Zipp 303 Firecrest
Still the best all-round wheels on the market
Owning one set of wheels that can do everything is pretty much the dream for a cyclist, and while finding something to cope as capably with time trials as they ascend mountain passes is not going to happen, Zipp have given things a pretty good shot with their 303s.
Sure, the 303s are a few years old now, but the fact they’re still just about the best all-round wheels on the market should tell you something: you don’t mess with wheels when they’ve been crafted this well. Eventually, Zipp will update the 303s, but for now the current set are good enough that the Indianapolis-based company have decided not to change them.
With 45mm rims, the 303s strike a sensible balance between aerodynamics and weight, with the clinchers weighing in at a claimed 1,625g – although you can drop the best part of 400g from that if you want to go tubular.
The 303s were the first ever carbon wheelset to win a cobbled classic, winning Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders under Fabian Cancellara
The 303s feature Zipp’s Firecrest rim shape, built around a 26.4mm-wide brake track, meaning the aero advantages of a deeper rim can be coupled with matching wide tyres to ensure the most efficient air flow around the system as a whole.
One of the most interesting things about the Firecrest shape Zipp discovered, is that it increases stability in crosswinds. The shape of the rim moves the centre of pressure nearer to the steering axis, meaning the rider finds it easier to control the bike even when conditions start to become challenging.
Another plus point for the 303s is durability. On Zipp-sponsored pro teams, the 303s are the go-to wheel for the classics, and stand up to the punishment handed out wonderfully. In fact, the 303s were the first ever carbon wheelset to win a cobbled classic (in 2010 with Fabian Cancellara, since you asked) and won both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix that week – not a bad way for carbon wheels to announce they were finally ready to take over on the cobbles.
The 303s are a carbon wheelset built to last, and one you could buy and ride daily without worrying every time you see a poorly surfaced section of road coming your way. If you only want one set of carbon wheels – or, as it happens, one set of wheels full stop – Zipp’s 303s should be right at the top of your list. Which is just as well, because you won’t be able to afford any other wheels once you’ve bought some…