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Zipp 353 NSW: stronger, faster, lighter and tubeless – US brand’s most versatile wheels ever?

20 Apr 2021
Verdict:

Bringing together its latest wheel technologies, Zipps says the 353 NSW reaches ‘a new pinnacle of versatility & speed combined’

Zipp has very much moved on from its ‘aero is everything’ mentality of old. Last spring it launched two new wheelsets into its iconic 303 family – the lower tier 303S (£999 pair) and an all-new 303 Firecrest (£1,600 pair) – both showcasing new technologies and new thinking that Zipp summed up as: Total System Efficiency.

In short, that means switching to a multi-faceted approach for attaining new levels of speed and performance, especially for the modern road rider who expects much more from their wheels in terms of versatility.

The most efficient wheels, Zipp concluded, are those that can successfully meld aerodynamics and low weight, while simultaneously reducing rolling resistance and lessening the fatiguing effect of vibration on the rider.

 

To achieve that, Zipp’s latest wheels utilise extra-wide rim shapes (disc brake only for obvious reasons) and hookless (straight sided internally) rims for tubeless tyres along with setup recommendations that include a fairly significant drop in tyre pressures (max 72psi). More on that later.

Not everyone was or is ready to accept such a departure from the highly ingrained norms of the past, but Zipp continues unperturbed, as a brand that knows very well what it means to be the first to market with new ideas and how sometimes it takes a while to be fully understood and accepted.

 

Above and beyond

The next chapter is the 353 NSW – a top-tier wheelset (Zipp only giving the NSW moniker to its best-of-the-best halo products) that Zipp says delivers its proven aerodynamic prowess, at an exceptionally low weight but importantly alongside lower rolling resistance and also reduced rider fatigue.

‘The new hookless (straight sided) rim profile changes the way the carbon laminates can be used and means the rim can be stronger, using less material and thereby reducing weight too’, says Zipp.

There is a lot going on with this new wheelset 'behind the scenes', so to speak. It's easy to get distracted and hung up on the unique Sawtooth rim profile, but there are features that are crucial to its performance not even visible once a tyre is mounted.

For now, though, let's stick to those headline attributes. The 353 NSWs are impressively light at a claimed 1255g pair, which breaks down as: 580g front weight, 675g rear (12mm thru-axle, XDR freehub, not including valves or rim strip).

Also key is how the rim shape – specifically a very wide internal width of 25mm – influences the tyre profile. The tyre takes on an upturned U shape, as opposed to something that looks like a lightbulb.

This is better for aerodynamics, as the airflow is no longer disrupted by the ‘dip’ or ‘channel’ that is created when a tyre shape is pinched inward by a narrower rim bed.

The upturned U shape is also optimal for improving tyre support, which reduces rolling resistance and therefore facilitates the ability to run wider tyres and lower tyre pressures combined, without sacrificing speed.

The knock on from the latter is significantly improved vibration dampening, leading to much less rider fatigue over time and the associated power losses that would create.

 

Still with us? All of these features were essentially true of the 303 Firecrest so where does the 353 NSW go above and beyond?

It’s Sawtooth profile is the key, a series of Hyperfoil nodes along the inner diameter of the rim that means it varies in depth from 40-45mm.

The profile was introduced by Zipp when it launched 454 NSW back in 2016, along with a ‘mimicking nature’ story based around the tubercles on a whale’s fins.

Zipp has since dulled down that side of the product message, and chooses instead to focus on how these hyperfoils, along with its HexFin ABLC dimple pattern, aid aero balance, that is being able to be fast through a wide yaw range while less affected by cross wind.

Plus, Zipp says the undulating rim profile lends a lot of strength and stiffness to the rim, which has helped reduce weight, as less material can be used in its construction.

 

Weight

While we are talking weight, the fact the 353 NSW wheels are so light (just 1,255g pair) will likely mean Zipp’s 202 wheel range is on borrowed time. The 202 was a wheel that existed mostly for the weight weenies but now these wheels are lighter and offer a whole lot more performance benefits to boot.

To that end, Zipp says it presents the 353 NSW as an all round wheelset – not necessarily a gravel wheelset, but it still definitely has all the strength and durability of the rest of the 303 family, so will cope with off-road without issue.

The 353 NSW uses Zipp’s latest Cognition V2 hubs, its top of the line product, as you’d expect, but now lighter still, with some recent improvements made to the Axial clutch, improving its simplicity in terms of maintenance but also to further reduce drag during freewheeling.

The freehub now also boasts 54-tooth engagement over the older design’s 36.

 

As per other NSW products, Zipp uses a premium printing process for the application of the graphics, not a decal.

So, with a tick in seemingly every box, it is not surprising Zipp is claiming the 353 NSW is its most versatile wheelset ever, bringing category-leading performance to even more variables, conditions and riding styles.

There are a few practical considerations to note: mainly that only tubeless tyres can be used on the hookless rims and there is a minimum tyre width of 28mm, which Zipp has stipulated due to the cavernous internal rim profile.

Also, at time of launch, not every tyre brand is yet certificated as compatible. The hookless rims means that tyres need to be approved by ETRTO and ISO, but this is not a reflection on their potential safety.

Providing you are using approved tubeless tyres, from a list that includes: Zipp, Schwalbe, Pirelli, Goodyear, Rene Herse, Panaracer, Specialized to name a few, (the full list can be found here) then you have absolutely no cause for concern.

Many more brands are now getting on board with hookless so it’s inevitable this list will grow fairly rapidly in the coming months, making tyre compatibility a non-issue very quickly.

Also rather than viewing this as a negative you could take the view that we can at last rest assured that now this additional focus on the ETRTO standard – which controls the tyre to rim interface – forces rim and tyre manufacturers to finally work more closely and in partnership with one another, to closely monitor and test safety more than ever.

Arguably we have all been at much greater risk in the past when, let's face it, standards between these two products have wavered and varied quite dramatically.

Also as riders begin to accept and fully understand the benefits the modern wheel/tyre systems bring, namely using much lower tyre pressures (Zipp also has a recommended tyre pressure calculator here). This will also reduce the issues surrounding hookless, as the lower the tyre pressure the lower the risk of blow-off, and hence why hookless rims have been used successfully for a number of years now on mountain bikes.

 

Pricing

The arrival of the 353 NSW means there is now a clear three tier structure to Zipp’s 303 wheel family, which makes it easier to understand.

The 353 NSW sits as the premium level offering at £1,425 front, £1,775 rear (so £3,200 pair rrp). That compares to the 303 Firecrest at £1,600 and the 303S at £999.

The 353 NSW wheels will be supplied as standard with 12mm thru-axle end caps. The price also includes lock rings for centre lock disc rotor interface. They are fully compatible with both Shimano and Campagnolo drivetrains (although Campagnolo requires the purchase of an additional freehub).

A final, but no less significant, point is to note Zipp's lifetime warranty – an impressive guarantee that offers peace of mind to its customers with a ‘no quibble’ (providing the product was being used for its intended purpose) free of charge replacement scheme for damaged products.

Anything purchased from 5th May 2020 is now covered by this lifetime warranty.

As you may have noticed from the pictures we've already started testing these wheels, so watch this space for a full review coming soon.

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