Zipp reveals its first gravel wheelset: the 101 XPLR

Comfort is said to equate to speed with Zipp's intentionally flexy single-wall carbon rims.

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As part of the SRAM family, Zipp has long been a name that’s top of mind for performance aero-designed road racing wheels. However, while the Indianapolis-based manufacturer has recently suggested its road wheels are suitable for going beyond the tarmac, they haven’t had a dedicated option designed specifically for the burgeoning gravel world. 

Today Zipp has announced its first official gravel-focussed wheelset, the 101 XPLR. This new wheelset joins a range of new gravel-specific SRAM and RockShox products under the same naming and introduces a few novel ideas that the gravel market hasn’t previously seen. And yet, there’s little about the 101 XPLR wheels that is truly groundbreaking for Zipp. 

James Huang has already spent some time riding the new SRAM XPLR shifting bits and Rockshox XPLR suspension fork and dropper, but these new Zipp wheels weren’t quite ready for review. Zipp expects its new wheels to be ready in the coming couple of months. In the meantime, this article covers the technology, the technical details, and what Zipp has to say about these premium gravel-specific hoops. 

Borrowing from the Zipp Moto 

Those who follow the mountain bike world may be familiar with Zipp’s hard-hitting, high-priced, and highly desirable mountain bike wheels, the 3ZeroMoto. Released a couple of years ago, the Moto wheels took inspiration from single-wall rims used in motocross wheels. (Zipp wasn’t the first to do a single-wall carbon bicycle rim – that title goes to Bouwmeester who then went on to create mountain bike wheels for Crank Brothers.)

Unlike most bicycle wheel designs that emphasise creating a strong, stiff, and light structure, the Moto wheels sought to create a carbon fibre rim that was more compliant and would effectively allow the rim to twist from side to side on the spoke nipple – a concept that Zipp dubbed “Ankle Compliance”. 

According to Zipp, such a concept means impacts are partially absorbed into the rocking motion of the rim. And the claimed benefits include improved comfort, increased traction, better bike control, and a reduced risk of pinch flats, too. 

A graphic from Zipp’s original Moto wheel launch. The single-wall rim is on the left, with a more traditional box-section rim on the right.

Now a lot of that sounds like typical bike industry marketing sensationalism that’s simply too good to be true, and yet, many experienced riders who’ve tried these Moto wheels tend to come away swearing that they can indeed feel the difference. Pinkbike’s Senior Tech Editor Mike Kazimer is one such example. and a search for other reviews online will likely support such findings. Sadly neither James Huang nor I have ride experience with them. 

And where all the benefits make a whole lot of sense for mountain biking, they arguably apply just as much on rough gravel roads or wherever else a gravel bike can take you. And that’s exactly why Zipp has effectively created a toned-down version of its Moto wheels for gravel – and no they’re not aero. 

The new 101 XPLRs aren’t what you’d expect of a Zipp wheel, but then, the company is changing. While Zipp used to be almost solely focussed on aerodynamic efficiencies, they’ve now pivoted their sales pitch to be about making the “fastest wheel.” Such a message change was seen with the latest 303 and 404 wheels where (in some cases) the new versions were made less aero with the claimed benefits of improved rolling resistance, weight, handling, and comfort. 

And Zipp claims the 101 XPLRs stay true to this new “fastest wheel” goal, at least as far as riding a gravel bike over rough terrain is concerned. If you’re riding champagne gravel linked with fast roads then Zipp is still likely to point you toward its lighter and aero-designed 303 or premium 353 NSW hoops. 

The Zipp 101 XPLR.

101 XPLR tech details 

The new Zipp 101 XPLR will be available in either a 650B (27.5″) or 700c size, each featuring a wide 27 mm internal rim width. These rims offer an impressively shallow and un-aero 15 mm depth, while the exterior rim width is all the way out at 35 mm. 

Those who’ve followed Zipp’s recent road wheel releases won’t at all be surprised to hear these wheels use a hookless rim design that requires the use of tubeless tyres, and that there’s a maximum pressure rating of 72.5 psi. You can run an inner tube, but it must be with a tubeless tyre. 

Updated ETRTO standards suggest a 35 mm minimum tyre width on a 27 mm hookless rim, while Zipp states the wheels are ideal with tyres between 40-45 mm in width.

The rim sidewalls are each 4 mm thick and with rounded edges, something that’s becoming popular in mountain bike wheels in preventing the dreaded tyre sidewall bite when running lower pressures. Zipp claims the impact resistance of these rims is at a mountain bike level and the wheels carry a 125 kg weight limit as a result. The lifetime warranty has you covered in case you prove them wrong. 

Zipp will be offering the 101 XPLR as both a complete wheelset or as individual rims. The rims are only available with 28 spoke holes, a higher count than normal in order to give greater support to the single-wall rim design.

Zipp will also offer the 101 XPLR as rim only for custom builds.

The wheels feature J-bend (as opposed to straight pull) Sapim CX-Sprint spokes. At the centre sits Zipp’s ZR1 hubs which offer 66 points of engagement via a six-pawl design and which are claimed to offer superior bearing life, too. 

The hubs feature centerlock rotor mounting and are offered with either Shimano or SRAM XDR freehub bodies. Campagnolo 12-speed driver bodies are available separately but Shimano MicroSpline or Campagnolo N3W (required for Ekar) bodies are not offered. 

Zipp will offer its wheels with two decal options. There’s the standard that matches many of the company’s other wheels, and then there’s “Kwiqsand” (described as smokey taupe) which ties in with other XPLR components. 

There are two colour options for these wheels. Left is Zipp’s standard offering, the version on the right is to match your camo cargo bibs.

A single-wall rim design means the spoke nipples are visible when looking at a bare rim. Zipp’s Moto MTB wheels call for a double layer of rim tape to prevent the spoke nipples from poking through, and it’s likely the same applies here, too. Similarly, such a design calls for careful selection of spoke length if building these up as rims. 

Weighing up the trade off

Zipp seems confident that its 101 XPLR wheels offer noticeable benefits when riding over rough terrain. Bastien Donze, Zipp’s product manager, states that the qualitative feedback from riders and racers has been clear. However, Donze did admit that quantifying such vibration-reducing benefits in the lab has proven difficult to replicate (likely due to the non-static nature of cycling and how these rims aim to improve the ride). 

Certainly, these wheels aim to bring a number of benefits to the gravel world that were previously only available to deep-pocketed mountain bikers. However, much like Zipp’s 3ZeroMoto wheels, the new 101 XPLR aren’t going to excite the weight weenies. A bare 700C rim is quoted as weighing 520 g. The 700C version of the wheelset is claimed to weigh 1,665 g, while the 650B is 1,590 g. And these weights are based on an XDR freehub (which saves a few grams over a Shimano freehub) and don’t include the required tubeless tape or valves. 

Complete wheelset pricing for the 101 XPLR is listed at US$1,800 / €1,840 / £1,645 / AU$2,726. Individual rims are priced at US$700 / £670 /  € 750 / AU$1,055 (each).

Clearly, Zipp is confident that the benefits of these wheels quite literally outweigh the weight. Both James Huang and I have recently taken a liking to running tyre inserts in gravel wheels despite the weight gain, and it’s quite possible a wheelset like the 101 XPLR could offset our desires to run such foam. We’re eager to get a review pair as soon as they’re ready. 

SRAM actually launched a whole bunch of XPLR stuff, not just a set of interesting new gravel wheels. Also make sure to check out the long-awaited 10-44T cassettes and the new suspension bits from RockShox.

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