Off the beaten path.
We often think of bikepacking and find ourselves with images of old steel rigs, bungeed canvas bags, short cutoff jeans, and cycling caps stained with coffee, sweat, dirt, and unknowns that we prefer to keep unknown. There's another side to getting off-road though, and Zipp dives in head first with the 303 650b Firecrest Carbon Disc Brake Road Wheelset. This sturdy carbon wheelset sheds weight that steel traditionalists only dream about, and spin with aerodynamics akin to their road-driven cousins, but with a plush feel that rolls over rocks and roots into the backcountry, allowing you to dive off of the gravel road and down windy deer trails. And since those split-second decisions may also lead you to hairy descents, the wheels equip you with disc brakes to stop on a dime, saving you from gut-wrenching drops.
Despite its mammoth tire capacity and wide footprint, the rim is still decorated with Zipp's Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control (ABLC) dimpling. When compared to smooth-sided rims, Zipp credits those dimples with reducing drag across all yaw angles; however, the largest gains occur between 10 and 20 degrees, a range that Zipp claims encompasses 50% of the time we spend on the bike. We're not sure how the huge rim and tire affects those claims, but surely aerodynamic gains are aerodynamic gains, regardless of a little extra girth.
Focusing on aerodynamics with this wheelset feels a bit, well, sheepish, because the wheel really shines when you're pedaling up mountain paths used by actual bighorn sheep or across soft, pine-needle-carpeted forest beds. 650b donuts represent the plushest, grippiest ride you can get on a road bike. Though they were largely just tradeshow novelty acts when Zipp committed to the platform, road-plus bikes are becoming more and more common as bikepackers hit the ceiling of tire width allowed by 700c framesets. Unconstrained tire sizes means unconstrained adventures across terrain that occasionally features no trail at all.
Each wheel ships with standard quick-release skewers, 12x100mm and 15x100mm thru-axle adapters for the front, and 12x142mm drop-out adapters for the rear. We should note that, though they clearly want to go bikepacking with fully loaded panniers, the wheels do still carry Zipp's universal recommended weight limit of 250lb for rider, bike, and whatever gear you manage to strap to your frame.
- Bikepack into the wild beyond with this road-plus wheelset
- 584mm bead diameter clears real estate for huge tires
- Aerodynamic features reduce drag and increase stability
- Disc brakes stop in all conditions with full bikepacking loads
- Zipp proves time and again to be the iconoclast of carbon wheel construction