The Zipp 808 Firecrests are truly considered the gold standard of aero wheels. Any time a competing company brings out a new wheel set you are virtually guaranteed to see an aero comparison that references the 808. So right about the time we were finishing up our Zipp Super-9 review, we mentioned to Zipp that, since we already had a front Zipp 808, it would be great to get a matching rear so we could complete an 808 review. The good folks at Zipp were happy to oblige. And since then, the 808s have been a regular addition to the team’s training rides (and even a few races). So did the 808s live up to their gold standard reputation? Read on to find out.
- One quick note – the 808 wheel set we tested was the 2014 version and did not have updated 77/177 hubs that now come standard.
The Zipp 808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher
If you’ve been in the sport for any amount of time, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the 808 Firecrest – if only for the distinctive “golf ball” dimpling. Those dimples, officially known as the Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control (ABLC), are there for way more than appearances. According to Zipp: “With a V shaped rim or flat-sided rim, the airflow becomes separated from the leeward side of the rim as soon as the rim begins to face airflow more than 1 or 2 degrees off axis. This separated airflow creates a vacuous region behind the rim, which is the primary source of pressure drag on the wheel itself. With a curved section, we are able to keep the airflow on the rim surface out to 7 or 8 degrees of yaw, but eventually the flow begins to separate or ‘stall’ on the backside. With ABLC dimples, we are forcing the airflow into a higher energy state, forming a turbulent boundary layer near the surface of the rim, which allows the air to remain attached to the rim even at higher angles.”
The 808 Firecrest shape itself was designed to not just account for the air hitting the front half of the wheel, but the air at the back half as well. Those familiar with a standard toroidal wheel shape will notice that the 808 Firecrest has a less pronounced bulge and maintains a near-constant width almost all the way to the spoke bed. The 808 measures 27.5mm at its widest and 24.73mm at the brake track, with a depth of 82mm. Our wheels came in a touch under the reported 855/1030g weight at 830/1025g.
Before we talk about how the 808s rode and braked let’s start off with how easy it was to change a flat. Now for some, that may seem like an inconsequential aspect of a wheel. But for anyone who has had to do an in-race tube replacement, you are all to familiar with how frustrating and time consuming a tube change can be. The 808s are without a doubt the easiest wheels we have ever changed a tire or tube on. Whether it be in the garage or out on the road, pulling off and replacing the tire was a simple, no-fuss experience.
Once you actually get rubber on to the 808s, they are just as easy to ride as it was to mount the tire. We rode and raced the 808 set with both our 120-pound multisport editor (here’s hoping she doesn’t kill us for posting that) and our 195-pound chief editor spending time aboard the deep 808 front and rear setup. During that time, we regularly encountered wet weather as well as head and cross winds anywhere from 5-20 mph. And throughout all of that, the 808s were a blast to ride.
In consistent cross winds you rarely, if ever, notice the deepness of the wheels. Only when you are hit by a strong gust do you remember they’re there, and that’s only for the second needed to re-stabilize the bike. We rode these often in conjunction with another editor on a similarly deep setup and could not recall a single time where the 808s reacted more severely to a gust or continuous crosswind than any other 80-90mm wheelset. Zipp says that “By moving the center of pressure – the focal point of side forces on the rim – to its optimal location near the steering axis, Firecrest offers stable, predictable handling at every wind angle.” And based on our experience, this was highly true. In fact, the only time we ever took wind into consideration for a ride was when our multisport editor was set to race a half iron distance with predicted gusts over 25 mph. For that particular race she chose to size down her front to a 404 (while keeping the 808 rear) to play it safe.
Braking is an area where the 808 actually surprised us. Although that’s not because we thought it would be in any way bad. Zipp simply does not put out a large amount of marketing material on its braking technology, so naturally we tended to believe that indicated that there was superior braking technology out there (including Zipp’s next generation Showstopper technology). However, we found the exact opposite to be true. The 808s stopped with such a solid assurance that we had the confidence needed to pedal right to the turnaround, braking at the last second. And unlike some other products we have tested out there, we never heard a single squeal when applying any type of braking power, whether it be moderate to full-on locking.
Before we wrap up, we did want to take a moment to discuss the updates to the Zipp 808 line introduced in late 2015. The new hubsets, named 77/177 (77 for the front and 177 for the rear), were designed to improve stiffness, durability, simplicity, and versatility. Based on customer feedback, Zipp has removed the bearing preload adjustment, going with a factory-set bearing preload.
Additional changes for 2015 include optimized flange geometry and spoke hole attachment pattern with Sapim® CX Sprint spokes to optimize torsional and lateral stiffness and robustness. Zipp also added newly designed quick-release skewers with a wider more ergonomic handle to provide more leverage for opening and closing. For those looking for a wider gear range, or tackling especially extreme terrain, an XD driver body for 177 is sold separately and easily installed to allow for more cassette options including a 10-42. The hubset is designed to swap driver bodies without re-dishing the wheel. Interestingly, the hubs had been originally designed for disc brake applications, and then moved to rim brake wheels.
The best part? The updated 808 wheel set has dropped in price to $2,400 – $1,100 and $1,300, respectively. Yes, that’s still not cheap by definition. But the few hundred dollars you’ll save when compared to the cost of the old wheels definitely can’t hurt.
The Zipp 808 Firecrest has long been the gold standard of wheels, and our time with them only reinforced that. Easy to live with, great in cross winds, and quick to stop – all good reasons why they’re the benchmark for deep wheels. And while we didn’t get the chance to validate them in the tunnel, we did spend almost a year riding them. And for us, that was more than enough time to determine that these are a blast to not just ride, but own as well. Yes, $2,400 is far from a drop in the bucket, but if you are looking for a wheelset that does everything (and has a few victories on the island of Kona to boot), you don’t need to look any farther than the Zipp 808 Firecrests.