Tilting Zipp 303s into the Wind

Tarmac on the Lanai

Set out my kits to dry on the deck and sideways rain soaked them and the bikes this morning

Tapped out at a 30 mph tempo like a rotary engine with a tailwind and Zipp 303 Firecrests yesterday. Timed the ride for the late afternoon with a Kona wind at 20 miles per hour and gusting to 32. On my right was Haleakala shrouded in vog and to the left, off in the distance, a wind mill farm generating power from the same force pushing me faster down the road. It was 2 hours to sunset, so I put my head down, into the drops, music on shuffle, and remarkably had no stop lights until I got to the sugar plant. The Tangente tires, shaped for the 303s, survived all the glass on the shoulder, felt grippy, and smooth too.

303s and palm trees

After that epiphanic, fast experience for a roadie, my self-confessed wheel fetish is obsessing over what makes these wheels so fast. So I asked Zipp and this is what they told me…

The 303 Firecrest is an incredible all-around performer… It’s been a regular in hilly grand tour stages, the go-to wheel for our sponsored cyclocross pros and is also the wheel pro teams use in the spring classics, whether its on the hills of the Amstel Gold Race or the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders.

Zipp’s proprietary Zipp Firecrest technology is based on years of research to help you overcome the biggest thing to slow you down, wind resistance. Zipp engineers pioneered the cycling industry’s use of sophisticated CFD software combined with unparalleled computing power to create the world’s fastest and most stable rim. At just 15 mph, wind resistance is the largest force hindering your forward motion. As speed increases, aerodynamic drag increases exponentially. Going three times faster generates nine times more drag.

If you’ve ridden Firecrest wheels, you’ve probably noticed a difference in speed and feel… fast, stable, effortless… The difference from Firecrest is what happens in the back half of the wheel. Firecrest Technology uses a mathematically derived shape consisting of a series of complex curves. The result is increased aerodynamic efficiency and rider stability in the most common wind conditions encountered by cyclists.

Firecrest’s revolutionary design features rounded rim edges to allow the airflow to remain attached to the rim surface, and that created an effective airfoil with low-drag, high-lift properties.

The Firecrest rim shape moves the center of pressure to be more in line with the steering axis to help balance the two halves of the wheel for greater stability.

Beyond aerodynamic efficiency and stability, Zipp Firecrest wheels are renowned for their durability, their wide tire bed for sure handling, and their reliable braking performance. Zipp wheels also use Sapim CX-Ray spokes and Swiss steel bearings.

Sounds good and I’ll condense that down to Zipp has perfected what I want in a wheel: toroidal shapes and a roleaur sense of momentum, to tap out a rhythm, and stay on top of the gear. Also, what’s happening with modern, fast wheels is you can ride them in the blowiest conditions and they perform without throwing you off the road. Just a few years ago, you wouldn’t want to ride a deep-rimmed wheel in 20 + mph winds.

With the Firecrests, I now anticipate riding in the wind, to get that lift rush, like a surfer on a wave…

Before the miles in Maui with the 303s, I did ride them on the dirt on the Crux and they felt fast, but the hydro recall put that review on hold. Russ, a world champion CX racer, spent a season on them and when asked said,

The best CX wheel I’ve used. Wider than most for added gluing security, strong enough to take multiple head on hits, laterally sturdy under heavy power and excellent hub seals keeps the crud out. I’ve put mine through a full season of PNW Cross and haven’t touched a bearing to nipple. I’ve kept looking for a rim crack but it’s not showing up… great race wheel indeed. Did I mention they are light and look really cool?

Russie will race them at CX Natz next week and I’ll ride them in more wind today.

Wet and ready

Ready for the next windy ride



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