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 roughly 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.

As with any wheelset with a deep rim that’s intended for speed, you don’t want to go out and reduce your aero performance by putting a 28mm wide tire on the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s front wheel instead of a 25mm one if you don’t have to. 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.

Note: If you weigh more than 175 lbs, you are better off going with a 28C tire. The recommended inflation pressure for your weight and a 25C tire would put you above the recommended inflation pressure for this rim (74psi).

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$2025/£1600/€1930 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, it’s not a budget wheelset. There are many available from established and new brands that sell for less. But the Zipp 404 Firecrest clearly outperforms all of those we’ve tested in that price range and that performance, in my humble opinion, 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 these links to Competitive Cyclist in the US or at UK stores Sigma Sports and Bike-Components.

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.

53 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.

  • 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)?

  • Steve,
    Can you comment on combining the new Zipp 404 Firecrest rear wheel (28mm Schwalbe One tire) and Zipp 303 S front wheel (25mm Schwalbe One tire)? These would be mounted on my new Scott Foil 30 2021.
    I’m basically looking for a deeper section rear wheel for aero gains, with a better hub then the one found on the 303 S. 404 FC front wheel would be a financial stretch right now, hence the 303 S.

    Any major drawbacks to this combination?

    • Stjepan, Not crazy about that combination. You get most of your aero benefit from the front wheel so going shallower there doesn’t help you if you are looking for aero gains. There’s also no crosswind difference I could tell between those two wheelsets. The Schwalbe One also has higher rolling resistance (and weighs more) than the Pro One. And per my measurements, the 28C Pro One at 60psi actually sets up narrower on the 303 S than the 25C Pro One at 80psi by enough to make an aero difference.

      I’d suggest you save up for the 404 FC front. Steve

  • Steve, one more question – just curious – could the hubs on these wheels be exchanged to Cognition ones, if I wanted to upgrade eventually?

    • Zipp doesn’t sell the Cognition hubs separately and I doubt they’d replace it on anything but a wheelset that had them previously.

  • Hi Steve, I’m new to modern road bikes and your website is the best on the internet on the subject of wheels. I have a new Cervelo Caledonia, which is an endurance bike, and I like the wider wheel setup it is designed for. If I wanted to upgrade my wheels, but stick with wider wheels (30-32), what would you recommend? I read with interest what you wrote on 25 up front, but my style of riding is that I ride alone and hit the occasional fire trail, sometimes on the same ride. I’m in the Santa Monica mtns area, so shorter punchier climbs. The stock Alex Rims are pretty dull. I haven’t found much on this topic, so I thought I’d post here for your input as you are the guru. I was originally looking at budget all-arounders with a depth of around 45-50, and wider than most. But maybe it’s all beside the point if wider tires lose all the aero benefits. I’d appreciate any insight.

    • Paul, ADR, aero performance is not a priority with an endurance bike like the very nice Caledonia or if you are riding below 20mph on gravel roads and going uphill in the mountains. The 404 Firecrest is more for those who are riding or racing on more
      aero road racing bikes and at 20+mph where aero benefits really begin to kick in. For the kind or riding you are describing, click on these links to have a look at my comparative reviews of all-around wheels and value-priced wheels. To put it all in context, my post on how to choose the best wheelset for you may also be helpful. Cheers, Steve

  • That’s an excellent review, thanks.

    Using SRAM’s tyre pressure guide, it gives you an option to input tyre casing. Would you describe the new GP5000 S TR and Schwalbe Pro One TLE as having a ‘thin’ or ‘standard’ casing? That seems to be the difference between this wheelset being suitable or unsuitable for me at 80kgs (176lbs)

    Also, great shout with 25mm on the front, 28mm on the back.

    • JT, Most everyday training and racing road tires with a puncture belt have a “standard” casing. Track tires or road racing tires without puncture belts have a “thin” or thinner casing. Steve

  • Thanks for all your work Steve, I was wondering how the 404s compare to DT Swiss arc 1400s. I see many of those around and more importantly, they come stock on my new bike, but cant find a review on your website and in a general sense you dont seem too impressed by dt swiss wheels?

    • Hi JP, DT has updated their ARC and ERC wheels since I last tested wheels from them so I can’t really compare them to any others. I’m hoping to review some DT wheels this year. Historically, DT has focused their wheels on the OEM market, i.e. getting their wheels on new bikes rather than selling them as upgrades in the aftermarket. But they have made a push, especially in Europe and working with the design team at SwissSide to compete on a performance basis with their new lines. Steve

      • Thanks Steve!

        Do the 404FC deal materially worse with crosswinds than the current 303S or 303FC?

        i.e. does a backup set of such wheels come very handy when going for – very occasional – alpine mountain riding (and use them as a second set for gravel riding to less frequently changing tires) or would you be comfortable with just the 404FC for a handful of days a year and e.g. ride a marmotte/marathona on those?

        • JP, As to crosswinds, it depends what you mean by “materially”. How strong the wind, at what angle, steady or gusting, your weight, and your comfort with crosswinds all are all part of judging this. In general, deeper wheels will deal less well with crosswinds than shallower ones. But, most of the established brands like Zipp and DT Swiss have done a good job of shaping their current 60mm or so deep wheel profiles to reduce the effects of crosswinds to the point where there’s little difference in the steering torque vs. a 45mm deep wheelset up to a >10 degree yaw angle which are less frequently seen than those <10 degrees.

          As to your questions about the alpine mountain and gravel riding, you are really asking whether the 404 FC works as well as an all-around wheelset as the 303 depth and width wheels. Clearly not. But if you only doing a handful of days (<5?) on climbs or gravel grinds a year and those days aren't your target or A event, you'll be fine with the 404 FC. For the rest of your rides during the year (>150?), the added speed of the 404 FC over the 303 on flats and rollers for most of your rides will be worth it. Steve

          • Great, thanks Steve!

            I’ll then keep the 303FC as the primary set for my gravel bike and switch tires for those 5 days a year in the mountains on the road where the 404 may be a bit too much, that way I dont need a dedicated second set of road wheels that I rarely use.

            JP

          • Hi Steve, thanks for the great review!

            I’m replying to this answer as I am too debating between the 2022 303fc and the 404fc.

            I’m interested in what you would consider “alpine mountain riding” and “very hilly terrain and mountain road climbs” where the 303fc would excel the 404fc. I live in Austria and my average ride would have around 800-1000 height meters over 80-100km distance. As this is my normal, not dedicated climbing ride, my frame of reference might be a bit skewed, as this is what I consider more ‘all-round’. In my experience I only come across a hand full of ‘real’ climbs and most of the other terrain is rolling. Therefore I’m not sure if it’s worth to get the 303fc over the 404fc for these climbs.

            Thanks a million and curious what you think!

          • Bart, What you describe is what I would call a hilly but not a mountainous one unless most of the climbing is happening in a few 10% uphill grades that go on for several kilometers and the rest of the ride is flat. Where I and my fellow testers live, we regularly ride terrain similar to what you describe in Austria on wheels as deep as the 404 FC without feeling like we’d want to be riding something shallower and lighter the whole ride.

            I would consider an alpine ride to be at least 300 meters every 15 kilometers or 1000 feet every 10 miles. You can take a look at my review of climbing wheels for more about all of this. Steve

  • Steve, I know you get to test lots of wheels and hubs. I just picked up a set of 2022 Zipp 404 FC. They seem to roll/spin less freely than my old 2016 Campy Bora Ultras.

    To clarify… When I spin the 404 FC with x amount of force they spin about 5 revolutions. When I use the same force on the Bora Ultras, they spin ab 10 revolutions. I have the same feeling when riding, that the 404 FC don’t hold speed as well as the boras when coasting and decending.

    My 404 FC only have 78 miles on them right now. Will the 404 FC hubs loosen up and spin better after a few more rides? Or, do you think that the Boras just have better spinning hubs? If so, do we expend more effort on a ride with the 404 FC over the Bora Ultras?

    • DMc, Some wheels spin more freely in a stand than others. Campy hubs are some of the best in that regard. However, how well a wheel spins in a stand free of any weight isn’t an indication of how it will spin on the road when loaded and by rider and bike weight and opposed by the road. Hubs with ceramic bearings will roll only a fraction of a watt better than those with the steel bearings used in most hubs. Indeed, a chain that isn’t regularly cleaned and lubed can cause you several watts, yet many of us enthusiasts fail to maintain our chains.

      That said, if you think your 404 FC hub is underperforming, you might want to take it to a shop or disassemble it yourself and make sure it’s got enough lube in there. While I haven’t heard this to be an issue with these hubs, there’s a chance it wasn’t properly lubed at the factory. Oh you just might want to double-check to ease your mind that it isn’t an issue. And no, there isn’t a break-in period for hubs that I’m aware of.

      Then clean and lube your chain. 🙂 Cheers, Steve

      • Thank you for the reply Steve. The bike is new (only 78 miles), so the drive train is still clean and lubed. I’ll ride it a couple more times then decide if I feel it still feels sluggish on the road.

        I have a good mechanic that I can take it to. I’ll ask him to check the hubs for grease, if needed.

  • Hi Steve,

    I just ordered a Zipp 404 Firecrest wheelset and I am trying to find the proper tire to fit in. I own a Dogma F10 with a 25mm tire clearance. I weigh 165lbs so I can stick to 25mm tires. Seems like the new Conti GP5000 S Tr is compatible only for 28mm tire (also checked through Zipp site). Conti site indicates that 25mm tire is hookless compatible but only if the inner width of the rim is up to 21mm. Same with Pirelli P Zero, even though Zipp site does not clarify this. Do you reckon? So the only choice is Swchalbe Pro One TLE?

  • I have the same question as Paschalis.
    I would love to use Contri GP5000 25mm TL on the front. But it seems it’s not approved by SRAM/ZIPP.
    https://support.zipp.com/hc/en-us/articles/4411152474779

    What other choice is there for a 25mm TL tyre with low rolling resitance?

    • Laurens, Paschalis, I’ve used the 25mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE successfully on these wheels. Hard to find but currently available at Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles.

      Zipp recommends 28mm tires on those wheels – reduced rolling resistance outweighs increased drag per their reasoning. Unless you’re riding at aero speeds and if you can fit it, that’s probably the best way to go. Steve

      In The Know Cycling is reader-supported. When you buy through store links, we may earn an affiliate commission that helps me cover out-of-pocket costs for gear I review and other expenses to keep the site rolling for you. Thanks.

      • I also did my research and the official answer form SRAM (Zipp) is that the only compatible 25mm tires are Schwalbe Pro One TLE and Goodyear Eagle F1 (or Supersport).

        • This is VERY limiting. What was Zipp thinking making a wheel with a 23mm internal width that is pretty much too narrow overall, to set up a tire, in an aero width?

          If you put a 28mm tire on these wheels it isn’t aero. And there are only 2 25mm tires in existence that can be used on this wheel in an aero configuration.

          So this Aero wheel can only use 2 tires in an aero configuration. WTH??? Why get a 58mm deep wheel that you can’t run in an aero wheel/tire setup?

          The Schwalbe Pro Ones in 25mm are ok, but I’d really like to run the 5000 S TR. The 5000 S TR aren’t on the list of 2 approved tires though. ??

  • Thanks Steve, I’ve read following article you wrote.
    https://intheknowcycling.com/best-tubeless-tires/

    And this article really gave me great insight for what tires to use in combination with knowing which tires ZIPP approves for these 404s.
    The 25mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE is indeed the tyre to go (especially for the front). Thank you!

    I have on more question. The 25 Schwalbe Pro One TT TLE tire also exists. I read it has a lower rolling resistance but no anti-puncture thread. Would you recommend this tyre above the regular Schwalbe Pro One TLE?
    (In your article you stated that anti-picture features are less of an issue with tubeless tires because of the sealant).

    • Laurens, unless you’re racing and willing to accept the tradeoff of the higher risk of a puncture for a couple more watts of speed, I wouldn’t get a tire without a puncture belt. Yes, the sealant will plug most of the small, nuisance punctures you get with clinchers and tubes but not a big one. Race tires like the TT are also thinner and will wear more quickly. Not worth it in my mind. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    I’ve been contemplating ENVE SES AR 4.5 and Zipp 404FC. Fortunately, in where I live, both wheels are available in pretty much similar price.

    I mostly ride in fair tarmac with only 1-4% evelation for ~5% of the trip, and once every month I go for climbing (that’s about 10-20km with average grade 5-10% during ~50% of the trip).

    How do you think both wheels compare to each other? Thanks

    • Boy, I’ve compared the ENVE with other wheels here and the Zipp against others here. Those provide you my most detailed comparisons. Steve

      • Thanks Steve. I’ve read those articles but I’m still wondering how you would compare those two directly – from your personal perspective. I reckon the comparative ratings table does not compare AR45 with 404FC.

        Nonethelesse, those articles are really helpful – now I’m leaning toward AR45.

  • Hey Steve,

    90kg rider here with 61cm frame so definitely going for 28 front and rear tires, most likely GP5000STR. Considering this wont be a tire/rim aero setup with 28s, should i go for 303FC with the larger inner width at 25mm instead of 404FC at 23mm?

    tyty

    • Eric, Improved vibrational loss rolling resistance favors the wider tire over the reduced aero performance of the narrower one unless you are racing at mid-20 mph range on relatively smooth roads. And the difference between GP5000 S TR and others in the same tire loss rolling resistance range like the Schwalbe Pro One TL is dependent on testing protocol, i.e. insignificant. All of this explained in more detail here https://intheknowcycling.com/how-wide-wheels-wide-tires-make-you-faster/. Whether you go with the 404 or 303 depends on what kind of riding you do. If you ride gravel and rough dirt or paved roads (as your email address suggests – only I can see it) would bias you to the 303 or another similar wheelset. Road rider/racer at high speed on good roads would bias you to 404. Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.