I bought a Zipp 404 wheelset in 2005. Ten years later I’m still using the 404 front wheel in most races. This is a personal record for long lasting time trial cycling technology. It was expensive at the time (£1,000 for tubular wheelset, but has turned out to be really good value (by time trial standards anyway).
I think they have offered an excellent combination of aerodynamic performance, strength and rigidity. I use the front Zipp 404 in most conditions. Only if it is exceptionally windy would I take it out and use a front wheel with out any deep section rim.
I have used the rear wheel a lot less because for time trials I nearly always use a disc wheel.
For many years (2005-11), I used the Zipp 404 wheelset for hill climbs. At 1,350 grams a pair, they are very low weight considering their deep section rim. However, in 2012 I got a Lightweight front wheel and Zipp 202 rear, which knocked off 350 grams from my hill climb wheels.
Zipp 404 the all rounder
One good thing about Zipp 404 is that they are a very good all rounder. Mark Cavendish used them for sprinting. You can use them in time trials, you can use them in hill climbs. True, they are not specialist hill climb wheels, but 300 grams is rarely a big difference – unless you are really fighting for fractions of seconds.
Zipp 808 vs Zipp 404
Two years ago, I thought I deserved a new front wheel so upgraded to a Zipp 808 Firecrest. This had a deeper section front wheel and the new improved design of dimples on the rim. Unfortunately, I haven’t got on very well with the Zipp 808, I find it quite hard to handle. It is prone to lateral movement from even small sidewind gusts. I should add, the main problem is probably me weighing 61 kg. Many ‘heavier’ / ‘normal’ weight riders will have much less problems. But, the problem is I’m still using my ten year old Zipp 404 because I think it offers the best performance for me.
Zipp 404 Firecrest
Since the old Zipp 404 has lasted so well, I have been thinking of upgrading to the Zipp 404 Firecrest. Ten years of technology, should in theory offer improved aerodynamics. The new 404 Firecrest have quite a few modifications on my original 404s.
- Tubular 404 Firecrest wheelset – Zipp website claim a weight of 1,445 g. (front 650g, rear 820g – which doesn’t add up!) Though Bike Radar quote a weight of 1,286g overall weight. I’ve never known a manufacturer overstate the weight of their products! The carbon clincher wheelset are 1,615 grams.
- Rim depth 58mm
- Brake track width – 25.34mm
- Compared to old 404s – fatter and wider rims with the modern trend which aims to push aerodrag towards the hubs. 404 Firecrest’s wider 27.07 mm-wide profile
- Wheelset is £1,900
- On Zipp website, they claim ‘By controlling airflow around the back half of the wheel, 404 Firecrest is 9 seconds faster than its predecessor 404 model over 40 km at a moderate 10-degree wind angle
Alternatives to Zipp 404
I wouldn’t mind testing the Enve wheels from Smart. They make a lot of claims that there wheels are very stable in side winds and could be a good choice for me. Unfortunately, they are quite expensive, so it is a big plunge to take.
It’s been good to get ten years use out of the 2004 Zipp 404s, the front wheel must have done several thousand miles. But, it would be good to upgrade, I might end up selling the Zipp 808 firecrest on ebay, and just stick to a new 58mm front section. I’m tempted by new Firecrest 404 front, but might pursue other options first.