The Zipp 404 has been one of the most popular and successful aero road wheels ever produced. Zipp introduced them 3 decades ago and updates them regularly, improving them with each iteration.
Today, Zipp announced a new release of the 404 Firecrest and man, oh man, there is a huge change! The basic structure of the new 404 Firecrest shifts how wheels address efficiency. And if it bears out, that efficiency will translate to more speed.
The new Zipp 404 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Brake wheels feature a 23mm internal width and a hookless bead. This modification will facilitate the use of wider tubeless tires at reduced air pressure. And the larger volume tire and lower pressure should reduce vibrational losses of power and efficiency.
The bottom line: Real-world, outdoor testing commissioned by Zipp revealed a 4-watt saving for a 187-pound rider traveling 40 kph on the new wheels with 25mm tires compared to the previous 404 Firecrest.
‘Total System Efficiency’
Instead of narrowly focusing on aerodynamics, Zipp applied what it calls Total System Efficiency (TSE) on its newest release. This philosophy encompasses multiple factors that affect performance: wind resistance, gravity, rolling resistance, and vibration losses.
Zipp addresses vibrational loss with the 404 Firecrest’s broader internal width and hookless bead. Specifically, these wheels’ ability to run higher volume tires at a much lower pressure realize gains in efficiency. This might come as news for riders like myself who believed that weight and aerodynamics ruled all.
And for seasoned road riders like myself, Zipp’s recommended tire pressures for the new 404 Firecrest are almost unbelievably low. For my training weight of 175 pounds, with 25c tires, Zipp’s online tire pressure calculator specifies 70.8 psi in the rear and 66.6 psi in the front!
Zipp advises confirming the compatibility of tires with the manufacturer and provides a list here.
Zipp’s studies and engineering process determined that reducing vibrational losses significantly improved overall performance for an all-around road racing and training wheel. And it had to be significant enough to justify altering one of the brand’s best-selling and most respected wheel lines ever.
Zipp 404: Still an Aero Standard
The Zipp 404 has long been an industry reference in aerodynamic efficiency. In fact, the 404 is often the standard when other brands quote their wind tunnel results relative to “the competition.” And Zipp reassures riders that in no way did it relinquish its hard-earned reputation in exchange for gains in TSE.
According to the brand, the hookless bead produces a more seamless transition between tire and rim, cleaning up potential turbulence at this transition and improving aerodynamics. Hookless rims also need less resin to maintain strength, creating lighter and stronger rims as a side effect.
The new Zipp 404 Firecrest also employs the brand’s ALBC Sawtooth dimple design that better manages the airflow around the 58mm-deep rim. This dimpling is a longstanding Zipp 404 trademark.
404 Firecrest: New Hub
Zipp laces each wheel’s 24 spokes to a new German-engineered hub dubbed the ZR1 DB. These hubs promise durability through an improved bearing seal design. The rear hub gets a 66-tooth freehub mechanism for quicker engagement and that sweet sound when coasting on a premium hub: Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
Zipp 404 Firecrest Weight
You cannot mention carbon aero wheels without the weight, lest you keep the roadies awake at night. The new Zipp 404 Firecrest comes in at 660 g for the front and 790 g for the rear, for a 1,450g wheelset in the 12mm thru-axle, XDR body configuration (no tape or valves).
So, the weight weenies can relax and go back to bed.
As a long-time cycling fan and industry guy, I have become accustomed to brands charging phenomenal premiums for what essentially, to a “normal” cyclist, results in marginal gains. And, although to many, the pricing for the new Zipp 404 Firecrest may still seem in that realm, I was pleasantly surprised.
MSRP for the 404 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Brake is $925 for the front and $975 for the rear. But believe it or not, $2,000 for a wheelset with leading-edge technology compared to some other models is a moderate price.
For reference, the least expensive premium road wheelset in my fleet retails for $2,800. And I have a $4,000 wheelset that I intend to swap with the new Zipp 404 Firecrest on my test road bike. And, yes, stay tuned for a full review on GearJunkie shortly.