ZIPP 404 FIRECREST – PERFORMANCE FOR LESS

While you can find better-performing wheels and lower-priced ones than the new Zipp 404 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Brake, it’s the performance-price combination that makes this wheelset stand out.

As road disc wheels move into what I’ve identified as their 4th generation, it’s become harder to apply the traditional climber, aero, all-around, etc. labels to describe what type of terrain a wheelset performs best on or what type of rider it would be best suited for.

The latest generation Zipp 404 Firecrest is fast on the flats like its predecessors and as you would expect any wheelset with its 58mm rim depth should.

But, it also climbs and rides across rolling terrain better than most wheelsets this deep and as good as many 10mm to 15mm shallower. Add to that its ability to hold its line well in crosswinds, a welcome performance characteristic whether going all out on an exposed flat road or a fast downhill after a good mountain climb.

No, the Zipp 404 Firecrest is not the all-everything wheelset that I and my fellow testers fell madly in love with riding the Zipp 454 NSW. But the 404 is less than half the price of its US$4000/£3200/€3600 upper-crust, heart-throb sibling.

Nor is it quite the performer or as expensive as the snappier, smoother riding ENVE SES 5.6, a US$2550/£2800/€3300 beauty that is also one of the best on flats, rollers, and shorter climbs.

But if you want a wheelset that performs as well or better than most on a wide range of road terrain at a price less than many that are best over a narrower range, the Zipp 404 Firecrest is there for you.

Thanks to Competitive Cyclist for sending this Zipp 404 Firecrest wheelset that I picked among the hundreds they sell.

Of all the online bike stores I track, Competitive Cyclist is one of the top stores I recommend based on its competitive prices, broad selection of enthusiast-level gear and kit, and strong customer satisfaction record from independent services. It also is a big supporter of In The Know Cycling’s goal to help fellow enthusiasts figure out what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.

As with any wheelset with a deep rim that’s intended for speed, you don’t want to go out and wreck your aero performance by putting a 28mm wide tire on the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s front wheel instead of a 25mm one. You already get improved comfort and handling thanks to the 404’s added volume and straighter tire sidewalls coming from its 23mm inside width, hookless rims.

While not the plushest or best handling wheels on the block, my fellow tester Miles and I found it’s plenty comfortable enough and handles just fine with our top-rated 25mm wide Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite and Schwalbe Pro One TLE tires that we tested on this wheelset. (The discontinued Zipp tires you see in the photos were used only to soothe my aesthetic sensibilities.)

For the Zipp 404 Firecrest, your tires need to be both tubeless and hookless compatible. And if you are partial to riding 28mm rubber, you can be both aero and comfortable if you are willing to work with me. Put a 25mm tire on the front wheel where aero performance is crucial and a wider tire adds little extra comfort. Then mount up a 28mm on the rear where aero is less decisive and you’ll feel the comfort of a wider tire more.

Zipp 404 Firecrest

Unlike the hubs used on the Zipp 454 NSW or ENVE SES 5.6 and many other performance-carbon wheelsets these days, the ZR1 freehubs used on the Zipp 303 and 404 Firecrest wheels are loud. They’re just as audible but not as rich sounding as the Chris King or even the Industry Nine hubs you can select or build into some wheelsets.

The freehub noise Miles and I heard may be beautiful music to your ears. Just know that you can’t coast in the wheels of your group ride mates or a competitive race peloton with 404s rolling underneath you without being noticed and likely encouraged to take more than your share of pulls or be more easily marked if you try a breakaway.

But the way this US$1900/£1600/€1800 wheelset performs, your buds may think you’re riding a more expensive set. And with how well you move across all pitches of paved roads, they may think you are fitter than you may actually be.

With the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s performance and its 1521 gram weight per my scale, it’s hard to see a reason to buy a 10-15mm shallower, more typical 40-50mm deep wheelset for so-called all-around riding. The latest Zipp 303 Firecrest falls in that depth range but my experience suggests it’s better for very hilly terrain and mountain road climbs as an all-arounder.

Certainly, US$1900/£1600/€1800 is not a value-price. There are many wheelsets available from established and new brands that sell for US$1300 to $1600. But the Zipp 404 Firecrest clearly outperforms all of those we’ve tested in that price range and, my dear fellow road cycling enthusiast on a budget, it easily justifies the added spend.

In our experience, this is a wheelset that performs comparably to or better than many aero or all-around ones that cost more and can do so across a mix of terrain that few more expensive wheelsets can.

You can order the Zipp 404 Firecrest wheelset using this link to Competitive Cyclist.

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21 comments

  • Hi Steve, thanks for the review. Would you mind measuring the outside rim width on the front and rear rims with a calipers, and letting us know what you find out? Zipp doesn’t list the external rim width in their specs. Knowing this would help me know how feasible it would be to run a 28mm tire up front.
    Thanks!

  • North, The rims measure 58.3mm deep, 22.8mm inside, 27.7mm outside width. Even if it’s feasible, it’s counterproductive to your aero/speed performance to put a 28mm tire up front and doesn’t add much to your comfort/compliance as a majority of your weight is over the back wheel. As I wrote above, the wheelset is plenty comfortable with 25mm tires front and back at the right pressures but a 25mm tire on the front with a 28mm tire on the back would be better than 28mm tires on both and give you little noticeable comfort loss and much noticeable speed gains. Steve

  • Steve,
    Thanks for the review, as always, very informative.
    I have recently switched to a disc. brake bike, Trek Domane SL7, and want to upgrade to Zipps. On my older bike I have 2020 303’s, which I love, but from what I’ve read, the new 303 Disc. is hook less/tubeless and I would be happier with a non-tubeless set up. Any suggestions?

    • Craig, Congrats. That’s an awesome bike. All of Zipp’s disc brake wheels and indeed most new disc brake wheels are being made for use only with tubeless tires. Further, the new Zipp disc brake wheels are also hookless. That limits your tire use to tubeless and hookless compatible ones. There are some good ones out there now including the two we tested that I mentioned in the article. I also expect Conti and others that are tubeless but not hookless compatible will be introducing hookless compatible ones soon.

      If your concern about tubeless is using sealant or mounting the tires, know that you can use a tube in tubeless tires. You will have a greater risk of pinch flats with that set up at the 60 to 80psi pressures you should run tubeless tires on wider rims like the 303 and 404 than you would at 80 to 100psi with a tube inside a classic clincher tire on a narrower rim like one with a 17mm or 19mm inside rim width.

      Running a tube in a tubeless tire at higher pressures will also negate some of the added comfort, reduced impedance losses, and improved handling benefits you get with wider rims and tires.

      You could always go with an earlier generation, narrower disc brake wheelset or even stay with clinchers with Roval’s Rapide CLX. Even with something like that Roval though, a 28mm tire on its 21mm inside width rims is going to call for a 60psi tire inflation recommendation for a 150lb rider and a 70psi pressure for an 180lb one. Those pressures with clincher tires are still inviting more pinch flat risk than I prefer. Despite the Rapide CLX’s 35mm max front rim width, even they recommend a 25mm or 26mm tire rather than a 28mm, albeit a clincher. Going that width would require a higher inflation pressure and likely reduce pinch flat risk.

      While it’s certainly not smooth, like it or not but disc brakes, wider wheels and tires, and tubeless and hookless rims are moving together in interdependent ways to give you the kind of faster, more comfortable, more versatile, and less expensive wheels like you see with the new Zipp 404 Firecrest. We’ve already seen more new wheels like the Zipp 404 Firecrest and fewer like the Roval Rapide CLX and will continue to see more wheelmakers move in this direction in the near future. Zipp is actually a bit late as I described in this post I wrote over a year ago. https://intheknowcycling.com/zipp-303-joins-the-party/.

      Now that you’re riding disc, I encourage you to join in on the other benefits of wider rimmmed, tubeless wheels that come with it. Steve

  • Steve, as always, thanks for the informative review. Any recommendations for us who still have rim brakes? I have Roval CLX 32s, and was running them tubeless, but then discovered that they won’t stay on the rim when they lose air, which of course is really dangerous (Roval has stopped making tubeless wheels, as you likely know, because of this). So, I’m looking for a replacement set of wheels. Thanks in advance!

    • Todd, I’ve done a ton of reviews of rim brake wheels. I’d suggest you start with this post which will walk you through how to choose the right wheels for the goals you have, the type of riding you do, and your budget. Based on how you answer the questions in the rider profile that appears in that post, you can click on links to my rim brake wheelset reviews I’ve done in the alloy upgrade, value-carbon, all-around, aero, and climbing wheelset categories. Steve

      • Thanks — hadn’t seen that comprehensive post you link to, which led me to https://intheknowcycling.com/best-climbing-wheels, where I read more about the Enve SES 3.4’s. I also noted with interest the Zipp 202 NSW’s on the chart, but didn’t see your review of them on that page. When I search for Zipps on the site, seems most reviews are for disc wheels? Thanks.

  • Todd, Zipp dropped the 202 NSW from their line recently so I deleted the review but haven’t updated that chart. The ENVE 3.4 rim brake was a better choice even when the 202 was still being made. Steve

    • Thanks. After review (including of my bank account!) and a lot of thought, went with the ENVEs. Looking forward to their arrival! As always, I appreciate the work you do here, and your responsiveness.

  • Thank You for reviewing these wheels. I have been riding the 303 Firecrest’s on my 2021 Giant TCR for a year now. They have performed flawlessly. The 303 Firecrest have brought me pure joy. I seriously considered the 454 NSW’s for my 2nd TCR but the price is a tough sell. I’ll probably order a set of the 404 Firecrest. I’m confident I’ll have the same awesome experience.

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  • Ay caramba, I recently bought a Pinarello F12 disc and equipped it with the new 303 firecrest. I thought I read somewhere that 28mm is the narrowest recommended tire size so that’s what I mounted(Schwalbe Pro Ones). Is it possible that I mixed up the specs with the 303S which have a 25mm inner rim depth?

  • Great review. Exactly what I was looking for! Trying to decide between the 404 FC or spending the extra money on the Enve 5.6. Any thoughts for rolling terrain for a 2021 Cervelo S5?

    • Currently on DT Swiss ARC 1450s

    • Curious what you to decide, I’m having the same exact debate. I have a pair of the 2021 303 FC’s on my gravel/all-road bike and have loved them, although I got a crack the other week. Fortunately Zipp warranty was easy enough to deal with.

      • Andrew, RT, Both the ENVE SES 5.6 disc and Zipp 404 Firecrest disc will be great on rolling terrain. The ENVE is a bit snappier, smoother and quieter rolling but the Zipp is less expensive and similarly fast. The 404 is also available (including at top rated store Competitive Cyclist – you get to support the site when you order it through that link. How cool is that?) while the 5.6 is back-ordered for months everywhere. Steve

  • Steve – what does a 25mm tire measure on the news Zipp 404? Cheers!

  • How do the Zipp 404 Firecrest compare to Chinese rims (eg, CSC, farsports)?

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