ZIPP 404 NSW – A TOP PICK FOR FLAT ROAD RACES, CRITS, TTs OR BREAKAWAYS
The following review was recently added to the post THE BEST AERO ROAD BIKE WHEELS.
Despite the similarities in name, the new Zipp 404 NSW and Zipp 404 Firecrest are quite different wheelsets. Yes, they did add a textured brake track and are using a new hub on the NSW but they’ve also changed some of the rim’s key dimensions, something they’ve never done to the Firecrest as they’ve updated it over the years.
The 404 NSW wheels are a good deal wider (about 1mm at the bead hook and 2.5mm at the brake track per my measurements) and lighter (about 150g) than the 404 Firecrest. They are still dimpled, not tubeless and should be run with a 23C tire to minimize the aerodynamic drag.
These remain very fast wheels and good in crosswinds. Zipp makes quantitative claims about the % improvement that I can’t verify but on the road I can tell you they are fast, maintain your speed very well and are minimally affected and quite easily managed in heavy crosswinds. They were one of the fastest wheels I’ve ridden in my highly unscientific 2-mile interval training repeats and just barely noticed the wind (or view) coming off the ocean in my high wind crosswind runs.
My A level, 20mph+, damn-he’s-fast bike club friend Nate summed up their sweet spot well after riding these 404 NSWs when he said: “These would be my pick in a flat road race, crit, TT or solo breakaway but I would opt for the ENVE SES 4.5 in a hillier race.”
The hubs are quiet and silky smooth both pedaling and freewheeling with a Dura Ace cassette but annoyingly loud with the SRAM one they came with. Likewise, the wheels ran smoothly with 23C Conti 4KSII rubber but I found them downright buzzy with Zipp’s own 23C Tangente Course tires.
The brake track width measured wider than these 23C tires, comfortably in the 105-110% range, best for minimizing drag/maximizing aero performance, i.e. speed. While I’d put a premium on aero with these depth wheels, and aero drag reduction with 23C tires will generally outweigh rolling resistance reduction with 25Cs at the kind of speeds you’d likely ride these wheels, you could run 25C tires at lower pressure to make the ride more comfortable, something where the 404 NSW don’t excel.
The stiffness and climbing were also disappointing to both Nate and me. Neither of us are heavy guys but we both noticed that the 404 NSW weren’t terribly stiff and you could get the rear wheel to rub the brake pads if you were rocking side to side when climbing or sprinting. They didn’t climb very well on anything more than a roller. A bit surprised here as the 404 NSW at 1562 grams aren’t light but are as light as any of the other aero wheels in this review.
Perhaps the stiffness and climbing weaknesses come back to the hubs. Zipp seems to change hubs nearly as often as I change cassettes and the Cognition hubs used on all their NSW wheelsets is yet another new hub for Zipp. They don’t engage particularly fast, certainly not as fast as the ENVE or DT Swiss 240 hubs and that affects your ability to keep up with changes in speed or moves in the group and changes in pitch going up a hill. A wider hub flange can also make the wheels stiffer, something you see with good effect on Easton’s latest Echo hub and other new hubs coming out. The rim walls also seemed a bit thinner and easier to depress than the others, perhaps contributing both to less weight and lateral stiffness.
While a wheelset this fast is not one you should buy for its braking ability, the 404 NSW certainly do brake extremely well on dry pavement and stay very cool going down steep, long hills. On wet roads, the braking goes from average carbon to as good if not better than any alloy after a couple seconds (I counted on multiple passes), likely after squeezing the water out of their tracks.