Zipp 454 NSW wheelset: First Look

We take a first look at Zipp's updated shark-tooth 454 NSW wheelset. The conventional-profile 404 wheelsets also grow wider while dropping weight

Zipp's two most popular designs, the sawtooth 454 NSW and longstanding 404 Firecrest wheelsets have had a spruce up. We were able to spend a little time with the new 454 wheelset, to get a close look at some subtle but significant changes.

Both the 454 and 404 wheelsets benefit from new, much wider hookless rims. Allowing them to shake off a sizable 450 grams of weight per pair, unusually, Zipp is claiming that the revamps to both wheelsets have actually left them slightly less aerodynamic. However, with significant reductions in rolling resistance and weight, the American wheelmaker claims both are now significantly quicker when ridden out in the real world.

Now disc brake only, both wheels are also hookless and can only be run with tubeless tyres. Yet while switching to an open-edged rim profile might infuriate people who don't want to go tubeless, Zipp argues it provides profound benefits.

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Zipp's new 454 wheelset has no traditional rim wall hook to retain the tyre, as with a tubeless setup this isn't structurally necessary

Not only are its new wheels much lighter, but the reduced difficulty in producing them has also allowed Zipp to cut their price too. At the same time, removing the traditional means of retaining the tyre has also helped smooth airflow over the transition between the tyre and the rim while also allowing for increased overall strength. Designed for what Zipp calls 'Total System Efficiency', both new wheelsets come optimised for use with 25c tyres.

454 NSW

Created to be the most versatile wheel in Zipp's extensive line-up, the first 454 was released half a decade ago. Turning heads with its unique sawtooth profile, it's now been updated to embody many of the qualities found among Zipp's more recent releases. Bringing it right up to date, it's now available in a disc and tubeless only format.

Forcing riders to accept the latest trends or choose another set of wheels, their hookless design now also features a 23 mm internal width. Made to work best with 25c tyres, despite this increased width, changes to the rims and hubs have seen the new 454 ditch a chunky 457 grams compared to their previous incarnation.

Shop Zipp 454

If you're happy to take Zipp's word for it, the new 454s will save you 10 watts of effort when travelling at 40 km/h compared to the already speedy earlier versions. At 58mm deep, surprisingly, this supposedly comes entirely thanks to the reduced weight and rolling resistance instead of changes to the wheel's aerodynamic properties.

Up close, the shift to hookless rims is more subtle than most might think. Rim walls have become shallower and shallower in recent years as rim beds and tyres have followed the trend to become wider. So the shift seems like more gradual evolution than jarring redesign. The most notable difference is in the overall weight, as Zipp's aerodynamic wheels have often been on the heavier side, these feel truly weightless with a claimed overall weight of 1,358g. 

Also helping the 454 wheels along is an updated version of the firm's Cognition disc-brake hubs. Killing off the magnetic pawl system of the original driver mechanism, this has been replaced by a simple leaf spring made of something high-tech called Sylomer, meaning there is still some reason to get excited about exactly how your hubs engage. A few grams lighter and a generous amount quicker to pick up, Zipp also claims this updated design reduces coasting friction by 23%.

Zipp's new Cognition disc-brake hub

While rim brake users might be offended to find this latest 454 wheelset only works with disc callipers, tubeless refuseniks will at least get the option of a glue-on tubular version. However, with most of these likely headed to pro-team riders, unless you have your own support car and mechanic, it's probably time you got with the programme anyway.

Related – Making the case for tubeless tyres

Although still very much a premium product, the 454's price has also been slimmed down to a slightly less sizable £3,200, leaving you £370 change versus the previous versions.

While we're yet to see them in the flesh, Zipp has also updated the 404 and 858 wheelsets and brought us up to date on the developments.

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404 Firecrest

Following in the footsteps of the younger and more diminutive 303s, the updated 404 Firecrests also switch over to a tubeless and disc-only specification. Like the aforementioned 454s, the more conventionally profiled 404s swell out to accommodate a matching 23mm internal rim width. Also hookless, its new profile will supposedly save a rider travelling at 40 km/h around 4 watts, which again comes primarily from rolling resistance and weight. With the wheel's depth remaining at 58mm, it's the larger volume and similar 450-gram or so reduction in weight that lends the improvement. Now troubling the scales at just 1,450 grams, the cost of the latest 404s has also been pared down.

Always a surprisingly budget introduction to a firm famous for bank balance-shatteringly expensive wheels, their retail price is pegged at an uncommonly attainable £1,600.

858 NSW

Zipp's deepest 858 NSW wheelset also benefits from more minor tweaks. Retaining the same 19mm internal width and conventional hooked sidewalls, you'll still be able to choose between traditional clincher or tubeless tyres. With the same 80mm undulating rim, they're primarily aimed at triathletes and time trialists; both groups that will also benefit from the same Cognition V2 hubs found on the new 454s.

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