FIRST LOOK - Zipp 303 Firecrest

Well, you knew it was bound to happen. The industry-shaking Firecrest model, used to great success in the 404 and 808, has just been scaled down to the 303. Why now? Well, the previous generation 303 was already pretty darn fast. In fact, the 2010 version of the 303 with its ultra-wide rim shape was itself the impetus for Firecrest. Zipp's first order of business in developing Firecrest was to improve its bestselling 404, and its triathlete-favorite 808. And now the tech has come full-circle, and the 303 is the third entrant in the Firecrest line.

What does this mean? Well, in very rough terms, Firecrest wheels are one depth faster than their previous generation. The 808 performs almost like a disc, the 404 performs like an old 808, and we can expect the new 303 to be about as fast as the previous-generation 404. BUT, as stable as Firecrest is in a crosswind, the new 303 is good to go pretty much everywhere, for riders of any size.

For me, I'm happy keeping a 404 up front almost all the time. I don't get too shaken up with that wheel up front, in any wind. Of course, when the wind gets bad enough, I don't want to be on a bike period, with any rim depth. But as long as we're under 40mph, I'm good to go. But some riders shake easier, and the 303 might be just the thing for them. Available October 3rd in Carbon Clincher (1498g, $2700) and Tubular (1198g, $2300).


Going Stealth

The thing that makes me even more excited about Zipp's 2012 lineup is that every spoked wheel will be available in a Beyond Black color scheme that mates black-anodized hubs to black spokes, and adorns the wheel with black logos. Very, very drool-worthy, and just what I like.

Zipp has also announced some subtle revisions to their hubset. I thought their 88/188 were already a great blend of light weight and durability, but Zipp says the rear hub bearing has moved outward by 7.5mm for greater stiffness. Cool. Ultimately, I think the lineup of the 303, 404, and 808 Firecrest is now a bit more "complete." You can very carefully pick your hoops based on your ability and expected riding conditions. Racing straight uphill? Put on the 303's. Racing on a flat course on a still day? Ride the 808 up front with a disc in back. All-around riding, go 404 up front and 808 in back.

There are more combinations, for more kinds of riders, and the Firecrest line can suit them all. And now the hoops are even sleeker with the black color scheme. I'm hoping to pick up some of these hoops to review soon.

All Zipp's spoked wheels will now be available in this stealthy Beyond Black color scheme.