A joy to ride and at a reasonable price. Being hookless and optimised for a 28mm tubeless setup might be a downer for some, but if you’re fully converted to wider tyres and liquid over tubes, buy these ones.
Extremely easy to set up tubeless
Compliant but quick up to speed
Hookless rim limits tyre use
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Zipp has long been a premium choice, so the launch of its £985 303S came as a thoroughly welcome surprise.
The 303S was launched alongside the 303 Firecrest and before the 353 NSW - the latter comes in at £3,200, and we’ve had the opportunity to test the two back to back. The 303 family, like most of Zipp’s recent launches, is optimised for riding a tubeless set up at a lower pressure.
This review formed part of a five part disc brake wheel group test, going up against some of the best road bike wheels - Vel RSL 50, Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO, Hunt 50 Aero and FFWD RYOT 55 - so expect full comparison reviews of each as we publish them, and check out Cycling Weekly magazine on July 29 for the conclusions.Cycling Weekly magazine on July 29 for the verdict.
Zipp 303S wheelset: construction
Zipp has switched its focus to championing wider internal widths, which promote the use of a wider tyre, at a low pressure - the end goal being a speed (and comfort) uplift via greater efficiency.
Where in the past riders felt ‘fast’ whilst being bumped across the surface of the tarmac at 120psi, now, the popular stream of thought is that we’re actually speedier with squishier rubber that deforms as it meets imperfections in the road surface.
A wider contact patch also inspires confidence in the corners, an area where uncertainty can really slow a rider down. Anyone who has sprinted back on having hit the brakes in a crit race can no doubt confirm this.
The rim is hookless. This does mean that fitting Zipp’s own tubeless tyres is exceptionally easy - in fact, it took me less time than it would to set up some clinchers. However, the nature of the rim does limit tyre choice - the popular Continental GP 5000 is notoriously not compatible with hookless rims. This choice of construction also limits tyre pressure to a maximum of 72 PSI.
The internal rim depth on the 303S is 23mm, which whilst wider than most, is still narrower than the cavernous 25mm on the 353 NSW. The minimum tyre width is 25mm, which might cause difficulty for the minority of riders sticking with 23mm.
Aerodynamically, the optimum tyre width is said to be 28mm - Zipp claims that this creates a smoother meeting between tyre and rim. You can use these wheels for gravel, with 50mm rubber perfectly acceptable.
The 303 S uses Zipp's own 76/176 hubs, which we've rated well in the past for serviceability and longevity - though longer-term testing is required to re-confirm the life span. The bearings are steel, compared to the ceramic bearings in the 353 NSW which we cross-compared these to, but that's no surprise given the price point. The wheels, like nearly all these days, use a centre lock rotor fitting and Zipp opted for 24 two-cross laced spokes front and rear.
The 303S logo isn’t quite as snazzy as the ‘ImPress’ direct print graphics applied to the NSW model, but the wheels are a third of the price.
Zipp 303S wheelset: the ride
I first tried the 303S wheels aboard a Scott Addict frame, in order to test SRAM’s Rival eTap AXS groupset. The groupset was good and all, but the wheels blew me away. I’ve since fitted them to a Liv Langma frame, which I’ve tested with a set of Cadex wheels, plus the Zipp 303S, and the Zipp 353 NSW - so plenty of scope for comparison.
Out on the road, the 303S wheels accelerate as soon as you push the power out. A National B road race formed part of my test, and they were quick to pick up the pace when surges dictated.
The plentiful internal rim depth enlarges already growing tyre widths. My labelled 28mm rubber measured 30.3mm - this no doubt added to the comfort and cornering speed, albeit something to consider if your clearance is borderline.
Comparing directly to the 353 NSW, Zipp isn’t just tripling the price for no reason - the 353 NSW was notably smoother and stiffer - that difference was obvious immediately as I left my housing estate via the unfinished road just outside.
However, even Zipp admits the aerodynamics is similar - the speed difference between the 303S and 353 NSW was 0.2mph on the same loop, at the same power output (albeit, impossible to control the myriad of factors without a big budget). When it came time to pin a number on for a road race, I didn’t think twice about sticking with the 303S for the simple peace of mind of not riding a wheelset that costs more than many people spend on a good bike.
The hookless nature of the wheels divides opinion; you're limited to tubeless ready tyres that must sit on the approved list, and be pumped to below 72PSI. Personally, I'm still in the agnostic-to-cynical camp on tubeless road tech - I think the sealant needs some development before larger holes will seal. But if you’re a fully converted fan of tubeless tyres, and don't mind a hookless rim, these are an absolute winner.
Zipp 303S wheelset: value
At £985, Zipp 303s was the second cheapest in our grouptest, but not the heaviest, and, excluding the dream rims from Campagnolo, probably the best riding. If I was spending my own money, and I wanted to ride a tubeless set up, these are the ones I’d buy.
- RRP: £985
- Depth: 45mm
- Internal: 23mm
- Weight: 1544g (weighed with tape, without valves)
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