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The Zipp 454 NSW Carbon Tubeless Disc brake wheelset sits at the top of the Zipp pile in terms of price and performance, and feature the sawtooth rim design that is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible without hindering crosswind stability. I did indeed find that the wheels were fast, handled well and were also impressively light and stiff, but the price and some quality niggles make them hard to recommend over some much less expensive alternatives.
The most obvious visual difference between the NSW range and cheaper Zipp wheels is the sawtooth rim design. Zipp says that varying the rim depth between 53 and 58mm 'simultaneously reduces both aerodynamic drag and side force for the ultimate in Aerobalance'.
The rims measure 23mm internally and 28mm across the external width for both front and rear wheels, unlike many brands who have opted for different rim profiles and widths between front and rear.
Like much of the rest of Zipp's carbon wheel range, these are hookless rims which means that they must be used with tubeless tyres that appear on this compatibility chart.
Zipp also says these are 'optimized for 25mm tubeless tyres for all out speed'. Now, a quick look at the compatibility chart will tell you that 25mm offerings from some of the biggest tyre manufacturers are NOT compatible, namely Pirelli, Continental and S-Works. I don't personally find that a huge problem – I now both train and race on 28mm tyres – but it is worth remembering before hurrying out to buy the first set of tyres you think the wheels are 'optimized' for.
The wheels have an extremely impressive claimed weight of 1,358g, which appears accurate seeing as they weighed in at 1,420g on our scales, fitted with the heavier SRAM/Shimano 11-speed freehub body, rim tape, and a pair of tubeless valves. That makes them just over 100g lighter than the already competitively light Zipp 404 Firecrests, and only a tiny bit heavier than the very light Roval Rapide CLX wheels (1,410g).
The 454 NSWs feature the revised Cognition 2 hubs with the rather interesting Axial Clutch technology designed to reduce drag by disengaging the ratchet mechanism when coasting. In most systems, more points of engagement in a freehub will increase drag when freewheeling, but with this technology, Zipp can use a high 54 points of engagement without increasing the drag.
This second version of the wheelset uses a Sylomer (an advanced material used in a variety of high-tech industries) to create a wave spring that re-engages the rings when you start pedalling. Zipp says the new system is simpler and more durable.
The wheels ship with 12mm front and rear end caps, which is all but standard across the road bike market. The disc rotors are fitted using the Center Lock interface with a pair of lockrings included, and there are 24 spokes both front and rear.
From disassembling my wheels, it was clear to see that some of the bearing seals were black, so not ceramic (those get a blue seal on either side). I would rarely opt for the increased price of a ceramic bearing as the benefits are marginal, but at this price I would expect the best – and in most people's opinion that's ceramic.
The rims come taped ready for tubeless installation, and this was a neat and tidy affair with no peeling or tape creeping up the walls. There's also a pair of plain black tubeless valves included, but I had a bling set to review so tried to fit them instead. It's here that I found that the sawtooth rims are not compatible with all tubeless valves, because the wavy rim is not perpendicular to the valve stem; you need quite a fat rubber O-ring and a small valve collar ring to ensure a proper seal and to ensure the valve is tightened adequately.
The remainder of the tubeless installation was a breeze. I fitted a set of 28mm Goodyear Eagle F1s with a track pump alone and the wide, hookless rims create a very smooth transition between tyre and rim with minimal 'ballooning'. This is important as I often find this makes a large difference in crosswind stability, and according to manufacturers this is key for aerodynamic performance as well.
I was a little disappointed with some of the finishing. For example, the drilled drainage holes in the rims were full of burring and the hubs had sharp edges where they had been machined; both would have benefited from a going-over with a file. This is something I'd happily overlook on a much cheaper wheelset but when dishing out this much money I'm expecting perfection.
Let's get the negative bit over and done with first. On just my third ride with the wheels, so about 300km in, I started to notice a slight creaking on my bike, which took me a while to diagnose. I took my cranks out and checked the bottom bracket, oiled where the spokes crossed, changed the cassette... and yet the problem proceeded to get worse.
After about 1,000km the noise became unbearable in a kind of raunching and something-is-going-to-break-imminently in a high torque situation kind of way, and was only remedied by removing the wheelset. Note: this is the most expensive wheelset I've ever tested.
Having consulted Zipp's warranty department, I received a nice document on the freehub maintenance procedure and set about disassembling the wheels. Thankfully this was quite a simple process with no proprietary tools required, and gave me a good look at the unique ratchet system.
I gave everything a good clean and found some tiny metal filings in between the ratchets, which was most likely the cause of my woes.
Having now used the wheels for a further 3,000km without discovering any further filings, I am confident that this was a bi-product of manufacture and not premature wearing of any internal components.
Whether this is a one-off or not I cannot say, but having received my last set of Zipp wheels with dry bearings I do think the quality control of its hubs department has room for improvement. Of course, both issues would be covered under Zipp's lifetime warranty policy, but regardless of this it's not an issue you expect to have with any wheelset, let alone one that costs over £3,000.
The 54T ratchet gives the 454 NSWs just a 6.67-degree engagement angle, which is as quick as just about any road wheel out there. This means that acceleration feels instantaneous even from low speeds, helped by the low weight – it's light for any depth wheel and even more impressive given how deep they are.
The wheels climb well too, which is obviously in large part again thanks to the weight, but I often find that stiffness plays a factor in this too. For example, the Hunt 48 Limitless Aero wheels climb far better than their 1,690g weight would suggest. I have happily left the 454 NSWs on for hilly road races and group rides.
On the flat the wheels hold speed very well, and are up there with some of the fastest 50mm and 60mm-deep wheels out there. In back-to-back testing against my Roval Rapide CLX wheelset, I was unable to find any meaningful difference in speed, and I regard that as one of the fastest wheelsets in this category.
Crosswind stability is also good, though it didn't blow me away – pun unintended. In this regard I found the Zipp 404 Firecrests almost as good, with a saving of £1,776...
The 454s feature dimpled rims, which Zipp says helps with vortex shedding, and the sawtooth design also helps to produce more regular but less powerful shedding when the wheel stalls. In the real world I am confident this works, but as far as I can tell it's only on par with cheaper competitors' super fat front rims (~33mm vs the 28mm Zipp). Whether this makes the Zipp more aerodynamic, I'm not in a position to say – that would require back-to-back wind-tunnel testing.
At £3,376 these are some of the most expensive wheels we've tested on road.cc. The Zipp 404 Firecrests that I keep referring to offer much better value for money at £1,600, costing less than half the price and adding about 110g, but delivering nearly all of the same performance.
If tubeless isn't a bit of you then the Roval Rapide CLX wheels I tested in 2020 offer similar weight, speed and stability for £2,200, up from £1,980 in 2020.
For a similar price there's also the Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560 Tune wheelset, now up to £3,399.99 since we tested it; the wheels are a bit heavier and deeper but also feature an oscillating rim design.
Overall, the 454 NSW is a very fast wheelset that is impressively light, can be used on courses and routes that contain plenty of climbing, and hold speed very well. The wheels are also very stable, but the price and quality niggles that I experienced make them hard to recommend over much cheaper (and still very good) wheels.
I'm all for money-no-object products as it's usually here that we see the pinnacle of engineering. However, as good as this wheelset is, I think Zipp has failed to make this the 'ultimate' wheelset. On paper it's brilliant, but to be ultimate the wheels require ceramic bearings, better quality control and finishing, and maybe even different rim profiles from front to rear.
Fast, light and very expensive hookless wheels
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Zipp 454 NSW Carbon Tubeless Disc Brake wheelset
Size tested: 700C, 58mm depth
Tell us what the wheel is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Zipp says that the 454 NSW Tubeless Disc-brake "is the ultimate road racing wheelset. This wheel delivers everything the performance cyclist demands. It's aerodynamically efficient and stable in all wind conditions." I agree that it's a very quick wheelset but that comes at a price and to be ultimate there are a few changes that need to happen...
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Cognition V2 hubs with Axial Clutch V2™ technology
The 454 NSW Tubeless Disc brake is roughly 400 grams lighter than its predecessor
TSE™ for greater efficiency and reduced rolling resistance
Sawtooth™ rim with Hyperfoil™ nodes and HexFin™ ABLC dimple pattern for top aero and crosswind-stability performance with an undulating 53/58mm rim depth
Zipp graphics applied using Zipp's ImPress™ direct-print technology
XDR™ or SRAM/Shimano driver bodies
Ships with 12mm front and rear end caps
Center locking rotor interface. Lockring is included with the wheels
Campagnolo driver body sold separately
24 spokes front and rear
23mm internal rim width
claimed weight: 1,358g
After I solved the problems there have been no further issues...
Like many money-no-object products these are not good value; you can get 95% of the performance for 50% of the cost.
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
No issues, tubeless inflated with just a track pump.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
Rim tape, tubeless valves and rotor lockrings all work as they should.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They perform well, they hold speed, engagement is very quick and they are stable for their depth.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
They are competitive on any course, be that flat, rolling or hilly.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
I dislike having to take any wheel apart after less than 1,000km to discover debris left over from manufacture on any wheelset, let alone one of this price.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
As mentioned in the review, these are some of the most expensive wheels we've tested. The Princeton Carbon Works Wake wheels are a similar price and offer similar performance, but you can get similar weight, speed and stability for a lot less.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? No
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Not unless they're very rich.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Since sorting the noise problem from the rear hub, these have performed very well; they're fast, light and stiff. However, for this price I'd expect better finishing and attention to detail as well as quality control.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...