When Zipp introduced the 808 NSWs last year, they told us that “The Zipp NSW Series is a science, a philosophy and a mission to engineer the fastest, most stable, and highest performance cycling components ever realized.” And while that sounded good, we didn’t want to just take their word for it. Instead, we wanted to get some actual road time with them to see if reality matched the hype. And as luck would have it, we had a set of 808 Firecrests that we could ride back-to-back with the NSWs to see if we could tell a difference (spoiler alert: we did). But before we dive in, let’s do a quick recap on what makes the 808 NSW so special to Zipp.
The 808 NSW
NSW is Zipp’s internal advanced design center. NSW stands for Nest Speed Weaponry and comes from the nickname “The Nest” Zipp engineers gave to the windowless, high-security advanced-development lab in the corner of the Zipp factory. According to Michael Hall, Zipp Director of Advanced Development, Zipp NSW is basically the most advanced technology that Zipp has at that time. The NSW line now includes the 404 and 303, but the 808 is where it started.
The 808 NSW retains the 82mm depth of the 808 Firecrest but pairs it with a new rim shape. The new wheel has a max width of 27.8mm and a brake track width of 26.44 mm. The complete wheelset weighs in at 1810g (830g/980g).
Zipp wheels have always been known for their golf ball dimpling. The technical term for this is ABLC (Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control). With NSW, Zipp changed the design to a new Sawtooth dimple design that consists of 12 nodes that are specifically clocked to start aerodynamic shearing at a rate of 50hz at a rider speed of 20mph. Sawtooth accomplishes this by inducing small sheet vortices that shed at a low magnitude, but at a higher natural frequency. This decreases the laminar bubble effect on the aerodynamically shielded side of the rim’s profile to further reduce high yaw drag and improve crosswind stability.
With aero now further optimized, the team at Zipp turned to the hubs. The 808 NSW gets Zipp’s Cognition hubset with Axial Clutch technology. Every time a conventional hubset starts to coast, friction within the freehub ratchet mechanism works like a drum brake to slow the rider down. With Axial Clutch, the ratchet mechanism is disengaged when coasting. It then uses magnets to re-engaged once the rider starts pedaling. The goal is to allow you to hold your speed longer as you hit the turnaround point.
To stop all this new speed is Zipp’s Showstopper brake track. Showstopper adds 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.
“The big revolution is the Showstopper brake track. It’s no longer ‘as good as aluminum.’ It is better. Paired with hydraulic brakes, I’d say the braking quality is equivalent to disc brakes. You can carry more speed into turns and dump it faster. It’s a palpably better wheel but also one that’s just more fun to ride.” – Jordan Rapp
The end result is a wheel that Zipp tells us saves 3-4 watt versus the multi championship winning 808 Firecrest, which they calculate to be an estimated 90 seconds at 40km per hour over 112 miles. In addition, they found an 8% – 10% reduction in side force. (They didn’t include an assumed benefit from better stopping and coasting, though we believe you would see quite a bit of time savings depending on the course profile).
The last two things you need to know about NSW is the price and the results. At $3,400, the NSWs are $1,000 more than a standard 808 Firecrest ($700 more than the 808 Firecrest Disc brake if stopping power is specifically what you are after). But for those riding them, the NSWs have already notched a number of wins in its belt. Jan Frodeno won both the 70.3 World Championships and Ironman World Championships on them (with fellow German Sebastian Kienle in second). And in cycling, Velocio-SRAM Pro Cycling captured gold at the Elite Women’s Team Time Trial and Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team the silver at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.
The first time you ride with the NSWs you know there is something different with these wheels. As we mentioned earlier, – we had a set of 808 Firecrests in house that allowed us to ride the wheels back to back (and in parallel with a second rider). And when we switched from one to the other, we immediately knew there was something different. Especially the first time we hit the brakes. You immediately feel (and hear) the brakes grabbing the wheel with Showstopper. We don’t know if it was the harder braking surface, or the grooves that created the sound, but when we grabbed our brakes, those around us in the group heard it. And it’s not in a squealing or whining sound, but a friction-like sound that left no question that we were coming to a halt rather quickly.
Unfortunately, while 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 were eager to verify—Mother Nature didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Over a 90-day period we didn’t run into a single wet day on a scheduled ride, so we never had a chance to complete a proper rain test. What we can tell you that when compared to other wheels in dry conditions, including the 808 Firecrests, we found the NSWs to continually come to a stop in a quicker and more controlled manner.
While getting a feel for Showstopper was easy, the Cognition and Sawtooth technologies are a bit more of a challenge outside of a laboratory. We did feel that when we stopped pedaling as we coasted up to a light or just fell to the back of the pace line that our speed did not bleed off quite as quickly. Although in all honesty, that could be more of a result of perception rather than reality, but we feel it’s worth noting.
We did find that the 808 NSWs were incredibly stable in side winds. Like rolling resistance, how affected a wheel is by side winds is tough to measure. But the bike did feel incredibly stable. And when we were in parallel with a rider on the Firecrests, we did find that we appeared to be a touch more planted (but in the name of fairness, it’s worth mentioning that they were on a completely different frame and about 30 kilos lighter, so that likely had an effect as well).
Triathlon and cycling are all about marginal gains (and how much it costs to achieve them). A 3-4 watt advantage even when combined with vastly increased stopping power, improved coasting, and better crosswind stability is still not much when the price has increased 42%. But for those who want to know that the only way they will be beat is by a faster and stronger athlete, not by the tools at their competitor’s disposal, the NSWs are going to be worth every dollar. While we don’t have the wind tunnel data to back it up, we suspect that an 808 NSW Front \ Super-9 rear is going to be one of the fastest wheel combinations out there. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a few at Queensland this year for the 70.3 World Championships and full 808 NSW setups (or 404 NSW / 808 NSW) at Kona. If you know someone looking to get on the podium when every single second and watt counts, don’t be surprised to see the NSWs at the top of their holiday (or birthday) wish list.