Zipp 303 Mini Documentary

Bike companies will, in some cases, say almost anything to cajole you into buying their product. From suggesting women (or men) will swoon in your presence to the possibility that victory is assured, marketing efforts have been known to make claims that would be laughed off even by those who still believe in Santa. You knew about Santa, right?

Oops, my bad.

In 2008, I was doing oodles of copy work for a bike industry company that shall go unnamed. That spring, I had a ringside seat for one team’s journey through the Spring Classics. Along the way, Zipp had some notable wheel failures, particularly at Flanders and Roubaix. I was able to gather that some folks were mad of the hopping variety.

That anyone would risk their most important rendezvous of the season on as-yet unproven technology struck me as undue sponsor influence. What else could explain a situation going so seriously south as Magnus Backstedt’s double pinch flat at Roubaix?

For the better part of the last year I’ve been hearing about how the redesigned Zipp 303 conquers the problems encountered in 2008 and 2009, how this wheel is literally twice as good as the previous wheel. What has surprised me about the presentations I’ve attended with Zipp staff has been how forthcoming about the wheel’s shortcomings in 2008. They really don’t hide the fact that the wheel didn’t do the job then. There wasn’t an ounce of spin-doctoring from the staff.

Such honesty is really refreshing.

Zipp enlisted Ben Edwards (formerly TestRider.com, now of peloton magazine—and yes, I do freelance for peloton and know and like Ben, but I have no incentive to promote this effort) to create a documentary that would help them catalog the improvements they made in a set of wheels that went from shattering the hopes of a former Roubaix winner to actually helping Fabian Cancellara win the race.

At 16 minutes, it’s short enough to be considered, uh, short, but in-depth enough to be bike-geek fascinating. I can smell spin faster than I detect skunk spray, though I like the scent no better and this is as devoid of it as any promotional film I’ve ever seen.

Even if you have no interest in paying thousands of dollars for a set of Zipp wheels, the film makes for interesting viewing for anyone curious about how products are developed, especially carbon fiber products.

Check it out here.

Thor Hushovd image by Tim DeWaele

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9 comments

  1. todd k

    I ran across this a couple of days ago and was impressed with the story behind the story approach they took to highlight the product. They do a good job of conveying a message of “vast improvement while keeping it “dumbed down” for the lay person…I would imagine this video does a fair amount to sell the product, particularly given the target customer. While I am not really in the market for this specific wheel, I now feel like I “know” this wheel. Given how many wheels are in the market place, providing a product a unique identity is noor personality t a bad thing for Zipp…

  2. todd k

    A failed moment of multi tasking in my prior post…. the last sentence should read “providing a product a unique identity or personality is not a bad thing for Zipp”….

  3. steve

    I don’t want to come off sounding like too much of a hater, but it sure would have been nice to hear the folks from Zipp admit that it helped that they happened to have the best rider using their wheels. I’m still not convinced that Fabian riding a set of Ambrosio tubs doesn’t still pull off the Flanders/Roubaix double. Whatever marginal gains he got from his wheels, he was that much and then some stronger than the competition during that eight day stretch.

  4. todd k

    steve: I wouldn’t take your comment as being a hater. There is some element of truth or “we will never know” to it. Cancellara was clearly riding at another level this year, and in a race like Roubaix it is the rider and not the equipment (all things being equal) that is the most critical link in the chain.

    That said, winning Roubaix is generally requires three things: 1) You must be one of the the strongest riders for that day. 2) You must avoid catastrophe prompted by equipment failure and 3) You must have some degree of luck. The knock on carbon wheels has always been that riders should avoid them because they were almost gauranteed to not have item 2 covered. Whether the wheel was a difference maker or not, Zipp can now argue that it can no longer be considered a forgone conclusion that carbon wheels at Roubaix = equipment failure and a loss at Roubaix. To your point, though, yes, they did had to have the strongest rider and that rider had to win the race, though, to argue that point with merit.

  5. todd k

    One last thought, given Cancellara could have demanded to ride on alloy if he felt strongly that it was a safer bet, there must have be something about the wheels that made him feel the could enhance his chances this past spring by using them….

  6. steve

    todd,
    They should have interviewed you for this video because your last two comments are exactly what I wanted to hear in the video.

  7. The Potato Man

    No mention of the fact that Cancellara actually broke his rear wheel on the Arenberg this year before he won.

    Not a hater, but it did happen. Not sure if I would rate this “documentary” honest when this fact isn’t mentioned . . .

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