I’ve been riding the new Zipp 303 Carbon Clinchers since late January. After 3000 miles give or take a few – here are my observations
First off, these things are off the charts BLING. You can’t help but admire the graphics, the bladed spokes and the aero skewers. Regardless of performance, you’re going to upgrade the appearance of your steed. But that’s not what we’re all about here in the (Feed)Zone product testing and review department. Appearance is nice, but performance is what wins Strava KOMs!
The spec sheet weight on these wheels is 1475 grams for the set. I put mine on the digital scale without skewers and they came in at 680 for the front and 798 for the rear. Now, that’s about 225 grams – about 8 ounces or a half pound for you weight weenies – heavier than the 303 Firecrest tubular models. The additional weight owes obviously to the construction of the braking surface and clincher bead.
The rim depth is 45mm and I find this rim depth to be absolutely right in the sweet spot for how I like to ride. Several years ago, when Zipp first came out with the 303 wheels, I was riding the 404 models. The 404 wheels are absolutely phenomenal wheels, but to be honest with you, once I raced on the 303 tubulars, I never felt a need to go back to the 404s. The 303 wheels give you great aerodynamics and are less affected by cross wind conditions that higher profile wheels. Descending down the mountains of San Diego County or Laying it down on the flat roads of the North Shore Suburbs in Chicagoland, these wheels handle flawlessly regardless of the wind conditions. The Zipp hubs – models number 88 on the front and 188 on the rear – roll smoothly and effortlessly. Cornering down the steep switchbacks around Santa Cruz, the braking is solid and the using the Tangente Platinum brake blocks provided with the wheels, you don’t get any annoying squawk when braking hard.
Riding in Chicagoland in the winter months is brutal. Not just because of the weather but because the road conditions are abysmal. Potholes, cracks, snow blow scrapes– you name it you encounter it when you ride. When I was in Santa Cruz, the locals nearly unanimously apologized for the road conditions after welcoming me from Chicago. “We’ve got great places to ride; unfortunately the roads aren’t so great”. And, they’re mostly right. The chip and seal roads are pretty grainy and produce a lot of road vibration that can wear on you when you’re doing 5 hour rides. I found the Firecrest 303 Carbon Clinchers to be very calming on the rough roads out there. You obviously feel the jar of potholes and deep cracks, but riding across the rough farm roads of the California Fruit and Vegetable growing region inland from Santa Cruz down toward Salinas was really comfortable. The wheels are the contact point with the road after the tires of course, and as such, your first defense against awful roads. Listen, these wheels have been tested on the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix – they’ll handle farm roads and urban potholes just fine. Zipp engineered the wheels with a vibration damping material in the carbon layers of the wheel. Compared to Aluminum wheels, the ride quality is perceptively better.
On a practical basis this is what I liked – Sure, they’re heavier than the 303 tubulars that I race on, but I can ride these EVERY DAY! Some old school guys don’t mind training on tubulars and carry a spare tire with them. I’m not one of those guys. What happens if you get two or three flats on a ride? It’s a heck of a lot easier to carry a couple of tubes and CO2 cartridges than several tires. I love the 303 tubulars I have but aside from race day, I never get to use them. The convenience of the clincher means you can have a blinger set of wheels on your bike when you show up for the group ride throw down or when you’re out on your own.
Zipp did a great job in the design process of not only paying attention to the aerodynamics, weight, strength and all the technical aspects necessary in making a great wheel, but most importantly (I jest, only some what) they designed the clincher bead in such a way that I’m able to change tires easily by hand! No arsenal of tire tools necessary. This is important if you have a double flat day like I did a few weeks ago when the temps are near the freezing point. The less time you spend with your gloves off changing tubes, the better, eh? You’ll need to carry a multi tool with you that has a 3mm hex key if you opt to ride with the valve extensions that come with the wheels. The valve extensions remove and replace easily with the hex key inserted into the extension. Or, just buy tubes with a 60mm valve and you’re good to go.
For full specs and more in depth descriptions of the technology that goes into the manufacture of these awesome wheels check it here. http://www.zipp.com/wheels/303-firecrest---carbon-clincher/