Zipp 202 Tubular Review

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The 202 is Zipp’s lightest wheelset and features a carbon rim with aerodynamic properties, high performance hubs, a long history of research and development, plus a set of pretty skewers.

If you do your research then you’ll find that you can’t buy a sub-1200g wheelset without (i) paying more than $2000 and (ii) tubular rims. At 1099g and an Australian retail price near $3000, the 202s occupy the upper end of the market.

Before the Ride

The 202s are built using 32mm carbon rims with 18 holes up front and 24 at the rear. Zipp’s commitment to research and development is well known, and they spend a lot of time developing and refining their products using wind tunnel testing. The chief aerodynamic feature of the 202s is Zipp’s distinctive dimples on surface of the rims that work to reduce aerodynamic drag. The Firecrest shape has yet to be incorporated into the 202 rims, however the rims benefit from a number of manufacturing processes that strengthen the carbon composite, such as the incorporation of Kevlar into the outer diameter of the rim to improve impact resistance. A recommended maximum rider weight of 102kg applies to the 202s, and a clincher version is not offered.

Zipp has changed the colour of its hubs from silver to black or grey for 2012.
The rear hub employs radial spokes on the drive side and a 1-cross pattern on the non-drive side.

Straight-pull Sapim CX-Ray spokes are used to lace the rims to the hubs. Radial lacing is used for the front wheel, and seemingly in defiance of all wheel-building wisdom, the drive-side of the rear wheel. The spokes on the non-drive side are laced in a 1-cross pattern, and external nipples are used front and rear.

Some detail on how the radial spokes are anchored in the hubs. The red washer is a weathershield for the bearings.

Zipp builds all of its wheels around the same 88/188 hubset, where 88 refers to the front hub and 188 the rear. Stripping the hubs down is simple and straightforward, just loosen the pinch bolt on the adjusting cone and unthread it. A bright red weather shield sits on top of each bearing while the oversized hollow axles, bearings, and freehub body all slide out with very little effort, allowing all parts to cleaned and lubed. The freehub employs 3 pawls and is available in either Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo spline patterns. For 2012, the silver 88/188 hubset will be replaced by black and “falcon grey” 88/188 hubs where bearing placement has been widened in the rear hub to improve durability. The hubs are finished off with a pair of distinctive skewers: the levers are perhaps a little stubby and the cam travel too short, but they look fantastic.

The front hubs strips done easily and everything, including the bearings, can be removed easily for servicing.
The rear hub is also stripped down with ease so the freehub, in particular, is easy to clean and lube.

Vittoria Corsa Evo CX tubulars tires complete the package on test here. 320 threads per inch, a supple high performance tire to match the wheels.

After the Ride

These wheels arrived on test bike about a week before the 5 Dams ride, a 238km journey around the hills of Perth that includes over 2500m of climbing. After chatting with Wade, I threw my regular wheels into our support car as a precaution against a puncture and made the ride on the 202s. I’m glad I did. They are very light and a pleasure to ride up hills. They didn’t make me go faster, but I believe they saved me a fair bit of energy. As you’d expect, the mid-profile rims were untroubled by the wind, and while they were stiff enough to withstand efforts out of the saddle, they weren’t so rigid as to be uncomfortable or to skip around on uneven surfaces.

Zipp stretches all their spokes to help the wheels stay true. After 500km, the test wheels were still running true.

The braking track on these wheels was very impressive. I have a tendency to brake late (if at all), and while alloy rims still provide a more immediate response, I felt a lot of my usual braking confidence on the 202s. There was some tendency for the brakes to grab the rim at low speeds, but otherwise, braking was effective and predictable, at least in the dry, when using Swissstop’s yellow brake pads.

The tires performed so well that they went unnoticed during all of my time on the 202s. With a maximum air pressure of 200psi, some may be tempted to pump them up that hard, but I found they offered a better ride at 120psi. It is worth noting that they are equipped with latex tubes, so they will lose pressure overnight and you have to get into the habit of pumping up the tires every time you want to go for a ride. Not an ideal tire for training, but the weight saved adds to the value of the 202s when you’ve got a long ride in the hills planned for the weekend.

All sorts of clever machining is required for placement of the non-drive spokes in the rear hub.

In summary, the 202s are a very light wheelset that are a pleasure to ride. They brake well and there are no complications that affect hub servicing or wheel truing, though replacing a broken spoke at short notice may be a little difficult unless you already have some spares. I wouldn’t be worried about breaking a spoke too soon though, the Sapim spokes on this wheelset have a sound reputation for their durability, and I presume Zipp’s hub technology will make for resilient flanges. Leaving aside cost, there are two issues that need to be tackled by anyone considering buying a set of lightweight wheels like the 202s:

Tubulars vs clinchers

When it comes to selecting a lightweight wheelset, there is no debate. Tubular rims are significantly lighter than clinchers, the tires and tubes too, which literally outweighs the inconvenience of repairing a puncture. You can leave the work to an experienced mechanic, but I’d encourage you to learn how to fit your own tubulars because preparing a tire and rim for gluing is a ritual and a craft where the essence of road cycling can be found.

Aerodynamics vs weight

Can the aerodynamic advantages of a taller rim outweigh the benefits of a lighter, shallower rim when climbing? Maybe I should wait for the engineers to weigh in with some wind tunnel data, but I doubt it. So my advice when tackling this issue is to be clear on your priorities. It is interesting to note that Zipp’s taller tubular rims only surrender 8-15% of their weight to the 202s (the 303s are 1198g, the 404s 1282g), while the clinchers give up at least 27%. For me, the low weight and better handling in the wind make the 202s the most attractive option from Zipp’s range of carbon wheels.

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