You can bet that there is a reason Zipp president Andy Ording is smiling. He just sold his company to the ever-growing SRAM Corporation. Andy will still remain firmly rooted in the product and culture that helped make Zipp one of the most feared names in competitive cycling.
RBA: How did Zipp get started?
Andy: The parent company made carbon fiber components for Indy cars. In 1988 the founder of the company attended a bike show at the request of a raw material supplier to discuss a wheelchair project and noticed disc wheels for the first time. He thought of motor racing technology and literally returned to the factory, prototyped a few and started selling them. At the time Formula One cars were already utilizing carbon and aluminum honeycomb construction and Indy cars began moving that way quite rapidly. The first Zipp product was a disc and they were constructed in a similar fashion; they were autoclave cured flat, weighed around 1600 grams and were completely different to everything else available at that time.
RBA: Of all the different product categories, what is it about wheels that propels Zipp forward?
Andy: Wheels were the foundation of the business and it is our most developed product line. We built the brand and the company on the back of our wheels and the races won on them. Not only do our wheels have a tremendous impact on ride quality and performance but they are also the most visible of all of our products. Seeing our wheels in the races like the Ironman and the Tour de France gives us a sense of pride that fuels that energy. The short-lived satisfaction of a race victory only serves to propel us to imagine how much faster the wheels can be.
RBA: What Zipp product are you the most impressed with?
Andy: That’s a tough question. It’s sort of like asking a parent who their favorite child is. I’ve approached the market with the mindset that if we cannot make a better product through innovation then we won’t make it. The 404, which has been tremendously successful in helping athletes of all calibers in various disciplines achieve their best, is one of them. We have never stopped working on this wheel and we are now in our 7th generation after about ten years. Many people don’t realize that Zipp was the first company to successfully build a carbon crank. We released it in 1997 and I cannot tell you how many folks told us that the world just did not need carbon cranks! More recently, I’m really impressed with the Sub-9 disc. This is the first wheel to ever achieve negative drag in a wind tunnel when matched with our Zipp Tangente tire and is so significant in its performance the results even had the wind tunnel staff spellbound.
RBA: What's the most important tip for a new wheel buyer?
Andy: More than any other form of drag, the highest percentage of rider power is consumed overcoming aero drag. For instance, bearing drag and tire rolling resistance increase lineally and in proportion to velocity; however, aero drag generates at the square of your velocity while the power required to overcome that drag has to increase by the cube. As a human, this equation is moving in the wrong direction! Even the fastest athletes in the world have only a finite amount of power so your power output relative to your aero drag relationship is "generally" something to be very cognizant of. Correspondingly, a ten-percent reduction in aero drag is infinitely more valuable than a ten-percent increase in rider power. I would advise folks considering a wheel purchase to ride the most aero wheel possible, and if it’s shaped correctly they will find that the side pressure is nowhere near as bad as they may imagine. A wheel is only as good as the sum of its parts, so also consider carefully the spoke, rim, bearing and hub quality.
RBA: We’ve found a wide range of ride quality differences in carbon frames due to the variety of design and construction techniques used in making them. Is there a parallel with that to think about in regards to all the different carbon wheels on the market?
Andy: There is a big component to ride quality in carbon construction. Carbon by nature is very stiff and not strong so it has very little natural resiliency. For a wheel to feel "good" and fast this natural limitation has to be worked around. If not, you end up with a wheel that may be very strong and impact-resistant but rides like a brick and isn't at all lively. Additionally, it will transfer all high frequency vibration directly to the rider, so fatigue consideration is also part of the equation. Without some damping, which must be designed in, bad carbon wheels are hard to ride for an extended time period. As such, the accumulative effect of a poorly designed and built wheel could be devastating. Consideration must be given to what type of carbon is best suited, the actual laminate schedule, the construction method, the rim and wheel design (shape) and to a lesser extent what is the epoxy agent holding all of this together.