Zipp 404 Carbon Clincher Review

To be more knowledgeable sales people, equipped with an actual comprehension of how well certain products perform, we are constantly testing new products on the market. Not only are we excited and anxious to ride new products, such as the much anticipated Zipp 404 Carbon Clinchers, but we are also able to make accurate recommendations based off of our experiences to you, the customer.

Below is Kevin’s review of the 404 Carbon Clinchers after riding them for a good portion of the summer. Kevin has had the opportunity to ride all of Zipp’s wheelsets as they continue to evolve over the years. He has also tried a lot of other wheels that are currently on the market. With this being the case, the goal of the review is to provide you with product knowledge, both the pros and cons, in a fashion that is non-biased and educational. Our hope is that the information is applicable to those who may be weighing many options before purchasing their next wheelset.

Why you needed/wanted the product.

Zipp has been working on a Carbon Clincher(CC) wheel for several years. Carbon Clincher wheels have been available from a handful of other carbon wheel manufacturers with mixed result. Zipp was making certain they would not see any failures with their carbon clinchers (more on this in the next section).

Zipp CC wheels are the next evolution of the most desired, popular, and respected wheels in the bike industry.  CC wheels try to combine weight savings and ride quality of tubulars, with the convenience (perceived or real) of clinchers.   

I wanted to see if CC wheels were all they were hyped up to be. Do you get the benefits of a tubular wheelset?  Would I want to have these for everyday riding and/or race day? It took just one ride to answer the first question and just a few more to answer all other questions.


Components/Special features.  (price, outstanding or unusual functions, how you used it)


The development of the CC took several years. Parts of the development were revolutionary and part of it was a typical progression in Zipp’s wheel technology. 

The first step in the CC development was to have a carbon “hook bead” that can both withstand the pressure of the brake calipers as well as the heat buildup from extensive braking. Zipp was able to make a hook bead with ample strength, but they had to work with their carbon fiber manufacturer to develop a resin which would not degrade, or weaken, under the increased heat of prolonged braking. This was achieved and the CC wheels use a new resin that is unique to the CC wheels.

The CC wheelset, when purchased as a pair, comes with a set of cork brake pads that are needed when using CC wheels. The pads do a few things well. They prevent any squealing when braking, better braking control in wet conditions, and minimize heat buildup. 

If a CC wheel has too much heat buildup, the temperature of the rim can surpass the temperature at which the resin begins to break down. This of course weakens the hook bead. Simultaneously the tire pressure builds due to the increased temperature of the wheel. This is when there can be serious issues with the wheel’s integrity. 

Of course Zipp’s CC wheel development was to address this specific issue. They were able to obtain a resin that has the properties needed to meet all the robust standards Zipp always holds when developing a product. The cork brake pads simply add to the ride quality and provide insurance that the wheelset has a long life.

The second aspect of the wheel is part of the typical evolution we are used to seeing from Zipp. Their newest rim shape used in the 404 and 808 has been named “Firecrest”. This new rim shape is not only more aerodynamic in real world conditions, it also rides better. The new “fatter” rims shape has much less drag as the yaw angle increases (more crosswind) while also decreasing drag at very low yaw angles. 

This rim shape improves ride quality in two other ways. First, the side force on the rim caused by crosswind is decreased because “Firecrest” moves those forces closer to the hub (away from the tire). In other words the wheel rides with characteristics of a rim with a shallower rim profile, while still providing the aerodynamics of a deep rim profile wheel.

The “fat”, or wide, rim also improves the ride quality of the wheel. The wheel rides softer while giving the rider a better feel for the road. Zipp is not the only wheel manufacturer making wider wheels but the Zipp Firecrest is the first Carbon Clincher wheel with the wider shape.


Pros (what you liked, what surprised you)

When I get to try a new product I am always comparing it to what I have been or are currently using. When I am training I ride either a set of Mavic Open Pro wheels with a Powertap or a set of Shimano RS80 Carbon Cap wheels. For race day I have a Zipp Sub 9 disc and 1080 front wheel. Both of the race wheels are tubular, not clincher. I have also had the luxury of riding all the other Zipp wheels on the market and several other brands.

When I put the Zipp 404 CC wheels on my road bike they replaced the stock RS80 wheels. I actually like the RS80 wheels and I have been quite impressed with them as a high end training wheels or entry level road racing wheel. However, the 404 CC took the ride to a whole new level. The wheels rode even softer than the RS80’s and there is no doubt I could feel the aerodynamics of the Zipps as well. 

I am not a very picky rider so I am skeptical about anything I can’t quantify. But when the difference is so great that it doesn’t need to be measured, I know it is legitimate. The differences in both ride quality and speed increase were significant and more than enough that I can state that “anyone can tell the difference”. 

I also rode the wheels in the rain and the brake pads were impressive. It seemed that it took two revolutions of the wheel to get excellent and full braking power. This must have been how long it took for the brake pads to completely clear the water on the rim. At that point the brakes felt the same as riding in dry conditions. When dry, the pads worked perfectly. They worked so well that I didn’t ever think about them. 

Cons (what you didn’t like, or would change and why)

Before riding them I was thinking that these wheels may just kick out tubulars as the choice for top racers. I then rode them for about 2 weeks before I rode some other wheels. I switched out the CC wheels for the Zipp 303 Tubular (V4 version) wheels and I was immediately reminded that as very nice as the CC wheels ride, they are not a tubular. 

In mid September I jumped into a duathlon. It was the same weekend as IM WI and I had loaned out my race wheels. At this duathlon I “had to” use the 404 CC wheels. Yes they are fast, but not as fast as a 1080/Disc combo. I can’t quantify the difference, but during the race I was thinking how happy I was that the guys that like to typically beat up on me weren’t there because I don’t know that I would have been able to ride with them.

The wrap up, general consensus.  Worth it for you? 

The Wheels are spectacular! The choice is obvious if you want to have the convenience of a clincher with the best ride quality possible without going to a tubular. However, if every second counts, then you should think about a tubular disc and super deep section front. For 2011, the CC is also available in 808s! Deep aero section, Firecrest, and Carbon Clincher.

3 thoughts on “Zipp 404 Carbon Clincher Review

  1. Brett – can you forward this message to Kevin? Wasn’t sure how to communicate directly. David Jones from Texas says, ‘hi’ to Kevin. I was down in Fort Worth, Texas racing this past weekend and finished second to David in the Masters division. My race summary (in case Kevin was curious) is at:

    David and the race director would love to see a bunch of Minnesota people come down to the same venue for a duathlon in Feb 2011. Thanks ahead of time for passing along.

  2. Nice review. I liked that you didn’t bombard us with all these technical numbers. Instead, you gave us an opinion form someone that has ridden so many different wheels .

  3. I agree with the review. zipp 404 Clinchers are excellent for almost any ride but the thoroughbred (in my humble opinion) is still the tubulars.

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