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Zipp 302 carbon clincher disc wheelset review

20 Jun 2018

Zipp 302s offer a solid build quality and the benefits of disc brakes for a reasonable price

Cyclist Rating: 
• Owning Zipp wheels for a much lower price • Keeping many of the traits the more expensive wheels are renowned for, such as proven aero credentials • Solid build quality
• Missed a trick not offering tubeless tyre compatibility • There are lighter wheels at a similar price if you’re a real weight weenie • Narrow rim profile versus competition at this price

Having led the way with many game changing wheel innovations in its 30 year history, when Zipp launches a completely new wheel line the expectation is for a raft of new technology and features.

Not so this time around. When Zipp introduced the 302 earlier this year it was a uncharacteristic story it was telling – put simply; to bring Zipp wheels into a more affordable price bracket.

Thankfully, though, Zipp has not achieved this simply by outsourcing rims and components from the Far East just to slap on its logos. That would do the brand more harm than good.

The 302s are still handmade in its Indianapolis facility, just like all its other carbon wheels, and maintain the use of Sapim spokes and high quality hubshells and bearings.

New for old

What Zipp aimed to achieve with the 302 it calls ‘achievable speed’, in other words you shouldn’t need to sell a kidney to own a set but enough of its learned (and proven) technology is retained to ensure they’re still a fast set of hoops.

The 302s will still set you back £1300 a pair, so it’s not gone mad on cheapening its wares, but that to my mind is a positive. Keeping a level of prestige is all part and parcel of owning a set of Zipps, and maintaining its premium status – you don’t see Porsche knocking out £10k cars do you?

Buy the Zipp 302 Carbon Clincher Disk wheelset from Pro Bike Kit

The 302s then are more a case of rebooting some of the technology that already exists in Zipp’s other wheel lines, just with a few less bells-and-whistles, such that the 302s can be cheaper but still deserving of the Zipp name.

As far as obvious cost cutting goes, the most evident omission is the lack of its famous dimpled pattern in the rim surface. The 302 rims are completely smooth, which I assume accounts for the biggest chunk of the production cost savings.

Also, both internal and external rim widths are narrower than the current crop of top end wheels from Zipp, for instance the 302 is 25.9mm max width compared to 29.9mm for 303, which suggests the 302 is more like the Firecrest from a few years back.

This does put the 302 a little bit behind the curve though, and makes it feel slightly dated (despite only just being released) when its competitors (even at this price point) are pushing to even wider still external rim widths, and certainly wider internal rim channel to benefit tyre profiles and rolling resistance with wider rubber choices now common.
Further indications of the step down from their more expensive brethren are simple vinyl logos, plus you don’t get things like a posh pair of wheel bags in the box.

What’s really crucial is how they feel on the road and what I found was the 302s might have surrendered some modern traits and the fancier bits we’re used to seeing from Zipp, but they’ve held on to the core requirements for a decent pair of wheels.

Testing times

The wheels conveyed a solid feel with ample lateral stiffness against the best accelerations I could throw down, both from a standing start and during moments jumping on the gas (as if attacking from a bunch) in search of extra speed.

The 45mm rim depth and blunted rim profile is great for an all-rounder; not too much of a handful in crosswinds but also deep enough to make an appreciable difference to your speed if you’re upgrading from shallower section wheels.

The hubs are super easy to convert between axle standards (for which all the end caps are supplied). I swapped these wheels between different bikes during testing and the switch from thru-axle back to standard QR spindle, requires no special tools, and took just a minute or so each time.

Part and parcel of switching wheels around was to make some back-to-back comparisons with the very wheel the 302 is (sort of) benchmarking itself against – the 303 Firecrest carbon clincher Disc - which produced some unexpected results.

My tests were none too scientific I might add - for the most part based on feel, and some basic observations made with my power meter - but what surprised me was there the 302’s performance was not worlds apart from the 303, despite being so much cheaper.

Sure, they’re a bit heavier so lose out a little in terms of getting up to speed, and so too on a steep climb, but to me it felt only marginally.

There were definitely not great handfuls of effort being haemorrhaged despite the 302’s far cheaper price tag. I would have expected the 302 to fall behind the 303 Firecrest by a far greater extent than what played out in reality.

Weight wise the 302’s come in at: Front 805g; Rear 927g, making a total of 1732g pair. It’s a little over Zipp’s claimed 1645g, but I don’t feel I should single it out for such crimes as the whole industry is guilty of quoting weights on the lighter side of reality.

That’s not the lightest, at this price point there are others even at slightly deeper 50mm that would shave off more than 200g of that, e.g. Specialized’s Roval CLX 50 Disc (claimed 1515g), and Hunt’s Aero Carbon 50 disc. (claimed 1487g). Weight weenies, then, will probably be overlooking the 302 for their wishlists.

That’s not the biggest issue I feel goes against the 302 though. Zipp has definitely missed a trick in not making the 302 tubeless compatible. I fully appreciate there’s a cost attached to manufacturing the rim shapes and additional sidewall strength/rigidity/sealing and so on, but both the aforementioned wheelsets have managed tubeless compatibility at a cheaper price too.

Buy the Zipp 302 Carbon Clincher Disk wheelset from Pro Bike Kit

With tubeless now finally gaining much more acceptance in the market, Zipp could certainly lose sales because of it, especially at this pricepoint where I think customers are more willing to try new technology.

That’s for the individual to decide though, and putting tyre choice aside, the Zipp 302s offer a solid build quality, with the fundaments of a quality carbon disc brake wheelset clearly not having been compromised, despite the cheaper price ticket.

It’s a classic example of a law of diminishing returns - it’s just that last few percent that’s you’re missing out on, but to get it you have to spend the really big bucks.


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