Zipp Firecrest Shootout: 303, 404, 808, Super-9
article & images by Nick Salazar
May 16, 2012  hits 288,751

The shallow 303 completes the Firecrest lineup by offering a shallower, lighter option for riders concerned about wind or hills.

The 303:
Dark Horse

In my opinion, Zipp's biggest news this year is the release of the 303 Firerest. The wheel was completely redesigned from the ground up with the wide rim shaping that worked so well on the 404 and 808. The new 303 is fast. And while it doesn't quite hit the drag numbers of its deeper siblings, it represents a very compelling choice for those who are willing to trade the aero performance for a lighter wheel that performans even better in the wind. It's a huge win for smaller riders, less experienced riders, or those just sick of fighting harsh winds in their area.

When I took these out for the video review, gusts were uncharacteristically high, going up to 50mph. Which is kindof ridiculous. In those winds, the best remedy was having the 303 up front, which not only handled the wind with grace, but is a joy to take uphill. It's still plenty stiff, and with a 23mm Tangente tire up front, provided a very comfortable ride. The water cooler talk among triathletes is that you "have" to get a deep set of wheels to go fast. Well, that simply isn't true. The beauty of Firecrest is that is scales so well, that even the 303 is a true race wheel. If you do a lot of races with significant climbing, or worry about wind, I can't recommend the 303 enough, as a front wheel.

Zipp hasn't positioned this wheel specifically as a triathlon wheel, but like it or not, the 303 has become an excellent option for triathletes. The 404 used to be Zipp's do-it-all set, but with Firecrest tech, the 303 is threatening to take that title.

The 404: Old Faithful

The Zipp 404 Carbon Clincher paired with a 21mm Tangente tire.

Zipp has been making 58mm-deep wheels for a long time. The 404 has been Zipp's most universal, best-loved rim since before it even carried the 404 name. And this its reputation is well-deserved. The 58mm depth strikes a near perfect balance between light weight, aerodynamics, stiffness, and crosswind handling. The introduction of Firecrest improved all of the latter characteristics without affecting weight. And the carbon clinchers actually saved quite a bit of weight compared to the previous generation of aluminum clinchers.

In terms of aerodynamics, the 404 sits in quite the sweet spot. Between its two Firecrest siblings, it's closer to the 303 in terms of depth, but closer to the 808 in terms of aerodynamic performance. In short, the 404 represents the best depth-to-aero ratio of any Firecrest wheel.

If you want to judge a wheel by its results, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single fault with the 404 - it's won enough races to be a team unto itself, across just about every discipline in the sport: long-course, short-course, ITU, etc. When in doubt, you can slap on a pair of 404's and know you're using one of the best wheelsets on the market. This may be why Specialized chose to stock 404's as original equipment on the top-end Shiv launched last year.

To nitpick the 404 would be an exercise in frivolity. It's a fantastic wheel with a lot of history, and it's clear that the 404 deserves a place on everyone's short list.

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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