Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Review

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Zipp released the new Firecrest wheels in the middle of last year. What’s new about them? The biggest difference over their previous models is rim shape. These are not just a revamped version of the 404 tubulars. Zipp widened the sidewalls on the Firecrest. As you can see in the illustration below, they are very wide at the tyre (25.5mm) and even wider closer to the spoke bed (27.5mm). The large-radius profile is claimed to produce lower drag figures at a wider range of yaw angles (thus improving handling in crosswinds), better overall ride quality, and improved wheel strength. So far I can verify the first 2 out of 3 of these claims (it’s too soon to tell with regards to strength).

Profile comparison of Zipp 404 models

What do I like about the Zipp 404 Firecrests?

One thing I’ve always liked about all models of Zipp is that they place their spoke nipples on the outside of the rim.When you need to tweak a spoke to true the wheel you don’t need to peel the whole tyre off. This was an especially big bonus with the Zipp tubulars. Many manufacturers place the spoke nipple inside the rim for aerodynamic reasons.

I’ve never owned a carbon clincher wheel before. Since I typically use carbon wheels during racing, I always went with the tubular version of whatever wheel I owned. Tubulars can be a pain in the arse, but they ride beautifully. They’re not the most practical option for the weekend warrior, but if you’re only using them on the weekends then this may not be a big concern. (I’ve previously written about the pros and cons of tuburlars versus clinchers in a post here.)

After using these carbon clinchers with a nice high threadcount tyre on them (290 TPI), it’s easy to forget that you’re riding clinchers. Now I can stop worrying about getting a puncture in the middle of nowhere and use this wheel for training and/or racing if I want.

It took a little bit of getting used to when looking down at the wider rim profile. I had this misconception stuck in my head that a thicker wheel would be slower. After some experience with these wheels I now realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth. When these get rolling in a straight line they are noticeably fast. Definitely faster that the Lightweights were. You triathletes reading should be salivating over these wheels.

The Lightweights accelerated extremely quickly out of the corners and were great for tight crit circuits. These Zipps still accelerate wonderfully, but the stiffness of the Lightweights is hard to beat. The Lightweights were beautiful climbing wheels too. However, when the Lightweights took a tumble, they were expensive to fix or were relegated to the garbage. Sensational wheels, but not very practical for competitive racing if you’re not on a ProTeam budget.

The total weight of the 404 Firecrests is 1,557g (718g front, 830g rear). That’s not extremely light for a set of carbon wheels, but that’s not overly heavy either. The aerodynamics and toughness of the Firecrest 404’s more than make up for their weight. They make an excellent choice for an all-round trainin/racing wheel for those who don’t want to mess around with tubulars.

These days you can get wheels custom built any way you like them, but mine came factory built with Zipp’s 88/188 hubs (grade 10 Swiss steel bearings) and Sapim CX-Ray bladed stainless steel spokes. The hubs roll along as smooth as glass and I notice it every time I take them out.

As with any carbon rim you’ll need to use carbon specific brake pads to get the best braking. I’m using cork brake-pads which work very well and aren’t overly expensive. When it gets wet outside they don’t modulate as well as rubber pads on aluminum rims, but they still work fine.

You can take a look at Zipp’s website for all the specs and aerodynamic benefits, but choosing a wheel is difficult based on comparing specs. If you’re looking for an all-round wheel you can smash up and down Beach Road with as well as take to the races, I encourage you to have a look at these. When I say “all-round”, I don’t mean “middle of the road” either. I can’t think of anything negative to say about them.

Prices (AUD)

Perhaps you should sit down…

Firecrest 404 Carbon Clincher     $3,750 (RRP)

Firecrest 808 Tubular                 $3,430

Firecrest 808 Carbon Clincher    $4,099

Firecrest 404 Tubular to follow very soon…

Full Disclosure: The O2 Racing team (which I’m a part of) is provided with Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels however the do not advertise here and I’m not under any type of obligation to promote them. I simply wanted to share my positive experiences with these wheels with you.

After using these wheels for one year I will need to update you on the quality and reliability of these. In short, unfortunately I cannot recommend these wheels after experiencing the problems myself and my team have had. It’s not only us, there are many others who have bought them and will tell you the same. I’ve spoken with numerous bike shop mechanics who agree.

The problems are:

1. Spokes constantly loosening
2. Cones in the hubs constantly coming loose
3. the rear wheel flexes much , much more than it should. So much that the tyre has rubbed right through the paint on my rear chainstay
4. The final straw was riding down a descent and hitting the breaks to go from 70km/hr to about 30km/hr. Straight after both of the tyres blew off the rim at exactly the same time. Was it anything to do with the rims heating up? I don’t know. What I do know is that tyres slide onto the rim without any difficulty during installation and I have always been concerned about this. No one else has told me they’ve had this problem and Zipp tell me they’ve never seen it before. I was using Bontrager R4 tyres, but Continental GP’s and Zipp tyres both fit onto the rim very loosely. Other people’s Zipp 404 Firecrests who I’ve spoken with say the same.

Zipp have been excellent in trying to rectify the problems, however spokes keep coming loose as well as the cones. They even took all of them back and rebuilt them. The problems still came back though.

UPDATE: Zipp have confirmed a number of enhancements to the hubs and the rim construction to rectify these problems which they acknowledge. I have yet to verify these with longterm testing.

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