There’s simply no question about it; when it comes to the number-one performance upgrade that you can make for your bike, wheels always top the list. Many entry- to mid-level bikes are spec’d with middle-of-the-road alloy wheels to minimize both the build and retail cost in order to get the bike to hit a certain price point.
With disc brake bikes now beginning to dominate the modern bike market, we took the opportunity to compare two of the most popular upgrade options from the brands that drive the drivetrain market—the Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 C40 versus the Zipp 202 NSW.
The Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 C40 TL is their top-tier, low-profile carbon clincher. It offers a full carbon hoop with tubeless-ready construction. The rim is 37mm deep with an internal width of 17mm and an external width of 24mm. The hubs are 12mm-axle-specific, and a Shimano/SRAM titanium freehub body is matched to center lock rotor mounts. There are 24 spokes front and rear, and they roll on a cup and cone bearing. The front wheel weighs 727 grams, and the rear weighs 869 grams with the factory-installed tubeless rim tape and valves.
Zipp 202 NSW
The Zipp 202 NSW carbon clincher tubeless disc wheelset is their top-tier, low-profile offering. This sets it apart, as it is part of the NSW line and their lightest-weight disc brake offering. The 32mm rim is full carbon with an internal width of 21mm and external width of 28.9mm. The hubs roll with cartridge Swiss ABEC 5 bearings that need no preload or adjustment. There is a magnetic hub engagement with 10 degrees between each position, as well as the ability to use an XD driver or 11-speed hub body.
The hubs fit a wide variety of axle and dropout standards, including quick release, 12×100 and 15×100 in the front, and 12×142 and a quick release in the rear. There are 24 spokes front and rear with center lock mounts for disc rotors. The front wheel weighs 675 grams, and the rear weighs 784 grams with the factory-installed tubeless rim tape and valves.
We mounted both sets of wheels with the same Goodyear Eagle All-Season 30mm tires. Since both wheels shipped with the tubeless tape and valves installed, we just added some sealant and hit the road. On both sets of wheels the tires went on without the need of any tools other than a floor pump. The tires popped straight onto the bead without a single drop of sealant leaking out.
On the Shimano C40 the space between the rim bead and the rubber valve was much tighter, and before pumping it up, we had to make sure it was seated in the gap correctly. Either way, both wheelsets offered some of the most effortless tubeless installs to date.
Once rolling, the wheels feel light and accelerate well. The open ball bearings are extremely smooth, and the combination of two-to-one rear lacing, one-to-one front lacing and straight-pull spokes offer great lateral strength, as well as durability. The wheels feel stiff during cornering but have a level of compliance when upright. The hub engagement is quiet, but only offer 18 points of engagement, leaving us wishing for more. Under braking, the wheels were responsive and had no problem handling the load that the disc brake put on the spokes. The 30mm tires measured 29mm when mounted on the rim, and this is likely because Goodyear relies on a 19mm (internal width) rim as their standard.
Zipp 202 NSW
The 202 NSW wheels came with a whole slew of extra bits including an XD driver for 1x. We stuck with the 11-speed hub body, but it was very easy to swap without any tools needed. These wheels are wide and suit the modern trend of running wider tires (remember, 28s are the new 25s!). Owing to the 21mm internal width, the 30mm Goodyear tire measured to 30.5mm. The wheels felt extremely light and effortless to get up to speed. The wheels are very compliant, but in corners lack the same stiffness the Shimano offered. This was not by a lot, but it was noticeable. The Zipp’s hub engagement is silent and nearly instant.
These two wheels are both great choices. The Shimano C40 is built specifically to meet the needs of current 2x systems and embraces tubeless technology. They are still narrow internally, and the hub is a modified version of their mountain bike offering and a bit overbuilt. The hubs are also specific and fall short if you want to upgrade in the future or standards change.
The Zipp 202 NSW wheels embrace all the most modern and evolving wheel trends, which allow you to tailor them to nearly any offering on the market. Because of this, it also means they are likely to fit future options too. The wider internal width means they would fend well with multi-surface bikes, as well as lightweight road race bikes. The hub engagement is superb and silent, and with such low maintenance, it wins big points.
The C40 is a great wheelset for the price, and if your bike fits within their limited, single option, then it’s a no-brainer. If you are the type of cyclist looking to invest in a wheelset that has the potential to adapt to the evolution that is road standards, the 202 NSW is for you. It is also wide enough to fill in on the gravel world. Also, look at the slightly heavier non-NSW 202 that is $2500 but a great option too.
For us, the $1200 price difference between the two wheels tilts our favor arrow to the Shimano hoops, but be forewarned, when their 12-speed hit the market, the wheel will need to be replaced, just as all of the 10-speed Shimano wheels did when things went 11-speed.
SHIMANO PUNCH LINES
- Tubeless made easy
- Won’t fit all bikes and doesn’t adapt
- Best bang for the buck
ZIPP PUNCH LINES
- Lightweight and wide
- Compliance over stiffness
- NSW brings premium price
Weight: 1596 grams (w/ tubeless rim tape and valves)
Weight: 1459 grams (w/ tubeless rim tape and valves)