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Back 11.9.2017

How Showstopper Got Going – the Story Behind Zipp’s Premier Rim Brake Technology

On Paris-Roubaix’s hallowed cobblestones, rain and mud make a dramatically different race than dirt and dust.

That’s the inspiration behind the development of Zipp’s Showstopper™ brake technology. This proprietary textured brake-track surface on NSW wheels, and has become a favorite of Zipp-supported pro triathletes and cyclists.

The sun has shined on Paris-Roubaix for years now. You have to go back to 2002 to find a rain- and mud-soaked L’Enfer du Nord. Several years ago – as carbon wheels were becoming ubiquitous in the Spring Classics – Zipp engineers wanted to address one of the challenges of modern-day cycling: wet-weather braking on carbon wheels, especially on unforgiving surfaces like pavé.

“There have been so many dry days with carbon wheels since then that we knew that it would only be a matter of time before there was going to be a wet one,” said Jason Fowler, Zipp wheel category manager. “At the time, we knew wet-weather braking with carbon wheels was not as good as on aluminum surfaces. That’s amplified on the cobbles. Paris-Roubaix is so rough it affects your focus when you’re slowing down for a corner or reacting to situations.”

As with so much Zipp product development over the years, lessons learned from pro cycling led to product innovations. “We said there’s a need for better braking. Not necessarily we need better braking for Paris-Roubaix, but just better braking, period,” Fowler said.

Photo by BrakeThrough Media

Waiting for Rain

In its early stages, Showstopper began as a sort of homemade science project. Zipp product and engineering staff tested multiple brake-track surfaces and patterns with varying groves and orientations. On the bike testing required creative solutions.

“We had a massive computer commuter bag with a generator hooked up with tubes that would run water positioned on front and rear brakes, and we measured stopping distance,” Fowler said. “As we went through these it was very noticeable that there was benefit.”

In addition, lunch rides were postponed to wait for rain. Fowler once ripped down his street during a storm, raccoons popping their heads out of a storm drain as he pedaled by. Next, a mechanism was constructed in the Zipp test lab to inject water onto the braking surface in order to collect precise data. The goals were increased stopping power and more responsive speed modulation, but also even brake pad wear. Eventually, pros including 2014 Paris-Roubaix Niki Terpstra rode the technology in training and competition.

You Brake, You Stop!

The first production version of Showstopper was featured on the Zipp Firestrike wheelset, released in 2014. Further refined for NSW wheels, Showstopper technology now:

  • includes 317 groves on each side of the wheel that are directional to wheel rotation to increase stopping power and help clear away water from braking surface. 
  • is equal brake force in wet conditions when compared to industry leading aluminum rims
  • is optimized for use with Zipp Tangente Platinum Pro Evo Brake Pad

Photos by BrakeThrough Meda 

Showstopper proved popular among Zipp professional athletes, including two-time Kona champ Jan Frodeno and Team KATUSHA ALPECIN.

“The athletes we support love the speed of Zipp wheels, but they often comment to us on the noticeable improved braking performance first,” said Dan Stefiuk, a member of SRAM’s Road Sports Marketing team, which provides technical support to SRAM, Zipp, and Quarq-sponsored pros.  “Where Showstopper truly excels is in adverse conditions where riders can distinctively notice the advantage over traditional braking surfaces.”    

After first riding Showstopper on the 454 NSW at the Tour of California, Hannah Barnes of CANYON//SRAM Racing put it this way: “You brake, and you stop!”

More on Zipp’s NSW lineup