We put Zipp's high end 58mm wheels to the test
The Zipp 404 Firestrikes may have been superseded by the deep section wheels from the company’s new NSW range, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being an exceptionally fast pair of wheels.
For wheels that will set you back more than £2,000 for the pair, you would expect the Zipp 404 Firestrikes to be fast, and that’s exactly what they are. Get these wheels up to speed and the 58mm rims slice through the air with exceptional ease, especially when riding at more than 25mph.
Weight wise, the Zipp 404 Firestrikes hit the scales at 1,750g for the pair (790g front, 960g), which might seem a little heavy when you compare them against shallower aluminium wheels that are a fraction of the price, but actually isn’t too bad when you put them head to head against other deep section wheels of their ilk.
The good news is that the extra grams don’t hold you back when accelerating. These are exceptionally stiff wheels that will be loved by powerful riders, and I found it impossible to generate even the slightest brake rub, even when running the brake pads incredibly close to the braking surface and flinging the bike from side to side in a comically exaggerated sprint.
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However, as I mention the braking surface, it’s certainly worthy of discussion, as the quality of braking varies substantially across different carbon-rimmed wheels.
The Zipp 404 Firestrikes come with the American company’s Showstopper brake track technology which apparently “delivers greater stopping power in wet conditions than any carbon wheel ever produced, offering braking on par with aluminium braking surfaces.”
Now, I don’t know what aluminium wheels Zipp was comparing the braking too, but from my experience these wheels would be far from my first choice when riding in wet conditions. Thankfully the brakes don’t grab at the braking surface like on carbon rims of old, but the braking power is significantly diminished in the wet, and on the one occasion that I raced on these wheels in the rain I found myself leaving a little extra space to the wheel in front to give a little extra braking space.
Far, far better is the performance of the Zipp 404 Firestrikes in crosswinds. I’m not the biggest of riders, so have to admit to always being a little nervous about using deep section wheels in windy conditions, but gave it no second thought with the Zipps.
The wide U-shaped rims made these probably the most stable pair of deep section wheels that I’ve ever used in crosswinds, coping well even with unexpected gusts blowing through gaps in hedgerows.
The Zipp 404 Firestrike carbon clinchers are a good choice as a best day wheelset for use in races, special events, and rides at the heigh of summer. The only thing we'd advise avoiding is too much riding in the rain, as the braking isn't great in the wet.