In tech we trust.
Cyclists, especially roadies, can be a mistrustful bunch, slow to adapt to innovation in favor of tradition. Consider carbon rims and disc brakes, which are two of the key technologies highlighted on the tubeless version of Zipp's Firecrest Carbon Disc Brake Road Wheel. We admit that many of us had our doubts about carbon fiber on rougher surfaces, but Zipp's carbon rims have been dominating Roubaix since Cancellara's decidedly impressive victory in 2010, and anyone who's used disc brakes knows that there's a remarkable difference in stopping power that—especially when it comes to carbon brake tracks—simply can't be disputed. The steel-only crowd may never come around—and that's fine, after all cycling should ultimately be about what you like to ride—but the 202 Firecrest's nearly peerless ability to go and stop have won us over.
Despite the traditionally minded cyclist's resistance to carbon and road disc brakes, the 202 Firecrest's tubeless rim is one innovation that virtually any cyclist who's not addicted to tubular tires can enjoy. That's largely because it gives you the ability to run lower PSI, so it mimics the cushion and supple traction that make tubs so good. Tubeless also reduces the risk of punctures compared to a standard clincher, and—when something like a goat head thorn inevitably puts paid to that puncture resistance—a simple spin of the wheel will often seal it up, letting you top off with CO2 and keep riding rather than having to fiddle with tubes and levers and all the rest on the side of the road.
While Zipp is mostly known for bestowing free speed through aerodynamics, the disc brakes do something that rim-brake carbon can only dream of: surpass alloy in terms of modulation, responsiveness, and overall stopping power. These qualities are a big deal for climbing wheels, as knowing you can depend on your brakes means you can carry more speed into corners, brake later, and not worry about locking your wheels up when an unexpected obstacle—an off-leash dog at a trailhead, the inevitable sudden motorist, rubble sloughed off of a canyon wall—materializes.
It also eliminates any fear of testing carbon brake tracks on rainy descents or during muddy cyclocross conditions. Don't get us wrong, we've had positive experiences with the second generation of Zipp's Showstopper brake track that features on the 202 NSW wheels; however, when it comes to virtually perfect stopping power, disc brakes are all but impossible to match. Adding disc brakes (and the requisite two-cross spoke lacing) does also add a few extra grams, but the increased stopping confidence more than makes up for the slight weight gain.
So the tubeless setup and braking are great, but in the end, this is still Zipp, and the brand's "speed weaponry" tagline remains its prime directive. The 202 Firecrest doesn't have the deep rim of Zipp's 303 or 404, but it does feature some aerodynamic qualities. An updated version of Zipp's signature Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control (ABLC) dimpling uses strategically placed and sized dimples across the rim surface to smooth airflow. Zipp claims that ABLC boasts aerodynamic advantages at real-world yaw angles of 10 to 20 degrees, which compares favorably to many competitors whose minimum drag numbers manifest at yaw angles of five to 10 degrees — numbers that rarely occur outside of a wind tunnel. In non-tech terms, this means these wheels should outperform the competition in the conditions you'll actually encounter on the road.
Despite the different tire-mounting format, the tubeless 202 Firecrest gets the same hub treatment as its clincher and tubular counterparts. The rims are laced to a 77 hub on the front and a 177 hub on the rear, both of which enjoy improved durability and stiffness compared to their predecessors. Featuring a new platform and graphics for 2016, these hubs boast increased bearing protection over their previous versions and are ready to roll without any pre-load adjustment. The rear hub is compatible with a separately sold XD driver body to allow for a wider cassette range of up to a 10-42t if needed, and driver bodies can be swapped out without having to re-dish the wheel. Each wheel includes an updated quick-release skewer with a widened handle that provides leverage when installing the wheel and clean lines as it sits close to the frame when closed.
In a final nod to cyclocross abuse, every 202 Firecrest Disc Brake model ships with thru-axle conversion end caps for 12 or 15x100mm up front and 12x142mm in the back. The wheels also include standard quick-releases, so regardless of your gravel, 'cross, or road axle standards, you should be covered.
- A race wheel that earns trust while earning gravel KOMs
- Aerodynamic, lightweight rim spins up fast for 'cross or climbing
- Disc brakes add confidence to braking in all conditions
- Tubeless construction increases comfort and traction
- Wide rim and 2-cross spokes stiffen rim for braking and pedaling
- Better flat resistance and easier fix for when you do puncture
- Includes quick-release skewers with fork thru-axle adapters
- Zipp has proven time and again that it's not afraid to innovate