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Ever since we saw Zipp's 101s at last year's Tour de France we've been itching to get our hands on them and a few weeks back we finally did. Zipp are best known for their deep-section carbon fibre wheels but these aluminium clinchers bring a lot of the same technology in a more affordable package. Well, slightly more affordable. It’s all relative.
The rim has a 30mm high cross-section with a fully toroidal shape. Toroidal? Funny you should ask: it means that the sides are curved rather than a straight V-section, and that curve reaches right across the braking tracks. Think ring doughnut and you’ll get the idea. The rim bulges outwards from the hook bead, (where the tyre attaches) before heading back in towards the spokes.
This is technology Zipp have developed in the wind tunnel over many years. The idea is that, working with the tyre as the leading edge, the toroidal rim provides the best aerodynamics across the widest possible range of wind conditions. Get that? Basically, this shape reduces drag so you go faster. Zipp reckon this specific shaping allows the 101s to outperform much deeper section wheels that use straight-sided rims, without getting blown about in crosswinds. These are the only fully toroidal aluminium rims out there.
The 101s are pretty wide for aero wheels. The bottom of the brake track, for example, is 23.6mm wide while the maximum width of the toroidal section is 23.75mm. Why? Although skinnier wheels provide a good aero performance with ultra-narrow tyres, they’re not so good if you use normal width tyres. So if you fit a 23mm tyre for better handling, you compromise the aerodynamics.
The 101s, on the other hand, are designed specifically for the kind of tyres that most of us actually use, from 21 to 35mm. Most people will doubtless use 23s – that’s what Zipp sent us with the wheels. Fitting slightly wider tyres like these gives you more comfort, better stability and a reduced chance of getting a pinch flat – all good.
The hubs are the same ones that Zipp use right across their range – an 88 up front and a 188 at the rear. These are pretty special in themselves, using Swiss-made steel bearings that Zipp claim are the roundest used in the bike industry by a margin. The axle is oversized (17mm in diameter) for a little extra stiffness and the cartridge bearings are pretty well sealed. We’ve never had any trouble with these on any of the Zipp wheels we’ve tested.
You get 18 bladed Sapim CX-Ray spokes up front and 20 at the rear, and although there is a maximum rider weight limit, it’s 17st 12lb. We’re guessing that not too many potential customers are going to be close to that mark.
Okay, so how do the 101s perform out on the road? Well, we’ll be straight with you: the main selling point of these wheels is their aerodynamics and we just can’t test that in any objective way. Read some reviews and you’ll find out that the reviewer can feel that these wheels have exceptional aerodynamics. Let’s think about that…
Zipp say that these wheels can save you up to 42secs over 40km (25 miles) compared to standard aluminium clinchers. So anyone who says they can feel these are fast is claiming they can tell the wheels are about a second quicker over 1km. Half a second over 500m. Quarter of a second over 250m.
Oooo-kay! There are way too many variables to judge that kind of margin out on the road. The only way you can check data like that is in a wind tunnel and we don’t have access to one. Knowing what we do about Zipp and their methods, we’d accept their figure. You might be more skeptical, of course.
What we can tell you for sure is that the 101s are stiff. There’s no doubt about that. The wide, deep section rim and the well-tensioned spokes make for a solid transfer of power when you put the effort in for a big acceleration or an out-of-the-saddle effort. They’re surefooted descenders too, giving you the confidence to dive hard and fast into downhill bends.
Plus, the 30mm deep rims don’t have a huge impact on your bike’s handling in a crosswind. Even when it’s blowing hard, these don’t feel much different from standard, shallow-rimmed wheels. You’ll certainly have no issues with control.
The 101s are a reasonable weight rather than especially light. Our front one hit the scales at 748g, and the rear one at 860g. That’s a total of 1608g (plus 73g for the combined weight of the neat QR skewers). That means that they don’t accelerate or climb with quite the same sense of urgency as some lighter options, but let’s not go too far there; both these things are marginal. They accelerate and climb fine – they’re no slouches when it comes to either. It’s just that aerodynamics is clearly the highest priority.
We like these wheels a lot. All the components are excellent and they’re expertly handmade. Our 101s have stayed completely true through a couple of months of winter testing on some pretty awful roads and we’ve not had to adjust a thing, so we’re saying they’re robust enough for whatever you have in mind. They’re great all-rounders.
Who should buy a set? Any performance rider who wants Zipp’s aerodynamic technology in a fairly low-profile aluminium format. All that R&D doesn’t come cheap, though. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a helluva lot of money to spend on a set of aluminium clinchers. Keeping in mind that they’re exceptionally good ones might soften the blow.
The 101 is currently available only in a 700c clincher model.
High-quality aluminium clinchers that bring Zipp's aerodynamic technology to a slightly more affordable level than previously. They're still pricey, though!
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Make and model: Zipp 101 wheelset
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Zipp say, "Aero wheels are faster for every rider at every speed. Zipp’s two decades of research, testing and results have proven that point. We’ve also shown that fine-tuning rim shape can significantly improve aerodynamics without sacrificing weight, acceleration or handling.
"Now, we’ve transferred that knowledge into the world’s most aerodynamically advanced aluminum wheelset, the all-new Zipp 101. It’s the most affordable way to take advantage of Zipp's cutting-edge aero technologies and premium build quality.
The 101’s centerpiece is the first fully toroidal aluminum rim, developed in the wind tunnel with a proprietary profile curve extending across the braking surfaces. With this patented design, the 30mm-deep 101 can exceed the aerodynamic performance of V-shaped rims with much deeper aero profiles. And no shallow-profile design comes close to the 101 in the wind tunnel or on the road, where the 101 can save up to 42 seconds over 40km compared to the industry's benchmark aluminum wheelset."
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? The price would be a big hurdle here
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Possibly
Age: 40 Height: 190cm Weight: 74kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.