Zipp 101’s — Product Review

Distance: 32.5 miles
Time: 1:37:10
Average Watts: 179 watts
Normative Power: 201 watts
Average Heart Rate: 149 bpm
Total Work: 1,048 kJ
Average Speed: 20.0 mph

Good little ride with Dan this morning. When we started I really thought this would be a simple, medium effort ride. But was we started going we both felt great so we started to take one mile turns on the front and hammer while up there. It was nice because it was just like an interval workout — one mile at about 280 watts and then let Dan take a turn. When he was on front he was pushing some serious watts, but because of the significant decrease in what is required when someone else is pulling, I cruised at like 140 watts.

We were about 9.0 miles into the ride and another cyclist pulled onto the road in front of us from one of the feeder streets. Dan wanted me to catch him and what was I to do? :) Of course I hammered and caught the guy within about 0.5 miles. As we passed him, he was really nice, like really nice. Sizing him up, I thought there was no way he would stay on our wheels.

But I was wrong — that dude could fly. We all worked together for about the next 8.0 miles or so. At one point he was on the front and we were cruising some rollers and hit an uphill section and I swear he was trying to drop me. My competitive juices kicked in and I did what I needed to so I could stay on his wheel. Then my turn came to pull and I kicked my power up to about 300 watts to try and drop him. After one tough section I looked back and he was right there. I wasn’t dropping him today. He pulled up along me and did I mention he was a nice guy? I bet I end up riding more with him in the future.

Great start to the week. I think this ride really set the tone for my riding this week.

Product Review — Zipp 101’s

Let’s start this by reminding you guys that I never will review a product that I haven’t used and tested extensively. I don’t have a problem with other people who get their products for free and then test and review them, but I do pay for the products I use and review. I am not a pro triathlete or cyclist, so the list of people who want to send me free product is very short. Chris McCormack’s people did contact me about getting the word out on his Wheaties box, and you guys know how I felt about that. He is a great athlete and I think a good person, but I didn’t love that move.

So I rode Mavic Ksyrium SL’s for about three months before I made the move to a PowerTap. At that point I had to switch out my rear Ksyrium SL for a Mavic Open Pro because of the limitations of the PowerTap hub and I rode that with the Ksyrium SL front wheel for a year. I have to say I loved the combination. That wheelset was responsive and solid. It was as close to bomb proof as I thought you could get in a wheelset. They stayed true over more than 8,000 miles. I had to replace the battery in the PowerTap before I even thought about taking the wheels in to the shop for any service.

I have a pair of Zipp 404’s that I bought used about five years ago. I rarely ride these because I hate how loud the freewheel (the clicking sound when you stop pedalling) is. It literally sounds like you have a playing card in your spokes. It might be old or something, but I don’t ride them because of that sound and the weight. I just don’t think they are worth the trouble in the mountains.

When Zipp came out with the 101’s I think last year I was pumped. I am somewhat of an early adopter, but I do like to see companies get the kinks out of their product, so I am typically a Gen 2.0 adopter. I read a lot about these wheels and how stiff they are. I am really starting to get into climbing, so I wanted a really stiff wheel. As light as the Ksyrium SL’s are, I don’t feel like they are as stiff as I wanted. The Zipp 101’s reportedly were — every review I read by both professionals and those who love to ride stated that these wheels were really, really solid.

I took the plunge. I had my LBS order me a pair with a PowerTap SL+. I roll Shimano components and I love to climb, so I bought a Dura-Ace 12-26 cassette to go with it. It took Canyon Bikes in Draper a couple of weeks to get the wheelset in and I must have talked with Jessica everyday for a week because I was so excited. The came in on time mind you, but what if they would have come in a day early? See why I called daily? Sorry Jessica. They are a great shop. I bought them there instead of online because when I wrecked my Cervelo R3 SL last summer and cracked the frame, they worked with Cervelo to get me a new frame. That is the advantage to working with your LBS instead of someone online. Here is a product shot from Zipp…

I have 745 miles in about three weeks on the wheels now. I have to say for a clincher, I love the Zipp 101’s. These wheels are fast. They feel like they are just getting warmed up at anything less that 30 mph. I have power files from before I used them and after I started using them, but without additional controls the data is useless. So anything else I talk about from this point will be purely anecdotal.

Like all Zipp’s, the 101’s run big, so getting a new tire on them is a little tough. The first couple of times you put a new tire on them it will be hard to get it on. But if you have ever owned Zipp’s, you know what I am talking about. I use the Michelin Pro 3 Race tire with about 125 psi in the front and rear. If I am feeling frisky I will go a little heavy and fill them up to 130 psi. They haven’t ever given me any problems even at that psi.

The Zipp 101’s are a hair wider than the standard clinchers. Zipp claims that makes the tire more solid in the corners, meaning you can carry more speed and feel more confident that your bike will stay tires side down. The idea is there is more of a contact patch on the road and once you roll over to the left or the right, there will still be more surface area on the pavement. I hit the corners pretty hard, but I am not sure I feel the difference there. I am sure they have tested this and have the data to back it up.

The rim is a different shape that other clinchers as well. One of the claims to fame is this is the first fully toroidal clincher rim. What that means is it is wider in the middle that either end of the rim. It is designed that way to improve the aerodynamics. If you look at the cross section of the rim compared to another clincher (the 101 is the image in the left), you can see what they mean.

I ripped this picture from so you know. You can also see the wider stance of the beads. I am not sure if the aerodynamics really makes a difference or not, but if you are looking to shave 30 seconds off you 40 K time trial time, these wheels will help.

Let’s shift gears and talk about where I am feeling the differences. These wheels are super stiff, which means more of the power you put into your cranks will get translated into speed. I really feel the difference on climbs and sudden accelerations. The only disadvantage is you also feel this on rough roads too. I have put in a lot of miles on these wheels in the last three weeks, including three centuries. I think at that distance your butt is going to hurt no matter what, but I will take the stiff wheels any day of the week.

If you ride a mountain bike with full suspension you know what I am talking about when I mention stiff wheels. Think of trying to motor up a hill with your suspension dialed in really soft and how it causes you to bob up and down. While not a dramatic, that is what I feel like when I am riding a wheel that is softer.

The bearings they use in these wheels are unreal. They come standard with these steel bearings that are built to specs that make them something like — no joke — 10,000 times more round than bearings you find in other wheels. Since I got the PowerTap SL+, I ordered the ceramic bearings so the rear wheel could keep up with the front. That was my only option or I would have gone with the Zipp steel bearings in the rear wheel as well. According to Zipp, their steel bearings are even more round than the ceramics. Since this isn’t something I can measure with my ruler, I will have to take their word for it.

You can really feel the difference on the road. My buddy Juston who I rode the 107 mile loop with on Saturday is no slouch — he can flat out ride. But when we were going downhill, he literally had to pedal to keep up when I was on the front and just coasting. He rides an older Trek that he does a decent job of maintaining. We are about the same height, and he actually has me by about 15 lbs., so he should be smoking by me when I am pulling and we are headed downhill. When we hit super steep downhills he had to push some serious watts just to stay in contact. Most of the time he couldn’t keep up when I was up over 40 mph and he told me he was on his clip-on aerobars. The Zipp 101’s made that much of a difference. It was insane.

The last thing I want to discuss is handling — in a crosswind these wheels are awesome. Having ridden the Zipp 404’s in stiff crosswinds I know what it feels like to have your wheels blown around and how scary that can be at high speeds. Since the Zipp 101’s are deeper than what more than likely comes stock on most bikes, you might feel a 30 mph gust directly from the left or the right. I have been on these wheels in tough crosswinds at high speed and low speed and they haven’t ever gotten squirrelly on me.

When you are looking to upgrade your bike, I always suggest you look at the wheels first. If you do a good job at maintaining your drivetrain and you don’t wreck a ton on your frame, your bike should hold up for a long, long time. Where most people lose speed in their equipment is in a dirty drive train — clean your chain! — and in a wheelset they got stock with their bike. If money is tight, save up and buy new wheels when you can.

Anything with a Zipp sticker on the rims will not be cheap — there are probably other wheels out there that some would argue give you a bigger bang for your buck. I wouldn’t argue with people on this point because I think they might be right. With Zipp you definitely pay for the technology. There are also lighter wheel sets — the Zipp’s come out of the box at 1,523 grams without a cassette and skewers. But for an everyday training wheel that you can easily take out on the race course, these are the wheels for you. For triathlon, I would race a sprint all the way up to an Ironman on these wheels. For cycling, I would use these wheels for crits, hill climbs, and long rides. Zipp 101’s are great race wheels. I ride some rough roads and I realize I have less than 1,000 miles on them, but they are still as true as the day I pulled them out of the box.

I am planning on using the Zipp 101’s for the Double Triple Bypass, the Gran Fondo of Park City, and LOTOJA this year. All three races have big hill climbs, great descents, and some flats. In my opinion, I think the Zipp 101’s are a great choice. If you are looking to improve your speed, consider passing on the new bike and pick up some new wheels instead. I recommend you strongly consider the Zipp 101’s as one of the wheelsets you may add to your stable.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...