Zipp 404 wheels - Road Cycling UK

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Zipp 404 wheels

The Zipp 404

Deep section wheels have been a regular part of the pro-peloton for almost a decade now, the first successful wheels in this market was the Campagnolo Shamal and the Mavic Cosmic. Mavic still produce a Cosmic Carbone wheel, which is deep section carbon wheel of sorts – but the rim is a faring with the spokes attaching to a central standard shape rim. Few companies have mastered the art of a deep section rim in the traditional sense, with the rim section acting a structural part of the wheel.

German wheel-meisters Lightweight (test to follow very soon) really took the headlines when Jan Ullrich started using their complete ‘monocoque’ carbon deep section wheels (he still does) and now most of the teams have the option of a deep carbon rimmed wheel in their armoury. Why? well they have obvious aerodynamic advantages but they also seem to roll better on the long flat stages, shave some weight off and they also climb pretty well. The disadvantages are that they have less lateral (side to side) stability and those with a badly designed cross section and too many spokes, can be a little harsh radially. Oh yes and get a gusty cross wind and they can make you a little nervous.

All those pro’s wheels are shod with tubular tyres, so what about the high pressure option? Finding a carbon rim for high pressure tyres is still a problem for most manufacturers and Zipp have bonded an aluminium rim to the carbon body of the rim. This works with all brake shoes and allows steady sure braking in the wet. Someone came up with a theory that there were more crashes in the wet since pro riders have been using carbon rims and their braking is less instant with the appropriate brake pads, I think it’s more to do with faster speeds and more riders in the bunch, however there is no doubt that aluminium rims brake more predictably than their carbon counterparts.

The Zipp 404 uses 16 spokes in the front wheel and 24 in the rear. Radial for the front wheel and the non-drive side of the rear wheel. The drive side has a moto-cross style fin design, so they can cross the spokes and still use the straight pull nipple. The spoking and overall design has a well thought out feel to it and the wheels feel balanced and able to cope with power transfer. The 58mm section on this 404 is slightly bulbous with the centre section measuring 22.5mm, it’s narrower at the brake pads, this is for aero purposes but I suspect is also adds stability to the rim too.

The Sapim aero spokes are attached with a long aluminium nipple to the rim at the rim’s edge, rather than at the tyre channel like standard section wheels. Shorter spokes means you can have less of them and they will flex less which also means they will fatigue at a slower rate than longer ones. The straight-pull Zipp/Sapim spoke has no elbow at the hub which is usually the weak point for a spoke under considerable tension, so they can be tighter and stronger than a standard spoke. All well and good in theory. Our 404s had a loose spoke after a couple of rides that needed a few minutes in the truing stand to sort out.

On a personal note I prefer brass nipples as they are stronger and more serviceable than alloy ones that tend to round off if trued in an emergency with the wrong sized spoke key… also the spoke tension does require careful checking a re-tensioning especially when building high performance wheels with so few spokes. Zipp have come a long way since the early days when they produced rims to be built onto hubs of your choice, but I still can’t help thinking that I know a few builders who would do a better job.

rear dish and straightpull spokes

Sprinters will prefer the direct ride of the 404s over softer feeling wheels like Mavic Kysiriums and Spinergys. They’ll get to the final 200 metres quicker too, because the 404s are noticeably fast in a straight line. Kick out of the saddle and they stay straight, which is both reassuring and efficient.

The finish to the stickers on the pair I had wasn’t great, although the build quality of the rims underneath is perhaps the best on the market. The hubs look really trick but there were some issues with play and an intermittent, and somewhat alarming, crack from the freehub – we suspect that this is the pawls engaging inside the cassette carrier. Then the spoke tension irregularities (which I sorted) added to a feeling that they could be better built by a good wheelbuilder, on your own choice of hub. Fortunately Zipp do allow a rim only deal so you could do this. I’d get A pair of Royce hubs and build with Sapim or DT aero spokes it would cost more, but I think it would be money well spent – I may well do this, for comparison reasons only, you understand…

I really like the ride that the Zipps provide. They are smooth, stable and predictable – which is unlike previous deep section wheels I’ve used (Spinergy, Mavic, Campagnolo Shamal & Bora, Rolf and Bontrager) Best of all they allow a fair amount of ‘bike abuse’ in the sprint, without any annoying wheel slap. If you already like the ride and look of a deep section wheel you’ll really like these wheels and once I’d got them sorted out mechanically I was suitably impressed.

But although they ride well Zipp wheels still suffer with some long-term service issues, it’s mainly due to overuse and abuse, but I did have to re-tension the spokes after the first few rides and rebuild both hubs after a few rainstorms, and I’m hardly Super Mario. I’ve heard similar stories from a couple of mechanics who’ve had to do the same. So if you’re heavy on equipment or abuse your bike you may want to consider saving the 404 for racing only – not for clocking up winter miles.

For £800 a set, these things shouldn’t be a problem, hence the value for money score.

Should riding on such a wheel be saved for competition only? I think so, partly because Zipp do make a very good, but delicate, lightweight wheel. It’s much lighter than Campagnolo’s excellent and highly serviceable Shamal – which is sadly no longer made. Maybe they could team up? A big plus is that the 404 is the closest thing since the Shamal to a ‘consumer available’ pro-level deep rim wheelset, it’s actually a lot better. I’d have a set of tubular wheels for those special dry race days only, you’ll struggle to find a lighter weight deep section wheel for time trialling or ‘breaking away’ for well under a grand.

Prices: Front:£399 Rear £449 pair £799 rim only £279
weights (less cassettes, tyres, tubes and QRs):
• 404 clinchers (high pressure tyres) – 1712g
• 404 tubular tyre – 1292g
• Z4 (super-light pro model – price £1995 a set tubs only) – 1270g

Website link – for full spec. go to

More information UK e-mail

Or call: 07050 390 490

trick looking hub

carbon dust covers

They look the part

alloy nipples save weight

dis-coloured sticker

58mm deep rims

rim dimples for aero advantage

Rear hub with fin style spoke holes

and crossed drive side spokes


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