ZIPP 454 NSW WHEELSET REVIEW – A WHALE OF A TALE

The storylines in reviews of Zipp’s 454 NSW wheelset have been hard to ignore.  Whale fins, biomimicry, sawtooth, vortex, the shape of things to come.  All these analogies, descriptions and hyperbole to describe how the wheels are supposed to uniquely defeat crosswinds with their rim depths that vary between 55 to 59mm.

I like a good story as much as the next cyclist but I really wanted to know how they perform before suggesting anyone buy them.

In our experience riding them, the Zipp 454 NSW shares many of the same design performance characteristics of the first generation Zipp 404 NSW. (There’s a second gen 404 NSW now but still only a first gen 454 NSW)

Except, the front wheel of the 454 wobbles in the wind. By design. Of course, Zipp doesn’t call it wobbling. (See stories on whale fins, biomimicry, etc.). The wobble helps keep your bike on your line without you having to steer it there yourself.

If you ride or race a lot in windy conditions, I imagine you could get used to it and even use it to your advantage as Zipp intends. I couldn’t. Nate had no problems on the flats but freaked going downhill. Moose was fine with it.

Different riders? Yes. Different situations? Somewhat. Worth an explanation? That’s what In The Know Cycling is here for.

I’m a light (150lb/68kg), B-group rider. 18-20mph/29-32kph ride average. 25mph/40kph while busting it on the flats. Fast enough to enjoy the benefits of a deeper aero wheelset but not so fast to be able to do anything about it (i.e. race).

I thought the 404 NSW was pretty good in the crosswinds. Yes, it was affected by them but I found the effect manageable compared to other deep aero wheels I’d ridden, even with my slim arms and meh strength. I had to steer the front wheel back in but I didn’t get blown off my line.

Admittedly, it’s not a fine line – a foot or so either way.  But, it’s a line I could keep riding the 404 NSW on even in 15-20mph crosswinds.

Zipp NSW 454 Wheelset

Zipp NSW 454 Wheelset

Normally, if it’s that windy, I’m not going out. If it gets that windy once I’m out, I’m easing up a bit. More because of the way my light body gets blown around than the way the wheelset or the bike is.

Riding the Zipp 454 NSW in 15-20mph steady crosswinds, the wheel came back into line on its own. Then it went out the other way. Then came back. Then went out. Then came back. Until the wind eased or I rode into a sheltered area.

To complicate matters, when the wind blew the wheel out, I initially tried to bring it back in, same as I would any wheelset. That was a natural reaction. That was also exactly the wrong reaction for this wheelset, as I was adding to the correcting the wheel was doing itself, only making things worse. So I backed off and let the 454 do its thing.

It felt like a speed wobble. A controlled, intentional, small speed wobble mind you but a wobble nonetheless. I could see where a more disciplined rider or racer could get used to riding the 454 NSW if he/she frequently rode in windy conditions. I couldn’t. I’m not comfortable riding wobbling wheels, intentional or not.

I preferred the manual steer of the 404 NSW in the crosswinds to the self-correcting 454 NSW.

Nate, my very experienced cycling friend, A-group leader, and CAT 3 racer rode the Zipp 454 NSW a couple of times before racing them. Riding 25-30mph (40-48kph) on the flats in a steady side wind, he noted a “subtle micro-wobble” back toward the wind. The 454 NSW offered a different way to deal with crosswinds than other modern wheels he’d tested for our comparative aero wheel reviews.

Was the wobble a concern? Not for Nate in those conditions. Did it live up to the hype of being a radically different way to handle crosswinds? Not really. The Zipp 454 NSW and 404 NSW handled the crosswinds differently, but both were fine.

When Nate raced the 454s down a 45mph+ (75kph) descent, however, the wobble became unstable. The winds were moderate and swirling that day. He held back the second and third time on the same long downhill leg of the three lap Bear Mountain Spring Classic course. Others racing different 60mm or so deep rims didn’t seem to have any problems bombing downhill in the wind.

He fell back and lost several seconds from the lead group each time down the descent.  He chased back past the bottom turn after the first and second descents. The final time down, the group was gone before he could.

Moose, my 200lb friend and president of his own mythical FFBC (Fat F*ckers Bicycle Club) felt the wobble like Nate and I did on the flats. He was totally unconcerned by it, locking in instead on the pleasure of speeding along the flats and rollers on the Zipp 454 NSW wheelset over long rides.

While he’s heavier, what separates Moose from lightweights like Nate and me and other 200lb riders I know is his barrel-shaped torso. “Strong” doesn’t do him justice. I can only imagine that 20mph crosswinds to him are like a gentle breeze to me.

So, there you have it. Different reactions in different situations from different types of cycling enthusiasts to the intended wobble of the Zipp 454 NSW. If your reaction to what I’ve reported motivates you to buy a set, you can do so at the best prices from stores with the best customer satisfaction records by clicking through to Competitive Cyclist for US/CA residents and at Tredz 10% off with code ITK10 for those in the UK/EU and other countries.

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.

You can support the site and save yourself time and money when you buy through the links in the posts and at Know’s Shop to stores I rank among the best for their low prices and high customer satisfaction, some which pay a commission that helps cover our review and site costs.

Click here to read about who we are, what we do, and why.

You can read more about other aero wheelsets in this review of the BEST AERO BIKE WHEELS

17 comments

  • photosbywtgterry

    Thank you for the review. Although I am much more like Moose that y’all other two, I am grateful to not be tempted by these wheels. Thanks again for the great review and site!

  • Thank you for the honest review.

  • Sometimes new developments are fine in wind tunnels and on paper, but not on the roads…

    Couldn’t get used to the looks anyway. 😉

  • Hi Steve. I am used to riding tubulars on my climbing bikes (Zipp 202, Enve 2.2 and Lightweight Gipfelsturm) and just bought a Trek Madone that requires an aero wheel. I am considering the 404 tubular, but am afraid they’re not the latest design. Which would you choose: Zipp 404 tubular, 454 carbon clincher or 404 NSW carbon clincher? I mention only Zipp because other brands are hard to find and service in my country. Gluing tubulars is not an issue for me. Thanks and best. TMB.

  • TMB, I’d suggest the 404 NSW. It’s a superior wheelset than the 404 and the 454 is not a favorite of mine as you read above. Steve

  • Steve, thanks for the reply. But what about the fact that the 404 NSW is only available on Clincher. Is it better than the 404 tubular? I don’t have a problem with gluing tubulars. Thanks!

    • TMB, I haven’t tested the 404 Firecrest Tubular but I found the 404 NSW Clincher to be superior to the 404 Firecrest Clincher – stiffer, more aero, less crosswind effect. The 404 Firecrest Tubular is only 50g lighter than the 404 NSW Clincher so I wouldn’t expect the Firecrest tubular to accelerate any better than the NSW clincher. Steve

  • Thanks again, Steve. One last question: I understand the weight is approximately the same, but what about the rolling resistance of tubular against carbon clincher? Do you have any thoughts on that? Rgds.

    • TMB, Minimal if any difference (see my tire review here), certainly not as significant as the benefit you get from the NSW’s improved stiffness, aero and crosswind performance.

      If you are still set on tubulars, take a look at my Best Aero Bike Wheels post here. ENVE 4.5 (and 7.8) come in tubular.

      Not sure where you live but you can use the links in my review to find stores I recommend that ship most places around the world and have competitive prices and high customer satisfaction ratings. Would be supporting the costs that go into the site for reviews and comment responses by doing so as well. Steve

  • Thanks for the response again. Your site and opinions are great. Best. TMB.

  • Hi Steve, Do you have any opinion about the Lightweight Meilenstein Tubular? Best. TMB.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thank you for posting your review of the Zipp 454NSW wheelset……

    I’m presently in the process of building up a new a bike and looking at wheel options and am interested in the Zipp 454NSW wheels as a possible option and came across your review of the Zipp 454NSW wheels.

    I’ve ridden and tested out several carbon wheels over the years including: HED, Zipp, Enve, Mavic, Reynolds, Easton…….

    Presently, I’ve been riding both the Zipp 404 Firecrest and Zip 404NSW and would agree the Zipp 404NSW is a significantly better wheel to ride in my opinion over the Firecrest in all conditions.

    I was interested in your commentary of the Zipp 454NSW wheels as I hadn’t heard anyone ever mention of any sort of “wobble” while riding the wheels whether in owning, testing, reviewing scenario’s. No, I don’t work for Zipp and am not in any way a secret shopper or spy for them either.

    I am interested in and wondering if and after reading many other reviews in which no one else has mentioned any sort of “wobble” in their reviews, if it could have been due to anything else possibly?…….
    ie: Frame/Fork issue’s? Was the wheel securely placed onto the frame properly? Something else, possibly?

    Here are some of the reviews:

    https://www.cyclingweekly.com/reviews/wheels/zipp-454-nsw-carbon-clincher-wheels

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/reviews/zipp-454-nsw-wheel-review/

    https://www.bikeradar.com/reviews/components/wheels/wheel-sets/zipp-454-nsw-carbon-clincher-disc-brake-review/

    Thank you

    All the best,
    David

    • David,

      Nate, Moose and I, three very different riders each rode the same set of wheels on our different bikes, in different riding situations, and had much the same steering experience in the crosswinds. The wheels were new, true and evenly tensioned and on a good set of tires. Our process is to ride the wheels and write up our notes individually without sharing our experience with each other before hand. We each had evaluated the 404s,303s and other deep “aero wheels” previous to riding the 454s so had good reference points.

      I can’t speak to the process of the other pubs you link to. In general, there are major differences in how we operate and what motivates us. I have multiple dedicated enthusiasts go out and ride a set of wheels. They get no monetary compensation – they just like to try out new gear. We don’t run advertising, don’t go to expenses paid product launch events, don’t talk to product managers, don’t have a motivation or feel an obligation to write about or buy-into the story behind the wheels or give them the benefit of the doubt. We test and evaluate products and report about how they perform for us as road cycling enthusiasts. If you buy something through the links I provide, stores can provide us a small commission in return which we use to cover the costs of buying gear for reviews and site costs.

      We have tested a lot of Zipp wheelsets over the years. Some we’ve rated highly, some we’ve recommended above others, some we’ve pointed out their flaws and sometimes, like with the 454s, we recommend against our fellow enthusiast readers buying them. That’s just how it works out with our approach. Cheers, Steve

      • Steve:

        Thanks for the follow up.

        I understand your points as I had from the onset. My point and others I’ve shared your review’s with isn’t to be critical of your review’s it’s a response to and feedback about that we’ve never heard of, read or known of others to date who have also ridden the Zipp 454 NSW wheels and they haven’t ever mentioned or experienced the same as you and your other “test riders” have experienced and mentioned in your summation. There’s not been mention of any sort of “wobble” whatsoever.

        I’ve also contacted a few athletes I know personally who are riding the Zipp 454NSW wheels and not one of them including a present triathlon world champion who is riding them and who has always given complete honesty, integrity personally and professionally about anything when asked and has stated, that the wheels are “super stable” and that they have ridden the Zipp 454NSW wheels, “downhill at 109.8km/h” stating, “I’d say that they are safe.”…………
        I would say he is in a position to ride anything he desires and I think it’s safe to say if he any question as to performance, handling, or safety concerns he wouldn’t be riding these wheels and would move on.

        I’ve been riding for over thirty years internationally in ultra endurance events, what I’m finding difficult to understand is how/why Zipp would release Any of their wheel’s or products without extensive knowledge as to their research, design, testing of their products and I’m fairly certain Zipp wouldn’t release any wheels that had any sort of “wobble”, I understand that some products have recalls, I get it(Please also see Zipp’s direct response to my enquiry to them below)………I also know Zipp 454NSW wheels are ridden by Pro/Elite Tour level cyclist’s and Elite Pro triathlon champions internationally on all sorts of courses, conditions…..My point is if there were any sort of concern’s of the Zipp 454NSW wheel’s performance, stability, safety, handling, etc and the athlete’s own personal tolerance, stability, safety concerns………..When they could ride any wheel they wanted to and some of them being paid to do so and could do so with almost Any wheel manufacturer willing……Why would they ride a wheel that had any sort of “wobble?”………..It would seem illogical, non-sensical to me.

        I also contacted Zipp HQ in the USA and here’s what they had to say:

        Aug 5, 2019

        “Hi David,
        Thanks for your email.
        I appreciate the review. I’m not familiar with that particular blog, but the review is certainly interesting.
        454 wheels are designed for greater stability across all wind angles.
        Wind tunnel, CFD computer simulations, pro athlete evaluations, and on-road testing has allowed us to refine the aero performance and stability of Hyperfoil 454 and 858 wheels. You’ve already noted the other reviews by Media test editors. My suggestion is that you visit your dealer. Your bike shop may have a Demo Program which would allow you to test ride the 454.”
        “Thanks again!”

        Regards,
        Zipp USA

        Here’s another independent reviewer who doesn’t get paid by anyone for his reviews and here’s what he said:

        “Wow. Thanks for all that legwork. Our motivation is to be thorough and honest. I rode the 454’s for almost a year before publishing the review. That gave me plenty of time to test them in a variety of situations — including riding in wind conditions that I wouldn’t otherwise because #science.”

        “I’m not a Cat 1 racer, but an experienced rider who has ridding a ton of different wheels. For me, 404’s are too unstable for the strong canyon winds we get around here. 303’s are the sweet spot. That said, I’ve felt the 454’s to perform as well as 303’s in crosswinds.”

        “If the 454’s had a widespread wobbling issue, I’m sure SRAM would have recalled them. My only real complaint (besides price) is that they can’t be run tubeless. But, if you are looking for the ultimate road racing wheels and are cool with the cost, these are beautiful-riding wheels.”

        At the end of the day everyone has an opinion and it’s just that, one individual’s opinion of whatever is being discussed versus anyone else’s. Also, no one is trying to convince anyone anywhere about the three reviews I mentioned previously about the 454 NSW wheels by BikeRadar, Cycling Weekly and Cycling News, those were all randomly selected. I’m providing the information from a variety of sources in which not one has/had stated anything but the contrary to your original review.

        Sincerely,
        David

  • Love your work and the perspective you provide. A unique take on product reviews. I think in many so very much more relevant to road cycling enthusiasts.

    Interesting experience on the 454s. I haven’t read that anywhere else, but then again who knows what goes into other’s testing (I’m not convinced by BikeRadar, Cycling Weekly and Cycling News (can be a bit hit and miss and far too many overly short reviews with no feeling of substance of sustained testing).
    CyclingTips didn’t pick this up in their review, and they are usually at the exceptional end of testing.

    What I have found though is that quite often for any given product there is what I would call an outlier review or experience. It’s always a careful and considered review with something you don’t see elsewhere in other reviews (like the side to side wobble).
    I think this review is one of those.

  • I’m a big zipp fan. I have 202, 404 and 404nsw. I loved them bs of how quiet they are. I’m in the process of building a new bike and was going after a 454 nsw. However, my dealer is trying to steer away bs he has a customer that want his money back. My other option is Enve 5.6 with Chris King, but CK hubs are noisy. What is you experience with CK hub?

    • Ray, I love the quiet Zipp hubs (on my 303 NSW) too but I wouldn’t get the 454 NSW no matter how quiet the hub for the reasons mentioned in this review. Chris King hubs are outstanding performers but they are loud and require regular maintenance. Honestly, it sounds like your dealer isn’t giving you a full range of options. For example, you can get the ENVE 5.6, my recommendation for the best performing aero wheelset (see review here) with an ENVE hub that is a DT-Swiss like star ratchet design and is pretty darn quiet and requires little service, direct from ENVE (here) for $2550. The same wheelset will cost $3200 with the King hub from your dealer and the 454 NSW is $4000. Better wheelset and more money for other parts of your build! Steve

Leave a Reply

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