For some, new wheels day can be even more exciting than new bike day. So, when Zipp gave our Senior Marketing Manager and long-time racer John Bann-Lavery the chance to test their new 303 Firecrest and 303S carbon wheelsets, there wasn’t much in the way of hesitation.
The diary was cleared, the wheels were fitted, and this is what he thought.
Zipp 303 Firecrest
Having ridden a previous version of 303 Firecrest wheels from Zipp for the past number of years, and knowing the company’s earned reputation for innovation, as well as the rich heritage behind the 303 model itself, I wasn’t surprised at how well the new Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset performed.
I tried the new 303 Firecrest wheelset on both road and gravel, with a 28mm road tyre for the road rides and the Zipp Tangente G40 tyre mounted for the gravel rides.
The disc-only wheelset allows for a new rim profile and the end result, Zipp says, is even better efficiency and less fatigue for the rider. The wider rims are also designed to accommodate the modern bike rider’s preference for wider tyres, while keeping the shape of the outside of the tyre-rim combination smooth to improve aerodynamics and ultimately make you faster. This feature is further enabled by the aero profile spokes and hookless profile of the internal rim, intended by Zipp to create less bulge and associated drag. I got a real feel for all these benefits when riding the stunning 303 Firecrests.
The weight reduction over the previous 303 model was noticeable on the road, particularly on the hillier parts of my ride, of course, but making the ride feel even more lively when on flat but twisty gravel paths. At 1,355g, nearly 300g lighter than its predecessor, this wheelset is ideal for endurance riding on undulating parcours, regardless of the ground surface.
Stability in crosswinds
There tends to be plenty of blustery days where I live and ride, and the 40mm deep section of the new 303 Firecrest was dominant in crosswinds, handling any gusts solidly and giving me even more confidence and enjoyment as I didn’t have to worry about being whipped up by the wind as I would on deeper wheels.
Vibration reduction and comfort
Running lower tyre pressure than I have been used to running on my clincher wheels with tubes, the tubeless set up on these 303 wheels was really comfortable, seeming to give much less vibration on the roughest sections of road and gravel – a plus for endurance adventure riding. And, just as the stability of the wheels gave me more confidence in dealing with gusts of wind, the tubeless tyres gave me more assurance in sharp-corners and when choosing which paths to take on my gravel spins. Will I be ok taking that path without getting a flat or sliding off on a bend? ...Apparently, yes.
Versatile and strong
As a fan of Cycling’s Spring Classics and in particular Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, I imagine these wheels would be well placed to conquer such pro races, so they’ll undoubtedly be up to the task in tough amateur races. Strong, fast and responsive, they have all the key qualities sought after by the pros, and by the amateur rider like me who loves to ride on different terrain. This is a highly versatile wheelset and one you’ll turn to for all occasions.
The new Zipp 303S wheelset is one of the most versatile wheelsets I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride. Equally at home on a whip around the local gravel trails as they are on a longer ride, these adaptable wheels feel strong and fast on various surfaces – ideal for the modern all-round rider who likes to mix it up between road and adventure.
Gravel – comfortable, stable, light-weight
With the 303S disc-specific wheelset mounted to my Vitus Substance CRX Carbon Adventure bike, I was looking forward to having fun as I headed for my local park and on to the gravel trails further down the road. These wheels did not disappoint.
Running a tubeless set-up on 40mm tyres (Zipp Tangente Course G40), the comfort was immediately apparent, and I had confidence going more off the beaten track than I would on a tyre-and-tube arrangement. This helped the fun factor.
The 45mm rim-depth was ideal in the sometimes blustery conditions, feeling really stable throughout the ride. Deeper wheelsets can often provide a fright when riding as they catch the wind, but the 303S rim depth felt optimal for speed and stability.
Weighing only 1,540g, significantly lighter than its predecessor, this wheelset was ideal for taking on short and steep inclines on my spin with relative ease.
Tarmac – fast
I swapped the gravel tyres for a pair of Zipp Tangente 28mm road tyres on the following week’s road rides, with lower tyre pressures than I’m used to running – again thanks to the tubeless aspect and the wider rim profile of the 303S. It’s worth noting that these wheels must be used with tubeless-ready tyres.
Purposely going for some bumpy roads, I was keen to find out how different the 303S wheels with the lower pressure tyre combination would feel in terms of vibration on a harsh surface. While the vibrations going through my arms and body obviously weren’t completely eliminated, the transition from smooth to rough surface did seem far less severe than usual.
Zipp claims the new 303S is faster than its 2016 303 Firecrest wheels, a considerably more expensive model I’ve been riding on for the past few years. It was refreshing to find that riding the 303S, a wheelset I’d been using on gravel single track only a matter of days earlier, could feel at least as fast its older 303 Firecrest sibling on the open road.
The wider internal hookless rim profile (23mm) is what Zipp states contributes to the greater aerodynamic efficiency of the 303S, as this creates a less turbulent transition from the side of the rim out to the tyre wall.
This highly capable wheelset is the ideal addition to your bike, particularly if you enjoy riding on varied terrain and picking up some high speeds when on the road. At under £1,000 for the set, and with no compromises made on quality, it’s an attractive option and more affordable than you might have expected from Zipp.