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Zipp 454 NSW wheel review

Stu Bowers
17 May 2017

Zipp’s most advanced wheelset to date, the 454 NSW, looks to nature to solve the problem of aero wheels and crosswinds

During my testing of the new Zipp 454 NSW wheels, I was asked frequently, ‘Are those the whale wheels?’

It suggests that Zipp has been successful in delivering the message about the new wheelset, with its technology derived from whale fins. But is it just marketing spin? 

We've already covered Zipp’s latest aero wheel concept in our 'First Look' (click forward to next page for a full run-down of the technology), but in case you missed it, here’s a brief recap: Zipp’s mission for the 454 NSW wasn’t simply to make something faster by reducing drag, but rather to focus on stability for greater usability in windy conditions.

As such, the manufacturer claims the 454 NSW isn’t significantly faster than its current 404 NSW in terms of aero drag, but it does have significantly lower side force. 

In wind-tunnel tests the 454 NSW, which is 58mm at its deepest, presents a similar side force to its shallower 303 Firecrest (45mm rim depth), according to Zipp. 

The whale reference relates to the Hyperfoils that create the visually striking saw tooth rim profile, a principle based on the tubercles on a humpback whale’s pectoral fins, which enable this huge animal to turn in a tight radius in the water. Zipp calls its nature-inspired technology ‘biomimicry’. 

Head to head

I was fortunate during my time riding the 454 NSWs to also have access to Zipp’s 404 NSWs to do some head-to-head comparisons. On the same day, in the same conditions, over the same varied loop around my local stomping ground, there appeared to be no clear differences in my speed for a given power output. 

That’s exactly as Zipp had suggested. My home region of Dorset does, however, have an abundance of high hedgerows with gaps that frequently expose you to side gusts. It was here that the 454s began to reveal their superiority – there was a noticeable improvement over the 404 in terms of stability. It was hardly a scientific test, and I didn’t have a wind meter to assess whether the gusts were of equal measure, but generally I can say I felt more able to hold my line riding the 454s on a day when wind speeds were quoted in the range of 12-21mph. 

I then took the wheels on a training camp in Spain, where another fortuitous opportunity presented itself. By coincidence I found myself riding with a friend who happened to be of similar body shape and weight to me, and who was riding the same brand and model of bike, even down to the groupset (Cannondale SuperSix Evo, Sram eTap rim brake, since you asked). The only significant difference in our respective set-ups was the wheels – he was using Mavic’s popular Ksyrium Elite (which also coincidentally are a very similar weight – a claimed 1,550g to the 454 NSW’s claimed 1,525g).  

On a fast downhill section during one ride we rounded a bend and were suddenly hit by strong side winds. In those few seconds my friend got blown well off his line and I braced myself for the inevitable too, but to my surprise it never really happened. At least, not with such ferocity. What’s more, for the remainder of that descent it seemed he was harassed by the gusty conditions more than I was, defying logic considering
the 454s are nearly three times the depth of Ksyrium Elites. It was an impressive real-world validation of the 454 NSW’s capability.

Braking performance in the dry was superb. The brake blocks gently whine as they bite into the textured silicon carbide surface, delivering a progressive, consistent and predictable feel. From my testing I think only the latest Enve SES rims (also with a moulded and textured brake surface) match the Zipp’s dry weather performance. In the wet, I would say the Enves still have the edge, but it’s marginal, and I feel these two brands are head and shoulders above their carbon-rimmed competitors regardless of weather conditions. 

Stiffness and weight seem secondary in this test, but the 454 NSW hasn’t ignored these important aspects either. Zipp has made a truly fast aero wheel that copes favourably in gusty conditions, but it’s also stiff enough to deliver ample punch in a sprint and, at 1,578g a pair on our scales, they’re pretty handy on the climbs as well. 

The 454 NSW is a superb all-rounder. I can’t help but be a little disappointed at the lack of tubeless tyre compatibility, because to my mind this would only add to its performance, and of course there is the small matter of the £3,500 pricetag – that’s a premium of around £1,200 over the 404 NSW – but you can buy safe in the knowledge you’ll rarely need to leave these wheels in the garage.

Page 1 of 2Zipp 454 NSW wheel review

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Page 1 of 2Zipp 454 NSW wheel review