Some years ago I was told by the former owner of Zipp that the carbon clincher was a long way off and might never happen. Zipp had been testing carbon clinchers for years but were not satisfied with the way carbon dispersed heat caused by braking and this was a safety concern.
Zipp now has an all carbon clincher and they are very proud of it. Will it stand up to the promises made in that smooth Zipp marketing?
First ride out on the Zipp 404 carbon clinchers I was sold as in SOLD. I immediately thought, “I need a pair of these for myself they are fantastic.”
Smooth and Fast
These carbon 404s are really smooth and the speed advantage they provide noticeable. Out on my regular morning ride around Paris Mountain, SC, I was pulling away from my training partner where he normally pulls away from me (he is bigger and a few doughnuts ahead of me.) The speed was accompanied by comfort almost as if the rim acted as a dampener very unlike any other deep carbon clincher. Normally wheels like these are very stiff and unforgiving.
Out of the saddle and when cornering they are very direct and stiff, not losing an ounce of power or momentum. I remember earlier Zipp tubular wheels felt as if they did not hold speed well? I might be making that up but what the old rims did or did not do the new rims do everything better.
In the Wind
In the wind they don’t feel great; the 58mm deep front rim catches the wind and “self steers” at speed. The 404′s are no worse than any other deep carbon rims but just to be clear, all that high tech magic cannot solve this issue. If you are a smaller rider and ride a lot in windy conditions then these are not ideal do it all wheels.
Braking on carbon wheels is never as good as alloy but it’s getting better. The 404 Firecrest brake pretty well with the Zipp carbon specific pads, better with Yellow Swiss Stop and not that bad with regular Dura Ace pads. (I don’t recommend the Dura Ace. I just wanted to test and compare.) The braking on the Firecrest clincher is better than the tubular 303. It does not grab as much at the joint and is smooth and powerful enough to make the carbon braking dilemma a thing of the past. The new 404′s also ride smoother than earlier Zipp carbon wheels, they feel well balanced on a smooth road and there is none of the “hop” I felt with Zipp carbon tubular wheels. Check my review of the 303′s this was one of the biggest issues I found with them.
My test wheels came with the 23mm Zipp Tangente clincher tires. These performed remarkably with the 404′s. The Firecrest clincher is a lot wider than anything else on the market (25.5mm at the tire bead). Zipp has designed the rim to compliment a 23mm tire and allow it to be ridden at a slightly lower pressure. The combination is supposedly more aero than any other clincher. I believe this, I felt the speed.
The new Zipp skewers are really neat. The cam is powerful and smooth, further evidence of Zipps commitment to creating the perfect wheel. They have an aero shape that looks great with the aero cone nuts on the 88/188 hubs. Not a big deal or a deal maker but a nice touch and perfect compliment. The Zipp wheel bag that accompanied the test wheels was pure pleasure as well, no other bag on the market is as well thought out or as practical. I give the bag 10 points out of 10.
Silver spokes and hubs are not my bag. I wish these were available in black. On the Neil Pryde Alize matt black they looked striking but on many other bikes black might be more appropriate. When you pay this much for wheels you want to be able to chose the color. No biggie.
The Bottom Line
All-round I love these wheels, I will be recommending them with confidence and I will be working hard to buy a pair for myself. Retail on a pair is $2700 which is steep but well worth it if you are contemplating dropping this kind of cash to keep from getting dropped.
For a complete explanation of the technological behind the Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels I suggest a visit to http://www.zipp.com. They do a fantastic job getting their message across.
Clive de Sousa is the founder of glorycycles.com he lives in Columbia SC with his wife and two sons. He is trainning for his 25th consecutive road race season. Glorycycles.com is an online bike shop, offering unique and top of the line bikes and components. Clive also represents NeilPryde bicycles.