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It’s always fascinating to watch a brand tell us the product they designed only a few seasons ago is now slow, heavy and flimsy compared to the new product and all its technological wizardry. We expected to hear this when Zipp announced the 404 Firestrike, but instead we heard something quite different.
The 404 Firecrest is still Zipp’s aerodynamic state of the art, it squeezes every last drop of drag reduction from a 58mm deep rim Zipp can muster. If Zipp couldn’t make the rim faster, then how could it make it better? Its response was to make all that speed more usable in more situations, a focus on what they call the ‘intangibles’ of speed. If rims handled better in cross winds, handled better while descending and stop better in all conditions then riders would be more confident using all of the rim’s pure speed.
Increasing confidence in cross winds meant a new rim shape, yet one that would not loose any of its drag reducing performance and the Firestrike is almost 2mm wider across the entire cross section compared to Firecrest to achieve this. Zipp also claims new dimples in a wave pattern also help stability and together they result in a 34% reduction in side force. The wider rim increases handling confidence as well, with an internal width of 17.25mm a tire’s volume increases and road feel improves.
Braking on carbon is probably the number one feature affecting rider confidence, from power and modulation to heat build up. Zipp had already conquered heat build up, so Firestrike delves into power and modulation, even in the wet, with a new silicon carbide material and a molded brake track pattern called ‘Showstopper’. Zipp’s new EVO brake pads are mandatory unless you want to hear a lot of squealing.
Zipp has given the wheel plenty of other tweaks – updated hubs with pre-set bearing load, new lay up making it the toughest rim Zipp has ever produced, stickers are replaced with printed graphics, torsional stiffness is improved with new lacing.It is interesting to note that Zipp initially presented adjustable bearing load as an improvement and has now back tracked from that position. The reality is likely most riders never took advantage of it and even neglected it to the detriment of hub longevity.
All of these changes and the fact that wheels still weigh over 1600grams add up to very subtle differences on the road, except for one category – braking. ‘Showstopper”, while not a great name, is a great success. In the dry Firestrikes have power and modulation most alloy rims dream of, and in the wet they actually work. Are these changes worth the incredibly steep $3600 price tag? For most riders, no, but what most riders can look forward to is the day when Zipp trickles this braking technology down to the rest of its carbon rims.
Firestrike 404 Carbon Clincher Weight: 1620grams Price: $3600 More: Zipp.com