Check out our YouTube channel to see our independent and sponsor-free video reviews.


If the Zipp 303 S Tubeless Disc-Brake wheelset I rode for this review didn’t have the Zipp logo on the side of its rims, I wouldn’t have guessed it was from Zipp.

Regardless, it’s clearly a best value carbon wheelset winner.

It has better than average lateral stiffness and average vertical compliance (aka comfort). That’s the opposite of almost every Zipp wheelset I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve ridden quite a few in the 202, 303, and 404 series.

The high lateral stiffness is certainly welcome. Over the years, I’ve suggested to many larger or heavier-than-average readers that they go with a stiffer wheelset than those from Zipp. Lateral stiffness also translates to good handling in these wheels and effective climbing for a wheelset of its weight.

Less than Zipp-like comfort in the 303 S isn’t a knock, and it’s certainly not an issue. These are more like the comfort of the average mid-depth carbon wheelset. I did many 50-mile rides on them without any compliance-induced fatigue. It’s just that I had just gotten used to Zipp wheels being supremely comfortable.

Despite their 45mm depth, I felt only a small amount of “free speed” with the 25mm Schwalbe tires mounted on the 303 S. The pedaling effort (aka “watts”) I put into creating forward momentum with the 25mm and 28mm Zipp tires didn’t feel any easier to maintain as it does with more aerodynamic wheel-tire combinations when my speed gets above 20mph.

Knowing this, you can certainly make these wheels ride more comfortably by using a 28mm or wider tire without paying an aero penalty.

The 3-pawl Zipp 76/176 hubset is one of the few design aspects or components that carry over from earlier generation Zipp wheels. It’s pretty basic and pleasantly quiet; there’s certainly nothing objectionable about it. But don’t expect to get the same performance and smooth rolling of the Cognition hub Zipp puts on its NSW wheels just because they have the same logo.

The 303 S wheels did take notice of crosswinds but didn’t trouble me much about them. That was a very good thing as they climbed very well for a wheelset of its depth and weight.

Zipp 303 S

Also new for Zipp, the 303 S wheelset and the latest 303 Firecrest are the first in their new gravel wheelset category. While what qualifies as a gravel, road, or cyclocross wheelset or one well suited for all those disciplines these days is debatable, the 303 S internal width helps make the gravel argument.

From my testing, however, the 303 S rides on gravel more like most 21mm road disc wheels that are only slightly narrower than this one’s actual 22.5 mm internal width (per my measurement) and not nearly as well as the 25C rim width 303 Firecrest and others I’ve found are best for 35-40mm wide gravel tires.

Many ride 21mm (and 19mm and even 17mm) road wheels on gravel. You can certainly ride these as I did for miles on various dirt and gravel terrain. But these and other 21C wheels lack the comfort and handling of the best gravel wheels.

Because it’s a Zipp wheelset, I’ve reviewed it as critically as I would any wheelset that sells at historically Zipp-like prices. But this Zipp wheelset sells for far less and should be compared to those from other brands in this review of value carbon wheels that sell in the same price range.

Given its combination of stiffness, handling, climbing, and acceleration performance that is better than most others in this category, along with Zipp’s broad dealer service network and lifetime warranty, this Zipp 303 S is a value bike wheelset “best” pick for those who are committed to getting the lower rolling resistance of tubeless tires and know that they don’t gain anything by using hooked rims.

Zipp 303 S

Design: As mentioned, the Zipp 303 S tubeless disc brake wheels have hookless rims that require you to use tubeless tires. Most of the better tubeless tires are hookless compatible. Even 200lb/90kg riders needn’t inflate 28mm tires above the recommended 72.5 psi/5 bar maximum inflation pressure. what i

While most tubeless wheels these days have hooked rims that will lock in the flexible beads of tube-type clincher tires and give you the option to choose between going tubeless or tubed, you can only use tubeless tires on these wheels. If you prefer to use clinchers, these wheels aren’t for you.

The wheels weighed 1556 on my scale with pre-installed rim tape but no tubeless valves. They measured 45.2mm deep with a 22.5mm inside and 27.5mm outside rim width. The rim profile starts V-shaped at the spoke bed and quickly transitions to more of a parallel U shape.

Zipp uses their 3-pawl 76/176 hubset on the 303 S, one they used previously on the first 302 and earlier 303 Firecrest disc brake wheels. There are 24 bladed, j-bend spokes on the front and back wheels with external nipples.

The rims are made, and the wheels are assembled in SRAM’s Taiwan factory.

Zipp 303 S

The hookless Zipp 303 S rim tape should say Tubeless “ONLY” instead of “Compatible.”

Quality: Like many lower-priced wheelsets, the hubs use push-in end-caps. That’s usually not a problem. But, if you frequently remove the 303 wheels from your bike and change between road and gravel tires, it’s not difficult for the end cap on the freehub to pull off from the weight of the cassette. It happened to me on a couple of changeovers, and I had to scramble to put a pawl or two back in place. I was more careful after that.

Most notably, Zipp now gives the original owner of their wheels a lifetime warranty on any materials or workmanship defects. If it fails while riding or racing a wheelset in the way it was intended, they will repair or replace it at no cost to you for the lifetime of your ownership. That’s about as good as it gets.

Zipp doesn’t offer a trial riding period as some other brands do. They leave that up to their individual dealers to determine whether to credit or refund you if you want to return one of their wheelsets after riding it.

Like other major wheelset brands, Zipp has an extensive dealer network of bike shops you can bring your wheels into for any repair or warranty issues regardless of where you purchased them.

Price: The 303 S wheelset lists for US$1400, £1090, €1320, a very un-Zipp-like price. It often sells for less.

You can order the 303 S at stores I recommend for their competitive prices, great selection, and high customer satisfaction ratings using these links to Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect)Merlin, Sigma Sports, and BikeInn.

In The Know Cycling is ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported. If you want to help keep it rolling without any added cost to you, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links on the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish our independent, comprehensive, and comparative reviews. Thank you, Steve. Learn more.

You can read my evaluation of other wheelsets in this category in the post The Best Value Carbon Wheelset.


  • Hey @Steve, if you were a clyde (220lbs) riding endurance road and just *wanted* to upgrade your bike FROM the 303s to something else, what would you be looking at? As a bigger guy I’m never going to be winning the climbs/sprints, and tend to enjoy the comfort of a Roubaix bike… but always looking to enjoy a new toy – what would you go for? 353NSW? enve 4.5? Other?

    • Mike, I recommend both of those wheels.. and others depending on what kind of riding you do and how much you want to spend. Most have recommended weight limits of 120K including rider and bike so you should be good. You can see all the wheels we currently like across the different categories in my review of the best carbon road bike wheels. Best, Steve

      • Thanks Steve. My average rides are running about 17mph on greenway (hilly but not crazy climbs) — I’d mentioned those two as I’d found the 353 for the same price as the 4.5… but the more i read the more i talk myself in circles! LOL

      • Thanks for the review! Is it preferred to run these tubeless (are they optimized for tubeless in some way) or is it perfectly fine to run tubes with TLR tires? Thank you

        • Phil, I prefer tubeless, as you can lower the pressure to get the best comfort and handling without worrying about a pinch flat with a tube. Steve

  • Hello! Planning to buy some 303s as a spare wheel for my race season. What size are these GR1 Team Issue tires? I would like something that size for these wheels.


  • Hi In the Know Team, I just purchased a new set of Zipp 303 Firecrest hookless rims for a Cervelo Soloist. I live in CO and was looking for an all around wheelset (replacing Reserve 40/44 76/176 hub) primarily for paved road riding, on flats & rollers, with an occasional off road / hard packed dirt farm road (think Old Fall River Road in RMNP). I plan on following Zipp’s compliance standards (Less than 73 psi, tires greater than 28mm, & following the hookless tire compatibility.

    Question: 1) Following De Gendt’s crash and the UCI’s investigation into the safety of hookless; what has been your experience with riding & racing hookless tires on paved & hard pack dirt roads, any tires blowing off the rims. And 2) Could you rank the following tires 30mm: Sworks Turbo 2BR 2T/5T, Schwalbe Pro One TLE and GP 5000 AS TR. As a newbie to hookless rims I’m trying to determine if this is the right move.

    Thanks for all you do

    • Mike, Our experience riding and racing with hookless wheels and tubeless tires including the combination that De Gendt rode has been absolutely safe. It’s unknown what caused his crash but the blame put on hookless wheels is IMHO incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst. But it sure does get attention.

      Following the guidelines you listed will keep you in good stead. I’d rate the 2BR and AS TR as equally good training tires road riding. The Pro One is faster than both, more of a racing and training tire, but faster wearing and not as long lasting. You can see our reviews of road and gravel tires here: Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *