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Back 1.14.2018

202 or 303? It’s a question top CX pros ask

Zipp’s 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake, with its 45mm rim depth, is synonymous with cyclocross.

Photos by Wil Matthews Photo

The reasons include its durability, versatility, and handling qualities. The wheelset originally was developed to excel on the cobblestones of the Spring Classics, so it’s no surprise it’s also a natural choice for the barriers, bumps, and ruts of cyclocross.

“The 303 has just been tried and true,” said Stu Thorne, director of the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com team. “We also like to have all the bikes feel the same. We have to supply four riders, the pros, plus the development team with the same wheels. We share wheels.”

Yet top cyclocross athletes at times strategically select other Zipp models, namely the 32mm deep 202 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake. Belgian superstar Wout van Aert (Veranda's Willems Crelan) and American Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) have used the 202 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake. So, what goes into wheel choice for a cyclocross pro? Let’s start with some numbers pros consider when examining the differences between the 202 and 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake wheels:

Rim depth
A 13mm difference between the 202 (32mm deep) and 303 (45mm).

Max width
3.1mm difference between 202 (25.4mm) and 303 (28.5mm)

Weight
70g difference between the 202 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake (1,330g for set) and the 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake (1,400g)

Jeremy Powers was drawn to using the 202 Firecrest Disc-brake because of that lighter weight. “Originally when he got a set of 202s, he felt like they accelerated quicker,” said Tom Hopper, head of equipment for Aspire Racing. That was handy for racing through the deep sand of European courses such as Koksijde in Belgium.

Yet this year Powers has returned to the 303. Part of that was simplicity, with teammates Ellen Noble and Spencer Petrov also riding 303s. But Powers again was evaluating the tiny sensations he was feeling on the bike.

“The 202s are actually just a hair narrower than the 303s, so on some muddier tracks he noticed that the footprint of that tire, the difference of the 202 or 303 at the same pressure, it is slightly different,” said Hopper, who has been Powers’ chief mechanic since 2011. “There is a little bit of a different feel underneath him because of that wider rim.” This season, Powers opted for that ride experience.

And, so, the 303 remains the go-to wheel for cyclocross. But there’s good reason to look at other rim depths and what they offer. Zipp’s wide array of rim depths and models are designed to give all riders the opportunity to dig into the details to find the best wheelset for them.