Zipp Firecrest Shootout: 303, 404, 808, Super-9
article & images by Nick Salazar
May 16, 2012  hits 272,339

Zipp takes care of the little things too: they make their own hubs, skewers, tires, and even rim tape. And they all work together in beautiful harmony.

One of the ways in which Zipp differentiates itself is that they don't just make rims; Zipp manufacturers nearly every component of the wheel. That includes the 88/188 hubset, the Tangente tires, the new-for-2012 Zipp butyl tubes, Zipp valve extenders, Zipp skewers, and even Zipp rim tape. Even the Platinum Pro pads carry the Zipp name, but are manufactured by one of the biggest names in pads, SwissStop.

The result of this end-to-end integration is that the resulting system is one that has predictable performance. All the components work in harmony to form one coherent product. This production methodology may remind you of another company, and the comparison seems fair. You could say that Zipp is the Apple of tri wheels.

Sure, you could mount up other tires, or even buy the rims separately and build them with different hubs. But the system was designed to work together, and it does so flawlessly. The rim tape is a one-piece semi-elastic material that snaps into place without any fuss. The Tangente tires mate beautifully with the rims, and the tubular versions are latex for low rolling resistance. The new butyl clincher tubes won't satisfy the latex aficionados, but they feature aluminum valves which save up to 11g per wheel, and reduce the high-speed wobble that a brass valve can produce.

The real centerpiece of the system, apart from the rims, is the 88/188 hubset. It's manufactured in-house at Zipp's Indiana headquarters, and it's rather amazing for an alloy hubset. It manages to strike a very good balance between light weight, wide bearing stance, and durable bearing sizes. Zipp makes little changes to the hubset every so often, including a minor shape revision this year intended to add stiffness. I can't say I detect the difference, but it's a good hubset nevertheless. There's a reason you don't see a lot of Zipp rims built with third-party hubs, and it's that there's really no need to do so.

Beyond Black

Every wheel in the lineup is now available in Beyond Black, with reflective black logos and black anodized everything. I think it's super sharp.

Although it's a small aesthetic change, one of my favorite additions for 2012 is the new colorway, dubbed Beyond Black. The hubs, spokes, nipples, decals, and even the skewers have been anodized black, and the result is a set of wheels that's very stealthy, while retaining Zipp's branding. For the photo gallery, I also removed the wheels from the disc to show off its incredible construction, but it normally has the same decals as an 808. You can still snag the traditional type of colorway, called Falcon Grey. But the black decals are pretty slick. They're actually reflective, and catch more light at different angles.

Conclusions

If you haven't been able to tell yet, I'm a big fan of what Zipp does. But I've tried to explain in more objective terms why I like their gear. It's well-conceived, well-crafted, and performs to perfection. Of all the high-end wheels on the market, Zipp is the brand I keep coming back to again and again. I'm even more impressed now that the Firecrest line has been "completed" with the addition of the 303. But as always, there are tradeoffs to consider, and the primary one here is price. With a retail of $2700, a pair of Firecrest Carbon Clinchers is among the most expensive wheelsets out there. The tubular variety is less expensive, if you prefer them. And as with many things at the high-end of the pricing spectrum, there is a level of diminishing returns in terms of what you're buying. Are the aerodynamic benefits or weight advantages of Zipp wheels worth two to three times what cheaper wheels offer? For the budget-conscious rider, they probably aren't. But for those who have an itch for the finer things in life, Zipp's allure is tough to resist.


Tags » firecrest,  shootout,  wheels,  zipp
  • Zipp's lineup now represents a formidable collection that can equip just about any athlete with the ideal tools for their needs.
  • The 404/808 Carbon Clincher combo is perhaps the most versatile set for triathletes, marrying next-level aerodynamics with the ease of clinchers.
  • The Firecrest series is all made with unidirectional carbon that shines beautifully at the right angle.
  • The 404/808 set is my personal favorite for just about any occasion, and yes, I do ride them in training. Life's too short not to.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough ride discs. The 808/Super-9 Combo is about the fastest wheelset on the planet, but comes with the quirks of a disc.
  • I just love the construction of the Super-9, whose individual panels catch light in such an interesting way.
  • If there's one place triathletes need to pay more attention, it's the shallowest wheel in the Firecrest series, the 303. It's 13mm shallower than the 404, and a fair bit lighter, yet nearly as fast.
  • The 303 (right) gives up just a single watt compared to the 404 (left), making it a compelling choice for riders in windy or hilly environments. Personally, I love the snappy ride of the 303, and can see it replacing the 404 as the do-it-all choice for many athletes.
  • The 303, 404, and 808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher series. The circle is now complete.
  • There's nothing quite like a good set of hoops, and Zipp makes some of the best.
  • That's a whole lot of fancy carbon right there.  And it's gorgeous.
  • The Super-9 Disc is a sight to behold, sporting the most intricate and eye-catching dimple pattern of any Zipp product.
  • At different angles, the Super-9 reflects light in different ways.
  • A closeup of the logo embossed right into the disc.
  • Of course, if you want to use a disc, you have to deal with the slight hassle of a pump adapter, which can sometimes be annoying.
  • New for 2012, Zipp is producing its own butyl tubes with aluminum valves to save weight.
  • Zipp's rim tape is one solid, semi-elastic loop that holds in place via tension, not adhesive. Best rim tape I've ever used.
  • As usual, Zipp's construction is gorgeous - the 3K weave in the tire bed is flawless.
  • Zipp makes their own hubset, the 88/188 pair, which is constantly being refined and improved.
  • Also new are these removeable valve core extensions.  I'm still using the old style (still in production) that leaves the valve core where it is, and just extends it.  That way I never have to screw/unscrew anything.  Just throw the pump on and fill the tire.
  • Discs also come with the inconvenience of valve covers. Fortunately, Zipp supplies several to replace worn-out ones.
  • Wide rims make a better match for tires. This is the 404 matched with a 21mm Tangente.
  • The hubs, spokes, skewers, and other details have all been anodized in Zipp's new Beyond Black color scheme, which I realy like.
  • Zipp really thinks about all the details.  You can see here that their Tangente tires sport their signature dimple pattern, and yes, the last row of dimples are actually tiny little Z logos. That's what I call good branding!

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