There are several people I know who are training for their first Ironman or 1/2 and have asked me about what they are going to need to race those distances.
My short answer is always the same, "a coach, a proper bike fit and race wheels."
How do race wheels differ from the regular wheels that came with your bike? There is a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that you can read on sites like this, I will try and keep things at a 101 level.
Race wheels in general are made lighter, more aerodynamic and have more or better ball bearings within the hub of the wheel. A quick test is to go to a local bike shop, find a bike with race wheels on them and spin the wheel, you will notice that they will roll and roll and roll, much longer and easier than a normal wheel.
That's the point, race wheels are made to roll easier, to help you expend less energy as you pedal, providing for a better ride.
In the last few years there has been an onslaught of race wheels hitting the market, but the brand that I have tested, ride and recommend is Zipp.
Right off the bat, Zipp is an "all American" company. Their wheels are designed and manufactured just outside of Indianapolis, the parent company of Zipp is Chicago based SRAM Corporation. Knowing that simple face makes Zipp a brand that I recommend to readers and riders.
Beyond patriotism as a reason for purchase, the quality and thought that goes into Zipp wheels is something that continues to make them an industry leader. They have been doing it for a long time and have the knowledge base and experience to produce a superior product. There are several different types and sizes of Zipp wheels to choose from, but for today we are going to talk about their latest entry into the game, the Zipp Firecrest 808.
Zipp has build on the "traditional" 808 to create the Firecrest. The Firecrest 808 are the wheels triathletes and time trialists, dream about when they sleep at night, they are thin, light and designed to make you go fast. At 27.5 mm wide, the final version is the fastest deep-section carbon clincher in the world. Yet, with a weight of only 1,763 grams, it more than holds its own on the climbs, which means they are pretty and strong as hell. The Firecrest 808 is a deep dish or bigger rimmed wheel, from "top to bottom" of the rim it's about the size of your hand, this "depth" makes the wheel more aerodynamic, which of course helps you cut through the wind while you are racing.
Firecrest has been remodeled to make it even more aerodynamic as well as easier to handle when you are riding in a cross wind. Traditionally, deep dish race wheels have been great for going forward into the wind, but when a cross wind hits them, they can start to cause problems for less experienced riders, blowing them around like a fancy sail. That's the big secret, is race wheels can be a little tough to handle, and if you are new to the experience, it can be difficult at first to get adjusted.
The redesigned Firecrest are a "user friendly" race wheel, for a first timer or a Kona Champion, the new design reduces the cross wind dilemma and keeps you moving forward, fast. FROM THE ZIPP SITE- With Firecrest’s unparalleled approach to the wheel’s center of pressure, the 808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher also handles crosswinds with the stability you’d normally associate with a much shallower rim – making the 808 Carbon Clincher ideal for non-disc-legal courses like Kona. Plus, the wide rim shape provides efficient power transfer along with comfort and durability, making it an excellent choice for just about any terrain and riding style.
My first test with the Firecrest 808's was in the 2011 Chicago Triathlon. I have raced on Zipp's before, but never the 808 Firecrest and if you recall this years race was about as windy as it gets. I had two goals as I headed out onto the bike, #1, catch the mayor, #2, see how these puppies would react in the insane wind. I never caught the mayor (he had a 6 minute lead), however in my pursuit of "his honor," I was never blown from side to side, I felt, like I was racing "through" the wind and not fighting it. Like a good dance partner, the 808 Firecrest were responsive, reacted to my moves and kept me moving forward, smoothly.
I have made it a point to take them out in some pretty awful conditions to see how the Zipp Firecrest 808 stand up to a good old Chicago butt kicking. Every time they have delivered in performance and toughness.
At $3000 these babies are not cheap, but they are something that you will use again and again and will improve your performance. You can click here to learn more about the Zipp 808 Firecrest or visit The Bike Shop in Glen Ellyn or Running Away Multisport, to see them up close and personal.