rather than being completely aluminium, it uses a carbon-fibre rim with an aluminium braking surface. Anyone who has ever ridden wheels with a carbon braking surface will know that, despite what some manufacturers claim, the braking performance isn’t as good as aluminium, especially in the wet.
Zipp sees this as a versatile wheelset for road racers, triathletes, sportive riders – pretty much anyone who wants to go fast.
The 60 has toroidal rims that are 58mm deep and 25mm across at their widest point. The rims also feature Zipp’s distinctive dimpled surface treatment that’s designed to improve aerodynamics.
Zipp used to spec hubs that allowed you to alter the preload on the bearings, but has moved away from these recently.
The weight for the pair is a claimed 1,820g (850g front, 970g rear), putting them in the same ballpark as similar wheelsets from other brands.
Zipp doesn’t produce this wheelset anymore but you can still find it online and in shops at prices from around £680.
Wheelset RRP From £1,600
Zipp calls the 202 a climber’s wheelset but also emphasises its versatility. Martijn Maaskant rode 202s to a fourth place finish in the 2008 Paris-Roubaix. for example
202s are available in three varieties: Tubular (£1,600), Firecrest Carbon Clincher (£1,680), and Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (£1,920).
“Firecrest technology, discovered as we developed our Carbon Clinchers, refocused our thinking to concentrate not only on the front half of the wheel, but also the back half,” says Zipp.
“Previous rim shapes were designed to smooth airflow coming off the tyre, and tapered inward from the widest point of a toroidal bulge. But Firecrest rims have a less pronounced bulge and maintain a near-constant width almost all the way to the spoke bed. Without giving up the proven benefits of the toroidal shape, Firecrest is the first aero profile that effectively controls airflow around the back half of the wheel.”
The idea is that you get greater speed, stability and strength.
All Zipp 202 rims are carbon-fibre and 32mm deep but, for comparison, the 202 Tubulars have a maximum width of 22.61mm while the Firecrest versions are up to 25.4mm across.
Using less material, the 202 Tubulars weigh a claimed 1,180g (510g front, 670g rear), while the Carbon Clinchers (rim brake version) are 1,450g (635g front, 815g rear). Clinchers are always heavier than tubulars.
The new 77 (front) and 177 (rear) hubs found on all the Firecrest wheels (and the 202 Tubular) are designed to be low maintenance and durable.
Zipp says that the hubs boast:
• Optimised flange geometry and spoke hole attachment pattern with Sapim CX Sprint spokes (CX-Ray for 202 Tubular). This is designed to offer torsional and lateral stiffness without adding weight.
• New robust shape.
• 17mm axle.
If you want to run a super-wide gear range, the 177 rear hub will take a SRAM XD driver body (you’d need to buy it separately). This will allow you to run SRAM’s 10-42 cassette as part of a 1x system.
Wheelset RRP From £1,600
Zipp first gave the Firecrest (see above) treatment to its 303 carbon-fibre wheels a couple of years ago and now the range comprises Tubulars (£1,600), Carbon Clinchers (£1,680), Tubular Disc-brake (£1,840) and Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (£1,920).
These are designed to be all-rounder wheels. Rim brake 303s have been used to win the Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders cobbled classics, for instance, while the disc-brake versions have been used to great success in cyclocross.
All of the wheels in the 303 range use carbon-fibre Firecrest rims that are 45mm deep and 28.5mm wide at their widest point. That’s some serious width – the greatest of any Zipp wheels – which has led to fitting issues with a handful of frames.
Why has Zipp gone so wide? Well, as we mentioned above, the Firecrest rim shape is designed to improve airflow in both the front half and the back half of the wheel.
Zipp also says that a wider rim “increases lateral stiffness for sprinting and cornering while also providing greater vertical compliance for greater control, comfort and durability”.
“Firecrest moves the wheel’s centre of pressure to be more in line with the steering axis for stability in even the stiffest crosswinds,” says Zipp.
This is one of the most frequent comments people make when they ride Zipp wheels: they feel surprisingly stable for their depth in windy conditions.
All of Zipp’s deeper section wheels feature dimpled rim surfaces. Zipp calls this its ABLC (Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control) technology.
“ABLC smoothes airflow across the rim's surface and is tailored to every model from the 202 to the Super-9 Disc, says Zipp.
A Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheelset weighs a claimed 1,625g (725g front, 900g rear).
Wheelset RRP From £1,600
The 404 Firecrest is Zipp’s best known wheelset, seen everywhere from the cobbled classics to the Tour de France to the pro triathlon circuit to the velodrome.
“If you had to choose just one wheel, the 404 Firecrest should be your choice,” says Zipp, boasting of its versatility.
The brand claims that the 404 is aerodynamically superior to every other wheel in its class.
The rims are 58mm deep and 26.53mm at the widest point, so not quite as wide as the 303 but still very broad.
As you’d expect, the 404 is available in Tubular (£1,600) and Carbon Clincher (£1,680) versions, and also as a Track Tubular (£1,800) with different hubs.
No disc brake versions are available yet, although we imagine these will be added to the range at some stage.
Despite their depth, 404s are pretty light. The Carbon Clinchers, for example, weigh a claimed 1,690g (755g front, 935g rear).
Like many other Zipp wheels, 404s use what Zipp calls its Visco-Elastic Constrained Layer Control tech.
“Visco-Elastic Constrained Layer Control (VCLC) uses a vibration-absorbing material sandwiched between layers of rigid carbon laminate in the rim,” says Zipp. “When the wheel receives an impact from the road, much of the shock is absorbed by the VCLC system, delivering a 10% reduction in vibration.”
That’s a tricky one to measure. The fact that the brake track is 24.73mm wide and the broad tyre bed can support wider tyres makes more difference to the ride quality.
Wheelset RRP From £1,840
With 27.5mm wide rims, Zipp reckons that these are the most aerodynamically efficient deep-section carbon-fibre wheels in the world. At 82mm, the 808s are considerably deeper than the 404s so they’re not as versatile, but you’ll still see them used in road races as well as in time trials and triathlon.
Zipp argues that the depth doesn’t make as much difference to handling in crosswinds as you might imagine because it has designed the wheel so that the centre of pressure is close to the steering axis.
With the increased depth comes a higher weight, the Firecrest Carbon Clincher (£1,920) wheelset weighing a claimed 1,885g (855g front, 1,030g rear). As ever, the Firecrest Tubular version (£1,920) is lighter at 1,700g (770g front, 930g rear).
The 808 is available as a Track Tubular (£1,840) and also as a new NSW Carbon Clincher (£2,350) from December 2015. NSW is a sub-range that showcases Zipp’s most advanced technology.
These new 808 NSW wheels are claimed to offer a 3-4 watt saving over the regular 808 Firecrests, and Zipp reckons riding at 40kph over an 180.25km (112-mile) Ironman distance course they’ll save 90 seconds.
Rather than the usual 77/177 hubs, the 808 NSW uses a Cognition hubset that features Axial Clutch Technology. The idea is that the ratchet mechanism disengages when you stop pedalling in order to reduce drag.
The NSW wheels also come with a revised dimple pattern that’s said to reduce drag at high yaw (the apparent angle of the wind) and improve crosswind stability.
Wheelset RRP Various
This is a wheel designed for time trials, triathlon, and the track and it’s available in clincher (£1,900) and tubular ( £1,660) models.
For more info go to www.zipp.com.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.