Mike Vittorio Zipp

Mike Vittorio: How Cycling Wheel Technology Is Evolving

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About this episode:
In this week’s episode, coach Adam talks with Zipp design engineer Mike Vittorio about the latest and greatest in cycling wheel technology, and how cyclists’ long-held habits need to change to get the most out of the new technology.

Guest Bio – Mike Vittorio:

Mike Vittorio is a design engineer for Zipp Speed Weaponry in Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied naval architecture and marine engineering at the University of Michigan and spent the first part of his career as a yacht designer with a focus on composite structures. In 2017 Mike joined Zipp and began applying his study of flow dynamics and professional experience with various composite processing techniques to wheel design. Mike’s most recent project for Zipp is the 303 S Tubeless Disc Brake Wheelset.

Mike has been road cycling throughout his life but seriously ramped up his training upon joining Zipp. The increase in mileage was not just about getting fit but also to gain an understanding of the needs of modern cyclists.

Episode Highlights:

  • How wheel technology has evolved over the past few years
  • What goes into engineering a wheelset
  • Are wider tires better?
  • Vibration loss, rolling resistance, and how they relate
  • Common misconceptions riders have about buying wheels

Learn More About Mike Vittorio’s Work At Zipp:

 

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform

 


 

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Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

Today’s episode has a slightly different twist. We’re going to nerd out on some of the latest bike tech on the market today and talk about how it applies to the athlete’s performance. To discuss that and more, we’ve got a really special guest, and it’s Mike Vittorio of Zipp Wheels. Mike, can you tell the audience a bit more about yourself?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. I’m a design engineer for Zipp Speed Weaponry in Indianapolis focusing on wheel design.

Adam Pulford:

All right. You’re the engineer and mastermind behind this new 303 S disc wheelset, right?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s right, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it’s a big team, not just me, but, yeah, I was the design engineer for the 303 S.

Adam Pulford:

Awesome, and very humble as well. That’s a good point. I mean, it takes a team to do some pretty great things at every level like this. So, where are you talking to us from today, Mike?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. I’m actually at home here in my new or should I say guest bedroom home office in Indianapolis. So, I live southeast of the city down here, and have been working at home for some months now.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. We should probably timestamp this as June 11th for the recording, and we’re still amongst the COVID-19 stuff going on. So, thank you for taking time out of your working from home process, too, to talk with us.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. It was a long commute. Thanks.

Adam Pulford:

All right. So, there’s more than just wheels to talk about today. So, we’ll start high level on all the things, and then drill down deeper into the wheelsets and explore the philosophy of how it’s all connected. So, word on the street is that there are big changes not only coming, but they are here from SRAM and Zipp. Can you talk about some of those big changes coming at Indianapolis and why it’s happening now?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. We already hit upon the 303 S wheelset and, in general, the new 303 family, but at Zipp, we had a big launch here I guess just about a month ago. We revamped our Zipp logo. We’ve been increasing our tech on the wheels, specifically in terms of the TyreWiz component. We’re seeing more versatility in our wheel use out in the market place, and we’re trying to adapt our products to suit that need. So, yeah, a lot of changes in the market, and we’re just keeping up.

Adam Pulford:

I like it. I like it. Zipp, I mean, to me, it’s known legendary for the advancements in aerodynamics and speed. So, are the changes in the 303 family as well as everything else, are they still focused on those two elements or is there more to the story?

Mike Vittorio:

I think the Zipp motto has become this “Making you faster”. So, “Making you faster”, aerodynamics is certainly a component of that, but we’ve discovered in the 303 development that it’s not everything. One place I think that is pretty cool to point this out just for Zipp as a company is with the 3ZERO MOTO product. So, that product, it’s not aero, it’s a mountain bike wheel, but the technology that was put into that product is to make the rider faster, to make you faster. That comes with the unique ankle compliance of that single-wall product, and how it’s able to corner.

Mike Vittorio:

So, there are a lot of things I’m sure we’ll get in to with the road wheels. Now, it’s going beyond aerodynamics, but it certain still a part of the story.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. Okay. So, as we’re talking about what you at Zipp call the next chapter in speed, it starts with the 303 wheelset, and there’s two different wheelsets, right? There’s the firecrest and then the 303 S. Is that correct?

Mike Vittorio:

Yup. Yes. Those are the two brand new wheelsets. Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Two brand new wheelsets. I mean, we’ll get into the specifics of these, but what would be the distinguishable difference between the two?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. So, the 303 firecrest is … Well, I think most listeners, I should start, are probably familiar with the Zipp product line, but if they’re not, the way we have it laid out is the NSW being pay low level products typically defined by the lightest weight. Usually, the tubercle technology that’s in our 454 and 858 wheels at the NSW level, and then there’s the firecrest level wheels, which bring usually all the same standard features, but typically with a different hub and spoke set up traditionally.

Mike Vittorio:

So, the 303 firecrest comes in at that firecrest level and has a depth of 40 mm and new internal of 25 mm. Then the 303 S, which is positioned in the old spot that the 302 disc brake wheel was has a depth of 45 mm and an internal width of now 23 mm compared to the old 17 mm. So, big change there at the 303 S level. So, those are the two spots that those live in the 303 family.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. For those who may not be the biggest bike tech junkies out there and you’re starting to go cross-eyed at some of those numbers that me and Mike are like, “Whoa! That’s really cool. That’s really new,” don’t worry. We’re going to talk about those, and you can also look them up on the website and see visually what that looks like in comparison to the previous models. So, let’s talk more about those nerdy new things, Mike.

Adam Pulford:

What I like is you guys at Zipp call the next chapter in speed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you talk about TSE or the Total System Efficiency. Could you talk about what you mean by that and why Zipp has taken this approach?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. So, total system efficiency is really this notion that you need to look at the entire system as a whole in terms of the optimization of performance. So, before you ask the aerodynamics and speed, what’s going beyond the aerodynamics is your singular focus. So, what we did is we looked at all of the components that have an influence on speed, and then how to optimize those for the whole system.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. For the whole system as the bike frame, the rider, the wheels, the complete system?

Mike Vittorio:

Yes. I think, for us, we’re obviously focused on the wheel itself. So, these components or forces, it narrows down to wind resistance, gravity, rolling resistance, vibration losses and inertial forces. So, those are the components and specifically how they interact with the tire and wheel system are what we have control over. So, that’s where we were focusing in this mindset of total system efficiency.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. So, if I’m that type of rider that wants to go anywhere, do anything, but I don’t want to sacrifice my performance, I don’t want to sacrifice speed, that’s what you’re talking about.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. So, the market is moving towards this all-road mentality. So, taking your road bike or what you would call a traditional road bike on roads that you never would have gone on maybe five, 10 years ago, and then further, the gravel bikes of the world popping up all over the place, and wanting to explore select single track gravel roads, fire roads, et cetera.

Mike Vittorio:

So, that was all within the scope of the design of the 303 family. Those are the factors that go into this total system efficiency mindset, and how we designed the wheels for each of those situations.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Got it, man. So, you still live in Colorado for 10 years in. We do these long rides as coaches at CTS, and we have this old fire roads that connect to paved roads up in the high country and old mining towns and all this kind of stuff. We are running 23s on road bikes because you’d have to climb a bunch on road to get there. You connect in, and then all of a sudden, you head out to Cripple Creek or Victor and then come all the way down to pass. I remember being pretty skittish on those fire roads with 23s tube. So, a wheelset like this would be very ideal for a situation like that, right?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. I’m sure you were getting really beat up with those 23s. I can imagine. So, yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Beyond.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s absolutely right. That’s not to say that … I think that’s a perfect example of transitioning between surfaces. I mean, that’s a lot of what we’re talking about. Even I’m here in Indianapolis and even around me, we have a lot of what we call the chip and seal road, which is laid loose asphalt that overtime will harden. I mean, that’s not gravel, but you turn on to one of those things, and you’re still trying to hammer, right? You’re out for a training session, and it’s no time to get squeamish. So, yeah, these are exactly the situations that we’re talking about. I think almost everyone can really relate to those scenarios one way or another.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, with the TSE or the total system efficiency, the four pillars wind resistance, gravity, rolling resistance and vibrational loses. Can you explain those just at a high level just a little bit more? What are we talking about when we’re talking wind resistance, and gravity, and that kind of thing?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Sure. So, wind resistance, I think, in terms of wheels and you said before being techy, that’s that aerodynamic drag that I think a lot of people are really familiar with. So, that covers wind resistance. There are several components to aero drag. I don’t think I’m going to get into all the detail there, but that’s really what we’re talking about when we say wind resistance.

Mike Vittorio:

The next was the gravity component. That really comes down to system weight. As a part of that, I think I’d also like to loop in the inertial forces there, which is also connected to system weight, right? So, that’s accelerating, decelerating. There’s a tangential component along the road, which is just your overall system weight, which is largely driven by rider and all your kit, bike wheels, whatever else you’re carrying. Then there’s this rotational inertia, which is really driven by the rim weight. So, that’s what we focus on there. Really, that’s just low weight winds in terms of gravity, so hauling yourself up the hill and reducing inertial forces.

Mike Vittorio:

Then there’s the rolling resistance. So, that’s the energy loss that occurs every time your tire goes through a complete rotation. So, that’s happening on every single road service, every time you’re out riding, always. So, just to move your bike, you’re going to get some rolling resistance lost at all speeds, right? Whereas wind resistance, aero drag is-

Adam Pulford:

Only happens at certain speeds.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. It grossly increases as you keep going faster. Rolling resistance is relatively constant. Then there’s the vibrational losses. Those increase as surface roughness of the road decreases. So, as the road gets worse, vibrational losses come bigger and bigger in the play. So, I think that one is pretty self-explanatory. I think we’ve all been on a rough road, and ended up going slower. So, I think everybody’s got a pretty good feel for vibration losses.

Adam Pulford:

They do. I think that rough road, the chattery road, I think that we can all resonate with that, but as we break down each of those components, at Zipp, I was able to watch a demonstration of how you guys actually measured vibrational losses. So, we’ll talk about that a little bit more, but that’s pretty unique and how it applies to the athlete’s performance in particular, but let’s circle back first to wind resistance and almost this concept of wider is better. Now, I might be wrong here, but as it applies to wind resistance, the airs moving around this wider object to other aspects, and are you claiming that wider is indeed better?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. I think I want to be a little bit careful here with the wider is better. So, I think part of the total story and as we go into talking about these other components of TSE, there are a lot of benefits to wide tires. So, when we say wider is better, if you’ve got a wide tire, it necessitates a wider rim to ensure that you still have an aerodynamic package. So, in pure aerodynamics theory, a thin plate is actually the best thing you can have. So, wider in terms of pure was not necessarily better, but the total package is better.

Mike Vittorio:

So, wider tires have their benefits and to gain those benefits without having a penalty, an aero penalty, you need a wider rim. So, that’s how that all connects in. There are some interactions with the frame that I think you’re alluding to, but those are quite defendant to measure and, also, it’s pretty frame-dependent. So, that’s not necessarily something we’re studying in depth with this development.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. This is a little off tangent here, Mike. Why are we going wider now compared to five to 10 years ago?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s a great question. I think a lot of it comes from some new research that that ourselves and then other people within the bikes industry have been doing in terms of rolling resistance and how to reduce it, as well as these vibration losses I touched on. So, as we start to gain more knowledge, we start to change our tech a little bit, and start to realize what’s the best system, what’s that most efficient system to help the rider go fast.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I really think it’s this new knowledge and then also as you really briefly touched on new ways to measure that system, right? So, if you’re just in isolated either in a tunnel or a smooth drum, that gives you a completely different answer than if you’re measuring in the real world or on more sophisticated equipment. So, I think that’s really why this is happening now, as well as we’re seeing frame manufacturers start to open up tolerances on frames.

Mike Vittorio:

So, to be quite frank, if there’s not room for a 28 mm tire, we can’t sell you a rim that has a 28 mm tire magnitude, right? So, all those things in combination is why this is happening now.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. So, if there’s a listener here on this podcast and they’re saying, “Okay. Well, I’ll go lighter. I’m running 25s now and I’m going to try 28 or even say a 30 or 32. Yeah. My frame can handle that. I’m just going to put on the wheel that I have.” Would you advise that or what you said before about it needs the wider rim in order to achieve that?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s a good question. I think it depends on that rider’s condition. So, if he or she is out riding primarily let’s say mostly smooth tormach and they’ve got a rim that has more of a traditional internal width, they might not see some of the performance case of going wider because they’re going to be paying an aero penalty. That’s going to be difficult to overcome.

Mike Vittorio:

So, if they’re looking for a mixed surface riding and they’re going off the tormach a little bit, then, yeah, going for that wider tire may provide some benefits. So, it’s really situational, but to get the true all-around benefit of a let’s call it a wider than traditional tire, you really do need a rim that suits, that is designed for it.

Adam Pulford:

So, that’s the system that you’re talking about, a wider internal with a wider tire.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Correct. Yup.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. Okay. Well, let’s talk gravity. I like how Zipp frames up that term gravity because it’s more than just weight, but, I mean, all the weight winnies out there will appreciate this. The new 303 S and the 303 get a pretty significant weight loss. Is that right?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. So, we saved about 300 grams per wheelset on the 303 firecrest versus the old 303 firecrest. For the 303 S, that savings was about 155 grams from the old 302 disc brake that it replaced. So, yeah, really, in terms of wheelsets, that’s a pretty big leap.

Adam Pulford:

That’s a real big leap, for sure. You’ll notice that in the lawn hill climbs, but you mentioned rotational weight and how that applies to acceleratory forces and overall performance there. How would a lighter weight wheel make you faster and make you perform better?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. So, let’s restate the obvious. Like you said, if you’re going out for a hill climb day, weight starts to be one of the biggest factors you think about. So, lighter weight in our wheelset is just part of that overall bike system and human weight that you always want to be reducing in terms of climbing up a mountain, right?

Mike Vittorio:

In terms of inertial forces, a lighter weight wheelset, like I said, in terms of the tangential forces is going to aid in the reduction of the acceleration force needed to get up to speed, as well as that snappy feel. That really comes from the inertial force, and that comes from the rim weight. So, that’s the force required to get your wheels spinning up to speed, right?

Mike Vittorio:

So, I think most riders when they put on a lighter weight wheelset, that’s one of the first things they notice is when they’re accelerating is that whether the wheelset feels snappy. I know that’s not a very technical term, but that is the most emotional term I can think of for it.

Adam Pulford:

Oh, yeah. That resonates, for sure. So, these things are for climbers as well crit racers.

Mike Vittorio:

Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I would remiss if I said that a reduction in rim weight inertial forces also helps with braking to some extent, right? I know we’re switching to disc brakes or I should say these are disc brake wheelsets. Once you hear that disc brake, you start to turn off, “Oh, braking.” Now, it doesn’t matter because I don’t get the same hand fatigue. We’ve made advancements, but it does. I mean, that reduction weight, it is going to help you stop faster even in a disc brake wheelset. So, being lightweight has a lot of advantages, for sure.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I mean, I made the analogy of hill climber, crit racer, but, I mean, riding Fondos, going to the coffee shop, trying to outsprint your friend on the group ride, I mean, it’s all of those aspects filter into, “Hey, this is going to be way more fun when I ride them.”

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. Yup.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Okay. So, one concern perhaps is when we’re scraping off carbon, our weight decreases. Sometimes we think that the durability or the integrity can be compromised. Is that true in this situation?

Mike Vittorio:

No, not in this situation to be blunt. Both the 303 firecrest and 303 S are, actually, they’re more durable, stronger than the previous general wheel they replaced. So, that was something that for us was important as we’re looking at the total system. We’re asking these wheelsets to do more than they ever had before. So, we wanted them to be stronger. We achieved that in a couple of different ways. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but both of these wheelsets are hookless. So, for those not-

Adam Pulford:

What does that mean? Yeah. What does that mean?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah, yeah. So, for those not familiar, a traditional carbon road rim has what they call a crochet hook that aids in locking in the bead in the rim. So, when you melt your tire, the tire bead sits underneath that crocheted hook. These rims do without that hook, which is only able to be done because of advancements in tubeless tire technology. So, that means, really, it’s the tire beads themselves have become stiffer and stronger, so that now you don’t need that hook to retain the tire on the rim anymore.

Mike Vittorio:

One thing we like to bring up is in motorcycle rims and car rims, they’re all hookless. This technology of being hookless, it’s been out in that realm for a very long time and in the last 10-15 years, it’s been on mountain bikes for a long time. So, we’re bringing that technology into road cycling, and it has its benefits. One of those is that it’s more efficient in transferring impact forces into the side wall of the rim and then ultimately into the ID or the inner diameter and then into the hub. So, hookless has a lot of advantages in that case.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I was just going to say, I mean, I’ve been running hookless wheels on my mountain bike now for about two or three years when ENVE first came out with those. I noticed that immediately, just a very good riding experience from there. So, the hookless, basically, if you could look at the rim, the internal rim profile, it looks like a U as opposed to a U with a little hook on there. That’s what we’re talking about, right?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Very quick, either it’s our website or our materials for cross-sections, but there are a lot of examples pretty easily accessible online to get a good picture. So, a pretty quick Google search gives you some great examples.

Adam Pulford:

Cool. Cool. So, when people are airing these things up, are they still going to hear that ping, ping, ping, and then the snapping of the tubeless tire setting in or is that done away with?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. They’ll still hear that. So, that ping that you’re referring to is the bead moving from the center or what we call the well of the rim up on to the bead seats. So, it’s actually snapping upon to the bead seats. So, the tire bead is actually a smaller diameter than the bead seat, and that’s intentional so that the tire bead has to stretch up onto that horizontal surface inside or on the rim. So, that pinging is the bead finally popping onto that surface. You’ll still hear that. That actually isn’t influenced whether there’s a hook or not.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. Okay. So, these things are lighter and stronger than any other previous versions of Zipp wheels that have existed.

Mike Vittorio:

I think the best way to say it is that they’re lighter and stronger than their predecessors. I can’t speak for the entire history of Zipp wheels. I don’t think I’m cleared for that broader statement, but, for they’re-

Adam Pulford:

Not on the record then. Not on the record.

Mike Vittorio:

They’re definitely stronger than their previous generation that they replaced. I think you actually brought up something interesting. You talked about that pinging noise of tubeless seeding. These are tubeless wheelsets or I should say they’re only cleared for tubeless tire types only. It can still run a tube, but you really-

Adam Pulford:

Oh, you can? Okay.

Mike Vittorio:

You can, but only with tubeless tire types. Really, if you run a tube, you’re really not going to get the full benefits of the wheel. One of the things that’s actually not talked about a lot, so this is insider info, is we put a lot of effort into getting the dimensions dialed in to optimize tubeless seeding to really improve that process.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I think one of the gripes we hear from customers, and we’re aware of it is that tubeless can be difficult to use, right? It can be sometimes difficult to set up. Both these wheelsets, we’ve made improvements on that, and we did that by changing the geometry, and then the sizing of the diameters in the tire bead to really help the user install tires.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I think that’s going to be something thought people notice. I mean, that’s the first thing you do when you get your wheels is you put tires on. So, I want to make sure people know that that’s something that we’ve worked hard on. It doesn’t really show up in all these performance numbers. I think it’s an important part of the experience.

Adam Pulford:

I think it is, too. I’m a big believer in riding tubeless. I’ve got tubeless on every bike that I own, which is probably more than my wife wants it to be, but I mean, it is incredibly. Yeah, sure, it takes a little bit of setup and a little bit of maintenance, checking to make sure that you still got sealant and going and it’s fresh sealant and all that kind of stuff, but the experience that you have when you’re carving through turns or up on a huge mountain climb and descending down, the confidence that you have of staying connected to the ground and you can hit more things and worry less about it.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Adam Pulford:

I mean, it simplifies it.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

So, anyway, a good plug for just going tubeless right there. Free of charge. Let’s talk rolling resistance, Mike, because this is always a hot topic in cycling. So, can you tell us more about what rolling resistance actually is, what a contact patch is, and why that matters when it comes to performance?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. I think this is actually a great segue from tubeless, talking about tubeless, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. It totally is.

Mike Vittorio:

Straight into rolling resistance. Well done. So, I’m going to start off with the contact patch we’re talking about-

Adam Pulford:

Sure.

Mike Vittorio:

… when we say contact patch. So, simply, it’s the portion of the tire that is deformed to take up the force of the rider’s weight. Let’s call it the system weight, the rider and the bike. So, if you are able to ride over a piece of glass and walk underneath a glass and look up, you would see an oblong shape that’s contacting that piece of glass that’s supporting the weight of the rider. So, when we talk about contact patch, that’s what we’re talking about.

Adam Pulford:

Got it.

Mike Vittorio:

So, that’s all part of this connecting to the story. So, as your tire rolls, if you think of that contact patch, if you took a silver Sharpie and you marked one position on your tire and were to track that as it went around, as the wheel rolled, each time that portion of the tire contacted the ground, it would have to deform to create the contact patch. Then as it pass the ground, it would go back into its static shape.

Mike Vittorio:

So, when you think about rolling resistance, rolling resistance is actually the energy loss that’s created by how much energy it takes to deform the tire as it creates that contact patch versus how much is regained as it goes back to its static shape. So, you touched on contact patch, it plays right into this rolling resistance story. The scientific term for that is elastic hysteresis. So, that’s that energy loss from the deformation of that contact patch.

Adam Pulford:

Got you. So, how does that apply to me riding bikes fast and having fun?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Great question. So, rolling resistance is part of the TSE story. It’s just yet another thing trying to slow you down, right? So, really, we want to do what we can to reduce rolling resistance, which I think is probably pretty obvious.

Adam Pulford:

Right. Totally.

Mike Vittorio:

So, if we try to break it down and think about how you can reduce rolling resistance, well, that contact patch, it’s really just driven by the force or the weight of the rider and the system and the pressure in the tire to create an area. So, as you pump up your tire more, there’s more pressure, there’s going to be a smaller contact patch. So, we talked about or I think that’s where a lot of riders historically have got, “Oh, I got to pump my tire up to 120 PSI.” What they’re trying to do scientifically is reduce their contact patch and then that reduces the amount of deformation in their tire or this amount of sag that their tire has to go through as it rolls past the ground, and then that would reduce the rolling resistance.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. So, yeah, why don’t I just pump it up to 120 and go for it?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Exactly. Well, that’s not the whole story. It’s not that simple. That will be great, right? That will be great, but I-

Adam Pulford:

Simple. It would be simple.

Mike Vittorio:

Sure, sure, but I mean, let’s go back to that situation where you’re out and you took the fire road on 23s. I imagine you probably had 100 and something PSI in there, and it’s pretty uncomfortable, and I would guess probably pretty slow, pretty bumpy.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah. Real nervous, real bumpy, real choppy, hoping I was going to get to the other side and not break a rim, stuff like that.

Mike Vittorio:

Sure. Sure. Further more, I’m guessing, is you don’t ride that setup now, but if you can think back to when the days when you did, it was also quite bumpy on less dramatic roads and that fire road, right? It doesn’t take much surface deformities to really shake you about. So, I’m getting ahead of myself because that gets into the vibrational losses. Really, that’s the reason why you don’t pump up your tire like that.

Mike Vittorio:

I want to connect back because the other way you could reduce that rolling resistance is by going for a wider tire. So, the rolling resistance is that reduction in energy loss. So, if you can reduce the amount the tire sags or the amount it has to deform, you can reduce the rolling resistance, and a wider tire creates a shorter contact patch, has less tire sag, and then can reduce rolling resistance at a light for light pressure.

Mike Vittorio:

So, for example, if you took a 23 mm tire and a 28 mm tire, pump them both up to 80 PSI, the 28 mm tire would have less tire sag and less rolling resistance. So, there’s two ways you can reduce rolling resistance. You can increase pressure or you can increase the width of the tire.

Adam Pulford:

Yup. That makes a lot of sense, and that’s really well-described.

Mike Vittorio:

Thank you. I hinted that and, hopefully, we get to it, but we can talk about in depth why you can’t just get by with that 120 PSI because I’m sure a lot of people would … That is simple, right?

Adam Pulford:

It is simple, but, yeah, let’s go right into it. So, vibrational losses. So, the teeth chattering at 120 PSI, why not do that? It’s fast, Mike, but what are the guys and gals missing that are riding at 120 PSI still?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Well, I don’t want to offend anybody, but that’s what your grandparents would say as the hop on and pump up to 120 PSI and get on the road. Quite frankly, that bouncing we’re talking about and that teeth chattering, that’s all lost energy. So, the human body is really just a big spring damper.

Adam Pulford:

It’s true.

Mike Vittorio:

It gets bounced around, right? There’s movement in between the muscle fibers, the tissue, your organs, and it’s creating friction, and then that friction and viscous tearing that’s happening, it’s creating kinematic energy. So, it’s creating heat and it’s lost. It’s lost energy.

Mike Vittorio:

A colleague of mine described it as when we get cold, humans shiver naturally, and we shiver to hit up and expend energy. So, why would you want to be rolling along when we’re trying to conserve energy, go as fast and as far as we can? You wouldn’t roll along shivering.

Adam Pulford:

Ideally, no, but I’ve done that. I’ve done that, too, and I did not like it. I did not like it.

Mike Vittorio:

So, in essence, it’s the same concept. We’re trying to reduce that movement in the human, which is lost energy into the system. So, the way to do that is to have energy absorbed somewhere. In non-suspension road and gravel bikes, that’s either absorbed by the frame or, primarily, by the tires if it’s not absorbed by you, the rider.

Mike Vittorio:

So, if it’s going to be absorbed by the tires, bigger tires at a lower pressure absorb the most energy. I think probably for most of us, that’s pretty obvious. When you go out and you rent that beach cruiser on vacation, it’s got big old 40c tires at low pressure. It’s pretty comfortable.

Adam Pulford:

Real comfortable. Love those bikes. It’s vacation time. It’s vacation time.

Mike Vittorio:

Exactly. Yeah. It’s smooth and you’re not being bounced around, and you hit everything on the road and bounce up curbs, and it’s all right.

Adam Pulford:

You’re not going to get the KOM, though, Mike, on these things.

Mike Vittorio:

Well, not on the beach cruiser. If you do, kudos. That’s big kudos. That’s pretty fast.

Adam Pulford:

It’s impressive. Yeah.

Mike Vittorio:

You’re absolutely right. There’s an optimum. Actually, this is where TSE, the total system, this is where it comes in to play. So, in our testing, we discovered, really, and as we joke about it, the bigger tire you go, and the lowest pressure you can get away with are the absolute best for reducing vibrational losses. There’s actually really no minimum.

Mike Vittorio:

We tested all the way down to, I would call it ridiculous 20-30 PSI on road tire range. We saw a reduction in required power from that rider all the way down on a bumpy road. Let’s call it our bumpy road that we test on. So, in terms of vibration, you go as big and as low as you can, but we know for rolling resistance, you actually want higher pressure to balance your contact patch, to reduce your rolling resistance.

Mike Vittorio:

So, this is where the magic comes in of the total system efficiency. So, you really want to balance large tires, low pressure with larger tires but higher pressure to reduce rolling resistance. So, the two graphs of that are they cross and create a bit of a bucket or a nice target and that’s where we’ve … I think the whole team on the back, they’ve figured that out and figured out versus our traditional setups, that optimum where that bucket is is much lower than it’s been before because vibrational losses are such a big component to the total system power required.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. So, to bring this down to home a little bit more, I mean, we’re joking about 120 and stuff, and we mean no offense, but you also mentioned, you brought them down to 30 in testing. For the new 303s with a tubeless setup and 28 tire, what kind of pressure are we talking available for, say, I don’t know, average rider of 150 to 180 pounds? What kind of pressure are you running for that optimal performance in that situation?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s a great example. So, let’s just pick right in the middle of that range, so somebody who’s about 165.

Adam Pulford:

Sure.

Mike Vittorio:

They’re going to be running in the rear with that 28 mm tire, which on the 303 will really measure to about 30 mm because of that bigger internal width that we’ve designed in. You’re going to want to run or I should say we recommend running about 60 PSI in the rear and about 56 PSI on the front. So, we’re joking about 120, but that’s half of that, right?

Adam Pulford:

That’s half of that. Yeah.

Mike Vittorio:

Even most guys who are running 80-90 before, that’s still 20 PSI less than that. I would think even the colleagues who were riding before we made these discoveries that they were in that range. So, we’ve learned a lot on this product and where to target those pressures.

Adam Pulford:

So, this is just shooting from hip here. It’s very countercultural to run these lower pressures. At Zipp, I mean, what’s been the discussion about how to change riders’ habits? How do you do that across not only in the United States, but, truly, across the world people riding these bikes?

Mike Vittorio:

Well, yeah. That’s a great question because we know it’s not easy. I think this conversation is a great start, right?

Adam Pulford:

That’s true.

Mike Vittorio:

Explaining the product development and the story and some of these new knowledge that we’ve uncovered, I think all of that is pretty important in trying to make sure that people understand the science behind what we’re talking about. I think that’s all part of it. Talking about tire pressure, in general, I think is important.

Mike Vittorio:

So, you know what? I’ve been talking specifically about that pressure recommendation of 60 PSI in the rear for a 165-pound rider. That’s for this specific product, which has a 25 mm internal width and it’s a hookless rim. I think that’s the latest and greatest.

Mike Vittorio:

I’m sure or let’s say I hope most of your listeners are going out and buying this rim, but, realistically, I know that’s not true. So, for the guys who don’t have a 25 mm internal rim, they still need to be thinking about their tire pressure and just getting that conversation going is the gateway to absorbing into the culture this notion of lowering the tire pressure, in general.

Adam Pulford:

I agree with that, and to that end, I would then ask, why are we running 60 in the rear and 56 at front? What’s the logic behind that?

Mike Vittorio:

Behind the delta?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, basically, the difference. Why would you need to run less upfront than in the rear?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry I interrupted.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. The reason why I asked that is when I go around doing training camps, especially on the mountain bike, I have a background in both mountain and road, and I remember five-ish, five, seven years ago is when we’d be running mountain bike camps and people would still turn up with tubed mountain bike tires, and it’s like, “Okay. Well, let’s get some education around what tubeless could look like and the reasons for it,” and then we drop tire pressure, and then we start talking about the differences between why tire pressure needs to be a little bit more in the rear versus the front for traction and connecting with the ground. It’s the same now on road bikes as we’re having this very similar discussion because our weight is further back. You’re putting essentially more weight and could experience more tire sag in the rear if you didn’t have more internal pressure, right?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s exactly right. So, really, yeah. I mean, for us, in the road bike, you don’t have as much of that looking for additional traction in the front to the extreme that you do on the mountain bike. Really, it’s a weight balance, right? Trying to get the tire sag to be even between the front and rear.

Mike Vittorio:

I think when we started looking into tire pressures, I mean, seriously doing our research, we noticed that, actually, what a lot of people are recommending as a gap between front and rear was even bigger than just this four PSI that I’m talking about. In fact, some people are recommending 10 to 15. We thought that was pretty dramatic because, really, on most road bikes, especially performance road bikes, you’re quite forward in your position and your weight is more central, I think, between front and rear tires. On the TT, if you’re on a time trial bike, you might even close that gap and even it up between front and rear. So, really, it’s all about weight distribution.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s it. I think I see it here and I observed you’re talking on microphones from afar about four to six PSI differences, so we can laugh about it. I’m glad to be doing it, but we can laugh about it, but when it applies to performance and you start to change your habits and you get these new wheelsets, and you spend a couple of thousand dollars on it, you better get educated on how to use it best because if it’s for performance and you’re going for a state championship or world championship or if you’re just looking to crush some people at the group ride, it’s important to know how it works.

Mike Vittorio:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Adam Pulford:

Otherwise, you just wasted your money, basically.

Mike Vittorio:

Well, yeah. That’s right. These wheelsets, if you go out and every single time, personally, if I were to get on the new 303 firecrest and pump it up to its maximum allowable pressure, which is five bar or 72.5 PSI, the ride feel and the speed and the grip, that’s not optimal, right? So, yes, we made a more optimize rim shape for a 28 mm tire specifically. So, yeah, it’s going to be an aero wheel, but in terms of the reduction in vibration losses and a target rolling resistance, and then increase cornering grip, those benefits, you’re not going to experience them.

Mike Vittorio:

So, you’re absolutely right. Tire pressure, it is important to the overall experience, and not just for new rims, though. I think that’s important is that I have a … I don’t know if it’s a bad reputation or lets just call it a reputation for being a little bit preachy about tire pressure in the office. So, really challenging guys, asking them every time they go out, “Hey, what tire pressure are you running today? Hey, why aren’t you a few PSI lower? Hey, did you pay attention to your front-rear difference?” Because at the end of the day, your tires are the only thing touching the tormach.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, hopefully.

Mike Vittorio:

It’s the only thing.

Adam Pulford:

Hopefully.

Mike Vittorio:

Well, yeah, good point. Yeah. Let’s hope so. So, you should care about them as much as you care about everything else, and the thing you can control is tire pressure. So, I guess that is a little bit preachy or speaking from a pulpit about it, but, yeah, it’s really important. It is important for everybody to try to dial in, experiment with your tire pressure, and it’s going to create a better ride experience.

Adam Pulford:

Yes. Yes. As an engineer, I would wish for nothing more and hope for nothing more out of that.

Mike Vittorio:

Thanks.

Adam Pulford:

I’d get a little maybe preachy here, but, also, think about, okay. We’re talking about performance here. You and I, many of the listeners are not going for the world championship, but they are going to go experience a Gran Fondo in a different part of the world or the nation or in their state. As we do camps and we do the charity rides and things and I go around and work with individuals who maybe don’t spent more than 10 hours or eight hours on a bike per week and the descending is very scary. I look at wheels and tires that can instantly improve rider experience going downhill and cornering at whatever speed you’re comfortable with, but it automatically improves that experience.

Adam Pulford:

To me, that’s, whew, that’s awesome because more people are going to get on bikes. More people are going to want to go do that Fondo or going to want to go get fit because they fit all sketched out on the 23s.

Mike Vittorio:

Absolutely. I think you touched on a really important point is I talked about that motto we have, the “Making you faster”. That’s making you faster everywhere, not just on the streets. That’s also in the corners. I know very few people will have experience these wheelsets yet, but I can tell you from a lot of … I test ride the wheels as, luckily, part of my job, right? That was one of the very first things I notice when going to these wider tire beds and bigger tires is the amount of grip that I had.

Mike Vittorio:

I don’t race crits, but I ride with guys who race crits. If you want to keep up on our routes, you better be ready to at least do your best to carve the corners or else you’re really going to be gassed at the end of the ride, I mean, just to hang on.

Mike Vittorio:

I made the full evolution from my beginning in working at Zipp from skinny tube setup moving to tubeless, increasing my tire size, changing to the wider internal width, and finally reducing my tire pressure. Every single one of those steps helped me increase my confidence on the bike along the way and made me faster. So, I think a user or one of your listeners just going out to a bike shop and if they’re able and trying a new wheelset or hopping on some of these who has a newer wheelset or is experiencing or experimenting with wider tires and just taking a quick lap, I think their mentality will change pretty quickly or at least they’ll be pretty jealous and want to go out and spend some money on a new wheelset. I know that that’s my sentiment is I really found that I’m more confident on the bike in corners and you’re right. It absolutely changes the way you feel about riding.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I had to quote our good friend Jason Blodgett, also a coworker of yours. I remember I think it was January he was on, I think 303 S or something and I was texting with him back and forth. He’s like, “Adam, it feels like I’m cheating going in and out of the corners. It’s incredible.” All right. We got to talk about this, but, yeah, totally. So, we’re at a cool time in history where we’re doing some very unique stuff with bike technology, tire technology, and it’s really fun to talk about.

Adam Pulford:

Oh, man. We could talk at length here, Mike, and we’re already getting long, but what I want to do is talk about a little product you hear just for a minute because it does standout, a lifetime warranty that Zipp talks about. Is that true? I mean, you hear of a lot about lifetime warranty. So, how does thing work and how does it apply to our listeners who are actually thinking about maybe even get something like this?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. So, this is new for us, new for Zipp. It first debuted under the 3ZERO MOTO product, but now we’ve rolled it into the road rims. Basically, this lifetime warranty, for the initial purchaser of the wheelset, it covers any damage that occurs to the wheels while riding the bicycle under its intended use. So, for example, you’re out riding, you hit the mother of all potholes on the group ride because it is in front of you, you didn’t point it out. You happen to have 10 PSI in your tire and somehow your rim cracks. We’ll replace it because you were out intended use. That happens, right?

Mike Vittorio:

That being said, we talked a lot about MTB. If you somehow fit your brand new 303 FC to your downhill rig and don’t quite land a 10-foot gap, that one is on you, right? We know the 303 FC is a firecrest. It’s not a downhill wheel, outside of intended use.

Mike Vittorio:

I know it’s a bit producty, but it’s also meant to be a gravel wheel. We’ve done a lot of testing out in gravel. We know that guys are starting to go on single track, really ride some pretty, I’d call it an intense stuff for a gravel bike. If anything happens out while you’re riding gravel, it’s covered because that’s part of the intended use envelope.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I think it’s pretty special. When they first came to me way back in development about it, I have to admit, as an engineer, you’re nervous, but we increased our level of testing both in the lab and in the field, and we’re confident we can get away with this, get away with the warranty because of the listeners who are thinking through all the things they’ve hit, in our testing, we hit all of them, and the wheels survived. So, we’re confident, and if something happens, it will be covered.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I know that’s a bit lengthy, but it’s special. So, I’m excited that they pushed us to develop a product that can be able to offer that warranty because we know they’re expensive. So, they should be covered.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. No. I mean, stand behind your product like that, that’s a strong message right there. So, again, a little producty, but that stood out to me, which is why I wanted to bring it up because I was like, “Man, if they’re touting that, that’s worth talking about.”

Adam Pulford:

So, well, excellent. Mike, this has been awesome. We’ve covered a ton today, and we’re going over. There’s more stuff that I did want to cover, but I think it’s time that we start wrapping up. It’s really good to see companies evolving with the rider, with what the rider wants, meaning I want to ride gravel, I want to ride road, and I want to be able to not shatter my bike in doing so, and really talking about the versatility of what a bike and a wheelset can do, but not sacrifice the performance.

Adam Pulford:

So, I think Zipp has really hit the bull’s eye on that with this, and it’s really fun to talk about. So, to summarize, I like to finish with some of these takeaway questions. Some of these questions we actually already nested into here. So, I’m actually going to start with my third question, Mike, and then I’m going to throw in just a random one toward the end and really set you off kilter.

Mike Vittorio:

Sure. Sure.

Adam Pulford:

All right. So, first question to you, what is a common misconception when buying a new wheelset when a customer is buying a wheelset or shopping for it? What’s a common misconception out there?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. That’s interesting. One thing I think I can speak and then I’ve heard at the water stops or the coffee stops is you can’t ride your Zipp wheelset all the time or your carbon wheelset for that matter, but here, we’re talking about Zipp wheels, and you’re only meant to get them out on race day or special occasions. We just talked about a new warranty and if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will to ride your wheels all the time, ride them daily.

Mike Vittorio:

So, you should feel confident in what you’re buying and using. I think, to me, that’s a misconception that you can’t be riding your carbon wheels all the time. We’ve made a ton of advancements and making the wheelsets more durable, and then again, we’re standing by that and we’re covering them. So, yeah, I think ride your wheels.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s spot on. That’s also what I hear a lot. Man, I’m going to ride these awesome wheels all the time, but it’s still a common concept out there is training wheels and racing wheels.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. If people want to buy two sets of Zipp wheels to train and race on, the more the merrier for me, right?

Adam Pulford:

True. Yeah. That’s true.

Mike Vittorio:

I’m telling them if they just buy one set, they should use their set.

Adam Pulford:

Cool. Okay. So, second question for you is, if a listener just brought a brand new bike this year and they’re listening to this podcast and like, “Oh, great. Now I need to get a new wheelset because the one I just got is not as wide,” should they go out there and buy these new 303s or should they be patient?

Mike Vittorio:

Well, I mean, that’s a tough question, right? You’re asking somebody who’s paycheck comes from people buying wheels.

Adam Pulford:

Right.

Mike Vittorio:

So, I mean-

Adam Pulford:

You’re the best person to ask this. I’m like, “Okay. You designed it.”

Mike Vittorio:

I mean, the frank answer is, I mean, with these 303 family wheelsets, we know that they’re faster and more capable than ever before and what’s out there. I think I would absolutely recommend somebody to go out and look at a new one of these wheelsets. If you’ve got a bike that’s … A lot of these new road frames, they’re not called all road frames, but what used to just be the light bike or the endurance road bike, now it’s got these potential to run maybe up to 32-35 mm tires.

Mike Vittorio:

Well, if you want to take advantage of that and still get the full aerodynamic benefits, and still be quick, you’re going to want a rim that matches that, and that’s what the 303s do. I’m not saying that whatever wheelsets are out there are bad, but our strategy of looking at the whole system I think is pretty special, and it’s really allowed riders to make a benefit of using wider tires, which comes with all those great things like increased speed and comfort and cornering grip, et cetera. So, yeah, I’d recommend it, but, yeah, that’s all I can say. I love them. I’d certainly buy myself a set.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, and I will apologize because it’s like I put you in a bad spot, but what I want the listener to think about is it is a complete system. Oftentimes, my athletes will ask me which bike to buy and how to buy and all this kind of stuff. Oftentimes, they’ll buy a complete bike and, say, the frame is pretty darn good, the grip set is pretty darn good and they’re saving some money and the wheelset may not be as good.

Adam Pulford:

So, one very quick, very good way of upgrading a bike system or a bike setup is indeed in the wheels. So, again, depending on how you spent and what are the actual wheels and all that kind of stuff, if you bought medium, a wheelset will definitely upgrade the complete bike setup in a very quick way. That was my way of jamming that question there to get people thinking differently.

Mike Vittorio:

Well, that’s actually a great way to think about it is out of all the things you can upgrade, per dollar, I think, wheels really, really pay off, right?

Adam Pulford:

They do.

Mike Vittorio:

You said it before, but, hopefully, every ride, the rubber is the only thing touching the ground, and you want that system that’s touching the rubber, you want that to be complete and that’s what we strive to do. So, yeah, it’s good point.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. Okay. So, final question, Mike, and this is the curved ball. This is the curved ball. All right. So, you’re doing Gran Fondo, you got a giant hill climb. You get to the top and all of a sudden, it is chip, seal and gnarly on the downhill, but you know you’ve got a hill climb finish to go that’s all pavement and super glassy pavement. Are you going to dump pressure at the top of the first hill climb or are you going to keep it in?

Mike Vittorio:

Whoa! What an interesting scenario. Let’s see. If you’re trying to win this Gran Fondo, I don’t know how you could be stopping to let out pressure.

Adam Pulford:

Well, there’s an aid station out there. There’s an aid station.

Mike Vittorio:

I’m trying to get my way out of answering. Yeah. I think, ideally, we talked about this ideal bucket of when vibration losses take over from rolling resistance. If in this scenario and I’m running 303s and I see that chip and seal, I think I would let out a little bit of pressure because I know the wider tire bed and I know personally from experience that these rims, they’re not going to feel squirmy. That’s one of the special things about them. As you go lower and lower in pressure, that feeling of I think how to really came from tubed setups at too low pressure where they get that squirm feel, that’s something really special about these is that that doesn’t happen until really dramatically low, low pressures, outside of ridable pressures, I should say.

Mike Vittorio:

So, for me, yeah, I think I’d press that a little bit, and let out a few PSI knowing with confidence that I don’t think I’d have any losses on that paved uphill at the end. So, yeah. That’s a very interesting question, though. Kudos for coming up with that. You have quite an imagination.

Adam Pulford:

Well, that’s just it. Really, that’s what we’re talking about. It’s the sweet spot between the vibrational losses and the rolling resistance. From everything I’ve seen from you guys is you can really maximize the vibrational losses and not really give away on the rolling resistance to optimize that performance. So, I would do the same thing at the very top in that scenario, for sure.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. I would like to think, hopefully, in that situation I’ve done enough testing on my own of tire pressures that I’d already be spot on, but maybe that’s just the engineer nerd in me.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. If anything, experiment with your tire pressures anyone. Every rim, every setup, experiment. It’s important. It’s really important. That’s my number one takeaway.

Adam Pulford:

I couldn’t agree more. So, if you’ve got through this podcast, you listen to us, just completely go off on tangents, if you just take away anything, it’s start experimenting with tire pressure because I think it will open up a lot of people’s minds.

Adam Pulford:

So, Mike, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for taking a lot of time out of your workday to chat with me, but if listeners want to follow you or they want to check out Zipp, how do they do that?

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. The Zipp Speed Instagram I think is obviously a great place to follow not only our developments and some product source, but a lot of the athletes that we sponsor, that ride our stuff. So, for me, that’s a go-to. That’s just @ZippSpeed. So, that would be a great place. With this new family of products or the product launch of the model year 21 wheels, we’ve upgraded our website or actually I should say completely overhauled our website. So, there’s a brand new zipp.com. There’s a lot of fun tools on here to play around with. So, there’s some more information on the total system efficiency. We have a brand new wheelfinder, which takes you through some inputs about your lifestyle and maybe recommends a couple of wheelsets you’d be interested in.

Mike Vittorio:

Then, of course, a whole bunch of product information, and where you can buy our products. I think, yeah, check out those spots. It’s good browsing in between the rest of your workday.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. That is absolutely true. Cool. Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate your time, and looking forward to testing some of these wheels soon.

Mike Vittorio:

Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you very much for inviting me.


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Comments 1

  1. I’ve been riding 28mm tubeless for several years, and agree with everything you said about lower pressures. BUT every tire manufacturer specifies a minimum pressure significantly higher than what you recommend or that I have come to prefer. Example: Vittoria Rubino Pro TLR, minimum pressure 87 psi. Why do they do this? What am I risking by running 20 psi below their published minimum?

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