KORTRIJK, Belgium — While it’s still unclear whether disc brakes will stick in the pro peloton, there’s no doubt they’re here to stay for those of us who won’t be toeing the line at WorldTour races anytime soon. Zipp has responded to the dawn of the road-disc age with an expansion of its disc brake wheel line. The ever-popular 404 Firecrest wheels are now being offered in a disc version, as are the deeper-profile 808 Firecrests.
This means disc brake compatibility is available at every depth within the Zipp wheel range.
Astute observers may have spotted Jeremy Powers testing the 404 discs in the mud this past cyclocross season. The 404s feature a 58mm rim depth just like the non-disc version, and they’re available in both a clincher and tubular version; the 808s are 82mm deep and are also available as both clincher and tubular.
Both the 404 and 808 disc wheels feature 77/177D hubs. Bearing preload is set at the factory, so there’s no external adjustment. The freehub features 26 points of engagement for efficient power transfer and quick pedaling, and the hubs are XDR-driver compatible. That means you can swap freehub bodies without the need to re-dish the wheel. Both wheelsets are thru-axle compatible as well.
The 404 disc wheels are not available in Zipp’s new NSW configuration, mostly to keep the cost of the wheelset down. That means no NSW brake track (no loss there, since these are disc wheels), but also no Cognition hubset, which Zipp says improves freehub engagement.
I had the opportunity to put the 404 Firecrest disc wheelset through its paces during the Flanders Sportive in Belgium, as well as the day before on a much less crowded day. That’s about 130 total miles on the new wheels. As a regular user of 404 Firecrest rim-brake wheels at home, I was familiar with the feel and handling of the deep-profile rims, and I was happy to feel that same rim width making my tires bigger and rounder for better traction and rolling resistance. I was able to run about 70 psi over the cobbles with plenty of steering confidence and control; my rear wheel only slipped out once, on the steepest section of the Koppenberg.
In other words, if you’ve ridden 404 wheels before, you know what to expect. That may not sound like a shining endorsement, but if you consider that I was riding on rough cobbles — not as brutal as Roubaix cobbles but certainly rougher than the roughest roads back home in Colorado — it becomes clear that the 404s are no gentle flowers. They’ll take a beating, and while they’re not exceptionally compliant, I was glad I had them as I used every last ounce of my strength to pound up the Oude Kwaremont. Zipp sacrificed nothing in the transition to discs. These are the same 404s we know and love, now with more versatility.
Under heavy braking on fast descents right before a sharp turn — just like the one right at the start of the Paterberg — the 404s were everything I wanted them to be. There was no squirm, no flex, no shudder. Much of that can be credited to the SRAM brakes, as well as the Focus Cayo I was riding, but what’s telling is that the only way I could tell I wasn’t on my 404s from home was the improved braking power and modulation.
I was a bit disappointed to learn the new disc wheels weren’t being offered with the Cognition hubs currently offered on 404 NSW wheels, but that would puff up the price quite a bit. Zipp wants us to believe the Firecrests can be your everyday wheels, and while they’re certainly rugged enough to be just that, it’s hard to imagine many hobbyists and amateur racers being bold enough to spend that much money on carbon wheels only to ruin them by hitting a pothole on a training ride. So why not go for it and add the extra money for the improved hubs? (Not that I’m advocating for even higher wheel prices.) Perhaps Zipp will do just that in the future, but for now we’ll have to do without.
In the spirit of expansion, Zipp also lent the new NSW moniker to the ever-popular 303 wheels, which follow in the footsteps of the 404 NSW wheels released earlier in 2016. Wheels designated as NSW — which stands for Nest Speed Weaponry, after the section of Zipp’s Indianapolis facility in which the engineers gather to develop new technology — benefit from Zipp’s Showstopper brake track which Zipp claims has as much stopping power as aluminum rims. While I can say that in my experience this claim is close to true, it’s not exactly spot-on, but as far as carbon rims go, it’s hard to do better than Zipp’s Showstopper.
The 303s also have Cognition hubs, the same as the ones on the 404 NSW wheels. The rear hub has six magnets that help control parallel rings that engage the freehub when you pound the pedals. Zipp claims this system creates near-instant engagement.
Like the 303 Firecrest wheels, the NSW wheels have a 45mm rim depth.
The 303 NSW wheels are XDR driver body compatible. The set weighs 1,425 grams; that’s 640 grams for the front and 785 grams for the rear. At the moment, the 303 NSW wheels are only available as clinchers.
Prices and Weights
303 NSW: 1,425 grams; $3,100
404 Firecrest Disc: Clincher: 1,715 grams; $2,400/Tubular: 1,545 grams; $2,300
808 Firecrest Disc: Clincher: 1,975 grams; $2,700/1,760 grams; $2,600
CeramicSpeed bearing upgrade for 77/177 and 77/177D: $225