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Reel Review

Living up to the Hype? The Zero Ball Bearing Concept Z from 13 Fishing (continued)


Retrieve: Wrapping your head around the Concept Z takes some effort. For most of us bearing count and bearing refinement adds up to a smoother and more fluid retrieve. In the Concept Z it is the lack of traditional bearings that makes it so unique and gives it a smooth, yet different, feeling retrieve. You don’t hear or feel bearings in this reel, instead you perceive the bushings sliding against the surfaces and it almost feels like with each crank of the handle the components are on rails.


The Concept Z took an old design and infused modern technology and materials to create something that performs and feels different, sound familiar?


Again the Tesla analogy comes to mind as the car is essentially a vehicle to get you from point A to B but does so with a different method and feel. The result of the Concept Z’s design is a reel that does feel smooth but in a different way than you would judge most reels, and while I could characterize the Concept Z as smooth I still find similarly priced reels like the Shimano Curado K or Daiwa SV TW more refined when it comes to retrieve, as they feel more solid and connected to the gearing, especially when cranked aggressively.


The Concept Z has a unique feel thanks to the CZBs

Where the Concept Z has the potential to surpass other reels is in long term retrieve feel. The CZBs are very hard, and unless they chip or crack are likely to continue to deliver a similar retrieve feel over the long term, especially if you supplement the bushing’s self-lubricating properties with a drop of any 3:1 oil, like INOX.


Let's take a closer look at the internals

One of our biggest questions when the Concept Z first debuted was just how well these modern bushings would hold up to the rigors of fishing and after two months of use I once again dissembled the reel to inspect the CZBs. It is important to note that while the polymers used within the CZBs are tough they are not designed to be constantly prodded at like I did during tests, and by doing so the constant contact with tools can potentially damage the CZB surfaces, negatively affect performance. What I did find was the CZBs held up very well to hard fishing, and while I did find some scratches under magnification there was no negative effect on either casting or retrieve feel in our test reel.


The gear mesh

I plan to continue to use the reel over the course of the year and will report back on long term durability but at least for now the Concept Z has held up well. The use of the polymer based CZBs and the elimination of steel material, moving balls, races and shields found in traditional reel bearings helps eliminate failure from contaminants and corrosion.


While the Concept Z gearing held up well one of the reasons it doesn't feel as refined as some competing reels like that from Shimano and Daiwa is that the gear still has relatively large teeth

How about a bearing swap?: Because the Concept Z is so different than your run of the mill baitcaster I felt some additional tests were necessary, switching out some of the traditional bearings found in standard Concept reels with the CZBs found in the Concept Z. I conducted the same cast and retrieve tests again and casting-wise I found that if I swapped out all of the bearings even the standard Concept A or Inception reels would not only perform the same but feel pretty much identical to the Concept Z, and vice-versa.


A look at the CZB side cover bearing which is held in place with a retaining spring

The Concept Z is built on the same platform as the Concept A and Concept C so this is no surprise. The Inception and Origin platforms are different, but even with these reels anglers will realize casting benefits and changes in feel with the CZB bearings installed. The single biggest impact on casting performance comes by switching out the Z1-Spool and Z2-Palm Cover bushings together to gain the casting performance, while the other locations Z3-Z5 will help improve environmental durability.


Even the handle knobs make use of CZB bearings

Drag: The drag is probably the least interesting part of the Concept Z, and I say that tongue and cheek because it is one of the parts of the reel that isn’t a departure from traditional design. 13 Fishing’s Bulldog Drag is designed to deliver plenty of max stopping power, and makes use of a thick stack of steel and carbon washers to deliver 23.7lbs. of drag on the Machine in our lab.


The heart of the Bulldog Drag are carbon and steel washers, lots of them

It did take us really clamping down hard on the drag star to achieve this and tightening down to what we felt was a comfortable max setting resulted in 20.9lbs of drag pressure, which is really more than enough for most freshwater applications and also enough to tackle inshore species like Redfish, which is right in the wheelhouse for this reel.


My least favorite part of the drag is that tiny spring loaded pin which is responsible for the audible click in the drag. This pin is very easy to lose during disassembly and I prefer more reliable under-star spring mechanisms

The drag in the Concept Z is identical to what you will find in other Concept reels including the Concept E and C models. The Bulldog Drag in the Concept Z does offer a wider range of adjustment than the drag utilized in the Inception and I also found it far superior to the One3 reels when it comes to doling out smooth pressure under load.


The Bulldog Drag is appropriately named and doles out more than enough smooth stopping power for largemouth

Price & Applications: At $199 dollars the Concept Z is placed right in the hotly contested mainstream workhorse segment, competing with heavyweights like the Shimano Curado K ($179), Daiwa Tatula SV TWS ($199), and the recently redesigned Abu Garcia Revo STX Gen 4 ($199). The Concept Z may not be as refined as some of these reels but it offers anglers something different and unique, and especially for anglers that target inshore and saltwater species like Stripers or Redfish the added durability and corrosion resistance might just be enough to tip the scales towards the orange.


In the sun the Concept Z's orange finish looks more vibrant and the pearl finish comes alive

Our Concept Z test reel has held up very well over the last two months of testing and while traditional bearings usually require some maintenance and lubrication over time to preserve performance the CZB’s are marketed as requiring no maintenance over time. Our tests have shown that even this reel can benefit from a little oil, albeit just a drop or two in the right places to address noise and retrieve smoothness, but most anglers will probably be satisfied with the self-lubricating long term performance that the Concept Z offers.


The Concept Z can be used for both power and finesse applications

Next Section: Living up to the hype?









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