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Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc: A brand new wheelset with new ways to make you fast

28 May 2020
Verdict:

Another potential game changer from the US wheel maestros, as Zipp looks beyond aero gains to bring you more speed.

Price: 
£1,600

With the new Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Brake wheelset, the brand has moved in a new direction. Until now, Zipp has very much made its mark by focussing mainly on the aerodynamic side of carbon wheel development, but for its next generation of wheels that’s all about to change.

And that’s because the landscape has changed. The requirement now is for the modern road bike to be far more capable which often means doing more than riding on tarmac alone.

In a nutshell the new Zipp 303 Firecrest is wide, it’s light, it’s fast, it’s made for tubeless tyres only and it will cost you a lot less than you think… but that’s only the half of it, there’s something far bigger that Zipp has discovered in testing this new wheelset, so let’s get into the nitty gritty.

 

The key new message from Zipp, then, for this new release, is to consider wheels as part of a system, that includes the tyre (and tyre pressure), and together the total system efficiency is what is crucial to delivering the fastest speeds. Quite simply, Zipp says, 'Efficiency equals speed'.

Zipp’s efficiency model can be broken down into the following four sub-categories:

  • Wind resistance
  • Rolling resistance
  • Gravity (Weight)
  • Vibration losses

So let’s take a look at each in turn, and (spoiler alert) Zipp has saved the best until last…

Wind resistance

It goes without saying that aerodynamics are still a huge part of wheel performance, and for the new 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Zipp has exploited the fact that disc brakes have made it possible to create much wider rim shapes that can actually reduce aero drag, once you consider there’s now likely to be a wider tyre in the mix too.

The new Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc, then, has a completely new profile. It’s now 40mm deep (previously the 303 FC was 45mm), 30mm wide externally and a cavernous 25mm internally.

Zipp says this new rim shape, fitted with a 28mm tyre, is now measurably faster than the previous 303 FC, due to wider internal rim width facilitating the tyre sidewalls to be more in line with the rim profile, thus smoothing the airflow across both surfaces.

Rolling resistance

Just as the wider internal rim shape has benefited aerodynamics, then, so too has it helped to reduce rolling resistance.

Again, it’s all down to how well the tyre is supported, and this wider stance - where the tyre when fitted looks like an upturned U shape rather than with it’s sidewalls pinched in, like a lightbulb shape - is proven to reduce the frictional losses of wider tyres, as it reduces the amount of sidewall deflection as you ride.

Gravity (weight)

The new 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc wheels are not just a little lighter than their predecessor, but somehow a hefty 300g has been shaved off, making them now just 1,355g a pair. That’s impressive at this rim depth.

Zipp says most of that saving comes from the new rim too, largely thanks to the hookless tyre interface, which clearly requires less material, although the new ZR1 hubs are also lighter too (we’ll get back to those later).

Vibration losses

So, as we said, Zipp had saved the best for last, and we weren’t lying. Here is where things start to get really interesting.

Rider fatigue due to the amount of vibration that we experience while riding in real world conditions (i.e. rough roads) is an area of research that is only just getting off the ground, but Zipp is pioneering this new direction and, by its own admission, was very surprised by what it discovered.

Cyclist spoke to Zipp’s wheel product manager, Bastien Donzé, who explains, the results even blew his mind.

‘We were pretty shocked by what we found with some of the tests we developed specifically for this new wheelset’, he said. ‘We discovered the combination of the increased air volume in the wider rim and tyre, plus riding much lower pressures, dramatically reduces rider fatigue as the wheel becomes like having a suspension system.

‘Reducing the amount of vibration that comes through the bike had a much larger impact on power delivery than we expected.

‘What we found was even with tyre pressures as low as in the 50-55psi range for a 75kg rider the improvement in power production was astounding - sometimes up to 40-50w.

‘We developed real world tests to back up our own in-house Rolling Road test protocol, and the results were unquestionably in favour of the total system efficiency of these new wheels, with 28mm tyres at these lower tyre pressures.’

To calculate the recommended tyre pressures, Zipp has created a really easy to use online tool, axs.sram.com/tirepressureguide

But also you can refer to the chart below:

Here's a screen shot of our calculation for a 75kg rider using the Sram AXS tyre pressure guide:

We've no doubt this is going to be a significant talking point for some time, as Zipp is effectively recommending pressures almost half that of what we know a good percentage or riders are still inflating their road tyres too. So we'll leave that there for you to digest/ponder.

Obviously we've done our own testing too, so keep a look out for our first ride review to follow soon.

Other details

Elsewhere in the wheelset there’s also a new German made hubset - Zipp calls the ZR1 - lighter with improved bearing seals, plus it uses standard J-Bend Sapim CX-Sprint spokes for easy maintenance plus the rear hub benefits from a new six-pawl engagement freehub for a faster pick up.

 

The hubs are only compatible with centre lock disc rotors, but conveniently do now come supplied with nice Zipp branded lock rings for attachment.

Finally, the eagle eyed will have spotted the new Zipp logo, branding that will now be rolled out across the entire Zipp product range going forward.

There are a few other points to note, too.

The new 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc brake wheels are compatible only with tubeless tyres, although an inner tube can still be used to make a repair out on the road.

The minimum compatible tyre size is 28mm  
The maximum compatible tyre size is 55mm  
The maximum recommended tyre pressure is 73psi  
The maximum rider weight limit is the same as all Zipp wheels - 115kg  

However, in relation to any warranty issues, Zipp is also launching a new initiative for customer care with all its new wheels.

The lifetime guarantee it offers will now include a free of charge crash/damage replacement scheme, should your wheels get broken in use - even if the incident that causes the damage is completely your own fault.

Even if you happen to drive over your bike on the driveway at home, Zipp says, whilst that will not be covered free of charge, it will still offer a very favourable replacement fee as part of its new customer service offering.

Price

If all that is not enough to have you reaching for your wallet immediately, then how about this: Zipp has also significantly dropped its prices for this latest generation of 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc wheels.

Previous this was a wheelset that cost around £2,300, but this latest version will drop by a staggering 30% to £1,600; (£780 font and £820 rear)

That’s a lot to take in, and some new discoveries that will no doubt raise many questions, but it seems that Zipp has once again put itself forward with new ideas that could prove, as with several of its other products, to be a real game changer.

All aboard

It’s not just the 303 Firecrest that Zipp is updating for the next model year. All Zipp wheels moving forward from Model Year 2021 will now be tubeless compatible, something it had only previously offered on a few key models.

Throughout its range, its wheels will now all be updated with the new graphics plus the new ZR1 new hubset where applicable, and all prices have been adjusted in the customer’s favour too.

Here’s a quick summary of pricing for the rest of the line-up:

Firecrest

202 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,320 pair (£1,070 front; £1,250 rear)  
303 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £1965 pair (£894 front; £1071 rear)  
303 - Tubular Disc Brake - £2,320 pair (£1,070 front; £1,250 rear)  
303 - Tubular Rim Brake - £1965 pair (£894 front; £1071 rear)  
404 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,320 pair (£1,070 front; £1,250 rear)  
404 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £1965 pair (£894 front; £1071 rear)  
808 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,590 pair (£1,205 front; £1,385 rear)  
808 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £2,320 pair (£1,070 front; £1,250 rear)  

NSW

202 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,675 pair (£1,160 front; £1,515 rear)  
303 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £2,675 pair (£1,160 front; £1,515 rear)  
404 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,675 pair (£1,160 front; £1,515 rear)  
404 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £2,675 pair (£1,160 front; £1,515 rear)  
808 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,855 pair (£1,250 front; £1,605 rear)  
808 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £2,855 pair (£1,250 front; £1,605 rear)  
454 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £3,570 pair (£1,605 front; £1,965 rear)  
454 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £3,570 pair (£1,605 front; £1,965 rear)  
454 - Tubular Disc Brake - £3,571 pair (£1,607 front; £1,964 rear)  
454 - Tubular Rim Brake - £3,571 pair (£1,607 front; £1,964 rear)  
858 - Tubeless Disc Brake - £3,930 pair (£1,786 front; £2,144 rear)  
858 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £3,930 pair (£1,786 front; £2,144 rear)  
Super 9 Rear Disc - Tubeless Disc Brake - £2,075  
Super 9 Rear Disc - Tubeless Rim Brake - £2,075  
Super 9 Rear Disc - Tubular Disc Brake - £1,825  
Super 9 Rear Disc - Tubular Rim Brake - £1,825v

Other

302 - Tubeless Rim Brake - £1,370 pair (£585 front; £785 rear)

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