Zipp’s 303 is a legendary wheel, the original 303 Firecrest tubular was one of the first carbon rims to be used in the Classics, ridden to victory in both Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders.
With the advent of Zipp’s NSW (Nest Speed Works) range of wheels, the Firecrest has slipped down the pecking order, but Zipp has still continued to develop it.
This new iteration sees a complete revision of the rim. It’s still 45mm deep, but externally it’s broadened to 28mm (26.4mm at the brake track). It’s bigger internally too, at 20.5mm.
The ABLC dimple pattern surface has been updated to the new Sawtooth pattern, which Zipp claims adds stability in crosswinds. Performance aside, it looks sharp, as does the contrasting matt finish on the undimpled areas against the high gloss.
The brake track is Zipp’s impressive Showstopper, its grainy texture adding bite. It’s highly heat-resistant, using fast heat-dissipating resin in the construction that’s exclusive to Zipp. The brake track is substantially deeper than most at 15.8mm, so you’ve bags of adjustment when you’re setting up.
Our test pair weighed 676g (front) and 863g (rear), including skewers and rim tapes, so 1,539g all-in is impressively light. Our older versions weighed 1,579g bare and 1,697g in the same trim.
The added width means you may have issues fitting them on older bikes, but on my 2014 Cannondale Synapse (with Dura-Ace 9000 series brakes) they fitted just fine, even when pushing out the 28mm Pirelli 4S tyres to 28.8mm wide. Zipp lists bikes with known fitting issues on its website.
On the road the 303s are superb. They may use the older, deep flange 77/177 hub combination but with the Sapim CX Ray spokes they build into excellent feeling wheels, free of flex but not overly hard riding and more akin to a quality hand-built alloy wheelset than a hard racing carbon set.
The hubs roll well, but I do miss the magnetic clutch freehub found on Zipp’s showcase NSW wheels. Brake performance impresses, and here Zipp, along with more expensive ENVE carbon rims, is streets ahead of the competition in all conditions, but especially in the wet.
The 303s have improved, and come down in price, even if they’re still expensive. They aren’t tubeless compatible, which seems like a big no-no in 2018, but if you’re not yet a convert to an inner tube-less life then these could be just what you’re looking for.