Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubeless Disc wheelset review

Zipp’s new 303 pairing promise game changing ride quality and holistic performance versatility plus a whole new level of affordability. Guy Kesteven has been getting big distances in on road and off to see if they deliver on their big promises.

Zipp 303 FC
Cycling Weekly Verdict

These wheels break new ground in terms of their easy, and well-controlled speed, incredible smoothness and the confidence they inspire. The set up was extremely user friendly, and Zipp offers excellent warranty alongside this much more affordable price. Hub durability will need to be confirmed after a few more months and miles of testing, but I simply can't wait to get out and ride these some more.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Smooth ride

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    Low weight

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    Handling

  • +

    Impact strength

  • +

    Easy set up

  • +

    Price

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Some freehub clunk

  • -

    Graphics can peel off

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    28mm+ tyre could be limiting

The Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc wheelset was selected for an Editor's Choice award in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval. 

Zipp's 303 Firecrest tubeless wheels use a hookless rim and are designed for tyres over 28mm only, making them very on trend with the current direction of travel. After over 400km of off-road miles and a few 100km on road, I can confirm that the Indianapolis company have delivered an outstanding set of wheels, whatever riding you’re into.

Performance

In the past, Zipp has considered keeping the weight low a secondary consideration in its design strategy. However, these hoops sit on the scales at 1355g in the 650b version, with our own 700c sample weighing 1410g (with tubeless valves installed). This makes them comparable with the featherweight specialists, which is impressive when considered alongside the lack of max rider weight and lifetime warranty. They can be used for gravel riding as well as road, and come with a wide tyre ready 25mm internal width.

Inflating the tyre with a tubeless set-up was hassle free, with the tyre sealing securely against the hookless walls with simple, relaxed pumping.

Unfortunately, I did manage to peel a corner of the 'Zipp' logo off in the process, which was a shame, especially as it then refused to stick back down and had to be permanently removed.

At this point, I also have to point out that the hookless nature of this rim means that not all tyre brands are listed as compatible, with the notable inclusion of Continental as an incompatible partner. Hookless rims are becoming more and more popular and the expectation is that this will change in time.

Road

Using Zipp’s Tangente Speed RT28 tyres on the road at their radically low recommended pressures (at 70kg I ran 55psi front, 60 rear) immediately quelled the rougher road rattle, buzz and vibration I’d previously experienced on my Ribble host bike.

The semi aero carbon frame now felt more like an old steel touring bike in terms of ride quality. While the smoother, softer ride feel can feel slower psychosomatically (as the rattle and buzz is often what your brain perceives as speed) cross referencing with power meters confirmed Zipps claims that real world speed is boosted by the more compliant rim construction and the lower pressure, wider footprint tyres.

Connection in turns is improved and the lower, broader rim profile handles impeccably in all wind conditions so they stayed consistently balanced and snatch or flutter free on descents. For the record I maxxed out at 85kmh but they weren’t showing any signs of being anywhere near a laminar airflow separation or anything else nasty even in gusty conditions.

The low weight means acceleration is obviously enhanced too and they’re basically the epitome of the old ‘talk quietly but carry a big stick’ cliche when it comes to their blend of confident cruising calmness but pack shredding performance on the road. The only blemish on an otherwise impeccable performance is a very obvious clang when the freehub connects from the furthest reach of it’s 66 point engagement span. Otherwise the new German built ZR1 DB hubset has started it’s life with us without any issues.

Off road

A wider rim, with a tyre run at lower pressure will always make way for a smoother, stickier and calmer ride vs a conventional set up.

Whilst the Firecrest's performed excellently on the road, it was out on the gravel bike that they really came into their own. I covered 400km of technical, flinty, rooty, rocky, sandy and frankly borderline MTB trails along the King Alfred's Way on these wheels. The Firecrests transformed the ride of the Santa Cruz Stigmata from ‘rally tuned’ to ‘trophy truck’ smoothness.

Once again, setting up the tyre could not have been simpler and in this case the wheels can pair with a tyre up to 50mm.

Back-to-back testing with other (similar width, but heavier) wheels then switching between Zipp's Service Course Gravel, Schwalbe and Pirelli tyres, the Firecrests felt smoother and more controlled in all cases. Zipp has kept a lot of its tech info to itself, but the rims do share tech with the new radically flexible 3Zero Moto MTB rims.

Also of note is the way the rims held their pressure over the course of the 400km King Alfred's Way ride. I began the three-day adventure at 30psi and at the end the tyres were at 28.5 and 28.3 respectively.

I put these wheels through some serious abuse over the course of the ride - I rimmed them out several times, and let them roll brake free down flint strewn and root riddled trails. However hard I tried to unsettle them, the Firecrests (wearing Tangente Course G40 tyres) just laughed at my efforts, remaining composed, accurate and enjoyably dynamic even when loaded. Stripping the bags off the Stigmata, the Firecrests let me push it a lot further into MTB territory and put red route style terrain onto the menu but with blisteringly quick acceleration and crazy ride feel quietness.