Ask any triathlete or cyclist to name the first company that comes to mind when they think of aero performance, and the answer is almost always going to be Zipp. Of course this isn’t just because Zipp does a great job showcasing their products’ performance abilities; it’s also because Zipp’s products are well known as the industry benchmark. Therefore when Zipp introduces a new wheel—especially a successor to the incredibly popular 404 Firecrest—everyone is going to stop and take notice.
The 404 Firestrike Carbon Clincher
Meet the 404 Firestrike Carbon Clincher – the next evolution of Zipp’s rim technology. Firestrike builds on the 404 Firecrest design, improving on both stability (a claimed 34% reduction in side force) and braking performance. The new rim shape has a slightly blunter inside diameter than its forefather and, as you can see below, the new 404 is wider (but not deeper) as well.
Zipp has also modified its signature dimpling as well. The dimpling (Zipp’s real name for it is ABLC – Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control) now uses a new wave-like pattern designed around 18 nodes, which are specifically clocked to start shearing at a rate of 66hz at a rider speed of 17mph. The updated ABLC induces small sheet vortices at a higher frequency and lower magnitude than previous generations of the technology. All of this claims to result in a more stable ride than previous generations of Zipp products.
The Firestrike also continues the industry march toward carbon clinchers that can actually stop. Zipp calls this technology “Showstopper.” And if it is anywhere near as good as Zipp claims, this technology just might live up to its name. Showstopper’s power resides in directional, molded-in, texture paired with silicon carbide (SiC) particles suspended in the surface resin. SiC is nearly three-times harder than hardened steel, which helps ensure a strong and consistent braking experience. The grooves on the wheel also help to wipe water away and act as cooling vanes. Zipp claims that the net results of its Showstopper technology is a braking force in wet conditions equal to that of industry leading aluminum rims – a lofty claim that we are eager to verify.
While there is little doubt that Zipp is the aerodynamic performance benchmark for wheels in this industry, many would agree that Zipp is also the industry benchmark for price. When it comes to just about any comparable set of wheels, the price will almost always be within 5-10% of Zipp. And we know this is not just because similar technologies evoke similar prices. Zipp has helped define a market segment, including price. This is why we cannot deny the MSRP of $3528 (an $800 increase over the 404 FC) made us pause for a moment.
We have no doubt that the Firestrike technology (specifically the Showstopper braking performance) will be a game changer, and the R&D that goes into this product likely costs Zipp quite a bit of money. And of course in a year or so the prices will trickle back down. But at first glance, we cannot deny that a price like that is a bit double-take inducing. And we can only hope that this isn’t the start of a new industry price point.
There is little doubt that these wheels are going to be the first of a barrage of new products from Zipp. The revised ABLC and Showstopper technologies look to bring Zipp up to a whole new playing field. And even at the $3528 price, we cannot deny that we’d like to spend some serious time on these wheels. Zipp has introduced a brand new tool to its Speed Weaponry arsenal, and if you can afford it, this is a product many riders will bring to the battle field.