Aerodynamics vs. Weight
Since advent of deep profile rims, the tradeoff between aerodynamics and weight has been the key issue in wheel selection. As any racer knows, lighter wheels are better for climbing and accelerating, and aero wheels roll faster on flat terrain and descents.
While there's no hard and fast rule to choose one or the other, we find that aero usually trumps weight except on courses with multiple steep climbs (>8% grade). On the other hand, your size, riding style, and – of course – personal preference are important considerations.
That said, all Zipp wheels are designed to optimize weight and aerodynamics for their intended usage. Visit our SpeedShop pages for expert help with wheel choice based on your application or Tri event.
Tubulars or Clinchers?
Tubular tires are the traditional choice for racing because of their light weight. Because there is no aluminum hoop around the wheel's perimeter, Zipp's full carbon tubular rims offer improved climbing and acceleration over heavier clinchers. Also, tubular tires typically provide a better feel for the road.
The main drawback to tubulars is that the tires themselves are more expensive and difficult to change relative to clinchers. But with a bit of practice, changing a tubular will become a fairly easy task. Also, tubulars cannot be pushed hard in a corner until they've been properly glued, which is important to remember in case you have to replace a flat tire during a race.
Traditonally used just for training, clincher rims and tires have come a long way in recent years and now are on a par with the performance of high-end tubulars in terms of rolling resistance and aerodynamics. Clinchers are more convenient and less expensive than tubulars when it comes time to change a flat.
Zipp clinchers utilize an aluminum hoop around the rim. This offers excellent strength and braking performance, although it does add some weight. However, that shouldn't make a significant difference except on extended climbs, steep grades, and criteriums with lots of corners to accelerate around.
Bikes are not one-size-fits-all and neither are Zipp wheels. For bigger, more powerful riders, we offer Clydesdale versions of our popular, versatile 404 and 808 wheelsets. In both cases, the Clydesdale option increases the front wheel spoke count from 16 to 24 and the rear from 20 to 24. This adds less than 70g to the wheel's weight and a negligible amount of drag while increasing stiffness.
For smaller riders, a bike with 650c wheels might provide more range of adjustment to find the perfect fit. In those cases, Zipp 404 tubulars or clinchers in the 650c size are a perfect all-around aero choice.
It's a common concern that deep section rims and discs are difficult to control in crosswinds. But in our experience, most riders can comfortably handle these wheels, especially after a few rides. In fact, our deepest rim, the 1080, is no more affected by crosswinds than a less aerodynamic tri-spoke.
That said, smaller riders should consider shallower rim profiles like the 303 and 404 to find the most aerodynamic setup possible without compromising control. But for most riders under most conditions, a 1080 front wheel with a rear disc is entirely manageable. Remember in high wind conditions a rear disc or extra deep section wheel acts as a counter steer, helping to maintain your bike control.
Expanding Your Arsenal
If you already own Zipp wheels, think about how a new purchase could expand your options. Own a set of 404s? A set of 303s could would give you more choices as the terrain gets hillier, while 808s would help on faster courses.
Two lucky Racing Underground participants will win a pair of Zipp Race Wheels which will be awarded by random drawing during the 2009 racing season.
A pair of Zipp 404 race wheels will be presented to someone who has entered all three events in the 2009 Mile High Duathlon Series. The wheels will be awarded at the breakfast following the Cabbage Head Duathlon on July 18th. You must be present to win.
A pair of Zipp 808 Race Wheels will be presented to one lucky participant in the 2009 Crescent Moon Sprint Triathlon. You must be present to win.