We usually have a heads up about new stuff coming through the pipe, because we're a dealer in fact if not in practice for like almost everything. We knew about the Enve Foundation wheels a couple of weeks before they hit, because we got the release that said "press embargo until..." and to tell you the truth I don't recall if we've discussed them on here but it didn't have much impact on us. Mike and I kind of virtually shrugged at one another and that was that. Now Zipp has come out with the 303 S, which we didn't have any heads up about, and which generated more internal comment between us.
The compelling thing to us isn't the actual specs and whatnot of the wheels, though they bear discussion, which we'll rip through. The far more notable thing is that "the bigs" have come down to price points where you might get confused and ask "why would I ever buy wheels from November for $1300 when I can get Zipps for the same price?" Mike wrote this post six and a half years ago, and we could have run it this morning and had it be 100% relevant to this situation. You might expect us to be some measure of crapping in our pants at this "new threat." We actually see it as a singing endorsement of what we do.
Let's rip through the specs real quick. The 303 S are 45mm deep, 1525g claimed weight, 24/24 laced with J-bend hubs and CX Sprint spokes, 23mm internal width, 27mm outside width, and hookless. The weight is credible if slightly ambitious, reverse engineering things and starting off with the known spoke and nipple weight, guessing a 440g rim weight, you get a 337g hub weight, and that seems about right if very slightly on the light side.
In his review on CyclingTips, James Huang calls hookless inherently stronger. This is incorrect. The difference between inner and outer width on the 303 S rims is 4mm (27 - 23). The difference between inner and outer width on our hooked carbon rims is 7mm, across the board. 3mm of that is bead hook (1.5mm on each side), the remaining 4mm is side wall thickness. 2mm per side of wall thickness is 2mm per side of wall thickness. If the hook was carved into that 2mm wall thickness per side, then that would make the hooked walls weaker, but it isn't carved into the wall, it's in addition to the wall, The hook might be somewhat more vulnerable to damage than the side wall if it takes a perfectly aimed hit, but if so we haven't seen it in 2.5 years. We got down on hooks for a while, but now that high temp resins went bye bye our strong objections have turned into slightly less ardent endorsements. Hookless is cheaper and easier to produce - make no mistake that's a big driver here, and people other than us haven't been shy about recognizing that. Hooked rims have way fewer restrictions on tires and use of tubes and though there may be a day when all tires are ready to play hookless that day has not yet come.
Significantly, the 303 S rims are produced in Asia. I guess the 302 rims are produced in Asia as well, but I've considered the 302 rims for about 4 seconds in my life. The Enve Foundation rims are US produced. If you're in the US and you want to buy US, we can understand that. But having seen plenty of both, well made rims are well made rims and where they're from isn't a defining factor in that.
There are aerodynamics claims. I'm just going to dismiss them and say that they're 45mm rims and they will certainly act just about as competent 45mm rims do.
I'd about 1 zillion times have Aivee hubs than Zipp hubs with Zipp's illustrious history at the hub game, but Aivee hubs are our lowest cost ones. You can have White Industries and Industry Nines from us for the price of the Zipp hubs, and lord wouldn't I love to stand in front of that poster all day every day. Which I might. CX Rays versus CX Sprints too, which is less of a stunning contrast but it's there.
No dimples! I guess that balloon got popped.
But the meat of the discussion here is that, at these price points, Mike's thesis proves even more relevant. When there's $2800 in a set of wheels, you can afford to put $200 against world tour sponsorship and $150 on other marketing and couple of x that on dealer margin and yeah, there's some meat there to feed the family. At $1300, things get a little tighter, and we think we know that as well as anyone. At $1300, it needs to be all product. But with these others you're still paying the retailer a lot of money, and what are your expectations of pre- and post-service there?
A sales interaction in the last 24 hours is instructive. A guy considered buying wheels from us, with a full two dozen emails back and forth (I just counted, it was a little surprising even to me), a lot of counseling and education and just responsiveness. At the end he wanted me to compare our proposed build to a set of wheels from a big company that doesn't have great standing in the wheel market. Since the other company didn't have any useful specs or info about them on their site, I did what I could, but I also asked him if he'd reached out to them and asked for their take. I was surprised to hear that he had, and more surprised to hear that they'd responded, but completely unsurprised that they'd said "we can't comment on any other company's wheels especially if they're custom." And the customer's response was (his words) "typical big company response." Exactly. We may or may not get this one, but we'll get far far far more of these than we'll lose.
Mike and I are still the guys in the taco truck, making sure that you have every bit of info we can give you to help you make the best choice you can. It's a visceral thing for us. You call, you speak to an owner. Your wheels are built by an owner. The supply chains are as short as they can possibly be, there is no parasitic drag in there.
Plus the whole "what things should cost" piñata is smashed. The notion that you "can't get quality" at price points like ours has implicitly been destroyed. We think we've empirically destroyed it for a long time, but now the other side says if you can't beat them, join them.
This is the new normal. I'm so psyched for how the playing field looks right now.
And we are just bankrupt on photos. Sorry.