When I first came across the Zipp 303 Firecrest I didn’t really see the need for them, in many ways they’re too similar to the Firecrest 404 to make much difference. So when the chance came to review a set of 303s I wasn’t particularly excited.
I’ve been riding a set of 404s for a number of years and was hardly about to trade them in for something that’s just a little bit lighter and a little more expensive. Nevertheless a pair had arrived fresh from the factory shod with tyres and ready to go, it would be rude not to at least try them.
This is a good looking wheel, not as showy as the 404 due to the shallower rim. This looks a lot more like a standard wheel, if ever you can call a Zipp wheel standard.
It still uses the Zipp Firecrest rim design, which was honed in the wind tunnel, but with a rim depth of only 45mm it’s some 13mm shallower than the 404. This has a noticeable affect in crosswinds. On a windy day you don’t get buffeted about quite as much as you do on the 404.
The Zipp 303 Firecrest is also slightly lighter than the 404, weighing in at 680g compared to the 404s 839g. But in the real world you don’t really notice the saving, hill climbs are just as strenuous and you’re not going to knock seconds off your best time.
But nevertheless they have a nice feel to them, the turn in is sharp and the ride quality is good. I was expecting them to flex slightly more than the 404s but they’re just as sturdy.
Who should buy them?
Well if you’ve already got a set of 404s I wouldn’t recommend you trade them in for a set of 303s. The difference is largely negligible, they’re noticeable better in crosswinds but that’s about it.
If you’re new to Zipp Firecrest wheels however, I would recommend the 303 over the 404 if you do a lot of time trailing, especially in the winter when the winds pick up. I should also say this wheel is suited to riders with a smaller frame. Zipp recommend a maximum rider weight of 225lbs for the 303 which considerably less than the 250lbs they recommend for the 404. So if you’re partial to the odd steak pie, I’d suggest going for the 404.
In reality you’re not going to be disappointed with either wheel, both perform exceptionally well. If had my time again I would buy the 303 over the 404 because of my smaller frame and the fact I live in a particularly windy part of the world. But I’m not going to trade in my 404s just yet.