Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

Zipp’s been making aero wheels for 27 years by looking at the physical forces that slow a rider down. Drag, rolling resistance, grade, etc. The biggest offender is aerodynamic drag, and that’s where their focus is. With the Firecrest design debut in 2010, they upped their game with wide, rounded deep section rims.

The new 404 Firestrike is the next generation, and it goes beyond aerodynamics to further improve speed. They’re happy with their shapes, particularly the current 303 Firecrest, but Zipp found three different things that affected rider confidence: Stability, braking and cornering

Mathematically derived (CFD) rim shape that use the same rim shape patent as Firecrest, but with a new shape and new ABLC dimple pattern. The first piece of the puzzle is something their competitors have been talking about over the past couple years: Stability.

The new ABLC dimple pattern stands for Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control and is a frequency tuned wave pattern that’s timed to shed vortices at higher frequency and shorter amplitude. Here’s what that means in practice…

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

When you’re riding in a cross wind, a low pressure zone builds up on the side of the rim opposite the wind. As the wind blows, say right to left, it pushes the rider to the left. When that low pressure zone detaches, the wheel will come back into the wind a bit, pushing the rider to the right. If the low pressure zone is allowed to build up, that kick back into the wind can be sudden and forceful enough to jerk the bike, potentially causing an accident.

So, the new dimple pattern and wider rim shape work in concert to shed the low pressure zone more quickly (higher frequency), which keeps the low pressure bubble small (low amplitude).

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

These changes also yielded a 34% reduction in side force, which means less dramatic “pushes” against the wheels at a given cross wind speed. On the road, that means you’re able to stay tucked in the aero extensions longer rather than having to sit up and hold the wider bull horns for stability.

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

The next piece of the puzzle is braking. Improve braking performance, particularly in wet weather, and the rider will be more confident carrying speed deeper into corners or descending. To up the ante on carbon braking performance, they’ve introduced a design called Showstopper. It’s part mechanical, part chemical, and they say it actually matches or bests alloy rim braking when wet.

This is accomplished by mixing Silicon Carbide (SiC) into the resin used on the brake track. SiC is one of the hardest materials on earth, which ups the coefficient of friction and prolongs the life of the ridges molded into the brake track. SiC does do a good job of mitigating heat in some applications, but because it’s mixed in the resin here and used in a very small particle size, that’s not one of the claimed benefits here. That said, the heat management and pad material introduced with the Firecrest rims, namely resin system and layup plus their Tangente Platinum Pro Evo pads, are all here, too, and they say they haven’t had any heat related failures since their introduction.

The ridges are the other aspect, helping to shed water quickly, and behind those are a molded in surface texture to improve friction. All of that tech and design is for wet weather improvements. In dry conditions, the braking performance is the same as their Firecrest rims.

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

All of that comes about with a new molding process. In addition to the above benefits, they say it increases impact resistance, and they get a new Impress printed logo rather than decals. With all the attention to dimple shape and placement, the printed logos mean a big chunk of them aren’t covered up by stickers.

Lastly, there’s cornering. The wider clincher bead platform from the 303’s minimized tire toll in the corners, which improves traction for better control. Zipp’s Head of Advanced Development Mike Hall says their rounded, inward leaning sidewall and bead hook design drastically reduce the likelihood of pinch flats, too.

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

The 404 Firestrike is 58mm deep like the 404 Firecrest, but is wider like the 303. Drag numbers are essentially the same as 404 Firecrest with a slight decrease at lower crosswind yaw angles.

They’re 26.4mm wide at the brake track with a max width of 27.5mm. They’re built with 18 Sapim CX-Ray spokes up front and 24 in the rear.

Zipp 404 Firestrike aero road bike wheels with improved wet weather braking performance

They also introduce new 88/188 v10 hubs. Compared to the v9 hubs, they removed the bearing preload adjustment by shipping them preset. They also machined a lot more material out of the flanges, particularly the rear, which saved 20g across the hubset. They also come stock with ceramic ABEC 3/Grade 10 bearings.

They ship with titanium QRs, Zipp rim tape, Tangente tubes and valve extensions, the Tangente Platinum Pro Evo brake pads and wheel bags. Claimed weight is 1,620g. They’ll retail for $3,600 and are available now.  That’s an $850 premium over 404 Firecrest wheels, which will remain in the line and weigh in at 1,630g.


Zipp 202 Disc brake road bike wheels

The 202 carbon clincher launched in 2012 was stiff and aero despite it’s short height. Then in 2013, they launched the 303 Firecrest Disc brake wheelset with new 88/188 disc hubs. Now, for 2014, they’ve combined the disc brake hubs with the 202 rims for a new, lighter disc brake option.

Zipp 202 Disc brake road bike wheels

It uses the Virtual 3-Cross lacing introduced with the 303’s last year with 24/24 spoke counts. Hubs use 6-bolt rotor mounting.

Zipp 202 Disc brake road bike wheels

It has a 32mm depth and 25.4mm width rim, still the same version as the rim brake model, but with different drilling angles for the wider disc brake hubs and no brake track treatment. Weight is 1,530g, price is $2,825.


Road tubeless – no, nothing yet. Here’s why: For now, it’s a difficult production dilemma in that carbon production molds are very expensive and not everyone wants tubeless. So, to create a tubeless ready rim means a bit of a weight gain over standard clinchers, which uninterested parties would balk at. As more people want it, it becomes more likely they’ll make it, and it’s on their radar to be sure.


  1. The fact they only offer the external rim width is telling.

    While I totally appreciate that the thick brake tracks on Firecrest Clinchers are a big part of why they’ve had no braking failures (a trade-off we surely all appreciate), the relatively small internal rim widths (in comparison to the external widths) means that tires sit much narrower on Zipp rims than they would on a competitors wheel.

    We had Michelin Pro4 25’s on Zipp 303 disc and HED Jett 5’s at the shop, and I would say the difference was at least 10% in thickness, which equates to >30% in volume.

    I suspect that if we could find a way to keep alloy brake tracks black (and quiet), we’d see the end of carbon clinchers.

  2. I’d love some internal rim width measures. As js mentioned external numbers mean nothing as rim thickness varies. All my tires, contact patch and all that care about is how wide the ID is.

  3. Wow I can’t believe someone actually acknowledged that the dimple thing is completely rediculous because zippo would cover 80% of them with logo decals. At least zippo fixed that obvious blunder. Now, if they weren’t so flexy…

  4. @js – Sorry, but the HED C2 rim that’s bonded into the Jet 5’s has a 17.5mm bead-to-bead width, the new Firestrikes are 17mm. If that 0.5mm is a big enough deal to the consumers in your shop, I’m afraid they’re ill informed.

  5. “I suspect that if we could find a way to keep alloy brake tracks black (and quiet), we’d see the end of carbon clinchers.”


  6. as far as most are concerned, Zipp included (although they probably wont mention it)…But they set the benchmark for the baddest carbon wheels on the planet. Somehow, year after year, their innovative tech and aero properties are something that would probably make a NASA aerodynamicist pretty proud…..Get used the high prices…carbon bike prices, carbon bars, carbon TT bars (check out Enve’s new carbon TT bar)……no braking failures… many things to say about them…I feel that Zipp wheels are really that good. Do I like the gargantuan price tags—hell no! High price, high tech, the absolute best in class products…..The price sucks but the reality is that people are going to pay for them and once that happens, their high pricing is then justified…..

  7. To replace a spoke if bent or scratched, one needs to detention the entire wheel to remove a dust cap on the hub. +1 hour job vs 5 min.

  8. This pricing is ridiculous! Reynolds Aero line up is has superior hubs (DT), better aerodynamics and more reliability. After trying a set of Aero 58s I sold my 404s and haven’t looked back. Don’t get me wrong Zipp makes nice stuff, but the price premium is for the label, not performance.

  9. I personally want to see $10,000 wheel sets. It doesn’t really affect me either way as I buy the cheap chinese wheels and aluminum clinchers. Triathletes seem to be the big market for these high-priced wheels.

  10. Living in windy, flat Florida, i’ll put my Zipp 808 Firecrest up against any other wheel out there. Been riding 808’s everyday for the last 10 years. The Firecrest design blows anything else out of the water and that statement comes from 25 years in bicycle retail and selling all the top wheels out there. Opinions are wonderful, everybody has one. Experience is something totally different.

  11. I’m not sure how anyone in the public without inside information can know which wheel is aerodynamically superior without a third party comparison of all the wheels. I’m willing to bet big money that no one outside of Zipp or Reynolds has data on whether the Aero 58 or the Firestrike is better. I also haven’t seen a third party wind tunnel test of the Aero 58 and the Firecrest. Given that, claims of superiority are either unsubstantiated or purely opinion.

    A number of years ago, a French blogger (Adrien Gontier of Roues Artinisales and RAR wheels) and wheel builder, did a massive wheel test in Mavic’s wind tunnel involving on the order of 20 different wheels. I think the time is right for that sort of test again, but I don’t know that there’s any organization or magazine up to that task any more.

  12. Totally agree with bikemike!! I’m from FL too and I’ve been trying different brand of wheels (Reynolds included) for years until I landed in Firecrest territory. Their handling are far superior that any other wheel I’ve tried, specially in windy conditions. I found out the hard way that cheap wheels may come with an awesome price but performance and experience has a totally different value. I understand not everyone can afford this tag and that’s ok. But if your’re looking to make the leap and invest your $$ in a good set of wheels, look no further. But again…that’s just my opinion.

  13. @js: if we’re using 17.5 mm bead-to-bead as the standard for a wide rim, the only carbon clinchers I know of that meet/beat that are the Easton Aero 55s, which are at 19 mm. The only figure I’ve seen for Zipp is 17 mm. Enve doesn’t mention theirs. Of course that’s taking the manufacturers at their word. (Side note: I have some Chinese carbon clinchers that are 18 mm internal. They’re got Zipp and Enve beat on width, but they’re far from round out of the mold.)

  14. @Psi Squared. you seem to know everything, why don’t you do the test and impart your wisdom to the BR comment section 🙂

    want centerlock option.

  15. Not coming from the SRAM marketing team…

    Kudus to Zipp for publishing the dimensions of all their products: ERD, spoke length, tension, and hub dimensions. And they’re always pleasant whenever I need to call them. Finally, major kudos for continuing to manufacture a quality product in the USA.

  16. In spite of what Specialized says, aero ISN’T everything.

    If you haven’t ridden a set of zipp rims down a steep descent you’re missing out. No one is putting the effort into braking that Zipp is.

  17. Sheepishly the’ll lower the price next year. With the help of their marketing dept, they’ll trickle down the tech, and lower their prices. Very few people within the 1% will buy these wheels in the first year plus the sponsorship. What will Zipp release next year?!

  18. Since when did Zipp start making boutique wheels? So these are your rainy day/go downhill grabbing a lot of brake option. I get it!

  19. Plus, I thought we solved this whole need better braking issue by going nuts over disc brakes on road bikes. Which is it going to be?

  20. “I suspect that if we could find a way to keep alloy brake tracks black (and quiet), we’d see the end of carbon clinchers.”

    My Mavic Carbone SLRs are great in every category except weight. I didn’t go carbon because I didn’t want to sacrifice braking power, but still wanted all black wheels. The braking is phenomenal and they stopped squealing after a month or two.

    Honestly, I think disc brakes are the answer. Lighter wheels and no crazy heat-shedding resins without needing a carbon braking surface, but rims can still be as aero as we want.

  21. @bigmike, you obviously have not tried a pair of Reynolds Aero wheels. They absolutely crush not only Zipp but any other wheel with regards to aerodynamics and forces from the side in windy conditions. Demo a pair you won’t go back.
    @callingbs…spot on.
    Besides their hubs have sucked for some time now which is a better reason to pick another company.

  22. My 2008 Zipp 404 clinchers with alloy brake tracks weigh only 40g more at 1660g, and are stiffer/less flesh than the Firecrest rims.
    I tested them back to back on a windy day and was totally unimpressed with the Firecrests.
    I still use my old 404’s for flat courses and bought another brand of 60mm carbon Tubulars for race days with DT Swiss hubs that weigh only 1350g as opposed to Zipp Firecrest Tubulars at 1470g (up from 1380g for 2013 model)
    Zipp seem to be going backward in terms of weight, and are now using much heavier hubs to improve reliability. Seems really strange that DT Swiss and Chris King can build extremely reliable hubs and have been doing so for years.

  23. “To replace a spoke if bent or scratched, one needs to detention the entire wheel to remove a dust cap on the hub. +1 hour job vs 5 min.”

    this is no longer the case. these hubs (v10) and the v9 that preceded them no longer have a “spoke flange reinforcing ring” that required one side of the wheel to fully detension before replacing a spoke.

  24. Zipp lead us to believe that they keep tweaking the profiles of their rims, which involves new carbon tooling, or moulds as you call them, everytime they do this, yet the bare telling us they cannot add a tubeless ready profile. This means they either believe their own bull (which the way they trash some if their competitors with heresay masked as facts is one possibility) or they are deliberately witholding tubeless for yet another “you need to buy iur rims again moment. Either way its just not being honest with customers, and while I love your products that just is not good marketing or product management…

  25. “I looked at two wheels and I estimate one looked bigger than the other by X%. Therefore I am telling you it is fact.”

    Does anyone see the logic here? I don’t. I estimate the sun is a billion miles away – am I right? Maybe. If I say I am…probably.

    Let’s just use actual measurements when claiming a percentage larger OK? Otherwise we can all estimate everything and all be right.

  26. Another endorsement for the Reynolds Aero 58’s. Unbelievable wheel. The handling in a crosswind is superior to my Campagnolo Eurus which aren’t even a deep rimmed wheel. I can ride in 30 mph crosswinds with hardly any buffet and these blow the top end speed off of my Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR’s. Never been happier with a set of wheels!

  27. I will never own these wheels just because if the price,
    but if price wasn’t an issue; I still would not buy them,
    because they are not tubeless.
    Easton’s new aero carbon wheels tubeless

  28. All I can say is buy what you like and what you believe your budget can handle. I own Reynolds AERO 46’s at $2600.00, Reynolds Attacks at $1600.00 and a pair of Assault Disc’s at $1900.00.

    Seems excessive but I could not be happier with my purchases. They all ride great and they make me happy.

    If you can afford Enve and Zipp at over $3000.00 a set and that makes you happy, great.

    One of the reasons I bought Reynolds was not only the history or Reynolds but I was able to demo all three sets of wheels thru the Reynolds demo program plus I have a no questions asked crash replacement on all of my wheels which was FREE!!!!!

    None of the other companies even came close to the value that Reynolds was offering.

  29. I totally agree with Bikemike and JYA I ride in the Alberta, Canada foothills and also train and race on the Vancouver, BC Sea to Sky and Whistler some of the most windy regions in North America. Riding the pre-Firecrest 808 was a WILD RIDE and not for the faint of heart. The 808 Firecrest is an amazing upgrade to the old 808- it is the best wheel I’ve ever ridden and so much easier in heavy windy conditions. The Firecrest feel smooth and fast and worth every penny.

  30. I agree on the comments about the Reynolds aero line. I own a pair of Reynolds aero 72 and I was really surprised that it handled so much better in the crosswinds vs my zipp 303 fc. mind you it beat the shallower 303 how much more the 404. For those who swear on the greatness of zipps you need to try these reynolds. it will blow you away 100%

What do you think?