Zipp brings humpback aero to super-deep 858 wheels

Tri/TT wheels have rims that ripple from 77 to 88mm tall

Ahead of the Ironman world championships in Hawaii, Zipp has rolled out its latest incarnation of the humpback-whale-inspired aero wheels with the 858 NSW. The deep aero hoops fluctuate in rim depth from 77 to 88mm, and will come in clincher and disc-brake models in November for a whale of a price at $4,400 / £3,730. 

In early 2016, the SRAM-owned company introduced a magnet-based (instead of spring-based) freehub with the Zipp 404 NSW wheels.

Then, at the end of 2016, Zipp debuted the humpback-whale-inspired shape with the Zipp 454 NSW

The new Zipp 858 NSW has both the magnetic Cognition hub and the undulating, textured rim, but in a super-deep format targeted at triathletes and time-trial aficionados.

With braking handled at the rotor, Zipp engineers have a broader aero canvas with which to work
With braking handled at the rotor, Zipp engineers have a broader aero canvas with which to work

Humpback-whale rims?

Aside from looking and sounding cool, the point of aero wheels is to reduce the drag caused by the bike and rider moving through the air. Deeper rims generally accomplish this compared to a box-section rim by smoothing airflow. 

Taking a trick from golf balls, years ago Zipp added a dimpled texture on its rims to create a thin turbulent boundary layer that allowed the bulk of the air to flow past more smoothly. (Relatedly, Castelli had dimples on forward-facing portions of Team Sky skinsuits at this year's Tour de France.) 

So what do water-bound whales have to do with aerodynamics? Well, hydrodynamics and aerodynamics are both fluid dynamics, so many principles can apply across both. For example, you can feel drastic changes to drag by sticking your hand out the window of a car on the highway and changing its shape, and you can do the same thing with your hand in water when in a boat.

The 858 NSW rim-brake wheels feature Zipp's notched Showstopper brake track
The 858 NSW rim-brake wheels feature Zipp's notched Showstopper brake track

In any event, Zipp engineers looked at how smoothly a humpback whale moved through the water, and decided to test some whale-inspired shapes on its rims in CFD.

Zipp concluded that this undulating shape allowed for higher-frequency wind vortex shedding. Instead of side pressure building up and then releasing in pulses (think wheel shudder in crosswinds), the NSW shape lets pressure quickly release more often, resulting in a more stable experience in addition to a faster one, Zipp claims.

  ZIPP 858 NSW weights, details, prices and availability

858 NSW Carbon Clincher Disc Brake wheels

  • 1,834g  (850g front / 984g rear) claimed weight
  • 77mm / 82mm rim depth
  • 23.7mm max width
  • 17mm internal width
  • 24 front / 24 rear spokes
  • Centerlock rotor interface, but lock ring not included
  • Thru-axle and XDR compatible
  • Front wheel: $2,000 / €2,000 / £1,695 
  • Rear wheel: $2,400 / €2,400 / £2,035 
  • Available November 2017
The 858 NSW Disc wheels are centerlock
The 858 NSW Disc wheels are centerlock

858 NSW Carbon Clincher Rim Brake wheels

  • 1,750g  (
808g front / 
942g rear) claimed
77mm / 82mm rim depth 

  • 24.4mm max width (front) 
23.7mm max width (rear) 

  • 17mm internal width 

  • 18 front / 24 rear spokes  
  • Showstopper brake track
XDR compatible 
  • Front wheel: $2,000 / €2,000 / £1,695 
  • Rear wheel: $2,400 / €2,400 / £2,035 

  • Available November 2017
Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team Issue, Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Priority Eight city bike... and a constant rotation of test bikes
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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