Zipp 808 Wheelset
We were licking our chops as we installed a set of Zipp 808 tubulars on our bike. We felt greed. Greedy because the 808s are about the most aero non-disc wheel ever tested and they weigh less than the Mavic Ksyrium SL. So, we'd be killing it at the high speeds and still coming out ahead of the high-end rider's standard wheelset when climbing. The 808 is all upside for most riding conditions.
Here are some numbers for you. The rim weighs 460g. The front wheel weighs 655g, the rear 780g. Wheelset weight is 1435g. As a contrast, the Mavic Ksyrium SL Premium, as close to a "stock" high-end racing and training wheelset as exists on the market today, weighs in at 645g front, 835g rear. 1480g a set. It's probably more durable, but it is much less aero. Roues Artisinales tested a bushel of wheels earlier this year. They learned that the 808s absorb 16.7 watts of energy at 50kph. By comparison, the Mavic Ksyrium Equipe from 2007 absorbs 30w. The Ksyrium is a fine, durable wheelset that feels pretty fast, but at these numbers, the 808s are on another planet.
Salivating over numbers is one thing, but riding them can be another. 82mm deep is pretty deep. They could push us around in crosswinds. Carbon isn't always a great braking surface. Wet performance could be terrible. And they could just feel slow.
We rode this set with Continental Grand Prix 4000 tubulars affixed to the rims with Tufo tape. The cassette was a Campagnolo 12-25. The one quirk of setup is the rim shape. Unlike the parallel braking surfaces of most rims, Zipp's wind tunnel tuning has lead to a rim design where the braking surface curves outward from the rim bed. Some told us the solution is to change the angle of our brake shoes to better meet the rim surface. Since we didn't want to adjust our brakes every time we switched wheels, we kept the angle, but used a fresh set of pads. At worst, the pads would wear to the rim, and then have to wear to another carbon rim.
Unlike the Zipp Flash Point 60s we tested a few months back, where the wheel weight is heavier than our training wheels, the 808s are lighter than our training wheels. Kind of like when we tested the Cosmic Carbone Ultimates; all upside.
Rolling around, the wheels not only felt fast, but rode fast, and, possibly best of all, sounded fast. Kind of like the rumble of a disc wheel or jet. More than once, cyclists turned around as we approached from behind. Several even remarked on the sound.
On a ride with a friend rolling traditional box-section clinchers, we did some roll-up tests for fun on a few descents. Gliding down a quarter-mile descent, the 808s allowed us to pull away from our friend by over five seconds.
Running them with aero bars on our 10k test circuit, we cut another 30 seconds off our lap time when riding at tempo when compared to the FP60s. Scary fast.
The aero bars were on because we had some time trials coming up. We also had some criteriums, circuit races, and road races on the schedule. While we were riding the wheels every day in training, we also wanted to race them as much as we could. We decided as long as there weren't big hills to be tackled, we'd ride them. Both our time trials were rolling. If we had the support of the CSC team, we would have ridden the 808 in front regardless. For the rear, while we're not Allen Lim or Steve Hed, a disc probably wouldn't have constituted much, if any advantage.
One of our time trial concerns was handling an 808 front on aero bars. Maybe we've gotten so comfortable on deep-dish wheels that the extra rim depth didn't seem like that much more work to keep stable. But even at over 40mph on aero bars, we felt comfortable.
That first time trial was the start of a stage race where we decided to use the wheels for all three stages. The next day was a road race with lots of flat, a little rolling, some small-ring climbing and a screaming descent to the finish. On the climb, there were some 39x23 sections; the wheels did feel like a little disadvantage compared to those running shallower-dish Reynolds and Zipp wheels, but our rationalization was that some of the competition was riding Ksyriums and other similar wheelsets. No advantage ceded to them. On the descent, we flew by people at over 50mph, and the wheels were easy to turn when leaning through the curves.
On a lumpy short course with narrow turns, we found the wheels easy in corners and fine when accelerating. No, they're not the lightest wheels, but most of our accelerations were from 20mph and up, going to over 30mph. The wheels accelerated quickly and predictably.
So far, this is all about going, but stopping is an essential element of riding. Here, too, we were impressed. Our first race on the wheels was a narrow four-corner criterium. Stopping was as easy and predictable as it is on aluminum rims. We don't know if this is entirely thanks to Zipp, maybe SwissStop deserves some of the credit as well. But, as you know from our reviews, wet-weather braking can be a problem on carbon rims. Before we tested them in the rain, we read an article in Velo News where Zipp CEO Andy Ording said that because of the angled braking surface, the 808s should brake better in the wet because the braking action on a convex braking surface will squeegee the rims dry. Interesting theory. Don't know if that was the source of good braking, or merely the interplay of the pads and rims. But the braking was good and predictable in the wet. Almost like aluminum.
We came across an article detailing Fabian Cancellara’s bike at the Tour. Spartacus rides 808s on flat and rolling races. Few others do. Apparently, other Zipp-sponsored riders feel the ride of the wheels too stiff for long days in the saddle. While we don't put in Tour-quality mileage, we didn't notice the wheels to be uncomfortably stiff. This is a surprise to us. The 808s certainly seemed more compliant than the Lightweights we tested. But, as with many components, subtle differences can add up to major effects. Witness the way riders stick with heavy saddles. Maybe some of the riders also had concerns about crosswinds. We didn't experience any trouble with crosswinds, but we don't ride as fast as ProTour riders, and we rarely get as close.
Now that we've put the wheel through its paces, we've gotten to thinking. Even though we prefer clincher wheels as the default go-fast racing set, the 808 tubulars are pretty appealing. If you don't live in a hilly region, the wheels are pretty impressive in most riding conditions. We've spent over a month riding tubulars this year and we have yet to flat. Maybe, just maybe, we could pull this wheelset off.
Thinking that way can get dangerous and a bit depressing. The only problem is getting it out of our head.