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Reviewed: Zipp’s Brand New 858 NSW Wheelset

An impressive upgrade to a tri-favorite puts the much-loved 858s on a big diet, optimizes for 28mm tires, and potentially changes the way triathletes should think about their wheels.

Review Rating


Basics

Zipp took an already fast (and pricey) wheel, lightened it up substantially, increased the inner rim width from 18mm to 23mm, and added a few millimeters of depth to their unique sawtooth design. The result is an extremely fast wheel, but one that might also not work on all bikes or tire preferences.


Pros

Taking 244 grams off an 1800-gram wheelset is actually a big deal

Zipp claims an extra watt savings with the deeper profile

A wider internal rim width is better optimized for wide tires (leading to lower pressure and a smoother ride)

Hookless design adds a claimed 8-watt savings in rolling resistance

Cons

Still crazy expensive

25mm minimum tire width might not be for everyone

Optimized for 28mm tires that might not be compatible with many frames or forks


Price

$4,400

Brand

Zipp


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Since 2005, when Zipp introduced a dimpled 81mm wheel, triathletes have had a love affair with the 808 wheelset. Never content to simply go with a 40-65mm-deep carbon wheel, triathletes have always been ok with the extra weight penalty, knowing that the 80(ish)mm wheelset would give big aero gains without the sketchy handling, rough ride, and massive weight penalty of a full carbon disc. In the years since, Zipp made some adjustments, most recently creating the old 858 NSW with an undulating 77/82mm rim depth that they claimed had most of the frontal aerodynamic benefits with fewer crosswind handling issues. This year’s big update to the 858 NSW could have easily warranted some sort of inscrutable name change (like the 868 NSW.1 or some mess), but they kept the name the same, while making the new wheel anything but.

RELATED: Understanding Wheel Rim Depth for Triathletes

Zipp 858 NSW: The Basics

Before we get into what’s new on this version of the 858 NSWs, let’s quickly talk about the basics behind this wheelset: First, you’re looking at a pretty pricey $4,400 wheelset ($2,000 front 12x100mm disc only, $2,400 rear 12×142 disc only) that’s available in SRAM XDR- or SRAM/Shimano-compatible hubs. The wheels are 24-spoke front and rear, with ZZR1 DB 66-point-of-engagement hubs. While this is a tubeless-optimized wheelset, Zipp says you can use a tubeless-compatible tire with a tube inside to act as a clincher setup if you don’t want to fuss with sealant and tubeless seating—however, you cannot use a standard clincher tire with tubes. There is no rim-brake option.

RELATED: Ask A Gear Guru: What Are Tubeless Tires Good For?

The new features on this updated version of the 858 NSW include a 23mm internal width (the old version was 18mm), which means you can only use a 25mm-wide tubeless-compatible tire or greater. The new 858s are also optimized for 28mm tires, but Zipp even encourages riders to use 30mm. Also, the new versions went on a pretty substantial diet, knocking 274 grams off the total wheelset weight, bringing it down to a very svelte 1530g per wheelset—something more in line with a 50-60mm pair of hoops. Part of this reduction in weight is likely due to the hookless rim profile, which Zipp says provides an 8-watt savings in rolling resistance when run with tubeless 28mm tires, but surprisingly enough, the new wheels are actually deeper than the old set—82mm-85mm alternating compared to the old version at 77mm-82mm. More on what this means below.

Zipp 858 NSW: The Good

We were lucky enough to spend some time on a set of the new 858s just before they were launched, and one of Zipp’s big claims was that the updated profile meant fewer crosswind forces. To challenge this head on, we slapped a pair of 28mm Continental 5000 TLRs onto the 858s and bolted them onto the most squirrely tri rig in our arsenal—the new Argon E-117.

Imagine our surprise when the new 858s substantially mellowed out the notoriously rough and tough-handling bike’s ride almost immediately. Crosswind forces felt more like a 55mm-65mm wheelset than something north of an 82mm rim, and we were able to run the optimized 28mm tires—which were a very very tight fit in the rear—at 58psi (front) and 61psi (rear), per Zipp’s recommendation. This low pressure situation helped smooth out the typically bumpy ride of the Argon-plus-deep-carbon-rim combo, and allowed for fantastic cornering as well.

Furthermore, the nearly 15% reduction in rotational weight allowed us to punch over rolling climbs, accelerate out of turns, and generally have a super fun time on what’s usually a clunkier ride situation. These wheels both smoothed out a bike that is typically a bit tough to handle while also increasing the fun factor on climbs and corners. In terms of flat-out speed in the aerobars, the increased depth made these scream.

RELATED: Why It’s Time To Look At Wide Wheels

Zipp 858 NSW: The Ok

First, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: $4,400 is a lot for a wheelset. In fact, $4,400 is not a cheap bike. And while Zipp did (thankfully) decrease the price of the new version of their “budget” 80mm carbon wheels, the 808 Firecrest, from $2,800 to $2,300, they were unable to budge on the price for the 858 NSWs. The price not only makes this a wheelset for an exclusive group of triathletes who have the money to buy them, but there’s a few other features on this new version that work for only a select few.

If you’re interested in this pair of wheels, you need to be 100% sure that your bike can accommodate 25mm tires, and that you want to run 25mm tires all the time. While I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there’s no reason you should run less than that—especially on this wheelset—just know that a 21mm or 23mm is out of the question, according to Zipp, due to the new 23mm inner rim depth. We found that the suggested 28mm Continental GP 5000 TLR tires just barely cleared the rear triangle of our new 2022 Argon E-117 frameset, so if you have dreams of 28mm-optimized speed, be super super sure your frame will work. Also bear in mind that you also need to run a tubeless-compatible tire—due to the hookless rim design—but that doesn’t mean you can’t run a tubeless-compatible tire with a tube inside.

Finally, while the crosswind forces on the new 858 NSWs were drastically reduced—and handling on our usually twitchy Argon was much more stable—we did get some odd wobbling from time to time when large vehicles passed by. This was a unique sensation to the 858s that we hadn’t experienced often on other wheelsets in the 50-85mm range, and it wasn’t something that caused concern, but it was slightly noticeable.

Conclusions

If you set aside the high price and user-limiting characteristics of the new Zipp 858 NSWs (things like the fact that its tubeless-compatible tire only and 25mm+ only), this is actually a fairly game-changing set of wheels. In the past, triathletes have typically chosen a frame, then bought wheels around that frame. The old way of thinking was that frame weight mattered (it doesn’t really, in tri) and that you needed a nice carbon frame so you’d get a nice, smooth ride that wouldn’t beat you up. We’d spend more money for a frame with a snappier and/or more comfortable ride and one that handled better. With the introduction of an 82mm+ wheelset that tips the scales at 1530g (remember, rotational weight is more important than static weight, like you’d find on a frame) and is optimized for 28mm tires that you can run at super low pressures like 58/61psi like we did, you take the gun out of the frame’s hand when it comes to weight and ride/handling characteristics.

In other words, you could put this wheelset on a rough-riding tri bike that had good aero features but was a little on the beefy/rough side, and the low-pressure/high-width tires would smooth out the ride so you wouldn’t be so beat up on the bike (and later, the run). You also would take away much of the weight penalty because a 1530-gram wheelset can wind up more quickly over a hill substantially faster and easier than an 1800-gram one.

Of course, this wheelset isn’t for everybody—given its price and tire limitations—but if you’ve been on the fence about going to a wider tire or going fully tubeless (and you know your bike can accommodate the width), this wheelset should pique your interest. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’d look at putting this $4,000-plus pair of wheels on a $2,000ish tunnel-tested tri frame, and probably end up faster, happier, and more comfortable than most $8,000 frame/wheel setups would ever achieve. Hats off to Zipp for once again giving triathletes something new and exciting to be envious of.

RELATED: The Best Triathlon Bikes, Updated for 2022