It’s been a while since I splashed out on some racing kit. I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of seasons to have been lent very nice Lightweight wheels for most of my hill climbs. However for the most part my time trailing has been done on some very mediocre 49mm Shimano Ultegra RS80s. Whilst they are round and are better than most OEM wheelsets they aren’t in the league of most of the wheels I see fellow competitors turn up with at time trials.
Why I chose Zipp 808 Firecrest wheelset
I was unsure of whether a disc would be money better spent, but after some research I found that it was pretty convincing to favour a good front wheel over a disc. I also wanted wheels that would be light and stiff enough to see me through the climbs on sporting courses.
Quite how that is quantified in performance I don’t know, but I’m sure it will be of comfort when I’m deep in suffering.
Another factor that lead me to settle on the Zipp 808s was the purported crosswind handling. Most of the courses I’ll be racing on this year climb high and on very exposed roads. I didn’t want to invest a considerable amount of money on a set of wheels to only have to leave them at home because of the high winds. Apparently the 808s despite their much deeper rim handle just as well as the 404s in cross winds.
I also liked the fact that they had a clincher option. I’ve seen lots of data now to say a good inner tube and clincher tyre has comparable CRR (rolling resistance) to a tubular tyre. I find the whole idea of stretching and glueing tyres a real turn off. The only downside I see to a clincher wheelset is a small weight penalty.
Resale value is also a factor as Zipps seem to hold their value very well.
As soon as my order went in I was excited about the impending arrival of the new wheels. It was almost like being 7 a few days before Christmas! In fact knowing they were on their way I obsessively tracked their progress with DPD. The best price I found was from Wiggle.
The wheelset was actually separate. I was expecting a single box with the two wheels in but this matters little. After inspecting the wheels which looked perfect I could go all geeky. First of all I weighed them. The claimed weight of the Zipp 808s are Front 855g and Rear 1030g. I got lucky! My front weighed a gram lighter and my rear a whole 8 grams! That’s 9 grams to my favour!!! I assume the reason in weight differences apart from the fact that a home scale isn’t especially accurate, is due to the balancing process they do at the factory by adding or subtracting weight around the rim to iron out any imbalances during manufacturing. I remember seeing a really interesting (honestly) video of the Sarris Cycleops Turbo flywheel being balanced up by machine automatically drilling the wheel.
The wheelset I bought was Shimano 10/11 speed compatible. Whilst not yet on 11 speed it’s nice to know they are somewhat future proofed. Apparently the Swiss made bearings are guaranteed to be 2.5 times rounder than most competitors! Quite how that is quantified in performance I don’t know, but I’m sure it will be of comfort when I’m deep in suffering.
ABLC Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control
The magic of the wheels is supposed to come from the rim design that tricks the wind into thinking the wheels are much deeper than they really are. In fact I saw a question to Zipp asking why they don’t hide the spoke nipples to which their response was that after testing they found that due to the rim design there was no difference between hiding or exposing the nipples. Nipples.
The ABLC is the dimple pattern on the rim, if you are interested in the details of what that is you can read about it here. In summary though my understanding is… 50% of the time the air hitting the wheel is at an angle of 10-20 degrees. On the opposite face of the wheel to the direction of air there is now a low pressure environment effectively sucking you backwards. The dimples generate turbulence creating their own higher pressure system close to the rim on that opposite side to negate the affect. One disappointment is that the stickers seem to hide parts of the dimples I have seen people remove the stickers but I quite like the look of them on.
Getting them on the road
I knew that some maintenance of my bike would be necessary prior to getting the wheels on. Mainly my brakes would need to be working properly, as in opening wide enough and not sticking like they have been. I was pleased to see that my Felt B16 was wide enough to accommodate the 27.5mm rim. However the brakes are out at their max and I did have to remove the dish spacer from the brake blocks to stop them from rubbing. I’m sure a little bit of wear on the brake blocks will get things more comfortably fitted.
Rim tape is provided and simply slips on the rim, just run your finger around though to check that any rough carbon is adequately shielded by the tape. My latex inner tubes don’t have a removable valve core so I had to temporarily put butyl tubes in. To install the valve extender you simply use the tool provided to remove the core, screw in the extender and reinstall the core into the extender. I put some tape around the extender at the junction just to improve the seal and also stop it rattling in the rim.
Once setup it’s time for a ride. My first ride was actually a race. I will write separately about how they ride in due course, but needless to say I am extremely pleased. My one and only disappointment with my purchase is that wheel bags were not included. I assumed with the premium price the wheelset that bags would be included to help me protect them when storing and transporting. At the moment until I source some proper bags I have found some bubble wrap to keep them in when not on the bike.
One last thing for now, there is a little ‘gotcha’ that only dawned on me the morning of my first race with them. This is mounting the bike on the car roof rack is not possible with 80mm+ deep section wheels. The straps that hold the wheels down are not long enough to go over the rims. My solution was to shove on some old box rims for the drive. The spare rims had no tyres on so the drive was a little noisier than usual. Not a biggy and certainly not an issue unique to the Zipp 808 Firecrest.