First ride review: Zipp’s new 858 NSW and 808 Firecrest wheelsets

Zipp's new aero wheels for speed freaks are now lighter and wider for real-world speed gains.

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Aerodynamic drag’s supreme reign over the cycling industry is apparently over, as the wind tunnel has made way over the past two years for the coronation of the “do-it-all” bike, frame, and wheels.

Nowhere has this transition of power been more evident than at Zipp. The brand’s carbon wheels, synonymous with aerodynamics, have undergone a shift of focus in recent years. Outright aerodynamic efficiency has been replaced with a focus on Total System Efficiency, or as Zipp describes it, “a balanced attack against the four barriers to speed: wind resistance, gravity, rolling resistance, and vibration.”

Zipp’s new approach was first seen in the new 303-S, and the 303 Firecrest, then the 353 NSW, and most recently the 454 NSW, and 404 Firecrest as each of these wheels got lighter, wider, tubeless, disc-brake only, and even sacrificed some purely aero savings, all in the name of going faster in the real world.

Now joining that list are the new 808 Firecrest and the 858 NSW wheelsets as Zipp’s deepest, fastest, and most aerodynamic wheels get the “real-world” treatment.

858 NSW – All kinds of faster

While, technically speaking, the 858 NSWs were last updated a mere 14 months ago, that update simply added Zipp’s new Cognition V2 hubset to the existing 77/82 mm undulating rim. The 858 NSWs unveiled today feature an entirely new rim paired to that same Cognition V2 hubset and a host of updates tackling Zipp’s four barriers to speed.

The new 858 NSW rim still features Zipp’s almost signature Sawtooth undulating rim shape with varying 82/85mm depth, but has grown wider with 23mm internal and 27mm external rim widths. This wider rim is now hookless tubeless only and optimised for 28mm tyres. While many manufacturers are now “optimising” rim widths to specific tyre sizes in pursuit of aerodynamic gains, Zipp’s optimisation claims here are based on a balance of aerodynamics and rolling resistance.

The brand claims the wider rim shape paired with a wider 28mm tyre reduces tyre deflection and results in lower rolling resistance. Furthermore, Zipp claims the wider tyre bead interface and external rim width actually create a smoother and more aerodynamic interface from the tyre to the rim, despite the 27mm external rim not conforming with the widely accepted “rule of 105”.

The so-called “Rule of 105” states that the rim must be at least 105% the width of the tyre to improve the chances of re-capturing airflow from the tyre and controlling it or smoothing it over the rim and was originally coined by Josh Poertner of Silca.cc. However, Zipp points out that “the rule of 105” doesn’t account for the speed gains from a wider tyre at lower tyre pressures and claims the aerodynamic cost of a 28mm tyre versus a 25mm tyre is lower than the savings in rolling resistance.

“A wider tire bead interface also allows for a wider tire, which allows for lower tire pressure. Lowering tire pressure can increase overall system efficiency, reduce rider fatigue, and offers better handling in rough conditions.”

Zipp
New Zipps, built for wider tyres.

Those increased rim widths are disguised behind Zipp’s signature sawtooth profile, retained for the new 858 NSW rims. First introduced on the 454 NSW wheels back in 2016, the sawtooth profile rim design is said to offer both improved aero efficiency and crosswind stability. Further improving this “Aerobalance” is Zipp’s other signature design cue, the HexFin ABLC dimple pattern rim.

Of course, with a hookless profile comes certain restrictions. While Zipp recommends a 28mm wide tyre to maximize speed, 25mm is the minimum and 32mm the maximum tyre widths compatible with the new wheels. Of course, regardless of tyre width, the tyre itself must be hookless tubeless compatible. Zipp has a list of compatible tyres published on SRAM.com.

So what does all that mean? In terms of outright aerodynamics and wind tunnel testing, the new 858 NSWs are merely a single watt faster than the previous generation 858, but that is almost the point. Zipp explained its objective for the new wheels was merely to match the previous generation’s aerodynamics, focusing instead on other aspects of the wheels which make for a faster setup in the real world. The optimisation around 28mm tyres is just one part of these real-world improvements.

Zipp explained the 808 and 858 wheelsets are still their go-to option for time trials and triathlons, but now with the Total System Efficiency treatment, the 80+mm deep wheels are said to provide a real option for road racing and general road riding.

Dimpled, wavy, lighter, wider, the new 858 NSWs are for time trialling, road racing, and even general riding, according to Zipp.

A significant weight saving is central to Zipp’s versatility claims for the new wheelset. Zipp shed a relatively huge 243 grams from the new wheels versus to the outgoing 858s. In doing so it brought the total weight of the wheelset (without tape and valves) down to just 1530 grams (719g front, 811g rear) and into the territory of many shallower wheels.

Zipp found most of this weight-saving with the move to a hookless rim. Each of the new wheelsets mentioned earlier all feature a hookless rim, and so while the move to hookless may still prove controversial, it was entirely predictable for the new 858s. In addition to helping drop the rim weight, Zipp claims the hookless design creates a stronger rim, and reduces both pricing and waste.

The brand credits an additional 10% of the rim weight savings to its Carbon internal Reinforecemnt (CiR) laminate technology. Most carbon rims feature uniform layup thickness throughout. However, Zipp suggests the forces exerted on the rim are not uniform, and explains CiR helps Zipp to place the optimal amount of carbon fibre precisely where it’s needed and less where it is not. Zipp claims this variable layup results in a rim with the same stiffness, strength, and durability but with a significant weight saving.

Unsurprisingly, Zipp has retained the new Cognition hubs introduced to the 858 NSW wheelset last year. The rear hub features Zipp’s Axial Clutch V2 technology said to reduce drag, lower friction, and offer quicker engagement with its Sylomer spring system and 54 points of engagement.

The Zipp 858 NSW wheelset uses Sapim CX-Ray spokes, with 20 spokes front and rear and external alloy nipples in a two-cross spoke pattern for the rear wheel and radial laced drive side and two-cross on the non-drive/brake rotor side on the front.

All told, other than suggesting the new wheels are aerodynamically equal to the outgoing wheels, Zipp isn’t making any claims about exactly how much faster the new 858 NSW wheels are, focusing instead on the new wheel’s lower weight, comfier ride, and more stable handling characteristics. And while the wavy profile, dimples, and similar decals all combine to create a wheelset that at least aesthetically looks very similar to the narrower and heavier previous 858s, the good news is the pricing has dropped.

The new 858 NSWs are priced at $4400 USD / €4000 / £3570 / $6630 AU. While still a staggering amount of money for a wheelset, at least the pricing is going in the right direction. The new 858 NSWs will be available soon after launch through local retailers and online.

808 Firecrest – more dimply, less pricey

The 808 Firecrest wheelset has also received an update. The lower priced of the two new wheelsets, the 808 features a round 80mm-deep rim shape with a 23mm internal width hookless rim profile and maximum outside width of 27mm. The rim stats are broadly similar to that of the range-topping 858 NSW, with the 808s merely missing out on the sawtooth profiling and gaining 105 grams.

The new 808 Firecrest is also wider, lighter, and less pricey. Photo: Zipp.

What the 808 lacks in outright fanciness, it more than makes up for in other departments. While heavier than the new 858 NSWs, the new 808s actually achieve a greater weight saving of 282 grams over the previous model. The 808s weight saving is again largely thanks to the shift to a hookless rim and additionally a 2mm decrease in rim depth from 82mm to 80mm.

The new 808s also now feature wider internal and external rim widths optimised around a 28mm tyre, with Zipp again pointing to the real-world speed gains offered by the wider setup.

Zipp has equipped the new 808 Firecrest Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset (to give its full title) with its ZR1 Disc-brake hub with a Center Lock disc rotor interface. Again, the Zipp ZR1 hub might not be quite as fancy as the range-topping Cognition, but with 66 points of engagement, it has a trump card of its own.

Go wide or go home, Zipp says “if you want to be faster, ride 28mm tyres.” Photo: Zipp.

Laced to those ZR1 hubs are 20 Sapim CX-Sprint spokes. Built with external alloy nipples in a two-cross spoke pattern for the front wheel, the rear wheel has a radial laced drive side and two-cross non-drive.

All in, the new 808 Firecrests weigh in at 1,635 grams (without valves and tape). Perhaps more importantly though, the 808 Firecrests offer a significant cost saving versus their higher-tier NSW siblings. A complete 808 Firecrest wheelset will set you back US$2300.00 / £2235.00 / AU$3466 / €2500.00.

In other words, the new 808 Fircrests cost less than the 858 NSW rear wheel alone and offer a new, wider, lighter, and presumably faster wheelset than the previous generation 858 NSWs. I’d hazard a guess most riders considering the 808 Firecrests will gladly take the aero gains without a second thought given to the 1,635 gram total weight.

The suggested rider system weight limit (rider + gear) for both new wheelsets is the same as all other Zipp road wheels, 250lb / 115kg. Furthermore, both wheelsets are covered under Zipp’s lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and impact damage during intended use. The usual original owner and proof of purchase caveats apply, but the coverage will provide some peace of mind for wheelsets which are both still substantial investments.

Zipp suggests both new wheelsets will be available shortly after today’s launch through local dealers and online.

Reviews incoming

A pair of the new 858 NSW arrived at my door two days ago. With only two days to ride the new wheels so far, my thoughts right now are nothing more than first impressions. The wheels are certainly fast, and impressively lightweight for such a deep, tubeless, and disc brake wheelset. But anyone hoping for an 80+mm deep wheel with the stability of a shallower wheel might be disappointed.

I’d classify myself as pretty confident and competent in riding deep-section wheels in windy and even blustery conditions. Rarely, if ever, do I get spooked by a gust of wind catching my front wheel. However, on both rides on the new 858 NSW so far, I have noticed the increased side forces catching me off guard on several occasions. Again, these are 80+mm deep wheels and so, buyer beware, despite Zipp’s best endeavours, a ride in blustery conditions will still result in some hairy moments.

Given the extra speed available and impressively low weight penalty, I can’t imagine choosing anything other than the 858 NSWs for all but the hilliest or windiest of races. But based on two days of riding so far, I can’t imagine these very deep rims becoming my everyday wheelset either. Time will tell. Stay tuned for a longer-term review.

For more information, visit www.zipp.com

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