ZIPP 303 NSW CARBON DISC WHEELSET – A COMFORTABLE, CONFIDENT THRILL RIDE

While you can’t ascribe human emotions to inanimate objects like bike wheels, I can tell you how I feel riding them. When it comes to riding the Zipp 303 NSW carbon disc wheelset, I get a comfortable, confident thrill I don’t often experience from the performance of other wheels.

You wouldn’t think feelings like comfort and thrilling happen at the same time or that you can be confident in pushing yourself to the limits where thrills are usually found. Yet for me, someone admittedly filled with my own contradictions, I experience comfort, confidence, and thrills at the same time from the performance of this versatile carbon disc wheelset from Zipp.

Let me explain.

As to comfort, these 303 NSW carbon disc hoops combine smooth and quiet rolling with great compliance. The rear hub freewheels without even a whisper. The wheels absorb rough roads, cracks and even shallow holes with hardly a notice.

Part of that comfort probably comes from being optimized for tubeless tires. More than tubeless ready or having tubeless as part of a crazy long name – Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc Brake – the rim bed has shallow, narrow channels near the outsides of the rim beds to better secure the tire beads under the rim hooks when running tubeless tires at lower pressures.

Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Disc WheelsetI set these wheels up with 25C tubed clincher tires and 25C and 28C tubeless from multiple brands. Tubed tires like the 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II were a bear to get off. I wouldn’t want to have a flat on the road with tubed tires on these rims unless I was riding with Scott, whose hands are the size of a bear’s.

The tubeless Schwalbe Pro One and Zipp Tangente Speed tires were easy to install and remove. If ever I needed to put a tube inside them due to a sidewall cut too big to close with sealant, it’d be an easy job.

Zipp claims these wheels test fastest in the wind tunnel with a 28mm tire. I found, however, that Zipp’s 28C Tangente Speed Road Tubeless tire, a model whose 28C and 25C sizes typically set up narrower than Schwalbe Pro One, Mavic Yksion Pro UST and other tubeless tires I recently reviewed, measured 1 mm wider than the roughly 29 mm wide rim.

Zipp’s rim shapes have obviously changed as they’ve moved to the newer and wider NSW wheels. Their tech support representatives tell me the 95% tire to rim with rule Zipp established a decade ago and other brands have followed no longer applies to the NSW rim shapes. They didn’t tell me what their new rule is though, perhaps wanting to keep that secret sauce secret. Most other leading aero wheel designers still go by the tire-narrower-than-rim-width principle and have publicly shared the aero data to confirm it.

While riding these wheels with 28C tubeless tires is supremely comfortable, I found the 25C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tire that measures essentially the same width as the 303 NSW rim and the 25C Tangente Road Tubeless tire that measures about 2mm narrower both provide great comfort in combination with these compliant wheels.

While I spent most of my time on the roads, a couple of outings one of my fellow In The Know Cycling testers took with this 303 NSW road disc wheelset on combined paved and dirt roads showed their versatility to be better than most.

Wide rims and wide tires usually lead to good handling. The handling on these wheels was better than good. It took me to the extremes of confidence in cornering and made me darn near fearless. I never doubted them in tight turns and I pushed them as hard as I can. That was a thrill right there.

Responsive? Yes. Acceleration? Beam me up Scotty. Aero? Held my speed well. Crosswinds? Bring ’em on. Not a bother.

For me and my mere 150lb/68kg body weight, they were plenty stiff and climbed well. They also handle beautifully going fast downhill with never a worry about speed, cornering, wind or road surface.

I’m holding back final judgment on their stiffness until one of our new testers with legs twice the size of mine comes back with his report after flexing this wheelset to his max on climbs and in sprints. I’ll update this review when he does.

Beyond how this Zipp 303 NSW disc brake wheelset performed against all of these criteria, and they did as well or better than most other all-around carbon disc or rim brake wheels I’ve spent time with, I just found these a joy to ride and really looked forward to it. That was a thrill in itself.

Of course, being Zipp’s top-of-the-line carbon disc wheelset model, it’s not a cheap thrill. But if you are up for all that I experienced, you can get these wheels by clicking through to Competitive Cyclist for US/CA residents and Tredz, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles for those living in the UK/EU.

In The Know Cycling supports you by doing hours of independent and comparative evaluations to find and recommend the best road cycling gear and kit to improve your riding experience.

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31 comments

  • Thanks for the review Steve. I love the wheels, bought them based on your review of the rim versions best all-rounder, upgraded from the course 30 rims. I’ve had no problems with getting clincher tyres on or off, I’ve found them way easier with these rims, maybe because of their design, I don’t know, but definitely way easier than with the course 30’s. Zipp advised me to use 28c tyres, I used the Conti GP4000SII 28c but they didn’t last long, especially on the rear, 500-1000 km max, I’ve found the tyres to be too soft, wear and puncture easily. I noticed that Cannondale on the SystemSix are using 23c tyres on the Knot64 rims, the rim specs are similiar to the Zipp NSW 303 Disc apart from depth, so I thought I’d try Schwalbe One V-Guard 25c, bingo, slightly heavier than the Conti’s, similar rolling resistance but way more bullet proof, the 25c measures 28mm wide on the rims, with more wear they now measure about 30mm wide. Panaracer Race Light Evo 3 became available this year so I’m currently trialing them out, they are lighter than Conti and Schwalbe, more bullet proof that Scwalbe, rolling resistance isn’t as good but from my experience and feel, lighter out ways heavier with better rolling resistance. I’ve also found that 28c moves around alot especially in the rear (presumably caused by more air volume), whereas the 25c is primo, more responsive, quicker to accelerate, no movement in the rear. I’m 79 kg, 25c tyres are fitted with VittorIa latex tubes with 99.9 psi in the rear, 98.9 on the front. This setup I’ve found perfect for me and steed.

    • I’m surprised that you find Conti GP4000SII 28c to be soft. In reality, it’s overbuilt German tire. Thicker tread and puncture resistance is quite high. As much as I like these, they fall into all-season category and far from supple. On a positive note, rolling resistance is among the best. It’s good that you mentioned Panaracer Race A light EVO3. People rave how supple this tire is.

      • Yes, unfortunately maybe just me, the Conti is a great tyre but they don’t last on the rear, I have mates who use them and don’t have any issues, but unfortunately for me I’ve gone through a few and they damage easily. I’m 79 kg and run them at 99.9 psi on the rear and they are great, fast, sticky, everything, except durable. 500-1000 km is only 2-4 weeks riding. Yes, the Panaracer L Light EVO3 @ 205g that has been available earlier this year I’m now testing, I’ve used it on the front for 400 km and will move it to the back to test its durability, fingers crossed.

        • 79 kg is not heavy, so why do you run such high pressure? I keep 25mm at 80 psi and 28mm at 65 psi. Typically the root cause of punctures is over inflation.
          I have been running these tires for years, year round. As you may know Conti GP4000SII run wide, even on narrow rim. 25mm measure ~27mm with caliper and 28mm measure ~30mm.
          Panaracer Race A light EVO3 is a durable tire. As a matter of fact it’s more puncture resistant than Conti GP4000SII
          http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/road-bike-reviews/panaracer-race-l-evo-3-2018

          • I run them at these pressures through testing and feel, lower means too much movement when putting the power down. I started from 85 psi and moved up bit by bit till I was happy with the feedback, not too hard, not too soft for the flats and climbing. Yes http://www.bicyclerollingresistance is what I use to choose tyres. My gut feeling is the NSW303DISC rims are such in design and spec that they are not as compatible with the Contis spec as with other tyres that haven’t had the same issue.

  • Great review, can’t wait for the full update. Have you considered the new Industry 9 carbon deep disc road wheels? Could be great comparison, all mountain bikers I know have about I9.

    • Scott, I haven’t considered the i9 wheels as of yet. From what I can tell, their new wheels have Reynolds designed rims and i9 hubs. Reynolds wheels, like the Aero 46 DB I have been testing have i9 torch hubs. i9 torch hubs are also now available on some ENVE wheels. Reynolds is also likely coming out with new Attack, Assault and Strike wheels (my guess based on how few of the current model are in the pipeline, how low the prices have dropped, and how long its been since an update/redesign) and I’m curious to see how similar their rim shapes are to those of the new i9 wheels. i9s wind tunnel tests compare to Zipp 303 and 404 Firecrest disc wheels which are their second-tier wheels and likely to get an upgrade soon as the NSW rim shapes get passed down.

      All of this is not unlike DT Swiss’ long time strategy of selling their hubs to a lot of top wheelmakers (Enve included but other top brand names like Roval also using them as their hub internals) and DT is now selling wheels with rims designed by SwissSide. DT Swiss and to a lesser degree Chris King and i9 are all fighting for share for OEM wheels. Following DT, i9 are now branding their own wheels with other’s. Others like Zipp, Campy, Easton, HED still designing and building (or having built) their own hubs.

      It’s a lot to keep up with and try to separate the reality from the hype. How much of a difference do the hubs make on high-end wheels relative to the rims? Depends what performance, design and cosmetic aspects are most important to you.

      Will try to give you much of that in our full update though not including the i9 (but including the Reynolds Aero 46 DB), which I hope to finish and publish next week. Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    I’m close to buying the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc Frameset, Using Dura Ace R9120 11 Speed Disc Groupset.
    Will be doing a lot of climbing In Boone NC. Will also use in flat Miami. I’m leaning towards the Zip NSW 303 or the Zip Firecrest 303.
    Any advice? Thank you, Juan

    • Juan, I know it’s hard to pick one wheelset when you regularly ride such different terrain like you’ve described that would ideally be suited for different wheelsets. I recommended the ENVE SES 4.5AR as the best all-around carbon disc wheelset in my comparative review here. Between the two Zipp wheelsets you mentioned, also reviewed and compared in the chart I linked you to, I rate the 303 NSW more highly. Steve

  • Hi Steve, do you have an update yet on the Zipp 303 NSW under a rider with a bigger build than you? Keen to know if it’s stiff enough for someone around 220lbs. Thanks.

  • Hi Steve
    I have been considering new Zipp 303 NSW wheelset for my new BMC Roadmachine 03, I find the stock 3T discus wheels that came with the bike hard work, very unresponsive and hard to keep rolling at speed.
    Previously I had a set of Zipp 202 Firecrests Carbon Clinchers on my last bike (Canyon CF SLX) and found them to be a fantastic climbing wheel, lively and responsive.
    My concern in buying the Zipp 303’s is how good they would be for climbing? Will they be as responsive as my old Firecrest 202’s for climbing or should I play safe and go with what I know and buy the Zipp 202 NSW’s instead.
    I am a light rider at 143 pounds/65 kilos, I do a mixture of flat and hard climbs in Yorkshire.

    • Roger, We’re just finishing our testing and review of the new 303 NSW. They are very good for climbing, probably as good if not better than the old 202. They are stiffer and their weight difference is such that you probably couldn’t tell. They will give you so much more on the flats than the 202. Steve

      • Hi Steve
        Thank you for your quick reply.
        I ordered the 303 NSW disc version with the Zipp 28″ tubeless tyres the day after I got your reply. I wanted a chance to ride them before I replied to give my honest opinion.
        I decided to ride the same 60 mile route (mixture of flat and climbing) I rode the week before to give myself a good comparison.
        All I can say is WOW. This wheelset is outstanding, better than my old 202 Firecrests in spades. As soon as I started riding the wheels spun up to speed instantly and just kept there without a lot of effort. As you suggested they climbed better than the 202 Firecrest (even on a heavier bike). So much so I rode the same route 12 minutes quicker than the week before and broke a string of records for PB’s on Strava.
        This wheelset has transformed my bike.
        Thank you for your recommendations and great work on this website.
        Regards Roger

  • Steve… I am looking for an upgrade on my Rolf ares 4’s at 42mm and 17 internal. I have a 2013 Parlee z3.. a great bike but rear is tight. Running conti force 24mm now and they measure 26 which is about the max… 2.5mm on each side of chain stays. Looking at the Zipp nsw 303 rim brake wheel. What would a conti gp 4000ii 23c and the 25c measure on the 303? Was just in LBS and looked at a zipp 454. This wheel is 17 internal and a 23c measured 23. I was really surprised.. thinking it would measure 25mm. But I am mostly interested in the 303.
    Your thoughts on the tire width on the 303nsw.

    Thanks so much. Really enjoy all your reviews. Dan

  • PS … my 23c Cont Gp4000 measures 25 mounted…. the force measures 26 and the 25Gp4000 measures 27

  • Steve – have you ridden the Zipp 404 NSW Disc? I have heard they are a good all round wheel (unless climbing steep mountains) and wanted to get your thoughts. I currently have cannondale’s hollowgram wheels 35mm rims (weight 1480) and wanted to get a deeper rim tire. I thought the weight penalty of the Zipp 404 of about 120g isn’t to bad and get lots of aero benefits. Just wanted to get your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Christian, The 303 NSW Disc is a better all-around wheelset while the 404 is a better flatland speedster. 303 will make a huge difference in speed and responsiveness that you’ll notice over the Cannondale. 404 might feel a little sluggish while you are getting up to speed. Steve

      • Christian Gonzalez

        Thanks Steve, really find your reviews helpful. So is that the big difference between the 303 and 404 that starting from 0 you will have a slower start-up or are there differences in handling (other then crosswinds)?

        • Christian, generally speaking, the 404 is going to be less nimble handling, less responsive to your quick changes, and accelerate less well either from a start or from whatever speed you want to accelerate from when someone breaks away from the pack. They aren’t bad in the crosswinds aren’t as good as the 303 which is flawless in those conditions. They are also no bargain to climb on though others of their depth are worse.

          The 404s excel in holding your speed once there thus requiring less effort from you to keep them at speed. If you are doing a lot of flat riding or time trials, rather than on courses with more varying terrain and a lot more turning, they would be a better choice than the 303. Steve

      • Philip Pang K S

        Hi Steve

        Thank you for your passion and for all your hard work with your in depth and insightful posts. For your patience.

        I’m 78kg, lean, 1.83m tall. Never ridden a Zipp; presently on Lightweight Meilenstein clinchers rim brake.. Rigging the Madone SLR up. Looking for a good all rounder that climbs and is also responsive /aero in a pack.

        My dealer suggested a 303NSW front with a 404NSW rear. Would it feel sluggish compared to a full 303 set up? Not sure if this would be the best of both climbing (up to 17%) and aero wheel combos

        The Enve 3.4 seem neither here Nor there; AR 4.5 need to be run tubeless on limited 28mm tyres – not keen… 5.6 too deep for climbing steeper slopes….

        Best rgds

        Phil

        • Phil, What I didn’t get is why you are looking for a new set of wheels. The Meilensteins are supreme wheels that accomplish your objective likely better than most other wheels. Yes, not as deep as the others you mention but likely better for climbing as they are far lighter and stiffer. There really isn’t a wheelset that is going to be ideal for climbing 10% slopes and providing top aero performance on the flats. From my experience, the 3.4 offers the best compromise, that is if you are moving on from the Melenstein. If you haven’t yet, check out this post which compares the ENVE, Zipp and others (but not the Lightweight – out of the price range of most of my readers).

          • Philip Pang K S

            Thks Steve. The Meilenstein is a rim brake version; for the SLR, moving towards the disc brake. I have been riding the LW the past 5 years. Love them to bits whatever people might say about their “old school” v-shaped profile and being less aero – these wheels just do almost everything perfectly for me.

            It’s not the wheels; it’s the darn engine.

            I don’t see a move to try other wheelsets a “downgrade”; different wheels offer different characteristics / therein the pain / fun in matching everything up. Read most of your detailed, insightful thoughts carefully a few times over; they are a reference because you are an impassioned (and partially mad!) cyclist like all of us here are and your consistent posts and how you write your articles makes sense. Thank you again.

            I originally wanted the pentagonal hub Meilenstein 24mm Schwarz clinchers for the SLR; then I read about Zipp’s cognition and Axial Clutch hubs – and the NSW 303s just appealed the more I read. Interesting idea. The thought of some free coasting speed on the NSWs in my long 100km rides was a welcome thought, especially when with a faster lean pack who habitually hit 40kph onwards from time to time during the ride. If the NSW cognition is what it really is, and keeps speed up easier in a pack, why not? These are still Zipp after all, a leading wheel specialist. American just like Trek. Good match…. 🙂 The LW will happily sit in any of these faster ride groups being as nimble and responsive as they are; but I don’t mind trying a little more “weighted inertia” in the right spots on a rim (read “heavier”) – to try – and see how these might will reap some benefits keeping up. The LW are probably too good for most of us, save Cat 1 / pros with enough power. I am exploring part of the fun just to try something different without compromising too much on what I already love abt the LW.

            Enves look plain to me – but they are leading aerodynamic specialists and cannot be negated in the considerations. Just looking for a good all rounder that will meet my riding needs of climbing plus flats. No perfect wheelset but some do it all better than most. The LW certainly fit this bill but at a cost; but from the way I feel when on my bike, I am not into 50mm or more deep section wheels just for the sake of being more aero – most of these are more sluggish. I have Friends who love deep section wheels and swear by them; they just don’t climb as much when riding.

            Cheers to everyone here.

  • I asked this question on a different review but thought I’d share the same here. I recently got some 303 nsw disc wheels. For the first 500mi or so they were whisper quiet when freewheeling then suddenly they became quite loud. This was very unexpected. Have you experienced this? I took off the freehub body and added some cognition oil but that has not seemed to help so far. The sound is such that I’m worried that the hub is defective but my lbs said this was normal. I don’t know if there is some initial grease/oil that dampens the sound and then breaks down over time. Thanks!

    • Erik, Haven’t experienced this with either Shimano or SRAM cassettes, as you asked about in your other comment, or with multiple Cognition hubs. It’s not normal. Should remain quite. Would suggest you have it inspected by a good wrench who knows Cognition and other hubs. Could be a simple fix or need a return/replacement. Hard to know without looking at it. Steve

  • Hi Steve, Thanks for the great review. I’m leaning towards Zipps for a new Tarmac S-Works build I’m putting together for Haute Route Alps, as the ENVE rims won’t take the Continental 5000TL due to their rim profile. I was thinking about going for a 202 NSW front and 303 NSW rear. Am I over thinking this and should just go 303 front and back even though I’m after a climbing set up?

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