ZIPP 454 NSW WHEELSET REVIEW – A WHALE OF A TALE
The storylines in reviews of Zipp’s 454 NSW wheelset have been hard to ignore. Whale fins, biomimicry, sawtooth, vortex, the shape of things to come. All these analogies, descriptions and hyperbole to describe how the wheels are supposed to uniquely defeat crosswinds with their rim depths that vary between 55 to 59mm.
I like a good story as much as the next cyclist but I really wanted to know how they perform before suggesting anyone buy them.
In our experience riding them, the Zipp 454 NSW shares many of the same design performance characteristics of the first generation Zipp 404 NSW. (There’s a second gen 404 NSW now but still only a first gen 454 NSW)
Except, the front wheel of the 454 wobbles in the wind. By design. Of course, Zipp doesn’t call it wobbling. (See stories on whale fins, biomimicry, etc.). The wobble helps keep your bike on your line without you having to steer it there yourself.
If you ride or race a lot in windy conditions, I imagine you could get used to it and even use it to your advantage as Zipp intends. I couldn’t. Nate had no problems on the flats but freaked going downhill. Moose was fine with it.
Different riders? Yes. Different situations? Somewhat. Worth an explanation? That’s what In The Know Cycling is here for.
I’m a light (150lb/68kg), B-group rider. 18-20mph/29-32kph ride average. 25mph/40kph while busting it on the flats. Fast enough to enjoy the benefits of a deeper aero wheelset but not so fast to be able to do anything about it (i.e. race).
I thought the 404 NSW was pretty good in the crosswinds. Yes, it was affected by them but I found the effect manageable compared to other deep aero wheels I’d ridden, even with my slim arms and meh strength. I had to steer the front wheel back in but I didn’t get blown off my line.
Admittedly, it’s not a fine line – a foot or so either way. But, it’s a line I could keep riding the 404 NSW on even in 15-20mph crosswinds.
Normally, if it’s that windy, I’m not going out. If it gets that windy once I’m out, I’m easing up a bit. More because of the way my light body gets blown around than the way the wheelset or the bike is.
Riding the Zipp 454 NSW in 15-20mph steady crosswinds, the wheel came back into line on its own. Then it went out the other way. Then came back. Then went out. Then came back. Until the wind eased or I rode into a sheltered area.
To complicate matters, when the wind blew the wheel out, I initially tried to bring it back in, same as I would any wheelset. That was a natural reaction. That was also exactly the wrong reaction for this wheelset, as I was adding to the correcting the wheel was doing itself, only making things worse. So I backed off and let the 454 do its thing.
It felt like a speed wobble. A controlled, intentional, small speed wobble mind you but a wobble nonetheless. I could see where a more disciplined rider or racer could get used to riding the 454 NSW if he/she frequently rode in windy conditions. I couldn’t. I’m not comfortable riding wobbling wheels, intentional or not.
I preferred the manual steer of the 404 NSW in the crosswinds to the self-correcting 454 NSW.
Nate, my very experienced cycling friend, A-group leader, and CAT 3 racer rode the Zipp 454 NSW a couple of times before racing them. Riding 25-30mph (40-48kph) on the flats in a steady side wind, he noted a “subtle micro-wobble” back toward the wind. The 454 NSW offered a different way to deal with crosswinds than other modern wheels he’d tested for our comparative aero wheel reviews.
Was the wobble a concern? Not for Nate in those conditions. Did it live up to the hype of being a radically different way to handle crosswinds? Not really. The Zipp 454 NSW and 404 NSW handled the crosswinds differently, but both were fine.
When Nate raced the 454s down a 45mph+ (75kph) descent, however, the wobble became unstable. The winds were moderate and swirling that day. He held back the second and third time on the same long downhill leg of the three lap Bear Mountain Spring Classic course. Others racing different 60mm or so deep rims didn’t seem to have any problems bombing downhill in the wind.
He fell back and lost several seconds from the lead group each time down the descent. He chased back past the bottom turn after the first and second descents. The final time down, the group was gone before he could.
Moose, my 200lb friend and president of his own mythical FFBC (Fat F*ckers Bicycle Club) felt the wobble like Nate and I did on the flats. He was totally unconcerned by it, locking in instead on the pleasure of speeding along the flats and rollers on the Zipp 454 NSW wheelset over long rides.
While he’s heavier, what separates Moose from lightweights like Nate and me and other 200lb riders I know is his barrel-shaped torso. “Strong” doesn’t do him justice. I can only imagine that 20mph crosswinds to him are like a gentle breeze to me.
So, there you have it. Different reactions in different situations from different types of cycling enthusiasts to the intended wobble of the Zipp 454 NSW. If your reaction to what I’ve reported motivates you to buy a set, you can do so at the best prices from stores with the best customer satisfaction records by clicking through to Competitive Cyclist for US/CA residents and at Tredz 10% off with code ITK10 for those in the UK/EU and other countries.
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