Zipp is a cycling technology powerhouse that's often sat on the forefront of cycling technology. Amongst the first to use carbon in wheels, they've consistently pushed the envelope of what's possible when it comes to aerodynamics and weight. So, when we heard whispers of a new, secret project from Indianapolis - one that had been in covert development for four years - we were intrigued. And, three days before their launch, we got to see them. And ride them. This is Zipp's new 454 wheel, a striking departure from traditional carbon wheel shapes, with a buzzsaw-looking variable inner diameter.
We were given scant details before having the opportunity to put them through their paces on a brief two-hour ride with varying terrain. In our spec-addled world of yaw angles, gram counts, and weary marketing proclaiming "best___ever!" (but only this year), it was refreshing to hit the pavement without anything to cloud our judgement. What did we know then - and still (Zipp has remained extremely tight-lipped until the very moment of launch on November 3, when you'll be reading this) know now? We know they take four times as long to manufacture as Zipp's other wheels. We know they're supposed to be ludicrously fast. We know they use the same Cognition hubs first seen on the Zipp NSW wheels, along with the same "Showstopper" braketrack. And, we weighed them - 1520g.
Driven away from civilization to start the ride (have to keep from prying eyes, after all), we subjected the 454s to one of our favorite stretches of undulating pavement - Highway 1. We'd planned for the ride to be mellow, unassuming. We tried. Unfortunately, the wheels didn't allow it. Maybe it was because we were fresh. Maybe it was because they gave up a visceral feeling of speed. Our designs on keeping things contained were totally blown the first time we stood on the pedals to try to flex the deep profile rims of the 454. They didn't budge. Instead, they moved - forward, with an extremely planted, driving feeling, unlike any other wheel I'd ridden. Impressive. The Cognition hub compliments the stiffness of the wheel perfectly, with near-instant engagement, giving acceleration a drive-by-wire kind of feeling. They were not particularly lithe on steep ascents, but the complete absence of flex more than made up for it. On the flats, spinning up the 454 was nearly mindless, and they held speed with tangible ease.
Of course, with a wheel so stiff, we anticipated what usually happens with overly rigid deep wheels on descents. Frankly, they usually suck, bouncing around a lot and difficult to really drive into a corner. The 454 performed magnificently in this regard, ripping through tight curves with preternatural ease, a vast improvement over their 404 sibling and other similar wheels, which can sometimes prove to be a bit of bear in technical riding. Braking on the 454 is fantastic. Very, dare we say, Bora-esque, but with a bit more power. It's a bit early to make a pronouncement, but in the dry, these might be the best braking wheels we've ridden. We won't lie, in crosswinds, the 454 felt very similar to something like a 404. It wasn't awful - but it did take a bit of focus to keep things on track.
After our brief initial foray on the 454, we were excited, even without gazing at mind-numbing aerodynamic charts and wattage diagrams. The 454 is an extremely fun piece of equipment - which is the point, right? We'll be putting our test set through an in-depth long-term review, one we'll be publishing soon. In the meantime, we have an extremely limited amount (five sets, to be exact) available immediately.