First Look, First Ride: Zipp’s New Firestrike 404 Wheels, 202 Firecrest Disc Brake Option

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Zipp’s carbon race wheels have conquered nearly every title in cyclocross, from National Championships in the States to the 2014 Cyclocross World Championship under Zdenek Stybar [see our profile of Stybar's winning bike from 2014 Hoogerheide Worlds here].

While most people think of the 303 Firecrest wheels as the company’s go-to wheel for cyclocross and classics, Indiana-based Zipp offers the more aerodynamic 404, as ridden by Stybar to win Worlds, and the lower-profile and lighter 202 wheels for climbing, lower speed racing, and weight weenies. Both wheel series have added new models this month, and Cyclocross Magazine got a chance to check them out and give both the 404 Firestrike and the 202 Firecrest Disc Brake a test in the middle of a winter storm in Deer Valley at Press Camp.

Zipp 404 Firestrike – New Shape, More Dimples, Better Braking:

Zipp has refined the shape of the 404 Firecrest rim, improving stability in crosswinds, and the result is a new wider, more-dimpled 404 Firestrike rim. Zipp also reworked its hubs as well.

The problem the Zipp Firecrest wheel set attempted to solve was simple: wind sweeping against a smooth surface can create a resonance that can make a deep profile rim on the front of a bicycle feel twitchy at an instant’s notice. By adding a rough, dimple-like pattern to the surface area of a wheel’s sidewall, the rim would act more like a golf ball in flight.

Showstopper brake track & new decals. The ZIPP graphics is printed onto the wheel, saving weight and matching the wheel's dimples

Showstopper brake track & new decals. The ZIPP graphics is printed onto the wheel, saving weight and matching the wheel’s dimples

The newly released 58mm deep Zipp 404 Firestrike design takes the pattern one step further. Zipp has put its engineers and computers to work, utilizing CFD (computational fluid dynamics) to design the new Firestrike rim shape to provide up to a 34% reduction in side force—something time trialists, triathletes, and cyclocross racers in nasty winter storms should appreciate. The newer rim is wider in all aspects: The maximum width increases by 1.3mm, while the external and internal widths by the bead increase by 1.7mm and 1mm, respectively. The redesigned Firestrike 404 takes on a width closer to the Firecrest 303 in terms of width as seen in the diagram below.

The 404 gets wider but not taller with the Firestrike.

404 Firestrike and 303 and 404 Firecrest rim profiles.

Not only has Zipp refined the rim shape as well as the dimple pattern (this third-generation has up to four times the amount of dimples), but also reworked the brake track—a concave design on the Firestrikes—adds to the wheel’s minimizing of wind interference.

There is also good news for the cyclocross racer who still tout the superiority of cantilever (or linear pull) brakes. Zipp says it’s revolutionized carbon rim braking performance with a new concave  braking surface it calls Showstopper technology. The Showstopper brake track adds silicon carbide on the carbon surface, the company claims that the braking performance is equivocal to an aluminum wheel, and superior to all other carbon surfaces, even in wet weather conditions. (It’s not the first time we’ve seen silicon carbide in bike braking. See our review of the Kettle Cycles SICCC brake rotors.)


The all new Zipp 404 Firestrike wheel set comes with new groove patterns to combat crosswinds better.

The all new Zipp 404 Firestrike wheel set comes with new groove patterns to combat crosswinds better.

Users will have to be more aware of installing tires on the front wheel as the brake tracks are not unidirectional. The braking surface has its own dimpled pattern, which looks more like a series of ridges. In the correct direction, these are intended to channel water.

Gone missing from the new hubs: some extra aluminum and bearing preload adjustment. © Cyclocross Magazine

Gone missing from the new hubs: some extra aluminum and bearing preload adjustment. © Cyclocross Magazine

The hubs are also redesigned, with less material for some gram shavings, and the removal of the bearing preload adjustment. Zipp says the bearings are precision set at the Indiana factory, reducing drag and moving parts. Zipp isn’t the only company to move in this direction. Easton has removed the bearing preload option on some of its wheels as well, and actually boasts better bearing durability and reduced friction.

Zipp's Showstopper brake surface has subtle groves to wick away water.  Make sure you install the wheels in the proper direction!

Zipp’s Showstopper brake surface has subtle groves to wick away water. Make sure you install the wheels in the proper direction!

The Zipp Firestrike 404 front wheel has a claimed weight of 725 grams with 18 spokes radially laced, while the rear wheel comes in at 895 grams with a 24 two-crossed spoke pattern. While the improved braking should be good for cyclocrossers, some will be bummed that the 404 Firestrike is initially only available in clincher form.

The Zipp Firestrike 404 wheels are available in stores now, and come with the price tag of $1,625 for the front wheel and $1,975 for the rear. $3600 for the pair certainly puts it out of reach for many, but if you’re racing road and cyclocross with clinchers, the per-event price might make them easier to justify. Still, pricey wheels by any standard.

In the middle of a rare June snowstorm, we took a pair of new Zipp Firestrike 404 clinchers out for a spin. Paired with SRAM’s new HydroR hydraulic Red22 DoubleTap levers, and the HRR (hydraulic road rim) brakes, we put the new Showstopper brake track (and updated hydraulic road brakes) to the test. We unfortunately didn’t hit speeds or have winds sufficient to test the crosswind stability, but found the width to offer plenty of volume and cornering confidence to a standard road clincher.

As for the braking? With a rim coated in fresh snow, we’d be lying if we said the braking performance was amazing or confidence inspiring despite the Showstopper brake track and Red 22 HRR hydraulic brakes. But we’d also be lying if we said we’d expect impressive braking from any rim, brake and pad combination in such conditions. With the relatively strong traction of a (wet) smooth road tire, as opposed to a narrow knobby tire on loose dirt, it was impossible to skid a tire, even in these wet conditions.

However, similar weather conditions pseudo-neutralized racing in one of the biggest races of the year, and thus it’s almost unfair to expect high performance braking when the snow is falling. With disc brakes, our expectations would be higher (see our impressions of the redesigned SRAM HydroR disc brakes in the same conditions here), and fortunately, had the new Zipp 202 Firecrest Disc Brake wheels to also test in the snow (see below).

We look forward to trying the 404 Firestrike wheels in a longer-term test, with cantilever or mini-V brakes. Stay tuned.

Zipp 404 Firestrike Specs:

Depth: 58mm
Width: 27.5mm max, 17.25mm internal, 26.4mm external
Max Weight: 250 pounds
Spokes: Sapim CX Ray, 18 radial front, 24 2x rear
Bearings: Ceramic
Weight: 725g front, 895g rear, 1620g per pair
MSRP: $1625 front, $1975 rear, $3400 per pair
More info:


Zipp 202 Firecrest Adds Disc-Brake Wheel Option:

Zipp's lightweight road wheel set, the 202 Firecrest, now comes with the option of a disc-brake model

Zipp’s lightweight road wheel set, the 202 Firecrest, now comes with the option of a disc-brake model

Zipp also released a disc-brake version of their 202 Firecrest for cyclocrossers, gravel racers and road disc brake adopters. As disc-brakes necessitate, the front wheel will have the two-cross 24 spoke count and lacing pattern rather than the radial spokes of their rim brake models. Without rotors or a cassette, the Zipp 202 Firecrest Disc-Brake wheelset is listed at 1530 grams.

See the next page for more details on the Zipp 202 Firecrest Disc Brake wheels.

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