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Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset review

Lighter, cheaper, but faster?

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0
GBP £1,600.00 RRP | USD $1,900.00 | EUR €1,800.00
Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes

Our review

Simply one of the best 700c wheelsets I’ve ever tested
Pros: Lightweight; smooth riding; great handling; easy setup; cheaper than previous versions
Cons: Stickers rather than decals
Skip to view product specifications

The 303 Firecrest has always been Zipp’s go-to all-rounder wheelset, in pre-gravel days it was the ‘cross rider’s choice (and still is) and with the advent of gravel it’s been pretty much adopted as one of the premium gravel choices.

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Laying out the 303 as just a ‘gravel’ wheel does it a disservice though, because the new design, which incorporates a new wider hookless rim shape with a 25mm internal width, is the optimum width for 28mm road tyres, according to Zipp.

My testing of the 303 Firecrest has predominantly been on the road using Michelin Power 28mm tubeless tyres, and the first thing I’d say is that Zipp has nailed it when it comes to ease of tubeless set up.

I was able to seat multiple brands of tubeless tyre (Michelin, Goodyear, Zipp and Schwalbe) with just a track pump – no need to resort to air-chambers or compressors etc. The wheels are on a par with Cadex (also hookless) when it comes to ease of use.

Zipp claims a reduced weight of 1,352g for the latest 303 Firecrests without tubeless tape, valves and rotor lock rings. My test set tipped the scales at 1,409g including those vital extras (640g front, 769g rear).

Weight reduction is one thing but what really sets apart the Firecrests from most of the other wheels around this depth (including Zipp’s 303 NSW wheels) is ride quality.

Zipp remains fairly tight-lipped about the technical details of the new rims, but it does say that some of the lessons learnt from its 3Zero Moto mountain bike wheels have been incorporated, such as adding vertical flexibility to reduce the sting of rock hits and the like.

Don’t fret though, Zipp hasn’t created a bending, flexi wheelset, in fact the 303 Firecrests impress with just how taut they feel on the road.

I found myself throwing the bike into corners safe in the knowledge they would track true and stand up on exit without drama and respond superbly to out of saddle sprints.

Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes
The new Zipp ZR1 rear hub has 66 points of engagement.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate

The low overall weight is noticeable too when climbing where they respond with instant acceleration to pedal inputs and the freehub (which has a massive 66 points of engagement) catches instantly from freewheeling, so you don’t feel any delay.

The ride quality is stunning. I ran the 303 Firecrests on a Rondo HVRT, a bike that’s super stiff and a pretty firm ride in its road guise. With the Firecrests running 28mm tyres and inflated to Zipp’s recommendation, using its tyre pressure calculator, for my weight, bike weight and the riding conditions, the 58psi at the front and 62.5psi at the rear made for smooth riding.

Hookless compatibility

One of the biggest questions around hookless rims is tyre compatibility.

Zipp tells us that hookless issues will soon be a thing of the past, especially now most tyre manufacturers are compliant with both ETRTO (European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation) and the more stringent ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards.

Zipp has approached all of the major brands and is keeping its listings up to date. The current list is laid out below.

Approved

  • Zipp
  • Schwalbe
  • Pirelli
  • Goodyear
  • Rene Hearse/Compass
  • Panaracer
  • Specialized

No position

  • Vittoria
  • Maxxis
  • Michelin
  • Hutchinson
  • ETC

Not approved

  • Continental

The Michelin Power tubeless tyres I fitted to the wheels are currently on the ‘no position’ list, but I experienced zero issues with them over 400 miles of road testing.

The tyre pressure (seal) has stayed consistent and I’ve had no problems with tyre seating, even running an emergency tube in the rear wheel when a flint cut failed to seal.

Zipp 303 Firecrest performance

Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes
The hubs come with Centerlock rotor mountings.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate

I tested the 303 Firecrests through winter and early spring and in some pretty challenging windy conditions, and have been impressed with the ease with which they remain controlled in high crosswinds.

You do feel pressure on the front wheel but it’s easy to counter by leaning into the wind, no bar grappling required.

The 303 Firecrests have fast become my favourite road wheel option, replacing even the oh-so impressive technical marvels that are Cadex’s 42 Discs with their ultra-stiff carbon spoke construction.

The 303 Firecrest get my highest marks for weight, ride quality, climbing, and out-and-out speed thanks to exemplary control.

Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes
The new rim measures up 25mm wide internally and shapes a 28mm Michelin Power tyre up at 30.9mm.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate

If you’re a slim tyre user (less than 28s that is), maybe the wide 25mm internal measure of the Firecrest isn’t for you and there is no rim brake option on Zipp’s new generation wheels either.

However, for the modern endurance rider, the 303 Firecrest will enhance any bike you fit them to, and for gravel and cyclocross riding the Firecrests will continue to be one of the best options around.

Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes
Tubeless valves and tape come as standard.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate

The usual downside of Zipp’s wheels is price, but with these new 303 Firecrests, Zipp has that covered.

The previous-generation 303 Firecrest retailed at £2,250 a pair, but these new, improved versions slash a huge £650 off of that.

It’s reassuring though that anything that carries the new Zipp logo (like the Firecrests) is covered by Zipp’s new lifetime warranty. This covers impact and damage suffered by the wheels when riding, and that includes riding on gravel as well as the road.

Zipp does have a rider weight limit but it’s a pretty generous 115kg.

Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset for road bikes
The 303 Firecrest is available in disc only.
Warren Rossiter/Immediate

Zipp 303 Firecrest bottom line

Are the 303 Firecrests perfect? Well, not quite.

I’d like to have seen the rim graphics come printed into the carbon, like on the premium NSW line (it’s probably saving that for the next-gen NSWs) or even water-transfer decals like the previous generation instead of the stickers, which will eventually show signs of age.

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But, when the only thing I can find to criticise a wheelset is the graphic finishing I know I’m onto something good.

Product Specifications

Product

Price EUR €1800.00GBP £1600.00USD $1900.00
Weight 1,409g – as tested
Brand Zipp

Features

Features Weight: 640g front, 769g rear inc. tubeless valves and tape
Includes: Centre lock rotor lock rings, 12mm thru’ axle caps, tubeless valves, tubeless tapes
Brake type Disc
Freehub HG (Shimano, Sram 10/11 speed), XDR (tested) Campagnolo freehub available separately
Hubs ZR1 66 point engagement rear
Rim depth 40mm
Rim internal width 25mm
Rim material Carbon
Spoke count 24 front, 24 rear
Spokes Alloy 266mm/272mm drive side, 270mm non drive side
Tubeless compatibility Tubeless ready
Tyre type Tubeless
Wheel size 29in/700c