Zipp Firecrest Carbon Clinchers

Sweet sweet wheels

Let’s start with the full disclosure. We get wheels from Zipp in exchange for the ad up there, and part of the deal is we do a write-up on the wheels. This year they were eager to push Firecrest carbon clinchers, so I wound up with 808’s and Schmalz and Alex got 404’s (Alex’s contributions are in italics). You can drink the Kool Aid and watch tires explode in a video here.

Firecrest Profile
The biggest new feature of the Firecrest wheels is the rim shape. Zipp had the obvious (in retrospect) epiphany that the rim should be optimized to cut through the air with the tire as both the leading and trailing edge. A quick perusal of the latest offerings from Hed, Enve3T, and Shimano would seem to suggest that Zipp are on to something. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Firecrest profile completely supplants the familiar vee shape in a few years.

The resultant wheel is supposed to be dramatically faster than the previous 808, especially in a crosswind. I have no idea if that’s true, but I did find that I had to tap my brakes quite a bit in a pack, and the boss asked me if I lost weight.

The 808’s came in at 810 grams for the front, 919 for the rear, slightly below claimed weights. There’s still a weight penalty with clinchers vs tubulars, about 100 grams per wheel. The 404 carbon clinchers are claimed 1557g for the set, 1278 for tubulars.

All three of us rode these wheels preaty hard. Dan and I raced them on the crappy surface of Floyd Bennett Field, and Alex and I trained on them exclusively for three months or more. All three sets are rolling along just fine. My front wheel survived a particularly nasty square edged pothole strike at 26 mph in a TT, with my weight fully on the aerobars. It was the type of hit that cracked my 404’s of a few years ago.

Zipp resisted making a carbon clincher until they could make a brake track that wouldn’t soften and split from the heat of extended braking. The brake track they came up with is almost as good as aluminum, using both the cork pads supplied and Kool Stop black pads. Power and modulation were both excellent, smooth and not grabby. The Kool Stops needed a little toe in to not squeal, but once adjusted they were silent but for a bit of squeaking while stopping on the steepest pitches. In the wet they sometimes needed a quick squeegee before grabbing.

Alex: I remember riding first generation Reynolds all carbon clincher for two weeks many years ago. Around corners they flexed like crazy. Hitting the brake was not so much about stopping the bike, as making a gentle suggestion and hoping for the best. In the rain it was even worse.

Zipp has done a remarkable job of almost matching the braking performance of aluminum rims, the brake tracks are far better than those of any carbon rim I have ridden. In the rain, though better than past generations of carbon rims, they still bite and whine like they were freshly oiled. The supplied Zipp pads are excellent but wear quickly and cost 75 dollars to replace. I opted for budget Reynolds carbon-specific pads after 3,000 miles had chewed through my Zipp shoes, but braking performance on the cheaper pads was noticeably inferior.

The conundrum with deep sections wheels is that they’re a handful in the wind, yet offer the greatest performance advantage in crosswinds (Firecrests have the least drag at 15 degree yaw). In other words, if you want to get the most out of deep wheels, you have to be willing to ride them when it’s scary and gusty.

An accidental benefit of the Firecrest profile is that the center or pressure exerted on the wheel in a crosswind has moved back, in line with the steering axis. So while a crosswind from the left would force a typical deep dish wheel to turn right, it exerts no turning force on a Firecrest.

In practice this meant that I didn’t need to fight the wind. On blustery days the wind would make me lean one way or the other, but not affect my line. Once I realized I didn’t have to steer into a gust I just relaxed and kept pedaling. I did a road race and a time trial (with a disk in the rear) at the notoriously blustery Floyd Bennett Field and didn’t worry about the wind one bit, even in a pack. But let’s make one thing clear: as good as these wheels are, I eagerly returned to training on my 101’s. The 808’s are good but they’re mentally taxing when it’s blowing – you still get pushed around, you just don’t have to react to it as much.

Alex: At my size guys whistling for a cab threaten to blow me over. Going over the GW bridge on windy days had me fearfully eyeing the water below. High profile rims have a lot of surface area, so if you are used to low profile wheels its a bit like having a sail lashed to your handlebars. If the engineers at Zipp say they are substantially better in a crosswind than comparably deep rims, who am I to disagree?  But still, they haven’t defied any laws of physics with these rims. 

I’ve had a couple of issues with wheelbuilds from Zipp in the past, a 404 with low spoke tension, and a 101 rear that requires truing every few months. My 808 rear was a fraction of a millimeter off dish (I had to guess since my dish stick doesn’t work with the rim bulge). For me this is a lesser sin – I can re-dish a wheel in 15 minutes but I’ll never be able to engineer a better rim – but it’s a concern nevertheless.

Alex: I have been riding them everyday and they have held up admirably aside from a few loose spokes, but I can’t say I would recommend any carbon wheel for everyday riding in NYC. If you are nervous about riding your tubulars to and from local races this could be an excellent solution as the weight penalty is negligible and the wider rounder profile make them less fragile than other all carbon wheels.    

At 24mm wide, these wheels have the same nice ride first found on Hed Ardennes. Tires are wider and less squirmy, and the larger volume lets you run lower pressure with less risk of a pinch flat. A wider contact patch should theoretically have lower rolling resistance as well. The stability of the ride was palpable while switching between them and narrow rimmed wheels – I was surprised at how dramatic the difference was.

The rim measures 16.3mm at the inside, compared to 13.1mm for a Ksyrium.

(Speaking of width, the rim is 26.5mm at its widest. I’ve heard some people have had issues with clearance, you’ll want to check your frame before you get these.)

I ran the 808’s with normal tires and butyl and latex tubes, the latter of which felt as giddily fast as a nice tubular. I then converted them to tubeless. It took a lot of experimenting, but I eventually found that you need to tape up the rim with Stan’s 25mm MTB tape instead of their standard road 21mm tape. The rim bed on these wheels are textured and Stan’s tape won’t make a seal against it. The wider tape creeps up the sides and makes a seal against the tire bead.

Tubeless might be a tad slower than a regular tire with a latex tube (or it might be way faster if you ask Stan’s), but I haven’t had to change a flat on the road in 4 years of going tubeless and I like that security.

Alex: I spent an afternoon testing the wider profile rims of my Firecrest against some standard box section rims to refresh my memory – my impressions of a new setup fade faster than my state line sprint. I have been riding 23 mm wide Hed rims for the past year and I have been completely sold on the wider contact patch. You know that feeling of comfort and stability when you ride a street bike with big fat tires? Well it’s not as good as that, but the wider tires are noticeably more stable and confidence inspiring, especially when descending at high speeds or riding rough or cracked roads. This effect is compounded by riding the tires at 85 pounds. I have found the combination almost impossible to pinch flat as well. 

Compared with my Hed wheels tires on the Firecrest rim are rounder and a bit stouter in the middle with even less “lightbulbing” of the tire – that’s the shape the tire makes when it sticks over the rim of a conventional rim, ‘muffin-top’ must have already been patented. I don’t have the benefit of a wind tunnel in my apartment like Andy, but it makes sense that this would be more aerodynamic, it’s definitely less squirmy.

A 23mm Hutchinson Fusion is no wider than the rim.

Alex: Weight and aerodynamics comparisons make great ad copy but aluminum is still noticeably stiffer while cornering or sprinting, and I think that has become an underrated consideration when comparing wheels. So while these wheels are much stiffer than most any carbon wheel they still lag behind aluminum.   

I totally disagree with Alex on that, and I’m heavier and pack a bit more punch in a sprint. Deep carbon rims are inherently stiffer than aluminum rims (an unbuilt Open Pro rim can’t support your weight, but you can sit on a 404 or 808 rim), and they’re built with shorter spokes that triangulate to the rim at a more severe angle. All that points to a stiff snappy wheel, and that’s how I found these wheels.

I also found them to have a buttery smooth ride. I don’t know if it was the carbon rims muting road buzz or the suspension of the wider tire cross section and lower tire pressure, but my 101’s had a substantially rougher ride.

With a deep rim you need a long valve, and you get an unbalanced wheel. At first I got a shimmy every time going down a 40 mph sweeping descent, with different tires and different bikes. After looking into all other culprits I balanced the wheels with a couple of wheel magnets per wheel opposite the valves, which cured the shimmies. To confirm this I did back to back descents with and without the magnets and am relatively sure that the imbalance was the cause of the shimmy.

Now, Jobst Brandt would say the imbalance is too slight and the movement of the wheel is constrained by the rider (then he’d probably call me an idiot). Furthermore, the vibration caused by an unbalanced wheel are on an plane perpendicular to shimmy. All I know is that it was scary as hell without the counterweights. My guess is that the tiny vibrations get amplified by a harmonic effect at certain speeds, and that nervousness makes a 90 degree turn and becomes a shimmy if the rider tenses up or is hit by a sudden gust. Now, most wheels aren’t balanced, so I have no idea why this effect was so pronounced on the 808’s.

This wouldn’t be my wheel of choice for long descents, but at their weight they wouldn’t be the choice for the ascent either. For the flat racing I’d use these wheels, the imbalance wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Alex: Shimmying can arise at speeds above 45 MPH especially with a bit of wind, however my shallower 404’s didn’t seem to be as affected as Andy’s 808’s so I don’t need counterweights.

Let’s face it, the 808 carbon clinchers were made for triathletes – they’re aero, the weight penalty is less significant with steady speed riding, and you can change a flat – but they’re also good for flat road racing and the front doubles for TT duty. 404 clinchers would be a better all around wheel for roadies, and the wide rim ride is sweet enough to make you leave tubulars behind.



Thank you, thank you, thank you! Converting a Firecrest 404 to Tubeless is exactly what I plan on doing when I can save enough pennies. Yours is the first review that has done this. Very helpful to know it is possible and what tape works. Question: I see some pictures of these wheels showing a molding line in the rim bed. Were there any problems sealing around this molding line (did your wheels even have this)?

Andy Shen

Don’t recall a molding line, but the seal is between the tire bead and the tape, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Also, I talked to a friend who sealed up 404’s with narrower tape. He just went up one side for a loop and then drifted over to the other side on the next time around.

Nicolas Housing

I am curious to know what pressure you road the tires at? Alex mention 85 psi- is that what he was running the tires at?

Andy Shen

I ride tubeless at 90, 100 if it’s a super smooth course. I’m 10-15 pounds heavier than Alex, so 85 is about right for him.


On the topic of training and PSI – You wont race the hillier events on these but for every day training and just pure fun and comfort, I have been on the Challenge Roubaix 27s. You can ride them at 70-80psi easily ( am 165-175lbs) and I have never had a pinch flat. They are a bitch to get on as clinchers but once on, they roll like you are on carpet. The high volume and contact patch make for a very nice training tire. The tubulars are likely just as smooth. the only issue with these is clearance depending on your bike dimensions. Great tire for summer riding on your CX bike also.


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Nicolas Housing

Thanks Andy- nice review.

Thanks for all the hard work and insight with the site (not just Toto).


Riders win on shimano 105 and 32 spoke open pro rims. But some guys have the money, so let em line up with campy record and 3k wheels. If it makes em happy, fine.

As for Foundation – if the story is true about Euris holding Durso back in the sprint last weekend is true – I’m ashamed for our local sport.

Noa Sealant

32 spoke 105 wheels? Who? Thanks to good salesman and marketing you won’t find 32 hole 105 wheels on any new bike. Shimano is now pushing RS-10 wheels on most low end racing bikes.


“Rock Racing bikes and clothing will soon go on sale in Europe and the USA and Tronconi hopes to sponsor regional teams in California and New York, and an amateur team in Italy”

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Ari Schtottle

Mengoni to rock racing. Also foundation to rock racing. Plenty of ex and current dopers around here to fill out a roster. Welcome, michael ballstien!

West Coast Reader

@Maxim Skidmark: Congrats on winning a race with 32 holes in your wheels, I guess that Stan’s notubes stuff works well?

@meh: Its Douchmagedon.

@Rock Racing Fans: Don’t forget they’ll most likely be registered in Guam or some remote Island that hasn’t heard of them.

Little Tommy Voeckler

Is mounting tubeless tires on the new Zipps easier or more difficult than on Shimano tubeless specific wheels?

Andy Shen

You have to tape up the rims (at least twice around, once more if it won’t take), and you need a valve and threaded extender from Stan’s. Make sure you hang the wheel off the ground so the tire goes on centered. Aside from that it’s no different. One good tip I got from Mark Purdy, hit it with air once before adding sealant so it’s nice and clean if it doesn’t work and you need to add tape.

Lilian Ergopower

there is no reason to buy a non shaped carbon rim. equally spoked box rim is almost exactly the same in the wind tunnel.

i would only buy zipp of hed right now. maybe the new enve as well . the atvantage is like cheating over a krysryum.

hitting the wind with those is like a punch in the face when you take a pull.

Sam Crank

Cool wheels that will make you fall in love with cyclling all over again!!! Where dreams do come true!!!

Julien Polished

one of the big advantages of deep wheels is shorter spokes…i bet most the drag comes from the spokes not the rims and the outside of the spokes move the fastest relative to the air. plus the lower spoke count that you can have with deeper and stiffer rims.

of course it’s still really all about the motor.

Luca Chamois

Mavic freehubs are really easy to service. All you need are a 10mm and a 5mm allen keys. You pop off the end cap on the non-drive side of the axel and use the 10mm key on that side. You then put the 5mm on the drive side and unloosen the drive side bolt. It will come out and you can then take off the freehub. Clean out the insides and use some oil to relube everything. Put it back together, and tighten. There’s nothing to adjust, and you don’t even need to take off the cassette from the freehub body. If you so this 5 minute fix every few months, your Mavic freehubs will always run smoothly and quietly.

Rim Tape

Zipps and HED’s are the only two wheels that use a torroidal shape rim. Their is a patent for the shape which they share. This shape has been shown in repeated test to be the most aerodynamic shape. ENVE is trying hard to match Zipp and HED without being able to use this shape rim.

I think if you were in a solo break for a few minutes you might get an extra few seconds gap on an equal rider with a box shape rim, but that’s about it. That said – carbon deep rim wheels feel fast.

Personally, I highly recommend custom built wheels over any stock wheel I have found. Custom wheels can be built with very high tension that makes for a very lively and responsive feeling wheel. Plus, they are much cheaper. A set of custom clincher wheels with Velocity Rims, a great hub such as Alchemy, Ligero or even a White Ind or DT will run you about $700/pr and weigh in around 1,300 – 1,400 grams…and last forever. And, they’re easy to repair.

I currently ride an awesome set built by Eric Gottesman with HED C2 rims, Alchemy Hubs and Sapim Spokes – great ride, strong wheel and less than ONE Zipp.


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We only do these reviews to allow you guys to tell us what you ride, working like a charm so far…

Daan Dropout

Dare I say it, but I’m thinking of doing a couple of half IMs next season to break up the monotony of cycling, so this is good information. That being said, it’s awfully tough to justify buying such an expensive race specific set of wheels, triathlon or otherwise. I opted not to buy carbon deep dish wheels at all in favor of a pair of HED Ardennes (you mentioned above) for a great price at one of the LBS and I’ve been pretty happy.

seat post

Not advocating racing expensive wheels if you don’t want to, but if you trash a rim you can use the crash replacement that the manufacturer offers and it’s about $400 per rim.

Franco Lube

there are tons of small wheel builders out there who source the same hubs, rims, spokes etc. as the big companies and sell pretty damn good wheels for a lot less. whatever happened to Revolution “90% as good as Zipps for 1/2 the price?”

West Coast Reader

Cool review and cool schwag gains by you’s!

I think there still needs to be a thorough wet/rain test of the braking surface. Might need a padded descent somewhere but its needed as proof if it was indeed the cause of all the accidents at this years tour and if the Schlecks were dumb to choose carbon wheels on that rainy day and descended like kids on tricycles. Hey, somebody has to answer the hard questions!


Rock Racing represents nothing but 100% awful. I dont think we would be saying these things if Columbia or TMobile or Motorola came back into cycling.


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Maxim Skidmark

I won an A races on 32 holes wheels, also took 2nd on 32 hole wheels. Both were this year. It’s not about the wheels yo, sure they help, but they aren’t everything. It helps to just disqualify people in front of you 🙂


You guys ever consider doing a low budget Carbon Tubular Review:

i.e. Williams vs. Planet X vs. RevEX vs. Neuvation?

Would be interesting to see how they (the low budget set) all match up.

Valentin Ziptie

So I can obsess about all this crap for ages and still conclude that my Ksyrium SLs are the bestest, stifest, overall fantabulistest wheels on the planet. Stiff, strong, no maintenance, no cracking, no tension probs for like a gazillion miles. So much more fun to focus on the body and fitness and workout than worry about keeping a $1,500 wheelset in tact through a ride. I hit a pothole with the Mavics…and shrug my best French shrug and ride on.

Andy Shen

It’s closer to $1500 per wheel. I don’t disagree with you, but Ksyriums aren’t the best examples for maintenance free wheels. I broke a spoke, found the the nipple was cracked and needed to be drilled out, was without the wheel for over a week. And the freewheel death squeal…


Good review. Zipps are basically nonsensical unless you’re a pro, aspiring pro, or a fred looking to impress other freds who are naive and impressionable. The bike business is becoming like the golf club business. Rooted in self deception. Coppi on a 27lb bike with steel wheels would smoke these fools who want to be separated from their money and are carrying 2 or 3 extra UCI compliant bikes around their midsections. I appreciated the work you put into the review and also your comedy however. The problem with your comedy is that it cuts too close to the bone of the powerful, and that you guys are loose cannons. The fools who are easily separated from their money, unfortunately, aren’t going to pay you for your comedic genius even though it’s worthy of great compensation. Carry on! I love you, but that’s small consolation.


Noa Sealant

Look at the start line of any local bike race and you will see many folks riding $5k bikes. $3k for wheels is damn steep, but many folks are happy to pay that to get the real, or imangined, benefit from those wheels. It’s good for the economy and gives folks who buy used stuff a chance to snag last years hot item for a decent price.

I personally would never ride Zipps in a race simply because if you race, you will crash and I would really be unhappy to trash $3k worth of wheels in a crash.

Baptiste Seatmast

ZIPPS are the best wheel out there. That’s why you see them everywhere. The hubs are just as easy as the Mavic hubs, but much finer in tolerance, performance, and adjustability. I’ve been racing mine hard for 3 years, and they’ve done nothing but impress the shit out of me.


Oh please, you guys must be nuts to spend $1,500 and up on wheels.

Zipp is laughing all the way to the bank….hahaha

What will they come out with next year to fool you folks? Hell if I got wheels for free, I would write a positive review, because well they are free.

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Do you need both tape and rim strips to convert a normal road wheel to tubeless? Or only tape and the valves?


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Dino Rivnut

what tubeless tires have you tried? can you comment on your experience? I am thinking of converting my Smart ENVE 3/4


Andy Shen

Hutchinson Fusion and IRC Roadlite. Couldn’t tell the difference between them to be honest, neither ever flatted, never reached the limits of their traction in the wet or dry. IRC has lighter/faster options, about to try one of those now. Purdy sells them he might have heard more opinions from his customers.

Logan Steerer

Hi, what kind of valve extenders did you use to do the tubeless conversion? (I was planning to do this conversion and bought Stans removable core valve stems and Tufo valve extenders, but when they arrived, it dawned on me that the Tufo extenders aren’t threaded, so there’s nothing to hold the valve stem in place in the rim!)

Andy Shen

Stan’s makes a threaded extender. It barely protrudes from the rim, so I screw on another extender just to inflate the tires, then remove it.

Arne Liner

The fact that the edge of the rim is both leading and trailing seems obvious to me. But there’s one thing I don’t get: weren’t deep section rims created because (at that time) they needed the depth to create the ‘airfoil’-like shape to get the airflow without turbulence behind the rim? Since the rim edge is now blunt (and they’ve figured out that the trailing edge is also the leading edge), why not just keep the rim shallow? The only aero disadvantage I can think of is the longer spoke length = more turbulence – but this could possibly be overcome with low spoke-count bladed spokes, like Campy’s G3 system.
Just curious.

Andy Shen

Strictly talking out of my ass, but I’m guessing that the deeper it is the closer it is to an optimal airfoil shape. In other words, wings are wide and thin. Also, I’ll throw in ‘aspect ratio’ to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about.


I’ll be converting my brand-new ZIPP 202’s, 808’s and Super-9 CC disc all to Tubeles usign Stan’s with Continantal GP-TT tires. The one things I was unsure of was the road- or the MTB-tape and you answered that one for me. Does anyone here have any experience with the Caffee-Latex product Thanks a Lot and Happy riding, Steven H.

Razzante Polished

I’m trying to convert my 303’s to tubeless and I’m running into troubles. I used the 25mm tape with some Specialized Roubaix 23/25 tubeless tires. The tires go on too easily I think and its not sealing around the tire bead. I can take the tire off pretty easily without levers. Do the Hutchinsons fit tight and seal right up?

Chris B

tyres can be difficult to air up after they have been used or depending on the shape of the rim, basically the tubeless specific rims have the bead hook much closer to the rim and the tyre seals almost 180 degress around the hook/wall/rim. You can either mimic this by using the thick rubber rim strips, which in essence raise the hight of the rim, or, TBH I have never had any issues in 4 years of using the mavic kysiriums without a strip; But I do have to air up tyres that have been previously used with a blast of Co2 – works every time. You may then want to let the co2 out, and air up with common air once the tyres are sealed as I have heard claims that co2 makes the sealant stringy, but have not had any issues myself


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Andy Shen

Have no experience with Specialized tubeless, but Hutchinson tires are very hard to get on the rim. As long as the tape goes up the sides like the picture above it should work.

Oderigo Drainhole

Very interested in converting my carbon clincher 404 but worried about tire blowouts from the higher pressure compared to mountain bike wheels.

Has anyone had issues?

Chris B

you need to use road tubeless tires with a carbon bead, or you will risk blow-out. Schwalbe One, Schwalve ironman, hutchison atom, intensive, fusion and specialized, Bontranger and IRC(?) also make them.

my two pennies: Atom on the front / intensive on the back if you go hutchison, the schwalbe One’s are amazing and grip, grip grip at a moderate pressure (90psi under an 80kg rider)


Can we get an update on how the tubeless on the Zipp 808’s has held up. Any problems with tires coming off the wheels? Has the sealant destroyed or damaged the carbon?

Chris B

Great to see you using road tubeless, its is definitely the way forward, just wanted to ask

1) if you have seen any damage to the carbon clearcoat / resin from any sealant that seeps under the rim strip? I have given mine a couple of layers of polish as an extra precaution, but was wondering whether a light spray of paint would be needed? I have been using road tubeless for years on my mavic kysiriums, but make sure I paint over any areas of bare alloy to the sealant does not corrode it.

2) have you tried cutting a 60mm removable core valve out of an an inner tube and using with the stan’s extender, so you get enough clearance?

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