Joining VeloClub not only supports the work we do, there are some fantastic benefits:
by Matt Wikstrom
March 23, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Zipp’s 202 has evolved from a lightweight tubular wheelset to versatile carbon clincher. The company recently released a disc-equipped version of the 202 to appeal to performance-oriented riders that have migrated to road disc brakes. In this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom considers the impact of road discs on the performance of the Firecrest 202 carbon clincher wheelset.
Zipp unveiled its first disc-equipped wheelset in July 2013. Built with Firecrest 303 rims, the wheelset was designed to appeal to cyclocross racers that were migrating to disc brakes. A disc-specific version of Zipp’s 88/188 hubset was created as part of the project.
A year later, Zipp released its second disc-equipped wheelset, this time with Firecrest 202 clincher rims to appeal to road riders that were adopting disc brakes. The wheels utilised the same hubset (named 88/188D) developed for the Firecrest 303 disc-equipped wheels.
In both instances, the rims were standard 202 and 303 designs. With the aerodynamics and engineering carefully refined for both designs, Zipp didn’t see the need to look closely at any gains that might be made in the absence of a braking track. Instead, the brake track was left unfinished (it is normally sanded so rim brakes can grip the track) and covered with larger stickers.
The implementation of disc brakes has significant ramifications for the design of a road wheelset. Extra material is required in the hubs for mounting the rotors. In addition, more spokes are needed and they must cross in order to resist the braking forces at the hub. Both considerations translate into extra weight for the wheelset that is further increased by the addition of the rotors.
At the same time, the road-disc market is evolving rapidly. So-called standards are rising and falling like volatile stock. Six-bolt rotor mounts versus Centre Lock; 140mm versus 160mm rotors; thru axles versus standard quick release; 135mm rear hub spacing versus 142mm.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Zipp recently announced an overhaul to its disc-equipped wheelsets. The Firecrest 202 and 303 rims continue unchanged but the 88/188D hubset has been discontinued. The new hubset, called 77/177D, has a new flange design, but it is the interchangeability of the hub axles to suit standard quick-release skewers as well as thru axles that is most significant. It promises to future-proof the wheels (well, at least to some extent) and encourage early road disc adopters to commit to an expensive carbon wheelset.
I was in the middle of reviewing Zipp’s disc-equipped Firecrest 202 clinchers with 88/188D hubs when the new wheelsets were announced. The result was something like buyer’s remorse, but then I noted that the new wheelset features the same rims and is only marginally lighter. So while some of the details of this review will be outdated in a few weeks when the new wheels are released, I can still answer what is perhaps the most pressing issue for buyers: how much does the extra weight of discs influence the performance of Zipp’s Firecrest 202 wheelset?
Zipp’s Australian distributor, Echelon Sports, supplied the Firecrest 202 clincher disc wheelset for this review. They also supplied a road disc bike, BMC’s GF02 fitted with SRAM’s Red22 HydroR groupset.
The disc-equipped Firecrest 202s largely resemble the rim-brake version with the main difference being the design of the hubset. There is also a difference in spoke count and lacing patterns: the conventional wheelset uses 18 spokes front (laced radially) and 24 rear (radial lacing for the drive side, one-cross for the non-drive side). The disc-ready version uses 24 spokes front and rear with one- and two-cross lacing, respectively.
Both conventional and disc-equipped 202s use Sapim’s CX-Ray spokes and alloy nipples (interestingly, the revised wheelset with 77/177D hubs will use brass nipples). The same rims are used for both wheelsets, though the brake track is sanded for use with rim brakes, as explained above. It is worth noting that Zipp has yet to incorporate tubeless compatibility into its carbon clincher rims and there’s no indication that this is about to change.
I’ve discussed the details of the Firecrest 202 shape in my previous review where a lot of emphasis was placed on heat management for rim brakes. While heat buildup won’t be a concern for road-disc users, they will still benefit from the aerodynamics of the Firecrest 202 profile, which offers a modest gain when compared to a standard low-profile box-section rim.
Looking more closely at the hubs, the internals are essentially identical to the 88/188 hubs found in conventional 202s. Thus, the oversized alloy hub axles have threaded pre-load adjustment. Weathershields are placed on all hub bearings, the freehub continues with three pawls, and buyers have a choice of 11-speed Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo bodies.
The Firecrest 202 carbon clinchers that I reviewed in 2013 weighed 1,460g with rim strips and skewers. The disc-equipped version reviewed here weighed 1,656g with rim strips and skewers. 160mm Avid rotors and mounting bolts added another 212g. Thus, the total weight penalty for adding disks to Firecrest 202s is 408g.
The disc-equipped 202s utilise a new skewer lever that is longer and thicker than the previous short, pointy design. It’s a welcome change that makes it much easier to install and remove the wheels.
The presentation of the disc-equipped 202s continues Zipp’s simple aesthetic, all black with large decals in white or black. It’s a scheme that will continue with the new version of the wheels though the 77/177D hubs will get a little more decoration.
The current retail price for disc-equipped Firecrest 202 carbon clinchers is $4,140 but that price will fall to $3,520 for the new version. The wheels are supplied with rim tape, skewers and a two-year warranty. For more information visit Zipp and Echelon Sports.
The first time I rode a set of 202s, I was immediately impressed with their performance. This was prior to the introduction of the Firecrest shape when the 202s were tubular only and weighed less than 1,200g. The low weight made for an agile wheelset perfectly suited to long rides through hilly terrain.
The Firecrest 202 clincher wheelset was 300g heavier and less impressive as a lightweight wheelset. However, it proved to be an easy wheelset to ride with a mild aerodynamic advantage that easily lived up to claims that it was a “do-it-all classic wheelset”.
By comparison, the disc-equipped 202s offered a near identical ride despite weighing an extra 400g. They seemed to roll with the same light touch and they retained that “classic” feel. Which is to say, they were easy to ride on any terrain with a measure of road feel that was never harsh.
The wheels were reasonably agile while I was climbing and suffered none of the inertia I’d normally associate with a 1,800g wheelset. They responded well to hard accelerations out of the saddle, though I suspect larger, more powerful riders will want a taller, more rigid rim such as the Firecrest 303.
As expected, the Firecrest 202 rims were well behaved in windy conditions, just like any other low-profile rim. As for the quality of the braking, it was excellent—the best I’ve ever experienced for a carbon wheelset—but this had nothing to do with the wheelset. SRAM’s HydroR brakes were smooth and powerful, and delivered immediate braking with a light touch of the levers.
Overall, the performance of the disc-equipped Firecrest 202 wheelset was very good, even excellent, when partnered with hydraulic disc brakes. Some will worry about the extra weight but I didn’t notice it. Indeed, my experience is consistent with the notion that weight added to the hub is far less noticeable than weight added to the rim.
If I owned a road disc bike, then I would find a carbon wheelset far more tempting than I do for my rim brake-equipped bike. Disc brakes eradicate the risk of heat buildup in the rims; they also preserve the sidewalls of the rims to extend the life of the wheelset. Both aspects enhance the value of a carbon wheelset in my eyes.
There is a flipside to that temptation though. Road disc development is in its infancy and likely to evolve very quickly in the next few years. Zipp has demonstrated just how short a product’s lifespan can be, overhauling the Firecrest 202 disc wheelset less than 12 months after its initial release. Given the expense involved, I’m happy to spectate as the industry goes about refining road disc products.
Disclosure: Echelon Sports are an advertiser on CyclingTips and we would like to thank them for providing these wheels (and accompanying bike) for review.