Based on long-term feedback from our testers in the UK and the US, the Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers are the best wheels in their class. The light weight, snappy acceleration and crosswind stability are excellent, but what’s really remarkable is how well the wheels brake in dry and wet conditions.
Zipp’s Firecrest technology, with its distinct bulging profile like a red wine glass, has made it to the 202 carbon clinchers with 32mm-deep rims. The rim increases in width from the brake track, reaching 25.4mm at its widest point. Zipp claims the design ensures maximum aerodynamic efficiency and stability.
Claimed to weigh 1,375g, the set BikeRadar US received weighed 610g for the front and 740g for the rear without rim strips or quick-releases.
On the road, the low weight combines with great stiffness to translate to instant acceleration and highly capable climbing. But where they excel is in blustery conditions, handling crosswinds better than many wheels of a similar rim height thanks to the wide, blunted spoke bed.
The build quality is excellent, with spoke tension even and stiff. Over hundreds of miles – including a few months of cyclocross and miles of rallying rough dirt roads – we’ve had no issues with tension or trueness. Even when one tester managed to jam his derailleur into the spokes, snapping two, the wheel was rideable for the journey back home.
The sample set that the BikeRadar US team received had a faulty compression nut that would work itself loose while riding, resulting in play at the hub and brake rub at the rim. A replacement axle and nut eliminated this issue, which Zipp claims was an unusual quality-control issue. The BikeRadar UK team had no such issues. Should a consumer experience this, Zipp would provide the replacement parts.
Dependable, strong braking
Since the category’s inception, the Achilles heel for carbon clinchers has been the braking. The very first set of carbon clinchers we tried years ago failed under hard, sustained braking on mountain roads, with both the front and rear rims deforming after overheating. (The tires stayed on and inflated; the rim just bulged out, causing a pulsing surge through the brake pads and exacerbating the situation.)
And countless riders have had similar experiences since then (See “Are carbon clinchers safe?“). We find the claim that ‘riders must know how to brake properly to use carbon clinchers’ unacceptable; brakes, and wheels, should work under all reasonable conditions. Period. Many wheels and brake pads have improved in recent years, but often the power still lagged behind that of metal wheels, especially in the wet.
With Platinum Evo pads with a compound developed for the 202’s proprietary raw material woven into the brake track, Zipp has nearly solved the carbon clincher braking problem.
Braking is firm without fading or grabbing – even in the pouring rain the power is strong. However, just as with all wheels with carbon brake tracks, there is the split-second delay in stopping when first touching the brakes in the rain. Beyond that, the braking is what it should be – strong, dependable and easy to modulate.
We consider Zipp’s 202 to be the best all-round carbon clincher wheelset now available. Great handling, some aero benefit, low weight, clincher convenience and firm, dependable braking. The only thing not to like is the price.