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December 15, 2017
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  • Legstrong

    A very honest review. Super refreshing. Thank you James!

    The price point does not for well in my wallet. I agree that for that kind of price, i would want a perfect-zero-compromise wheelset.

    As of now, HED Jet 6 wheelset with the black braking surface is still the best bang for the buck for me. Excellent braking performance dry and wet.

  • jstevez

    I also agree, thanks for a honest review and not becoming a cheerleader like we have seen on other bike sites (GCN?)

    • Ciaran Carroll

      GCN only do first looks not reviews, they’re transparent when it comes to sponsorship. This article was supported by Quark, who are owned by Sram. Sram also own ..(drumroll) Zipp!

  • Mark

    I’ll wait for the QLD (Quite a Lethal Device) model.

    • jules

      but these are featuring DIMMPLE technology.. Does It Make Me Pro Like Eddy?

  • Neil

    Love this review. Zipp’s marketing guff is second to none in cycling (except for maybe Specialized). What I take out of this is that they are a good set of wheels, but have some significant flaws that a wheel set at this price really should not.

  • Jaybo

    silent freewheel? are they crazy?
    the entire reason i buy fat carbon wheels is for the freewheel buzz that is audible from 4km away!

    • jules

      I also enjoy the feel of quality that a positive freehub buzz produces, but for racing a silent one is better. I have some noisy freehubs and have adopted a technique of free-pedaling sometimes in races while sitting on. The audible freehub buzz is inevitably met with a flick of the elbow from the rider in front when it dawns on them that you’re not doing any work :)

      • Lach

        Agree completely. As much as I love my zipps, I prefer racing on my C24’s as they are silent, and much more inconspicuous when I’m sitting on..

  • jules

    great review James, very thorough.

    a couple of observations:
    “According to Zipp, these create a small boundary layer of turbulent air on the surface of the rim, which the company says helps passing air “stick” to the rim for smoother overall flow”

    last I checked, the turbulent air goes on the other side of the boundary. either Zipp or I need to brush up on our fluid mechanics :)

    also – why are external nipples good? surely internal ones are more aero. obviously external nipples are easier to adjust, but most people I know who race these sorts of wheels don’t ride them day-in-day-out and shouldn’t need to adjust spoke tension regularly. maybe they’re not Zipp’s core market? rowrrr..!

    • James Huang

      Ha, sounds like I have some reading to do! Sorry if the explanation doesn’t make sense in terms of fluid mechanics. I was just explaining it the way it was explained to me back in the day, but I should clearly do some more research in that department.

      In any event, my preference for external nipples stems from my many years as a mechanic. Unless a wheel isn’t built correctly to begin with, you absolutely should never need to do any regularly re-tensioning. Roads aren’t always perfectly smooth, though, and potholes and other imperfections aren’t exactly friendly to wheels. The concept of internal nipples sounds good on paper (smaller rim holes, more aerodynamic, cleaner aesthetics), but they can sometimes turn what should often be a two-minute repair into an afternoon of swearing. I’ve heard conflicting reports on exactly how much of a difference they make in terms of aerodynamics, too.

    • James Huang

      Ha, sounds like I have some reading to do! Sorry if the explanation doesn’t make sense in terms of fluid mechanics. I was just explaining it the way it was explained to me back in the day, but I should clearly do some more research in that department.

      In any event, my preference for external nipples stems from my many years as a mechanic. Unless a wheel isn’t built correctly to begin with, you absolutely should never need to do any regularly re-tensioning. Roads aren’t always perfectly smooth, though, and potholes and other imperfections aren’t exactly friendly to wheels. The concept of internal nipples sounds good on paper (smaller rim holes, more aerodynamic, cleaner aesthetics), but they can sometimes turn what should often be a two-minute repair into an afternoon of swearing. I’ve heard conflicting reports on exactly how much of a difference they make in terms of aerodynamics, too.

      • jules

        I know what it meant with the boundary layer reference, I was being cute :)

        I agree on the nipples. For me, it depends on the aero benefits. I have some race wheels with internal nipples and I hardly use them. I have had to adjust them – but I don’t find it a major bother. OTOH, my Reynolds training wheels are a constant headache. they were never built properly and I’m forever adjusting them. I should really toss them but I’ve actually improved my wheel building skills with these.

        • James Huang

          Sounds like an opportunity for an article: “Teach yourself wheelbuilding skills in ten steps or less by buying poorly built wheels” ;)

    • JoaoFz

      About the boundary layer, it’s the guys at Zipp who are correct. A boundary layer is a layer of fluid (air, in this case) that is under the effects of viscosity in the immediate vicinity of a surface. That layer can be either laminar or turbulent (the air outside that layer is mostly static or moving in the free stream, depending on the problem)

      • jules

        thanks. after urgent revision on the basics of boundary layer theory, I see you are correct :)

  • Ezra

    While its nice to see a review stating what we all know (wheels are wheels), I hope you will be careful not to let the price cloud the review. You gushed over the Boyds a few weeks ago. While the price of these Zipps is high, it seems to be the only detractor you identified.

    • James Huang

      In my opinion, the ultimate purpose of a product review is to provide a prospective buyer with the information they need to make a smart buying decision, and there’s no way to do that without factoring an item’s cost into the equation. By your measure, every expensive wheel would fare pretty well, and every wheel that isn’t super high-end wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Every product has to be judged against its peers, and price is part of that.

      As for these wheels in particular, cost is hardly the only downside I mentioned. The rims aren’t as wide as I believe they should be, they don’t offer even the option of tubeless compatibility (tubeless wheels don’t *have* to be run tubeless, after all), the Axial Clutch freehub mechanism doesn’t provide as much benefit as I feel it’s been made out to, and Zipp continues to have questionable long-term hub reliability issues.

      Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of things to like here. But at the pointy end of the price spectrum, there’s a lot less room for error.

  • Dude pedalling

    Thanks for review James. (But no grooves on F1 cars today – Perhaps the bridgestone re71 would be a relevant example)

    • James Huang

      Sorry, I should have been more specific. I think I was watching some videos of much older F1 races when I was in the middle of writing the review :)

    • jules

      wouldn’t F1 wet tyres have grooves? my recollection was that grooves were mandated a few years ago for F1 cars on dry tyres, for the purpose of compromising their performance and slowing the cars down. but I would have assumed all wet tyres would still use grooves to expel water, increase load transfer to the road surface and possibly also encourage heat build up (which was the purpose of requiring them on dry tyres, but in that case to generate too much heat)

      anyway, bikes…. :)

      • Dude pedalling

        true jules.

      • Andrew O’Neill

        F1 did move to grooved tyres in the early 2000’s to slow the cars down, but slicks were re-introduced in 2009. And yes, the ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Wet’ tyres are of course grooved to clear water.

        Just don’t ask me about cycling! ;-)

  • sparkman

    Great review James, I purchased a set of the 303 NSW wheels about 3 months ago and your review is almost exactly the experience I have had with the wheels. The dry braking is exceptional, better than my aluminium wheels. The wet braking is also very good, although still sketchy in a downpour. I have noticed the pads are wearing quickly though. The silent freewheel takes a little getting used to, I was used to and enjoyed a noisy one. I went with the 303 as I am a flyweight climber and didn’t need a 404, I still find the 303 a challenge in a big crosswind however. I tried a regular 303 and a 202 before buying the 303 NSW. The NSW to me combined the speed of a regular 303 on the flat with the instant uphill acceleration of a 202. These things really do climb well. Personally, if you can, I think they are worth the extra investment over Zipps regular wheels.

  • Jay F.

    I’ve talked to a few owners of these wheels. They largely echo Jame’s appraisal but they always end with the caveat “their performance doesnt justify their cost”. In some cases there was even an air of disappointment as they uttered that caveat. Is ~$4800 for a set wheels too much to ask? I think so. Especially when the competition are pricing wheels up to $2200 cheaper (e.g. Reynolds Aero’s). Even a said of Enve’s can be had for <$3000 with a few savy online purchases (bought in individual parts and built by your local wheel builder).

    I'd be really interested to see some economic modelling done on this question: would Zipp actually make more money in the long run if they charged less for their products? Someone's gotta do it!

    • jules

      you’d be cannibalising your market. if Zipp does that, competitors such as Enve and Lightweight etc. would be compelled to follow suit. the market re-balances itself as Zipp are no longer being sold at a price advantage. everyone is just taking a lower margin now. rule of thumb is that you don’t try and compete with a premium product on price.

      • Jay F.

        yes and no… the distribution of market share is probably really important in working out whether a domino effect like you’ve suggested would actually occur. I dont think it would happen.

        If you price people out of the market, you reduce the pool of people who’ll buy your product. What I’m suggesting is that whilst margins for an individual unit would decrease, the net sales would yield a larger overall profit because significantly more units are being purchased (because you can tap into a wider pool of consumers).

        But… as you suggest, if everyone drops prices and then a market share status quo occurs… then both the consumer and manufacturer will be worse off I guess. Consumers are worse of because ultimately they wont be funding further innovation.

        Pure speculation, but I think a lot more people would be willing to spend 3k on a set of wheels then those who’d be cool with spending 5k.

        • winkybiker

          I’d agree Jay. Whilst these are a premium product in some sense, there is likely a latent group of potential purchasers who are trying to justify the cost on a performance basis. They’d be responsive to a lower price. If the group is large enough, the lower price would increase profits. These wheels aren’t quite like a Hermes designer handbag, where the high price tag is the primary (if not only) REASON for wanting it.

        • jules

          it’s a theoretical discussion. as we all know there’s a sweet spot where your margin and sales volume is optimised to maximise profit. who knows where that is?

          there were no $5k wheels back in the 1930s depression years. but there are now. people will pay that much. I suspect for a high-end supplier like Zipp, large sales volumes introduce risks of their own. example – the early Hyundai Excel. low margin, high volume. Hyundai sold heaps of them, accumulating a small profit on each sale.

          that is, until they started turning up problems with the crossmember (I think it was). all of them. the cost of recalling 50,000 Excels is a lot higher than 500 Porsche 911s. and the lower margin you make on the Excel magnifies the pain – Porsche make enough on a 911 that they can afford to recall them, probably more than once and still come out ahead.

          the low margin-high volume sales model is less popular these days and generally restricted to very reliable commodities, like groceries. Zipps – I dunno.

          • Jay F.

            Thats a really interesting retort Jules. As I’m sure you’re aware, Zipp themselves have gone through at least one round of recalls recently. I’d image they factor that contingency in to their pricing models.

            Even still, I wouldn’t want to suggest that Zipp revert to the extreme of pricing these not far above production costs (Imagine a set of NSW’s for $600, wouldn’t that be sweet!?!?!). Rather, they should knock them down a rung and put the price tag so it sits more closely in line with the competition i.e. <$4000

            • jules

              fair points Jay. I’m not arguing yes or no. But I’d assume Zipp has done their homework on price points and buyer profiles. They can still get it wrong.

              You need to keep in mind that selling for $4k instead of $5k doesn’t mean you need to sell 20% more wheels, if your margin is say $2k on $4k wheels and $3k of the $5ks, then that’s 33% higher sales to break-even. I can see the temptation to go for the higher price – which is a strategy increasingly used by high-end brands these days. It’s pretty shameless I think, but there are people who will pay for the exclusivity. It’s bit like being famous for being famous, it’s easy to be cynical but they’re getting rich!

    • sparkman

      Hi Jay, I didn’t pay $4800 for my set, I got them for $4100. Originally I tried regular 303’s that were $2500. They were ok, but didn’t climb very well. I tried 202’s, they climbed well but I didn’t feel any great aero benefit on the flat. My local shop suggested custom building a set with Chris Kings hubs for $3500. So bearing all this in mind I thought well another $600 for NSW wheels doesn’t seem like too big a jump. Obviously they are a complete indulgence and i agonised over buying them but I have been anything but disappointed with them. I genuinely believe they are significantly better than Zipps regular offerings.

      • Jay F.

        I went off bike bugs pricing which is $4788. $4100 seems more reasonable.

        Still theres a pretty big opportunity cost offloading $4100 into a set of wheels… I ‘could’ buy something like this, but then a voice rings in my ear “are they going to be that much better than something half the price?” I roll round on Xentis Squad 5.8’s and they tick most boxes pretty well.

        • Spider

          Very interested in the Xentis….how do you find the braking?

          the Silverline 2.5 (non-aero) are crazy light when compared to a 202 etc

          • Jay F.

            I’ve written a little about them on WeightWeenies if you care to look there (though I think my opinion has changed a little since that post). Ive got a bit of experience riding both the 5.8 squad and the 2.5 silverline clinchers.

            Perhaps their biggest plus is that the braking decline in the wet isnt all that big. As such, its not so scary riding in traffic in the rain with them. Braking is a little mushy and slowish in the dry (particularly once the rims have worn in) and is on par with other carbon rims Ive tried. Though I think I need to clean my pads up cause they are shiny black when they should be blue! (I comment on the change in braking performance over time in the WW post).

            The 5.8s do an excellent job of absorbing road vibration and add a good amount of plushness to the ride. This is a real benefit if you’re riding a harsh frame. They hold their speed very well and make a blisteringly obvious boost to your average speed. Naturally at 1600g and with relatively low stiffness they’re moderately sluggish up climbs.

            The 2.5s are completely different. Acceleration is excellent and they add a certain liveliness to the ride which the 5.8’s lack. Strangely their lateral stiffness is much higher than the 5.8s. This makes for sharper, more direct handling and a significantly harsher ride. The rims do feel fast whilst you’re riding them, but its not till you jump back on the 5.8’s till you realise how comparatively slow they are on the flats. The low rolling inertia and the stiffness make for a fun wheelset, but for everyday use I much prefer the 5.8s – they’re smoother, faster and just more fun to roll on.

            • Spider

              Thank you so much Jay, great write up!!!!!!

    • Noel Said

      I tried the Enve SES 4.5 prior to the Zipp NSW 303 and their lateral stiffness is appalling. I weigh 62kg and could get the brakes rubbing on the rims with virtually no effort. The wheels are aerodynamic but are not responsive making sprinting and climbing harder than it should be. So far the NSW is marginally less aero but overall a much better wheelset. The cognition hubs do roll very well. More testing required. they are also over 100 grams lighter and the same price as the Enves.

  • BAS

    Brave to spend nearly $5k on a set of wheels that the manufacturers are trying to make redundant?

  • Sean Parchem

    Where does everyone keep coming up with this 4100 dollar price tag? “Maybe, but for this kind of money, you should be, too. US$3,100.” I’m with most of you agreeing there are better options out there. James, how about a review on dedicated Tubeless aero wheels. I am on my second set of D/A tubeless wheels (only switched to get to 11sp) and they are just an amazing wheelset. However, I’m tempted to go the aero/tubeless route but there aren’t a ton of dedicated tubeless set ups out there.

    • James Huang

      My guess is that they’re referring to the price in Australia, which seems quite inflated relative to what these sell for in the US. Our readers are roughly split between the US and Australia, so keep that in mind if you see prices referenced without a specific currency identifier.

      In any event, I definitely agree with you on those Dura-Ace wheels. I don’t know if it’s because of that unique carbon-aluminum hybrid rim construction, but I have always found them to ride really smoothly. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the XTR Trail mountain bike version (which uses similar construction), and those are super smooth, too.

      As for tubeless aero wheels, my favorite option right now is probably the Easton EC90 Aero 55. Wide rim profile, solid hub design, easy tubeless compatibility, pretty good dry-conditions braking performance, quite light.

  • Wayne Reid

    My rear hub lasted two months before it sounded like a bag of spanners when freewheeling. I weigh 78kg, and brake rub was an issue…brake pad wear was also very poor (but then you’d expect that with what is basically a serrated brake track)
    Although that has improved in the last two and a half months as Zipp still have them and I haven’t heard anything from them in that time!! Thanks Zipp. Your product and customer service are exceptional!!

  • Flex Moeller

    From what I’ve been told the narrower tyre bed is part of the heat dissipation design that gives zipp clinchers greater structural integrity when things heat up on descents.

  • Andy B

    Nice Wheels, Crazy expensive..
    I think a set normal 404 firestrikes and change would be my option
    Now I must quickly stop looking at bike products before I want another item I don’t need

    • Spider

      Been riding the 404 (with Chris King hubs) for a few years now. Very impressed – no need to fear the crosswinds, get an aero kick anytime I’m above 35kph and they climb OK – I’m not a climber and don’t feel they are a detriment (that would be heart, legs and VO2 levels!). They seem very reliable – I’ll safely hit gravel/dirt with them and not give them a second thought.

  • Andy B

    Just when we thought these were expensive, zipp ups the game :)

    • Noel Said

      There are bargains out there on the NSWs already. I picked my set up for $2950AUD $2124US. Slane cycles, i don’t know if they are still selling at this price but look thoroughly.

  • Matty

    Well…I have to say…awesome review! I just got the Roval CLX50’s and won’t be riding anything else any time soon. All good with these wheels…ALL GOOD!

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