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Once upon a time the 58mm-deep 404 was Zipp’s bread and butter wheelset, representing an era when riders were focused almost exclusively on aerodynamics. And you wouldn’t be wrong for choosing the iconic wheelset if you’re looking for speed; every version has been at the front of the pack in its class in this regard. But somewhere along the road the 303 series came to the forefront as the go-to carbon wheel choice, valued for its balance of low weight and aerodynamics with a bombproof design. The latest version, the 353 NSW, ratchets all those factors up to another level. The result: a transformational wheelset.
The 353 NSW represents the latest wheel to take Zipp’s holistic Total System Efficiency (TSE) approach to wheel design. While speed has remained a top priority of riders, our understanding of how we get more speed has changed—and it’s about a lot more than rim profile shape. No longer is Zipp’s design philosophy solely focused on aerodynamics. That’s not to say the latest wheels aren’t meant to go fast; instead they find that extra speed in areas beyond just the aerodynamic shape of the rim. The additional areas of focus of TSE are rolling resistance, vibration losses and weight.
The 353 NSW makes breakthroughs in all these areas by combining elements from other Zipp rim shapes. Just like the 303 Firecrest, it features a hookless rim design with a very wide internal rim width of 25mm. Zipp then couples that with the distinctive Sawtooth rim profile found on its deeper 454 and 858 wheels.
The wide hookless rim design allows for advances in rolling resistance and vibration losses by better supporting wider tires 28mm and beyond, allowing them to adopt a shorter and wider contact patch, which has less rolling resistance. And with the rims optimized for wider tubeless tires (tubeless tires must be used for hookless rims), you can run much lower tire pressures which absorb road imperfections for a smoother, more comfortable ride that also saves about 3-5 watts.
The Sawtooth profile helps get the weight down to make the 353 NSW Zipp’s lightest non-tubular wheelset ever. Thanks to the increased strength of this design, the 353 NSW manages to drop 100 grams over the already impressively light 303 Firecrest. The total weight comes out to a scant 1,255 grams. With rim tape and valves our set tipped the scales at 1,294 grams total. That’s entering tubular wheel territory, without the hassle of gluing on tires. The Sawtooth rim design, which reaches 45mm at its deepest but undulates to a shallower depth, is also faster aerodynamically and more stable in crosswinds. And when you spend less energy fighting the wind, you go even faster.
The 353 NSW debuts a new generation of Zipp’s top of the line Cognition hub, called Cognition V2. Rather than rely on magnets to disengage the hub ratchet system while coasting to remove friction, the new generation uses a material called Sylomer, which better maintains its damping properties over time, helping the new rear hub be more durable and reliable than before. It doesn’t hurt that the new design sheds a few grams as well.
And even with that super light weight, Zipp still rates the 353 NSW for gravel riding, so you don’t need to baby them.
Zipp isn’t holding anything back when it comes to this wheelset, and the price reflects that. It will set you back $4,000.
No family of wheels seems to do everything well more so than the Zipp 303. The 353 NSW takes the performance of this versatile family to a new level. The wheelset has a transformational impact on the way a bike rides, taking even an aero bike that could stand to lose a couple pounds and livening it up in the hills. (A sub-1,300 gram wheelset will do that). On the flats, the wheels are plenty fast, and don’t have us missing rims that measure 10mm deeper or more. When crosswinds strike we miss deeper wheels even less; these handle crosswinds like a breeze.
Having now experienced a 25mm internal rim width on two Zipp wheelsets, we’re sold on the benefits. Running tubeless tires on this rim width, with low pressures—depending on weight some riders can even safely ride below 60 psi—provides a new level of smoothness to our ride, to the point where we’re sometimes seeking out bumps in the road just to remember much less we’re feeling them.
When coasting down hills, the new Cognition V2 rear hub provides a similar experience to the previous version: The hub ratchet system disengages to remove excess friction, propelling you past other riders, even those with aero carbon wheels, without any effort. It’s really a noticeable effect.
These days, if we were going to choose just one wheelset, it would be something in the 40mm-deep range like the 303 family. And if cost were no option, picking up the 353 NSW wouldn’t be a hard choice.