When we hear Zipp make a claim like, “Faster than an 808. Rides like a 404,” we’re listening – closely. And that was definitely the case when it came to the introduction of the 858 NSW Carbon Clincher.
We posted our First Look at the 858s this fall, and since then, we’ve had a set on our Shiv test bike. Considering our positive impressions of the 454 NSW, we expected our time with these to be just as enjoyable. However, we weren’t exactly prepared for the resulting love affair that our multi-sport editor would have with the 858s.
The 858 NSW wheelset was developed with the same Sawtooth rim design as the 454s, but the 858s go a full 24 millimeters deeper for even greater aero benefits. If you’re not familiar with the shape, it comes from biomimicry, which is the imitation of models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. And in Zipp’s case, the engineering inspiration for Sawtooth comes from the pectoral fins of a humpback whale. For a quick refresher on the science behind the design, check out our 454 NSW review.
Like the 454, the 858 features fin-shaped Hyperfoil nodes found along the inner diameter of the rim, which work together with Zipp’s HexFin ABLC simples. This combination helps to stabilize handling in gusty winds by increasing the wheel’s ability to shed crosswinds before they become a problem for the rider. So remember that biomimicry we mentioned earlier? Yup, the natural adaptations of the humpback whale helped Zipp produce a wheel that is more stable, making you go faster, feel more confident, and expend less energy fighting your bike in the wind.
The 858s also feature Zipp’s Congnition Hubs 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. But with Axial Clutch, the ratchet mechanism disengages when coasting. It then uses magnets to re-engage once the rider starts pedaling again. This lets you hold your speed even longer. We didn’t quite grasp the value of this feature until we rode a conventional hubset back-to-back with Zipp’s. When coasting, you can truly appreciate the ability to hold your speed just a bit longer, which makes for less time to make up at turn-around points on course.
And, of course, you can’t forget about braking. The 858s get Zipp’s NSW 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.
So, for anyone who has looked at the price tag for a set of 858s, you’re probably trying to figure out how in the world you’d justify it ($2K for the front, $2,400 for the rear). They’re not made of gold, after all. But after riding them for a few months, we can honestly say that they may as well be.
Zipp was definitely on to something with this design. We knew they had something special when we first rode the 454s, but the 858s were out of this world. Zipp calls the 858 an “every-condition” race wheelset, and they couldn’t have been more spot-on with that description. By reducing concerns over crosswind control, you don’t have to worry about leaving your race wheels at home again. And as a proving factor, our multi-sport editor frequently would avoid riding 808s in the wind simply because, as a light rider, the energy she has to expend (both physical and mental) to fight with the bike is simply not worth it on race day. Not so with the 858s. It was as if the wheel simply had no depth at all. In fact, we would frequently forget that we were riding a deep wheelset altogether.
One more thing worth mentioning about the design… if you compare the 858 with an 808 NSW, you’ll quickly notice that the 858 is thinner—significantly so. An 808 is 26.4mm (front and back), while the 858 has a maximum width of 24.4mm at the front and 23.7mm for the rear wheel. According to Zipp, the reasoning behind the width difference as to reduce aerodynamic drag. In the absence of a crosswind, a narrower wheel is always going to be aerodynamically faster. One of the reasons aero rims have grown wider (an innovation that was first made by Zipp with their Firecrest wheels) is because, with a conventional rim, wider rims are less affected by crosswinds. With the Sawtooth rim design, Zipp has improved crosswind performance so much that they were able to go to a narrower rim and improve the aerodynamics even more. In short, they are able to get the best of both worlds—a wheel that is aerodynamically faster and more stable in a crosswind than a wide conventional rim.
As we mentioned with the 454s, it was as if the wheel would just let go when pushed hard by a crosswind, avoiding that lurching feeling that can cause you to lose your focus and expend unnecessary energy. The 858s allowed us to remain comfortably in our aero position while easily stabilizing the bike with confidence—every time. And when you’re faced with brutal winds from virtually every angle, that is a feeling money can’t buy.
This past weekend, after we removed the 858s from our Shiv, replacing them with a set of 404s. Then we took the bike out for a quick spin, just to see if we could notice the difference without Zipp’s Sawtooth tech. The feeling was immediate, especially considering there were 20 mph gusts that day. We experienced that familiar, and very unwelcome, feeling you get when pushed hard by the wind. And just like that, we realized it… yes, the love affair with the 858s had hit us hard.
So, are the 858s really worth breaking the bank for? Let’s just say that we’re pretty sure our multi-sport editor is going to find every creative way in the book to work a set into her 2018 budget now.