The Zipp 101 is the US brand’s out-and-out gravel wheelset. It eschews Zipp’s lengthy history of aerodynamics in favour of an all-new single-composite layer, alternating asymmetric spoking and very, very low sidewalls.
In testing, I found they make any gravel bike better at dealing with the worst surfaces tracks and trails can throw at you. Combining both the 101 wheels and a suspension fork brings smooth comfort and class-leading traction to the fore.
If your riding features longer tarmac sections between off-road endeavours, you may find yourself better served by Zipp’s 303 Firecrests or similar all-road style wheels for the best balance of road performance with gravel utility.
However, the Zipp 101s are exceptional wheels that will help smooth out even the worst gravel surfaces.
Zipp 101 wheelset specifications and details
Zipp launched the 101s in conjunction with SRAM’s AXS XPLR groupset range. That consists of the adventure/gravel iterations of its wireless AXS groupsets, along with RockShox bringing the Rudy gravel suspension fork and wireless dropper post.
My AXS XPLR-equipped gravel bike originally arrived with the brilliant Zipp 303 Firecrests. Switching between these two very different wheels, running the same tyres (Zipp’s 700 x 40c G40 XPLRs) gives great insight into the thinking behind the 101s.
The 101s borrow mountain bike tech from the Zipp Moto wheels for the rim design (albeit in a slimmer, lighter shape). It’s all based around an almost flat single-wall carbon rim shape, and looks very reminiscent of the flat ridged shape of the wheels I have on a vintage baker’s bike with rod-actuated brakes.
The rim is designed to rock slightly at the spoke nipple, something Zipp calls ‘ankle compliance’.
Zipp claims this vastly reduces vibrations that can fatigue you as a rider. The principle is that the rim is allowed to twist, flex and conform to what you’re riding over, yet it still maintains lateral stiffness, so you don’t get pushed around by the terrain underfoot.
The 101s weigh in at 870g for the front wheel and 916g for the rear (totalling 1,786g for the pair), with tapes, valves and rotor lockrings. For reference, the 303 Firecrests are 1,352g a pair.
At 27mm wide internally, the 101s are built for 35c tyres and above (Zipp says up to three inches).
Unsurprisingly, the 101s push the 40c G40 tyres out to 42.3mm wide, whereas the 303 Firecrests pushed the 40c tyre to ‘only’ 40.8mm.
Hubs and spokes
The 101s share the same smooth ZR1 hubs as found on the Firecrest range. With a 5.45-degree angle of engagement, the pickup from pedalling inputs is as good as instant.
If you’re a more expedition-based gravel rider, it’s worth noting that the 101s require four different spoke lengths in their lacing pattern.
This means you’ll be allocating space for more than a handful of spares, although they are standard Sapim J-bend spokes, which should be relatively easy to source.
The 101s are also backed by Zipp’s full lifetime warranty, covering against impact damage under normal use, with a full replacement policy.
Zipp 101 wheelset performance
Whereas the 303 Firecrests are all about taught stiffness, aero prowess and rapid acceleration, the 101s deliver bump-crushing smoothness.
Using the Zipp/SRAM tyre pressure app (where I inputted the size of tyre, wheel model, my weight and riding conditions), the 101s were suggested to be run with 35.2psi at the front and 37.5psi at the rear.
That’s just 1psi less than suggested for the 303 Firecrests, which is remarkably close.
However, the 101s have the feel of running a much larger gravel tyre. Instead of the 40c Zipp G40s, I’d have sworn my bike was running a 2in-plus mountain bike tyre, such was the combination of comfort and grip.
The hookless rim design also makes seating tyres a simple, hassle-free affair. I was able to quickly inflate and properly seat the tyres with just a standard track pump.
The rim manages to stay laterally stiff even with the ankle compliance at work, which benefits its line-holding abilities. I’ve never been able to hold such consistent lines over rough surfaces without some sort of suspension in play before.
A suspension fork would cushion the most violent impacts better of course, but the 101s will keep you feeling fresher on the sort of chattering ruts and undulating packed-down grit you get from gravel riding.
The rim compliance also does wonders for traction, while the rim’s free movement brings out the best of your tyres when it comes to cornering. The rims’ snake-like flexing and forming helps the tyre catch the ground rather than bounce and skim across it.
The shoulder tread blocks on my test tyres were able to properly dig into corners, upping the grip levels especially when the surface was loose and dry.
The 101s roll downhill and over obstacles better than anything I’ve tried to date, but they don’t kill the feel. My bike feels as alive and nimble off-road as it feels with the lightweight 303 Firecrests on tarmac.
Despite the relatively high weight of the 101s, there’s no sluggish progress uphill or slow steering when things get technical.
Yes, you do lose a little acceleration performance in direct comparison with the more road-oriented 303 Firecrests, but they have the same new 66-point engagement freehub and are by no means slow.
The way in which they help you stay on line while traversing the most rutted tracks and trails is exceptional.
Zipp 101 wheelset price
- Front: £780 / $850/ AU$1,359 / €870
- Rear: £866 / $950 / AU$1,517 / €970
Zipp 101 wheelset bottom line
The 101s are a superb choice if you enjoy a mix of fast byways with more technical singletrack trails.
In the past, I’ve been a big fan of switching to 650b wheels on rougher, more technical terrain for the benefits of a bigger tyre and lower pressures.
But with the 101s, I don’t see the need to switch wheels when these bring similar benefits and maintain faster rolling with their larger 700c diameter.
Combining the 101s and a suspension fork brings smooth comfort and class-leading traction.
But even without suspension, the 101s do make any gravel bike better at dealing with the worst surfaces gravel tracks and trails can throw at you.
|Price||br_price, 5, 3, Price, AUD $2876.00EUR €1840.00GBP £1646.00USD $1800.00|
|Weight||br_weight, 5, 6, Weight, 1,786g (29in) – for set, Array, g|
|Brand||br_brand, 5, 10, Brand, Zipp|
|Features||br_Features, 11, 0, Features, Weight: 870g front, 916g rear|
|Brake type||br_brakeTypeSimple, 11, 0, Brake type, Disc|
|Freehub||br_freehub, 11, 0, Freehub, XDR|
|Hubs||br_hubs, 11, 0, Hubs, Zipp ZR1|
|Rim depth||br_rimDepth, 11, 0, Rim depth, 15mm|
|Rim internal width||br_rimInternalWidth, 11, 0, Rim internal width, 27mm|
|Rim material||br_rimMaterial, 11, 0, Rim material, Carbon|
|Spoke count||br_spokeCountFront, 11, 0, Spoke count, 28 front, 28 rear|
|Spokes||br_spokes, 11, 0, Spokes, Sapim CX Sprint 280mm, 282mm, 300mm, 302mm|
|Tubeless compatibility||br_tubelessCompatibility, 11, 0, Tubeless compatibility, Tubeless compatible|
|Wheel size||br_wheelSize, 11, 0, Wheel size, 29in/700c|