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.

T404-nsw-2hese 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 cross winds.  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.

Comparison Chart Sept 2016

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.

The 404 NSW are available at US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Wiggle, ProBikeKit code ITK10,  AU/NZ Pushys

7 comments

  • Great review. Interesting comments about their decreased performance in the hills. Thanks!

  • The stiffness or lack of is a bit disappointing at this price range but I do realize that Zipp markets this set as do it all, so I guess compromises are expected. BTW; my last year 404 same story.

  • Hi Steve.
    Love your in depth and unbiased articles.

    I just read your article:
    BEST ALL-AROUND CARBON RIM BRAKE ROAD BIKE WHEELS – 2017
    Where you seem to absolutely love the 303 NSW
    Assuming the hubs and the breaking surface are the same between 404nsw and 303nsw, what do you think makes them behave so differently regarding braking and stiffness?
    I own the 404nsw, but reading your piece about 303nsw, I might be tempted to sell the 404s and buy the 303s.
    What would I gain and respectively loose by doing that?
    I don’t ride mountains, only rolling hills.

  • Asger, hard to know what design aspects make them different but I’d guess the added rim depth and weight makes the 404s faster but not as responsive to accelerations as the 303s. If you are doing mostly flats and hills, speed at 22mph+ is your thing and you are a strong guy (250 watts FTP), you are good with the 404s. If you are looking for a little more versatility in your riding, do crit or road racing, and you aren’t that strong and think you may want to get into the mountains from time, the 303s would be a better option. Steve

  • Steve, thanks for your input.

    I think I’ll stick with the 404s then, as I live in – very flat – Denmark, and unfortunately never ride in the mountains. I hopefully will in the future, but think it would be too optimistic to base my choice of wheels on that.
    My ftp hovers around 300 and when racing, which I do 5-10 times a year, speed is typically +22 mph.
    Actually 95% of all the guys I see race, are riding +50mm rims in this country.
    So all in all, the wise thing to do is probably keeping the 404s, and spend the loss I would eventually suffer by selling used and buying new, on a pair of decent climbing wheels when I eventually will go mountain riding..

    Regarding stiffness, is it correct, that you experience 303nsw as being stiffer than 404nsw, or is the 404 “just” more sluggish?

    Thanks again
    /Asger

    PS. Do you think you’ll get the chance to review the newest FLO series?

  • Asger, it’s subjective. I’d say the 404s are slightly less responsive rather than more sluggish and did seem to bend in a way that the 303s didn’t when going uphill. That said, they certainly do go fast once you get them up to speed.

    Regarding FLO, I don’t have any plans to review the new series. I just can’t get comfortable with their sales model that requires you to get into a virtual line once a month or so for a few minute window for the opportunity to buy their wheels.

    Steve

  • Ok. Thanks again.
    Hope that FLO fixes their sale model then.
    /Asger

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