The most quietly rapid, comfortable, versatile, responsive and enjoyable drop bar wheel we’ve ever ridden at an impressive price with awesome warranty support
- Outstanding smoothness
- Impeccable handling
- Impressive impact strength
- Very easy set up
- Competitive price
- Occasional freehub clunk
- Easy peel graphics
- Only 28mm tyres or larger
We’ve already gone into depth about the theory and tech behind Zipp’s new 303 wheels. After over 400km off-road and a couple of hundred kilometres on, we can confirm that the Indianapolis company have delivered an outstanding set of wheels, whatever riding you’re into.
Zipp itself admits that weight was always a secondary element in its usual design strategy but that’s all changed with the new wheels. Starting at 1,355g for the 650b version and our samples sitting at 1,410g with tubeless valves installed, they’re comparable with some specialist lightweight rim brake wheels.
Impressive considering our Firecrests were Centrelock disc wheels with a lifetime warranty, a rider weight limit of 115kg, gravel use clearance and an MTB style 25mm internal width. Valves fitted and tubeless inflation across the 25mm wide bed was instant and totally issue free, sealing securely against the hookless walls with relaxed track pumping.
The only issue was that we accidentally peeled a corner up on a letter of the logo with the tyre during fitting and it refused to stick back down again properly so we removed it entirely. It’s also worth noting that not all tubeless tyres (including Continental) are cleared for use with hookless rims.
We’ve been converts to wider rims with a lower tyre pressure for a while and they will always give a smoother, stickier and calmer feel than a conventional setup. That meant while the Firecrest’s felt superb on the road in either distance or dynamic short course use, switching to gravel was when the construction of the wheels really came into clear view. Again, tyre transfer couldn’t have been simpler and they’re compatible with up to 55mm gravel tyres.
Testing back to back with other similar-width (though inevitably heavier) wheels and switching tires between Zipp’s new Tangente Course G40 gravel tyres, benchmark Schwalbe and Pirelli options, the Firecrests consistently felt significantly smoother and more controlled.
While they’re secretive about the exact methods they’ve used, the new rims share tech (as well as the new logo design) with Zipp’s radically flexible 3Zero Moto MTB rims. They’re a very flat, shallow rim though not a 40mm deep aero rim and frankly the way the Firecrests transformed the ride of the Santa Cruz Stigmata from ‘rally tuned’ to ‘trophy truck’ smoothness was jaw-dropping but the opposite of tooth loosening.
To give them the most thorough test we could in a tight test schedule, we rode over 400km of often technical, flinty, rooty, rocky, sandy, borderline MTB trails as part of a bike packing recce of the soon to be opened King Alfred’s Way route in the south of England. We started the ride with 30psi either end and after three days finished with 28.5 and 28.3 respectively. We rimmed them out hard several times, we scuffed them off the infamously unforgiving flint geology repeatedly and we let the bike fly brake free down some serious rocky chunder and ancient tree root spreads on innumerable occasions until we stopped even thinking about having to claim on the lifetime impact warranty.
In response, the wheels (and Zipp Tangente Course G40 tyres) just laughed off everything we threw at them while staying totally composed, accurate and enjoyably dynamic even when loaded. Stripping the bags off the Stigmata, the Firecrests let us push it a lot further into MTB territory and put red route style terrain onto the menu but with blisteringly quick acceleration and crazy ride feel quietness.
We work our way through a whole load of wheels and there’s no doubt that the trend towards wider sets at lower pressures has seen the benchmark on ‘real-world performance’ increasing at a rapid rate in recent years. Even against that background, the new Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubeless wheels are a proper mic drop moment in terms of both easy, impeccably controlled speed, amazing limousine smoothness and confidence even in situations where a riser bar would be more appropriate than a drop bar.
Add super user-friendly setup, outstanding warranty and a new much-more-affordable price and there’s only really a question of hub durability that remains to be answered by getting in more miles on. We couldn’t be more delighted about the prospect of racking up those test miles on or off-road though and that’s probably the biggest take-home of this whole review.
Tech specs: Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubeless Disc wheels
- Weight: 640g front + 770g rear = 1,410g (700c with tubeless valves)
- Depth: 40mm
- Material: Carbon
- Width: 25mm (internal)
- Price: $1,900 / €1,800 / £1,600
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