Are luxurious carbon wheels really well worth it?

We pitted Zipp’s 303s ‘budget’ carbon wheels in opposition to the 353 NSW โ€“ coming in at 3 instances the fee. Just how large is the distinction?

With a few upgrades, the profits are apparent and immediate. Swap out a heavy, hard-sporting city tyre with a few supple race-equipped rubber and you will immediately be aware of the distinction. On the opposite hand, aero profits of numerous  helmets are extremely extra subtle, requiring surprisingly managed trying out to pick out the pinnacle performers.

Between ‘entry-level’ carbon wheels and people’s variety topping fashions raced withinside the seasoned peloton, the distinction in fee is huge โ€“ however simply how a whole lot velocity does tripling your funding in reality purchase you?

To locate out, we pitted a fixed of Zipp’s 303s carbon wheels (ยฃ1050) in opposition to the flagship Zipp 353 NSW (ยฃ3200) on  one-of-a-kind courses. First, a flat(ish) TT loop, in which aerodynamics is the finest determinate of velocity, and up a neighbourhood climb, in which weight will become the maximum large factor.

The Experiment

(Image credit: Future)

In phrases of the variables we have been capable of control, we made certain to apply the identical version of tyre, disc rotors, cassette, valves, and quantity of sealant throughout each wheelsets. We additionally ensured the tyre pressures have been the same in advance of every test.

Of course, there have been pretty large variables we could not control. The wind, the site visitors, and the best strength output are the principle ones – the efforts have been paced with a strength metre, however as with every human effort, there’ll continually be variation. 

This becomes no longer with the aid of using any approach to a laboratory experiment, and we can not lay claim to professional accuracy. But let’s be clean on what we are trying out for right here. 

We’re trying to see if there’s a large distinction among the 2 wheelsets.  To draw a comparison, you do not want laboratory situations to study a distinction in velocity among a visiting bike and time trial bike โ€“ the profits there are very a whole lot of ‘macro’ variety, as a substitute than ‘marginal’.

If you are thinking about tripling the quantity you will spend in your wheels, it is a pertinent query whether or not you will see massive, clean, and apparent profits, or if the enhancements may be slightly significant whilst at the bike.

Spec. Zipp 303s & Zipp 353NSW

Zipp 303s

Price ยฃ1,050.00

Weight (with tape, no valves) 1,544g.

Depth 45mm

Internal rim width 23mm

External rim width 27mm

Hubset 76 / 176 DB

Zipp 353NSW

Price ยฃ3,200

Weight (with tape, no valves) 1,308g.

Depth 45mm(on the innermost point)

Internal rim width 25mm

External rim width 30mm

Hubset Cognition V2

So, without similarly ado, let’s have a look at how the wheels were given on.

The Zipp 303s / Zipp 353 NSW

(Image credit: Future)

Just to the touch on a number of the variations among those wheelsets, even though each are optimised round 28mm tyres, the Zipp 353 NSW include a whole lot wider inner and outside rim widths than the Zipp 303s – 25/30mm in comparison to 23/27mm, respectively.

This offers the tyres installed at the Zipp 353 NSW wheels a whole lot of straighter facets and a smoother transition to the profile of the rim. In contrast, the tyres installed at the 303s wheels emerge as with a piece extra of a ‘lightbulb’ profile and a barely much less clean transition. 

Zipp claims that this distinction in profile contributes to the decreased aerodynamic drag of the Zipp 353 NSW wheels – that is pretty comprehensible and does make sense. But the query is: simply how significant is that distinction out on the road?  

The different maximum tremendous distinction is the sawtooth profile of the 353 NSW wheels, famously modelled at the undulations of humpback whales. This issue of the wheels is especially to growth balance in crosswinds, however collectively with a barely blunter U-formed profile, Zipp says this provides to the aero overall performance of the wheels.

Coming now to the test, it became the Zipp 303s wheels that genuinely grew to become in a barely quicker time – and at a decreased common wattage. To be honest, the site visitors did make an effect at the test, so the loops were not as honest as they may have been, even for open roads.

But with that said, even though they were not best runs, it wasn’t as though one concerned being caught in the back of a tractor for numerous minutes โ€“ they have been fairly comparable.

Given that this becomes sufficient to tip the stability in favour of the 303s wheels, it indicates that the overall performance hole among the 2 wheels is extra marginal than macro.

Zipp 303s common strength 279w, common velocity 36.8kph and time 17:57.

Zipp 353NSW common strength 282w, common velocity 36.0kph.

Time 18:20.

The Alpinism

Image credit: Future)

Again, touching at the variations first, the Zipp 353 NSW got here in at 1,308g without valves however with rim tape, at the same time as the Zipp 303s wheels got here in at 1,544g withinside the identical configuration. That places the burden distinction at 236g.

Now, evaluating among wheelsets, that does represent a large distinction. In phrases of a entire bike, the reality that converting among those wheels might tip the stability among a limboing below the UCI weight restrict or coming in over 7kg isn’t always precisely marginal 

But withinside the context of an entire rider-bike system, it’s most effective a distinction of approximately 0.003 in keeping with cent. There are numerous online calculators(opens in a new tab) available so that it will spit out envisioned instances for climbs in case you plug in all of the data โ€“ and the variations may be pretty small. It’s a part of the reason why heavier aero motorcycles have a tendency to be quicker than light-weight hiking motorcycles.

(Image credit: Future)

With that in mind, we were not looking ahead to look at a massive distinction among the wheels. Still, possibly surprisingly, the Zipp 303s wheels ended up turning withinside the quicker time again. 

On those runs there have been no troubles with site visitors however searching over the efforts, even though the common strength is the identical for each wheel, the distribution of that strength becomes a touch one-of-a-kind among the runs – which possibly explains the time variations.

With the 353 NSW wheels, I ended up pushing a touch more difficult at the flatter sections of the climb, while with the 303s it became the steeper sections I positioned out the better numbers on. Given that aerodynamic drag will increase exponentially with velocity, it is extra efficient (quicker) to position out extra strength on slow (steeper) sections than flatter ones.

With that small extrade in pacing being enough to offer the 303s wheels a quicker time, it does endorse the burden distinction right here is certainly small enough now no longer to make a massive impact at the hiking overall performance. 

Zipp 303s  common strength 369w. / time 6:34

Zipp 353 NSW common 369w. / time 6:37


In all, we determined that the overall performance distinction among those  wheel units to be pretty marginal. If you need the pride and reassurance of using a pinnacle version, with the aid of using all approach cross in advance. 

But in case you’re searching out large profits to your overall performance, you may in all likelihood be higher off making an investment that cash elsewhere – possibly in a teach and pacing plans, in case you’re using solo events.

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