Zipp’s 404 Firecrest heralded a revolution in wheel design – it was the first to adopt the wider rim and a blunted aero shape. Since then its rivals have been playing catch-up, with recent products from Enve, HED and Reynolds having comparable designs. But Zipp hasn’t stood still, launching the Firestrike in the hope of raising the bar even higher.
Zipp claims that the Firestrike offers a reduction of 34 percent in side forces compared with the Firecrest, without reducing its aerodynamic performance. Its new hub design does away with the need to adjust the preload, while the flange means that each Sapim CX-Ray spoke crosses two others for bags of stiffness – a pattern Zipp describes as ‘virtual 3X lacing’. Ceramic bearings ensure consistently smooth running, too. Mass is slightly down on the Firecrests, our test pair weighing 1594g (723g front, 871g rear), which is also a fraction less than the published weight.
The previous Firecrest offered the best carbon braking that we’ve tried. But Zipp claims to have improved further upon this by using its moulded-in ‘Showstopper’ brake track with a silicon carbide braking surface. Zipp says this offers the same braking force in the wet as the leading alloy equivalents.
So just how did they do in testing conditions that went from dry to very, very wet in no time at all? Well, it seems like Zipp’s claims are very well founded, and the braking is nothing short of sensational. It’s silent, grab-free and impressively consistent even during torrential downpours. They’re not just better than any carbon rim we’ve tried – but they genuinely are on a par with an aluminium braking track.
Their performance on windy days feels familiar. Running them back to back with the Firecrests we could still feel pressure from crosswinds, but there was no drama, no violent jerking of the bar or being blown sideways at speed. And these are also rapid. The rigidity makes high-speed cornering assured and fun, and on the flat they hold on to speed with incredible tenacity. And though they may not climb as well as super-light wheels, they’re not exactly heavyweights.
The Firestrike really is an improvement over an already excellent predecessor. The hubs are significantly better, the wheels are stiffer and lighter and the braking is superb. It’s harder to judge aerodynamics, but the Firecrests hadn’t been bettered anyway. We could only come up with one downside: the hefty price.
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