Those who know me have heard me gripe about any rims that are deeper than say 32mm. The reason for the complaints stems from riding bikes with deep dish rims in locales such as San Francisco, where the winds can whip themselves into a frenzy. Anyone who has ridden across the Golden Gate Bridge in windy conditions knows exactly what I’m talking about. On multiple occasions I’ve felt as if I could be blown clear off the bridge and into the cold waters below. Luckily this has never happened, but the wind has pushed me from side to side, and no matter what input I provide, the bike seems to be at the whim of mother nature. There it is – my reason to stay away from deep rims. Of course, I had never ridden Zipp wheels before. Now my opinion and wheelset choice has changed.
Casual bike fanatics know all about Zipp wheels and the dimples on the rims. The surface is similar to a golf ball, and if one were to read up on the tech, they would learn this surface provides a way to cheat the wind. Skeptical? I was, at least until I rode my first set of Zipps. My introduction to the company came via the 202 NSW disc clinchers. These wheels were almost exactly the same dimensions of another wheelset already in the quiver. Chance had it that I had the same tires mounted on both sets of wheels, and my local ride through the Hollywood Hills provided a real world testing ground. What I found was fascinating. When riding down Mulholland to the 101 freeway, a wonderfully smooth descent, I found that I would feel the wind pushing at the competitor’s wheelset. Nothing too horrible, as the wind here is typically mild, but pushing nonetheless. Soon after, I switched over to the Zipp 202s with the same tires on the same bike. I replicated the ride down Mulholland in very similar conditions, and I was awestruck at the difference. The wheels cut through the wind without any of the bobbles I felt on the other wheels. I was immediately sold. The dimpled surface was doing exactly what was promised, and provided the most stable descent I’ve had on my local loop.
Fast forward to the Zipp 303s. These wheels are substantially deeper than the 202s, so I was once again apprehensive. The new wheels were mounted onto the same bike, my wonderful titanium Haley, and off I went on my local ride. What a surprise. Again, the wheels provided an equally impressive ride, with no bobbles induced by the wind, but with one very significant difference. These wheels are fast, very fast. The rim shape not only cheats the wind, but it cuts through the wind providing for much faster descents. Still completely stable, but much much faster. I was also pleased to feel the difference on Forest Lawn Drive, a long flat stretch of road. The wind-cheating quality of the wheels allows for significant gains when pushing a high gear and keeping a steady tempo. It almost feels as if I’m getting an unfair advantage when using the 303s. A whole new world opened up for me.
Another aspect of the Zipp wheels I love is the silent Cognition hub at the rear. I prefer being stealthy when I ride, so the smooth and quiet operation of the freewheel assembly is music to my ears. From getting the bike out of the house at 6am without waking up the neighbors, to the wonderfully silent riding on the rollers of Mulholland, this is a feature I’ve completely fallen for. Some prefer announcing their arrival, but I prefer being discreet. Aside from being quiet, the Axial Clutch drive mechanism cuts down drag by a claimed 50% over a standard three-pawl system. Quiet and fast, a perfect combination.
The Zipp 303s are beautiful wheels to look at, a pleasure to ride, and one of the fastest wheels I’ve had the opportunity to test. These wheels are the perfect combination of aerodynamics and weight for any type of riding, whether it be gravel or road. The dimpled surface does what’s promised, slicing through the wind, and providing an amazing ride quality. I’ve been singing the praises of Zipp to those I ride with, and recommend these wheels to anyone looking for a significant upgrade to their bicycle.