By James Bracey
Hot on the heels of the newly launched 'budget' 303S, Zipp has announced a complete update to one of its most popular wheelsets, the Zipp 303 Firecrest. The overhaul includes a price drop as well as a move to a tubeless only design and minimum tyre width of 28mm.
It's sometimes difficult as a brand to carry on tweaking a popular design to keep it relevant in today's fast paced, trend-led cycling world. Zipp's benchmark 303 Firecrest had become one of the brands most popular wheelsets to date with its ideal rim depth, relatively light weight and top-notch performance characteristics. Taking all this into account Zipp has taken the decision to work on introducing a completely new 303 Firecrest aimed at what Zipp calls the 'modern road bike'.
What does it mean by this? Well in a nutshell, this new 303 Firecrest version is disc brake only and optimised not only for wider tyres but tubeless specific wider tyres. Like the 303S released earlier in the month, this is the direction Zipp sees all road bikes heading - with tubes being technology of the past. Unlike the 303S, a wheelset Zipp sees as being an introduction into the Zipp family, the 303 Firecrest is a high performance wheelset with its heart firmly founded in racing - the Spring Classics in particular.
The rim is where the majority of Zipp's research and development has been focused. But unlike some brands, this focus hasn't been on producing a wheel specifically about aerodynamic advantages. For the 303 Firecrest the buzzword is efficiency. It's Zipp's first wheelset to be developed around a new mantra of TSE - Total System Efficiency - a mantra in which performance (greater speed through increased efficiency) is achieved through a reduction in wind resistance, rolling resistance, gravity (weight and durability) and vibration losses.
Zipp has reduced the rim depth from the previous version's 45mm to a slightly shallower 40mm and has expanded the other dimensions in order to fulfill performance requirements. The all-important internal rim width has been expanded from 21mm to 25mm but with minimal impact to the external width (measuring now at 30mm). Zipp has been able to achieve this by changing to a hookless rim profile, a change that enables not only a reduction in rim weight by getting rid of excess carbon but also provides a more stable base for running a wider tyre.
To this end the 303 Firecrest is now developed around a 28mm tyre width as both a minimum and optimum for road use.
Moving to a 28mm tyre width has enabled Zipp to work on achieving a more aerodynamic transition between tyre and rim. Moving to a wider rim width allows for a better tyre profile and reduces what Zipp calls the 'lightbulb effect' when a wide tyre is used on a narrow rim. The new profile makes for a more seamless and integrated transition which should cause less air flow disruptions. Moving to the other extreme, Zipp are more than happy for the 303 Firecrest to be used off-road and state that it can run gravel tyres of up to 55mm in width.
This change to the rim also means that the 303 Firecrest is aimed at tubeless tyre use only. That's not to say you can't use inner tubes if you so wish but it has to be with a tubeless specific tyre and in adherence to the strict pressure limits for the rim itself. Zipp also warn that tube use will reduce the performance of the wheels.
While the new rim might be the star of the show the 303 Firecrest also receives a newly developed set of hubs. Called the ZR1 DB hubs, these have been developed in Germany and promise to be more durable and with better sealing than some of Zipp's previous hubsets.
The rear hub offers 66 points of engagement for a quick pickup under power and both hubs feature easy to change end caps and centre-lock rotor compatibility. The 303 Firecrest run with 24 CX-Sprint spokes front and rear in a two cross lacing. SRAM XDR, Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo freehub body options are available.
The new rim and hub configuration for the 303 Firecrest also bring about a huge benefit in terms of overall weight loss. Normally a wheel brand might be looking to shave tens of grams off a set of high-end wheels but Zipp has managed to trim a whole 300 grams in comparison to the existing tubeless disc model. The new wheels now creep under the magic 1,400 gram barrier and weigh in a respectable 1,355g - compared to 1655g for its predecessor.
Not wanting to be outdone by the sub £1k 303S wheelset, the new 303 Firecrest has also seen its price dropped by Zipp by several hundred pounds to make it even more competitive when compared to high-end rivals. The new pricing comes in at £780 for a front wheel and £820 for rear, making a set retail at £1600.
The new Zipp 303 Firecrest should be in the shops and available to order/buy from today.
What else is new?
Alongside the launch of the new 303 Firecrest, Zipp has announced some updates to a few of its other existing wheels. Most are mainly cosmetic, moving to the new graphic package, but some have had a few more tweaks. All Firecrest wheelsets from 202 - 808 feature the new ZR1 hubset. All NSW wheels are relatively unchanged barring graphics. Super-9 wheels are now available in disc brake and tubeless configurations.
Zipp Firecrest 2021 pricing from £1,965 - £2,590.
Zipp NSW 2021 pricing from £3,570 - £3,930.
Super-9 2021 pricing from £1825 - £2,075.
Zipp 302 2021 pricing £1,370 (rim brake).
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