Zipp 30: First Impressions


Zipp assembled a number of journalists to introduce the 650c Firecrest 404 Carbon Clincher, Vuka Stealth bar, the new 30 and 60 wheels and Elsa and Riken Quarq cranks. There’s not much point to bringing us all together just to talk about this stuff. The hope had been that we’d ride three days, but the Tucson weather had other ideas.

There’s a belief that Tucson, Arizona, is a place to go when you’re tired of winter elsewhere. Just how this belief came to proliferate, I can’t tell. In my two visits to Tucson during the late fall and winter, I have to say this place is colder than most of California and it’s hard to make a case that you’re a winter-free locale if snow can fall there, something that did happen on Monday, killing that day’s ride. This isn’t a criticism of Zipp; it’s a curiosity about the source of what strikes me as a fundamental fallacy. There are stories enough about Discovery/RadioShack training camps with Belgian weather occurring in Tucson that you’d think someone would have amended the Wikipedia entry.

IMG_6389Justin was at the ready to help me set up my bike.

We did manage to get out for two rides thanks to excellent support from Jose Alcala, Justin Koch and Chad Contreras at SRAM NRS. We were provided with Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4s (those of us who were riding road bikes—guys checking out the Vuka Stealth were on Cervelos) equipped with SRAM Red which was great for me given I’d just finished riding a Tarmac.

For both rides I went out on the new 30 wheels. As I clipped in for my first ride, which came before our tech briefing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d already seen the rim shape and wondered how they would performer. Of course, that first ride was miraculous. What really made the difference were the special edition testosterone and dopamine-laced Clif Shot Bloks, but I didn’t suspect them at the time. As we were rolling out from the Starr Pass resort, I delivered a 1350-watt 20-second effort, jumped a flock of road runner and then skidded sideways to a stop without folding up the wheels.

Okay, so that didn’t happen.


What did happen was as we descended out of the resort I felt that familiar difference in acceleration that I experience with more aerodynamic wheels. I’ve just spent a bunch of time on the latest Dura-Ace hoops and while they rolled strong, true and reliable, they are to aerodynamic what Marlboro is to healthy living.

Numerous studies have shown remarkably consistent application of the Rate of Perceived Exertion by athletes. I bring that up because a couple of weeks ago, troubled by my inability to think of a more objective way to quantify the difference in experience I have with aerodynamic wheels vs. standard wheels, I began thinking about whether I could view it as a difference in RPE. Bingo. I’ll probably do a survey of my experiences in a separate post if I can put together something that seems sufficiently rigorous to report as responsible analysis. Let’s suffice to say that my experience at effort placed these distinctly ahead of box rims, but not nearly as fast as something like the 303s.

IMG_6374The rider on the right, Jimmy, was responsible for the design of the 30s.

Despite the fact that these aren’t what I’d call light wheels (in my head, 1500 grams is the big dividing point), they were easy to wind up. My takeaway on that is a reinforcement of the wheels’ notable aerodynamics.

According to my Garmin, I’ve got about four hours on the wheels in two rides. I’m impressed by them, full stop. I’m well aware that not everyone wants to spend $850 on a pair of wheels. I’m also aware that there are RKP readers who can spend that much for a set of spares. If $850 is more than you want to spend, that’s fine. But in that $750 to just less than $1000 range, I think these are a fairly remarkable set of wheels.

IMG_6411Yeah, that’s snow in them thar hills.

I love the chance to ride new products; some end up amazing, but others … not quite as much. The funny thing is going to these events is often less about the products themselves than the people there. I had plenty of reasons to stay home: My wife is pregnant. I missed the chance to do a fun ride in Malibu with friends. I also missed a chance to take my son to the skatepark. The days were long, and while the quality of the room was stellar, Having a few boxes show up at home while I stay put would be easier. I go to these events in part because I’m honored that they ask, but also because it’s invariably an opportunity to talk with other people—smart people—passionate about bikes, people who are passionate enough about bikes that they gave up the chance to earn more in another industry by sticking to what most of the world thinks of as a kid’s toy. Just showing up means a chance to learn something.

There’s a lot in the bike industry that excites me, but it’s not everything by any means. In writing about new equipment I’m chasing the promise of something that makes the experience fresh, that renews what it feels like to get on a bike for the first time. These wheels are a great option for those who want a great set of wheels  but don’t want to spend top-shelf cash. But why take my word for it? I’ve already heard from friends who were asking how soon they’ll be available so they can purchase a set.



  1. Kc

    Love Tucson that this time of year. Gates pass is a great road just a bit narrow in places. Interested to hear what you think of the 60s. I really liked my old 404s never noticed the weight.

  2. Sam

    As long as they are getting rid of the SRAM S30 and S60 wheels, I’m happy. Though it is refreshing to see manufacturers put any focus on sub-$1000 aerodynamic aluminum wheels.

  3. Scott

    Hi Padraig, I’m interested in any observations on the ride quality of the wheels in the time you spent on them. How comfortable are they? Yours is the first ride report I’ve seen on the 30s.

    Thanks very much.


  4. Peter lin

    thanks for the follow up review. Even though they are out of my price range right now, maybe one day they will become more affordable.

  5. Dan

    I thought the new DA wheels were supposed to be a huge step up in aerodynamics? You’re saying the Zipp 30s are more aerodynamic than say the WH-9000 C35-CL?

    1. Author

      Scott: There’s not much I’m willing to say about the ride quality of the wheels based on the few hours I have so far. I think our tires were pumped up to about 8 bar, which is much more pressure than I tend to ride at. They seem plenty stiff laterally, but I think if I said the ride was harsh, that would just be feedback on tire pressure.

      Dan: I’ve been told that as well, but those aren’t the wheels I rode. I rode the C24s, as shown in my post on my first ride on the 9000 here.

  6. A Stray Velo

    I like the look and spec of these so far…but I’m curious as to what is the actual inner width measurement of the rim, Zipp’s website is a little confusing about that. They state a “21.5mm tire bead” but also a “brake track (center) of 20.4”, which would mean a inner width of 19ish? Normally I would think the tire bead would be the inner rim measurement but it can’t be if the brake track is smaller. They should have just stated what the inner rim width is.

  7. Mike

    How is Zipp looking to position these wheels int he market? Reason I ask is that it seems like their pricepoint is certainly competitive in carbon wheel land, but just barely below cheap carbon clinchers. Definitely on the upper end for aluminum wheels. If I don’t care about the Zipp badge–and I say this as an owner of Zipp wheels, stem, and bars–what’s their pitch to keep buyers from cheap carbon clinchers? These seem pretty special purpose, but I’m not quite clicking on the purpose… rough classic type races maybe? Like Battenkill? Wet weather? Obviously braking is better on aluminum.

    Maybe I just don’t understand expensive aluminum wheels. I’m such a retro grouch sometimes…

    1. Author

      Mike: I think the appeal is three-fold. First, there’s the aerodynamics, which with both wheels are superior to a standard deep-V rim. Second, there’s the aluminum brake track, which is a big concern for many riders; aluminum brake tracks don’t require special brake shoes, offer familiar braking and don’t risk melting if in heavy rider traffic on a long descent. Finally, there’s the price; while these are expensive for aluminum, they are pretty inexpensive for this level of aero performance and they are reported to be up for daily riding.

  8. Carl

    Hi Padraig,

    Did Zipp pay for your flight and hotel in Tucson? If so, do you think it’s something you should disclose in the article?

    1. Author

      Carl: Yes, Zipp did pay for my travel. I didn’t note it because the practice is so pervasive within the industry that to call it out would make it appear as if I was the only journalist who was comped. Frankly, given the way the comments go sometimes, I have a concern that including that in the piece would derail the conversation as to whether I should be paying my own way. RKP is a fraction of the size of operations like Future, Bicycling and even Velo, and if they aren’t paying, it’s hard to make a case for why I should be. These events would get few, if any, attendees if we all had to pay our way. Inevitably any discussion of paid-for travel (though it’s standard practice for almost all enthusiast media) devolves into accusations that opinions were bought. I don’t really want to engage that conversation because I think my work speaks for itself. And for those who want to believe that Zipp told me what to write or supplied me with pre-written copy, I encourage them to read the accounts by other media outlets in attendance but with greater autonomy.

  9. George

    So what are the differences between the new 30 and the existing 101? Seems like they fit the same basic profile, and would satisfy the same market niche even though the price point is different. Thanks!

    1. Author

      George: They are mostly minor. What may be the single biggest difference between the two is aerodynamic performance. Zipp has not, however, tested both the 30 and the 101 during the same trip to the wind tunnel, so they aren’t convinced they have numbers for a valid comparison between the two. The 101 is faster, but we’re not sure by how much. Beyond that the 30 has a parallel brake track (for ease of maintenance) and saves you $500, while the 101 is lighter and rolls on better bearings. I suspect that there are many people who simply won’t see the value in the 101 when compared to the 30.

    1. Author

      Paul: I haven’t ridden the Fulcrums or those Ksyriums, but I can tell you that what I’ve learned about aerodynamics is that any time I have a choice for a more aerodynamic wheel vs. a less aerodynamic wheel, I’ll go for the more aero wheel. It’s like choosing the lighter bike; total no-brainer. On paper, I find the 30s preferable to every other wheel in its price range. People may want to argue the point, but I know which wheel I’d choose.

  10. Mike

    “People may want to argue the point, but I know which wheel I’d choose.”

    I don’t buy wheels in this particular pricepoint (because I’m both several hundred $ over to race and several hundred $ under to train), but this is an excellent point that people seem to miss. All else being equal, if you’re paying $850 anyway, why wouldn’t you go more aero? I would take my Easton EC90 aeros any day over the Zipp 30s… but they cost a little more than $850.

    This is 100% trolling, but I continue to be baffled by Ksyriums – they’re expensive, not aero, and heavy. Why does anyone buy them? I’d be curious to hear from defenders of this particular pricepoint (the $800-$1000ish range). Why not just ride some $400 wheels and call it a day? Or drop $1200 for carbon and kaklank when you shift? Granted I’m assuming here that people own at least a couple bikes and/or wheelsets.

    1. Robot

      @ Mike – I hesitate to hold myself out as the defender of the Kysrium Elite because I am not religious about them (in fact I’ve got my name on a pair of 30s when they become available), but I do ride them, and I have a few reasons. The main one is that they are dead-certain reliable. They hold true and stand up to a mean beating. I am one who will ride his road bike where it’s not meant to go, and I don’t want to think about my wheels in that scenario. They are not aero, but they are not particularly heavy relative to the aero options at that price point.

  11. fignon's barber

    I would call this class of wheel a “tuesday night worlds” set: an everyday wheelset that can hold its own in training races that frequent the average week. For me , the campag eurus falls into this category and ends up getting the bulk of my miles. The deep rim carbon wheels are only brought out of the bags when a race entry fee is paid. That way, you get the aero/psychological boost when you need it most. For me, I’d rather go this route than spend $400-$500 on a custom set of ambrosio box rims.
    Padraig, would be interesting to compare these zipp 30’s to the HED Ardenne SL or a pair of archetype/alchemy hub/sapim cxray handbuilts, which would be in the same price range.

  12. Ryan

    Wheel speed, stiffness and aero-ness seems like a super duper subjective measure to me. To say that one can feel that a certain wheel is smoother or ‘slices’ better is more of a mind trip (at least for me) than an actual, real world measurable difference ( wind tunnels don’t count). My point being, is that, when someone gets something that is totally new, mounted by a company rep., and then ridden in a new exhilarating environment with fresh legs, the gear is going to be ‘fast’. My 3 year old Mavic Elites, on the bench currently with a worn free hub body, have been temporarily replaced with Shimano r 501’s. This wheelset is over 1900gms, that’s like 400gms over the Mavic’s, but I can’t notice a difference. And after racing Copperopolis this weekend, I’ll tell you, I’m glad that I had a heavier & more sturdy wheel while railing spiral stair case descents.

  13. noel

    this is all really helpful. I have an entry level carbon-free road bike and, having been bitten by the bug, am willing to be seduced up the kit ladder a bit. I have been debating whether as a pre-cursor to a new frame in 2014 (Bianchi Infinito being the current fave, when I have dropped 3kgs off my midriff to justify spending $3k on a frame saving me 1kg)) I should look at a $500-750 set of wheels in the interim to use on sunny days, sportivs etc. I like the sound of the R30s, mainly because I don’t like the stories of braking problems on carbon rims, altho I have read a few comments that you are paying a decent premium for the Zipp name.
    My question is whether for a 15mph average speed rider I will notice any of the aero benefits, or whether that really kicks in at a speed I’m not likely to be travelling that often. Should I focus on weight to help me over the climbs instead? or at my level is it all a bit irrelevant?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *