- 25mm tyres sit well
- Retain their speed
- Superb braking
Price as reviewed:
Zipp’s 303 Firecrest demonstrate the brand’s innovative technology perfectly.
The carbon braking is best in class and rims are stiff and roll superbly, but these are just a couple of the many reasons this wheelset is being included in our Editor’s Choice list this year.
>> Struggling to get to the shops try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
Zipp has long pushed innovation with its rim brake wheelsets, sometimes in a fairly esoteric way (think about the humpback whale design on its 454 NSW hoops) and other times in a more modest fashion. These new Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels fall into the latter category, but the performance out on the road is no less spectacular.
For 2018, Zipp has trickled down some of its top technology from its NSW lines to Firecrest level. In particular, that means the ABLC Sawtooth dimples and Showstopper brake technology. Alongside this, the front wheel gets 18 spokes and the rear gets 24, with Zipp’s 77/177 hubs being used to bolster lateral wheel stiffness to great effect and there’s no noticeable flex when working hard out of the saddle.
Setting up the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels was a cinch, and the Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres I used slipped onto the rim without any grunt work or thumb-snapping injuries. This may be to do with the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels having a comparatively minor 17mm internal rim width, especially when compared to the likes of Roval, Enve or Hunt, with its 19mm rim bed.
Happily, this didn’t affect how the 25mm tyre sat on the rim, and the tyres were neither too narrow or too large with no mushrooming.
In fact, I would go as far to say that the Vittoria G+ tyre and Zipp rim combination is one of the finest I have tried, and that it’s right up there with the Specialized Turbo Cotton and Roval Rapide CLX 50 wheels in terms of ride quality and feel.
In particular, the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels feel really stable when out on the road, despite the fact that they’re 45mm deep. However, the 45mm body paired with the 26.4mm brake track width is so chunky that it looks shallower than its stated depth and I think that extra bulk gives the wheels some stability out on the road and when descending.
I have found in the past that deep section carbon wheels can be slow to accelerate but that wasn’t the case with these Zipps, which are more spritely than their 45mm depth would suggest. They roll up to speed nicely and sit there nicely too, even when you ease off the gas.
Zipp’s Showstopper braking technology does exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s without a doubt best thing about these wheels and it’s also probably the best carbon rim braking I’ve experienced.
Watch: What’s faster? Tubeless, clincher or tubular?
The braking effect is immediate, without any of the delay that can sometimes be felt when using a rim braking wheel. There’s great modulation in the stopping power, meaning the braking never feels off and on, but instead it is smooth and controllable. One thing I did notice though is that the Showstopper rim brake track did eat away at my carbon brake pads quite quickly, but that’s par for the course when the braking is this good.
If £1,986 is beyond your budget, then it’s worth considering the Zipp 302 wheels, which we also rated 10/10. You don’t get the same Showstopper technology or Sawtooth dimples but these wheels are still amazingly fast.
At £1,986 for the pair, these wheels are not cheap. But if you're looking for a high-end upgrade then the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels are a worthy consideration.