by Dillon Hollinger

Zipp’s newest model of their NSW line is far from traditional. Using their new Sawtooth shape Zipp claims to have done the impossible: have a wheel that is not only fast but handles well in a crosswind too. But before we go into specifics about watts saved and stability, the development of the wheels deserves some attention.


In order to create a wheel that the industry has never seen before, Zipp actually turned to nature for inspiration. The emerging science of biomimicry studies various natural aspects in order to see how organisms have evolved to solve certain problems; in Zipp’s case these problems included the trio of speed, control, and efficiency. Think of a humpback whales fast but graceful movements, especially in relation to their size.  What allows these trailer-size mammals to turn in a five-foot radius actually has to do with the special features on the leading edge of its pectoral fins. These features known as tubercles keep water attached to the fin and allow it to flow more smoothly over it. These structures are what inspired Zipp advanced development engineers to apply biomimicry to solve the complex challenge of designing a wheel that reduces both aerodynamic drag and side force.

This process wasn’t quite as easy as the engineers had thought, but after 36 distinct biomimetic rim shapes, 250 wind-tunnel test hours, 6000 computational fluid dynamics hours, and hundreds of real-world testing hours, Zipp ended with the 454 design. The result is an undulating 53/58mm-deep rim shape that is claimed to perform like nothing else.

wh_454_nsw_cc_v1_700sr_11s_ds_lft_heroIn the triathlon world, what will be the most compelling feature of the 454 NSW is the crosswind stability. According to Zipp, the use of their Sawtooth profile with HyperFoil nodes creates a wheel that is faster than a traditional 404 yet handles like a 45mm deep 303. In normal riding conditions of between five and 15 degrees of yaw, the 454s reduce crosswind buffering by 15 percent when compared to a standard 60-millimeter-deep rim. Over the course of a windy Ironman bike, athletes exert a tremendous amount of energy keeping the bike heading straight. In the past, the energy exertion was worth it though because of the time savings of deep-dish wheels. But now, as some would say, you can have your cake and eat it too.

All of these technologies make for a tough-to-produce product. Each Indianapolis-made 454 NSW rim requires 12 hours to create. After each rim is laid up, molded, drilled, printed, and inspected the set is laced up with Sapim CX-Ray spokes to Zipp’s own Cognition hubset. All of this adds up to a $4000 price tag that may not be for everyone, but shows how much development has gone into the new technologies.


• 1525g wheelset total weight

• 690g front weight

• 835g rear weight

• 53/58mm wheel depth

• 27.8mm max width

• 26.4mm brake track width

• 17mm internal width

• 18 front spoke count

• 24 rear spoke count

• Sapim® secure-lock nipples

• Sapim® CX-Ray® spokes

• Cognition hubset

• ImPress graphics