Several months ago, we had a chance to visit SRAM in Chicago and check out the new AXS road groups and their ZIPP 302 disc wheelset. Although the main point of the trip was to see the new SRAM AXS groups, it was exciting to see SRAM and Zipp offering an affordable carbon wheelset.
Back in the day, fancy carbon wheels were like grandma’s fine china and were only used on Sundays and special events. Well nowadays, we don’t have fancy china and carbon wheels adorn our bikes 365 days a year. Part of this has to do with the “value” oriented carbon wheels on the market; the other half has to do with people shelling out cash as fast as they can drink craft beer. These days you can pick up a pair of wheels for a relatively low price of $1600 or less (although that’s 4x the price of my first car) and many brands are offering this in conjunction with their flagship wheels. Pay a little less, get a little less, but the performance offered is still more than most people need.
Available at Competitive Cyclist
Ranging from $1000 to $1600, these “affordable wheels” can offer tremendous value and a coolness factor when done right. Priced at $1500, ZIPP’s new 302 disc wheelset is aimed squarely at this rapidly growing segment. Unlike many competitors at this price point, Zipp has been around for nearly 30 years. And, like every other ZIPP wheelset, these rims are made in the United States, tested, and of course, are backed by ZIPP’s customer service.
The Zipp 302 Disc wheelset is a great road wheelset but it’s still a little narrow compared to today’s wider gravel wheels and even some newer road wheels.
ZIPP 302 Disc Wheelset compared to the Workhorse Zipp 303 Wheelset
Zipp wanted the 302 carbon clincher to deliver the Zipp name, carbon quality, and performance at a price point that made them more attainable than ever. By sharing technology from the 302’s big brother, Zipp obtained some of the design features, and aerodynamics but left out the tubeless technology.
MADE in the U.S.A. Zipp is proud to manufacture its carbon rims in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. This ensures construction quality and quality control that is without question. The issue is it’s harder to compete with far eastern-made rims on price, but on the plus side for Zipp, tariffs in the bike industry are helping U.S. manufacturers.
Zipp 302 Disc with Carbon Rims
The carbon clincher rims measure 45mm deep, 16.25mm internally, and between 25.6mm at the outer edge and 26.4mm at their widest. They’re built onto Zipp’s 76D/176D Centerlock disc hubs and come with alternate end caps for quick-release (QR) and thru-axle fitting.
The 302 wheelset shares a little bit of design with the existing Firecrest 303 in the rim and then it stops there. From 10 yards away it would be hard to tell a difference just by looking. On the bike it would be just as difficult for the average rider and racer to tell the difference without looking. Both wheels utilize a 45mm depth and aero profile, but the 302 rim lacks ZIPP’s hallmark aero enhancing dimple pattern. By utilizing a smooth rim profile, Zipp is able to reduce manufacturing time — and cost. One thing to note, this rim is also NOT TUBELESS compatible. Zipp does offer this wheel in both rim and disk brake versions.
Zipp 302 Carbon Disc Hubs
The next difference on the Zipp 302 wheels is the hub. The 302 rims are laced to a newer more budget-friendly hub set called the 76/176 hubs. They share the same internals as the pricier 77/177 hubs, but use a simpler hub shell and J-bend spokes instead of straight-pull spokes. Zipp opted for Sapim CX-Sprint J-Bend spokes and brass spoke nipples to build the 302, creating a wheel that is fast but can withstand the day-to-day beatings including gravel, bike trails, and some questionable road surfaces. The 302 sports two extra spokes up front, for a total of 20 and the rear is 24 making it the same as the 303.
ZIPP 302 Wheelset Options
The 302 is available in both rim and disc brake versions. The rim brake wheelset has a claimed weight of 1,645 g (740 g front/905g rear). The disc version comes in 50 grams heavier at 1,695g (785g front/910g rear). Both versions have a 16.25mm internal width, which Zipp says is ideal for 25mm to 28mm road tires. Neither wheel is tubeless compatible and only the disk version is available in thru-axle. You can also pick between black and white decals.
You can read a review of the rim brake version on Ohio Outside.
Know What You Are Riding
So what do you do? While numerous wheels on the market are good for consumer pricing, is it good for consumer safety? That is where we question all this. You can pick up wheels on eBay straight from China, brands you have never heard about, or worse yet, a brand that does not have testing, quality control, or a warranty.
While talking with a ZIPP competitor several years ago, the company’s CEO mentioned the wheels they used to get were having a lot of problems, once they started a quality control process and started sending back the faulty wheels, all of a sudden, things got better. Great for them, but what about the brands out there that don’t have testing in place? What about the brands that don’t oversee their manufacturing? We’re not talking about a tee shirt where the seam might come apart, we are talking about a wheel that can fail at 40+ mph.
Some people think when they pay for a pair of wheels they are paying for a brand and a professional team or athlete to ride them, while that may be the case and it’s all part of marketing, but you are also paying for research, testing, quality control, and a sense of confidence.
Our Conclusion on the ZIPP 302 Disc Wheelset
The most common wheel in ZIPP’s lineup is the 303 and that comes in at a claimed weight of 1,655 g; the 302 comes in at a claimed weight of 1,695g for the set, so not a ton of difference there. A whopping 40 grams. To put that into perspective, the iPhone X in your pocket weighs 174g.
So here is the skinny, as a rider or a racer are you going to notice this? Our guess is no. This wheelset is fast and light enough for chasing Stravas, group rides, and even racing. The 302 is a solid wheelset, hands down.
Where the 302 disc wheelset fails is tire capability. The 302 is NOT tubeless compatible, for a road-only set of wheels or even all-road this might not be an issue. If I was riding 100% gravel, double track, or a combination, I might look at the 303 wheelsets or even the 30 Course, which by the way is one hell of a great wheelset. We have had a pair in the office for several years and they have been flawless.
The Flat from Hell
Usually, a flat tire is not worth noting in a wheel review, but here we go. On a ride over the winter with a buddy, I ended up with a flat. Not a big deal, we’ll fix it. Reach in the pocket, grab a tube, grab a C02, and grab a 6mm allen wrench to pop off the back wheel. SHIT! No 6mm.
Nate did not have one, his excuse was “I brought my phone and will call Gia”. Damn it, Nate. So, in Dad’s words, I am shit out of luck. So we roll back down to the bottom of the hill and I tell Nate to roll on and finish his ride, I will head a mile up the road and hit the gas station to buy a hex wrench and fix it.
My plan seemed great until they only had SAE sizes. Shit out of luck again. So I called the local hardware store 6 miles down the road and they have one, so off I go, rolling on a flat Panaracer Gravel King on a carbon rim. Now, it is getting colder and raining and the story gets better, I can’t even call the wife because she is out of town.
Next up, another gas station, I pop in to toss in some air in my tire in hopes to make it another mile and the compressor is not working. Curse words start to arise. Next up a nice lady appears and says “sir are you having issues, do you need a ride?”. Well, by the swearing and cursing she knew I was having issues but I was going to figure this one out. She then tells me there is a bike repair stand at the church around the corner, with wrenches and a pump. BINGO!
So I roll over there on my flat tire. Toss my Moots in the stand, go to take off the back wheel, and STRIP out the alloy thru-axle. WTF! Frozen hands, raining, cold, and pissed off. Did I mention now that I have ridden an extra 6 miles from my house? 18 miles later I roll into the driveway still on a flat tire. 4 miles on route 82, which has more potholes than the entire 200 miles of Dirty Kanza, and then 12 miles of the bike trail and a few other connectors. The Zipp 302 Disc rear wheel held up like a champ, still true and riding strong.