If you prefer clinchers over tubulars, have a biggish budget and are looking for a fast set of wheels then the Zipp 404 clinchers might just be the ticket. The 58mm deep rims consist of an aluminium-braking surface and tyre hook bonded to a carbon body. Spoke counts are 18 (radial) for the front and 24 (2x/radial) for the rear. The low-ﬂange hubs are alloy, and are upgradeable to ceramic bearings if you want the ultimate in smoothness.
They tip the scales at 1660g a set, which is 430g more than the similarly priced full carbon 404 tubulars. On the other hand, the aluminium rim gives a more solid ride than the carbon equivalent, and braking is better, particularly in the wet.
Comparisons with stablemates aside, these wheels are top performers in their own right. They’re both fast off the mark and when you get them going because of their excellent aerodynamics. Zipp claims a pair of 404s will save you 20 watts – about a minute in a 25-mile time trial – over a set of normal wheels. We tested this using an Ergomo power meter, riding the wheels on a couple of undulating six-mile circuits. The test was fairly crude but we found they saved between 20-35 watts compared to a higher spoke count Dura-Ace/Mavic Aksium combo. We were blown away at how quick they were down hills, too.
The wheels are stiff but they still handle smoothly around rough corners without being jittery. That extra conﬁdence is worth more than a few seconds in any type of riding. You’ll encounter few problems in crosswinds, too, as the 404s are as stable as shallower rims. This is likely a beneﬁt of the aerofoil-shaped proﬁle, which is something other wheel manufacturers have started copying in an effort to improve performance. The standard V-proﬁle deep rims we’ve ridden are harder to control when there’s a breeze blowing from the side.
The Zipp 404 clinchers are good enough to be used in any given situation where speed is of the essence: road races, criteriums, time trials and even sportives. If you were under the impression wheels couldn’t get any faster, then these are the ones for you. They’re also available in a Clydesdale (1780g per set) version or built up with a PowerTap hub.
The only real downer is that at just over a grand a pair, they don’t come cheap, but performance-wise they are well worth splashing the cash on.