Zipp 404 650c
Zipp 404 650c Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheels
The Zipp 404 650c was recently announced as a smaller version of their popular 404 Firecrest Carbon Clincher, and if the 650c part strikes you as a bit odd then its worth examining their reasoning; they aim to offer smaller athletes proper bike fit.
Confused? Well don’t be, as though its a bold statement for a wheel manufacturer to make, Zipp quite rightly state that smaller cyclists have to use standard 700c wheels as that is what is available and therefore is that size that every frame manufacturer builds to. Zipp claim that this means that smaller riders lose out ‘on the increased efficiencies of riding a proper fitting wheel’.
However, in order to ride a proper fitting wheel, you need a frame which will accept it and herein lies the risk in Zipp’s ‘build it and they will come’ strategy.
Rewind back to the 1990’s and if you were to believe the bike press there were two accepted wheel sizes being touted around road cycling. One, 700c, was well represented and as popular then as it is today, being used by the pros and just about every racing cyclist. Aside from its commonality, the main advantage was that of improved rolling resistance on our far from perfect, rough roads.
The other was 650c which whilst not as common, was gaining popularity after some success in triathlon, especially among American frame manufacturers. The main advantages that we recall from those days was acceleration, as we all know that smaller wheels accelerate much more quickly, and improved aerodynamics offered by the smaller frontal area; at the time most time trial bikes had 650c front wheels mated to 700c rears.
However, 650c wheels were only ever really touted for use specifically by smaller riders in terms of juniors and still today you can only really find them on junior frames. If you want something ‘high end’, no matter how tall you are, you must ride a small frame with the compromised angles necessary to accommodate 700c wheels, which on the whole produces ‘strange’ handling characteristics.
The most obvious concession made by frame builders to squeeze in a 700c wheel is with the oft-mentioned issue of toe overlap. To alleviate any chance of this, builders give their frames severely raked steerers which in turn affords the frame quick, chopper like steering; it may be great at high speed but can be awful at lower speeds.
Zipp are hoping that their 404 650c Firecrest Carbon Clincher offers high-end frame manufacturers the chance to build better quality, smaller frames and spec a quality wheelset that matches both the frame and rider proportions.
We like Zipp’s thinking here as there is the increasingly competitive junior market, women’s cycling is growing rapidly, and compact gearing is commonplace now and offered by most of the big manufacturers, so it may just be perfect timing. However, thinking back to the 90’s, 650c failed to make the impact we were lead to believe it would and virtually died out.
It has black, aluminum 88/188 hubs, laced to a 58mm deep, 26.53mm wide Firecrest rim with stainless steel black Sapim CX-Ray spokes; 16 up-front and 20 to the rear. It comes with a Zipp’s own Tangente butyl road inner tube, integrated valve extenders and a valve extender wrench set, plus some Tangente Platinum Pro Evo Brake Pads, quick-release skewers and rim strips.
Its available with a SRAM/Shimano Cassette body or Campagnolo, and of course it is fully compatible with 11-speed cassettes.
We are not sure of the exact UK cost yet but know that the cost is $1,227/€1,138 for the front, which weighs in at 670g, and $1,498/€1,387 for the rear, which is 795g. They are available from March 2013.
If you are a smaller rider and this appeals to you, then your best bet in the short-term, before the major manufacturers start to run with this and bring 650c frames to market, is probably to take a pair down your local frame builder and get something made to measure. We’ll watch this one with interest.