ZIPP 303 NSW DISC – 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 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 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.
I 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 Zipps 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 where you get 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles for those living in the UK/EU.
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You can read my evaluation of other wheelsets in this category in the post The Best Carbon Disc Wheelset. A chart comparing performance is shown here.
First published on September 9, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.