The big news from Zipp is that the 303 wheels have been completely redesigned and become the third entry in their Firecrest series. The new design will be available for both tubular and clincher tyres.
The Firecrest rim profile is very different from a traditional V-shaped aero-section wheel. It’s wider, for a start, and stays wide all the way from the braking surface almost to the spoke bed. Then it rolls in at the last moment so the overall profile is more like a U than a V.
Why? Zipp give two reasons. These are they, in their own words:
1 The Firecrest shape makes the wheel faster by treating the spoke bed not as a trailing edge but as a second leading edge. Firecrest is the first rim design that addresses the aerodynamics of the half of the wheel behind the axle.
2 By treating the spoke bed as a leading edge, the… design shifts the centre of pressure behind the hub, virtually in-line with the steering axis. Practically speaking, this makes crosswinds ineffectual against the front wheel.
Most wheels have a centre of pressure – the point at which a side wind is effectively pushing on it – in front of the hub so a crosswind from the left moves you to the right.
Get all that? Basically, according to Zipp the Firecrest profile is faster and more stable than a V-shaped profile. They say that the 303 Firecrest has better aerodynamics than many V-section aero rims that are 80mm deep.
Oh, and there are a couple more bonus benefits, again in Zipp’s words…
3. The rim’s broad profile gives it greater strength when compared to rims of similar depth and improves lateral stiffness for sprinting and cornering.
4. Firecrest allows us to build in vertical compliance, making it the most comfortable rim you’ve ever ridden.
Laterally stiff, vertically compliant? Of course. Our two old favourites are back in the game.
Anyway, that’s all background stuff. The existing Firecrest models are the 58mm-deep 404 and the 82mm-deep 808. The 303 is 45mm deep with a 27.5mm width.
Zipp haven’t just taken the 404 profile and shrunk it down – the rim shape is slightly different – but it’s close enough to be recognisably part of the same range, and it works on the same concept.
The 303 comes with Zipp’s ABLC dimpling – the golf ball look – that is designed to keep the airflow attached to the rim at higher angles than smooth rims, and thereby reduce drag.
The 303 comes with 18 spokes up front and 24 at the rear. As usual, the tubular version is lighter than the clincher (519g fr, 652g r, compared to 680g fr, 883g), but Zipp reckon the difference that’ll make to your speed out on the road is small.
We’ve not got UK prices yet but the tubulars will be €916 (fr) and €1,154 (r) and the clinchers will be €1,126 and €1,374. Those are exactly the same prices as the 404 Firecrests, according to the price list Zipp handed us.
I gave the new 303s a quick spin – and when I say quick, we’re talking about 20mins up and down some smooth, rolling German roads, so nowhere near enough time to get fully acquainted with them let alone do a complete review. Far from it. But what I can tell you from that is that they do behave well in crosswinds and they feel quick on both the flat and climbs.
Who are the wheels aimed at? Zipp reckon they can be used anywhere that a standard road wheel is used, whatever the terrain. Plus, they’re strong enough – and pinch-flat resistant enough – for cyclocross. All rounders, then.
The Zipp 303 Firecrests will be shipped internationally from early October, and available in a new Beyond Black finish as well as with silver details.
Although wheels are the core of what Zipp do, they’ve added to other parts of their range for 2012. They have a new low-profile SLSpeed seatpost that comes with a 20mm setback (the distance from the centre of the post to the centre of the clamp). The post is unidirectional carbon with titanium hardware and it’s micro-adjustable. The quoted weight is 185g (27.2mm version, 330mm; it’s also available in a 31.6mm diameter). Again, we don’t have a UK price yet but it’ll retail at €264.
Finally, Zipp have two new handlebars too. The Service Course C (alloy, €88) and Service Course CSL (ZTL-71 alloy, €107) both feature the same flat ovalized top as the existing carbon Contour bar, but they come a new Super Short Reach bend for smaller riders. That reach – from the stem clamp to the foremost extension – is just 70mm.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven 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.