Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_cross-ready

Back in the beginning of the spring Zipp introduced a pair of new aerodynamic wheelsets to suit the needs of the growing number of aero road bikes coming to market. There might have been speculation at the time of really what kind of bike would pair something like their deepest aero 808 rim to disc brakes, but we’ve since seen a number of suitable aero bikes make their debut. Here at Bikerumor though, our thoughts then were mostly to a wheelset that could handle more everyday type riding, so we got our hands on a set of the mid depth 404s to see how they rolled. While Zipp has proven their aero carbon tubulars on the cobbled classics and, in their disc brake guise, on the cyclocross circuit, we wanted to see how the slightly deeper 404 in a carbon clincher could handle both, making it easy to switch tires (and axles) to suit multiple disciplines….

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_road-riding-BH-G7

We started out on the road with some lightweight clinchers and an aero road bike. For that we paired the 404s with Vittoria’s fast-rolling cotton tubeless clincher Corsa Speed time trial tires. Since the Zipps are not tubeless-ready, we put in some latex tubes to get the most out of low rolling resistance and to get away with slightly lower tire pressures in the 23mm tires. Mounted on the 404s, the Corsa Speed tires measured out to about 25mm which thankfully added a bit of volume for the rougher roads that were in store.

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_front-road-cobbles Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_rear-road

Bike-wise we put the wheels on BH’s top-tier G7 Disc aero road bike. The same bike that was destined for a Spring Classics campaign, before the probably rash removal of disc brakes from the pro peloton, the G7 offers a stiff platform that was well suited to a mid-depth wheel and fast rolling tire. It also was developed with rough cobbled classics in mind and uses tiny seatstay to try to minimize the strain on a riders lower back that often accompanies deep carbon rims.

This setup had us running the wheels with 12mm thru-axles front and rear, and tires usually inflated to anywhere between 75-90psi (5.2-6.2bar) for our 155-175lb/70-80kg testers, depending on the anticipated road surfaces.

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_cyclocross Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_front-cross

For the off road sections of our tests we paired the 404s to some Challenge Chicane open tubular clinchers, also with latex tubes. Most of our ride time was spent on a custom-built steel cyclocross bike that let us swap the end caps over for use with quick releases. The cross tires measured out pretty close to their claimed 33mm width, so you shouldn’t run into any trouble mounting up regular cyclocross tires to race.

Our cross testing was pretty much limited to sandy areas, some asphalt, fine gravel, and relatively smooth cobbles, so tire pressures stayed right around 30psi (2bar).

Tech Details

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We covered the tech on the wheels in depth back in April, but as a slight refresher they are composed of Zipp’s 58mm deep, 16.25mm internal full carbon clincher rim mated to Zipp’s 6-bolt 77/177D aluminum hubs. Both wheels get 24 Sapim CX-ray  CX-Sprint spokes and while the rim is not a new shape or profile specific to disc brakes, they do not get a brake track, so are disc brake ONLY.

The hubs use a tool-free removable freehub body (we used the typical 11 speed Shimano body) and tool-free interchangeable end caps. Both sets of end caps were included with the wheels.

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_front-actual-weight-832g Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_rear-actual-weight-953g

The wheels have a claimed weight of 1715g, but our sample set weighed in at 1785g for the pair including the 12mm axle end caps and cloth rim strips installed. The clincher 404 Firecrest DB wheelset retails for $2400/2500€/£1920.

Ride Review

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_dirt-road

Riding the 404s on a disc brake bike, the first thought was that the Firecrest shape really does live up to the hype and the wheels do make you feel fast. They perform very well, especially when riding into a headwind that would otherwise feel like it was sapping your power. One of our testers even went so far as to say that in the right wind conditions it felt like they were pulling you along like a sail. The standard Swiss steel bearings also roll very smoothly and combine with the aerodynamic advantage of the rim shape and texturing to really give a sense of easy speed.

That said, riding them into a crosswind is a completely different story. While a steady crosswind was manageable, the wheels make a bike scary when riding in gusty winds or on descents where the wind picks up or changes direction. Even though Zipp did a lot of pioneering in the improvement of the handling of deeper wheels with wide tordial profiles, these still resulted in several white-knuckle sections of road when we were riding at high speed.

Wind was never an issue during our off-road riding. That was partially just that we lucked out, riding on more calm days, but also riding at lower speeds on loose surfaces the wind effect was less dramatic and our attention was always more focused on line choices through deep sand and over sand-covered cobbles.

As with any wheel with rims close to the same depth, the 404s felt pretty stiff. They definitely are not a comfort wheelset. But we spent a good bit of time riding on a variety of cobblestones and traditional pavé, and have to say that the wheels deserve to be paired with nice supple tires and latex tubes so you can run as low a tire pressure as possible to balance comfort and grip. We managed to keep from bottoming out the tires, but the Firecrest Carbon Clincher rims do have a fairly wide and rounded bead hook that will likely let you get away with the (very) occasional bottoming with less risk of pinch flats. We had zero flats in a couple months of riding.

Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_freewheel-internals Zipp_404-Firecrest-Carbon-Clincher-Disc-brake_disc-brake-aero-wheelset_caught-pawls

The only downsides (beside a high price) that we felt on the wheels were mostly to do with the hubs, and in a couple of cases due to their ease of use/service. At one point we weren’t able to get the thru-axle end caps to sit perfectly straight without tools, so it required some extra effort to install the wheel and get the thru-axle through it. Once it was properly tightened down, it was fine and the bearings spun smoothly, with no more issues.

The other ease of use annoyance was the removable freehub body. Much like on DT Swiss hubs, if the hub does not have a QR holding it together and you lean the wheel cassette side down, the freehub will fall off. Sure this isn’t something that will happen much on a road bike, but for cyclocross where wheel swaps are frequent, it is going to happen if you aren’t super careful. That is then compounded by the fact that the small pawls and springs like to jump off into the dirt/mud/sand and must be cleaned and relubed before reinstalling, at which point it is rather difficult to do with the cassette installed and requiring a long thin tool to help the pawls back into the hub shell. Overall the hub engagement doesn’t seem to quite live up to the rest of the wheel’s performance either.

All that said the performance of the wheels certainly outperforms any nits we found to pick with the hubset. They tracked straight on both road and cross bike and really made us feel fast. At two and a half grand it’s hard to say that they offer free speed, but if you have the budget to ride them, there are few better options to upgrade your disc brake bike for improved aerodynamics,  unless of course you can commit to the tubulars to get a wider and even more comfortable tire profile.

Zipp.com

25 COMMENTS

  1. Correction: Zipp has stopped building with CX-Rays on everything except 202 tubular and 404 NSW clinchers. They now build with the heavier (but much cheaper) CX Sprints.

    That’s the reason why Firecrest wheel weights increased post-2015.

    Zipp’s website has not been updated, but here’s their August 26, 2015 press release (note that the press release wheel weights line up with their website wheel weights): http://www.zipp.com/about/story.php?ID=664

  2. These wheels are described as stiff and not comfortable — is this something that can actually be felt? Do wheels deflect anywhere near the amount that tires do? Are some wheels, given the same tires, noticeably more compliant than others?

    • Aluminum box profile rims will be among the most compliant rim available, deep section rims will always be stiffer. In terms of overall compliance, yes tires are very important, but so is the build of the wheel also greatly effects. Compliant wheels will soak up larger deflections better than stiff wheels. The fork and frame are also important factors. You can think of it as a chain of processes starting at the tire/road contact point.

        • I agree with VeloKitty and Eric regarding the lack of vertical deflection in a wheel, and that otherwise there would be an epidemic of spoke (and probably hub flange) breakage.

          Having said that, some deep section carbon wheel companies are claiming to have built in compliance to the rim section itself, so that the spoke bed would stay static, but the hollow section of the rim could act as a kind of spring for the tire bed. Enve has made these claims more than others, but I have yet to see the amount of deflection quantified.

  3. The freehub body on mine has never jumped off when installed properly, are you sure you have it installed properly? Try removing the cassette and checking the installation, because you’re doing something wrong.

    • I have to agree. I own some Sram rise 60 wheels with the same hub design. Never came off like that unless you pulled on it.

    • I own the Zipp 404 rim brake style and twice now when removing the cassette the whole freehub came off with it, throwing the three pawls onto the floor. Right now that rear wheel is in the shop because I couldn’t find all three pawls. Even after one year of use the freehub self-destructed and had to be replaced, so these hubs are not built for longevity, unlike my winter wheels the Dura-Ace C24.

    • welcome to the wonderful world of high dollar, setting the bar way high on fancy carbon wheels, and the problems that arise from that equation…..nothing is without its weakness…..learning what they or those are and improving upon that is about all you can do to lead the industry of aero, carbon, dimpled, pieces of fancy plastic……….ZIPP wheels are no worse than other things out there….everything is imperfect. but ZIPP wheels do continue to dominate. I would be forever happy owning some 303 tubie discs. no questions asked!!

  4. Who pays that much for 1785g wheels?!! The bike weight limit does generate a deficit, in some cases, but I’d rather not add the weight back into my rims.

    If you’ve ever built wheels like these, you’ll understand easily how a rim can be compliant, which these are most certainly not. Rims deform as a system, but a section that deep usually won’t deform vertically.

    • Deep profile rims will always weigh more.

      Always.

      The trade off is faster overall velocity at speeds >20 mph vs. the additional weight. Hence, “aero wheels” vs. “climber wheels”.

      Don’t assume that, just because something isn’t for you, it isn’t for anyone.

  5. $2,400 and you’re still stuck riding clinchers for cyclocross and 300g heavier than a sensible, well-spec’ed set of 30mm deep aluminum tubulars for $2,000 less… but hey! BIG STICKERS!!

    • Tubulars, yes of course. But I’m dying to see this 30mm alu tubular set that weighs 1400g give or take. All for….. $400? Yeah, ok, sure buddy 😉

        • Those aren’t tubulars (small detail), and there’s no way you’re building a 480g rim into a 1400g set, even with lasers.

          • AmClassic Argent Tubeless disc are the closest production wheelset I can think off and they are listed at 1531gr and a $1,149.00 MSRP

            You might probably be able to build a cheaper non tubeless custom wheelset out of separate parts but you’d have a hard time going lighter while keeping a 30mm profile. It wouldn’t necessarily ride better either.

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