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Reel Review

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


Living up to the Hype?: I think that one of the reasons that the Concept Z has been so talked about, and is so polarizing, is not only because it is different than the status quo, but because it was so hyped. There were anglers, including pros, going around telling everyone that the Concept Z’s casting distance blew other reels away by miles, was a revolutionary casting experience, or even that this is the best reel ever. Expectations were set so high that inevitably there was going to be some disappointment, as well as many that were quick to discount and refute those claims.


The Concept Z palms very comfortably

On top of all this the orange color of the reel is also somewhat polarizing and is one of those love it or hate it colors, and matching rods with Tequila Sunrise isn’t the easiest thing to do either. That said selecting this bright orange color for the Concept Z was a clever move on the part of the company as it screams “look at me” and for a reel that is designed to be a launch platform for a their CZB technology and demands to be seen… mission accomplished.


An external cast control would be better but the Beetle Wing rapid access sideplate makes accessing the cast control system easier and safer

Obviously 13 Fishing created the Concept Z because they wanted to build a product that anglers would buy but the company did step out on a limb when they created this reel. There was and continues to be a lot of hype surrounding this reel, attracting more haters than any other reel in recent history, and since doing something different often is met with skepticism I asked Matt to describe what 13 Fishing’s motivation was to create this reel, to which he responded:


Sitting nice and low

“We created this product, because it was obvious ball bearings created some of the biggest negatives in fishing reel performance. Of course, all reels feel great when they are new…but I have spent my career repairing and servicing equipment. Nothing irritates a customer more than a product that loses performance. 13 Fishing is a very innovative and driven bunch of guys, I joined this team because I really felt we could create a special brand. In the industry we are looked at as disruptive, and the Concept Z is the poster child for this. We aren’t afraid to take chances and launch bold products. We aren’t perfect, and either are our products….but we are working every single day to tweak, improve and perfect every aspect of our company and products. The haters are everywhere, but we are one of the fastest growing tackle brands in history….we didn’t get here by going with the status quo. We will earn their respect. Tesla and Apple didn’t get to where they are by listening to the haters.” - Matt Baldwin, Lead Product Manager, 13 Fishing

Is the Concept Z the Tesla Model S of reels? Maybe it is more like the original Tesla Roadster which borrowed an existing platform to showcase what could be possible with the latest technology


I found it interesting that Matt also drew comparisons between 13 Fishing’s approach and Tesla. There are so many things that I found similar between the implementation of Tesla Model S and the Concept Z. Both take an existing design, in the case of Tesla the "AC Motor" and 13 Fishing the "bushing," and utilized the latest technology to elevate those designs and make them relevant again.


A look at the CZB Palm Cover Bearing after 60 days of use. There are small scratches visible under magnification but the material has held up well and continues to perform


The Model S P90D Ludicrous is really good at one thing, accelerating really fast (0-60 in 2.8 seconds), and the Concept Z really excels in one area, max casting distance. When it comes to refinement I can also draw parallels, and while I like my Model S the quality of the interior isn’t as refined as other premium vehicles retailing the same or even less. The biggest difference between the two is that the Model S, especially a performance oriented “Ludicrous” car can be ridiculously expensive while the Concept Z is actually priced for the mainstream.


Ratings: (We've re-calibrated our ratings standard for 2008 and have included a key at the bottom of the following matrix as a guide):

13 Fishing Concept Z Baitcaster Reel Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality The Concept Z is built with the same quality that we have seen from other Concept reels but has a more custom feel with that Tequila Sunrise orange paint finish. Love it or hate the finish it screams for attention for anglers to look deeper and explore the CZB design. The CZBs held up well through our tests and though a little oil was needed to make the reel as quiet and smooth as possible overall the Concept Z has proven to be a well built offering 8.5
Performance The Concept Z is an excellent caster, and when it comes to distance it can outcast most other similar priced and positioned reels by 10 feet or more which may not sound like much but is significant. It also offers a fluid retrieve with a meaty drag. It may not be as refined as some competing reels but it does come close 8.5
Price A great price for a reel that breaks from convention and offers anglers something that really feels different 8.0
Features The same features that anglers like in the Concept Series plus the innovative CZBs which make bushings cool again 8.0
Design (Ergonomics) The Concept platform has been well received by anglers and the Concept Z doesn't depart from the original design. The inclusion of the Beetle Wing rapid access sideplate is welcome and the only gripe is the cast control on these reels are still not accessible via an external knob 8.8
Application Call them bearings or bushings, the CZBs make the Concept Z a great choice for use across inshore and saltwater applications in addition to primary use as a bass reel. To make the reel even more durable 13 Fishing also implements their saltwater protection process throughout the entire reel  9.0

Total Score

Ratings Key: 1 = terrible : 2 = poor : 3 = lacking : 4 = sub par : 5 = mediocre : 6 = fair : 7 = good : 8 = great : 9 = excellent : 10 = unbelievable!
For More Details of the updated rating system visit our explanation here


Pluses and Minuses:

                 Plus                                    Minus

+ Something truly different and innovative, the CZBs use advanced polymer materials to make bushings relevant again - Does make a distinct sound when cast
+ Orange color is polarizing, and screams for attention! - Orange color is polarizing and is a bit harder to match with rods
+ Max casting capabilities - Lefty anglers only get the 7.3:1 gear ratio
+ The Bulldog Drag is both powerful and smooth  
- An effective showcase of the CZB technology, and I am sure is just the beginning of what we can expect from this technology in the 13 lineup  
+ Priced right. The Concept Z offers anglers a different experience without breaking the bank  


Conclusion: So the bottom line, do I like the Concept Z? Yes, not only do I like what the reel is and represents but I personally like the color too. That said the Concept Z isn’t for everyone, and while it isn’t the most refined baitcaster anglers should still recognize the uniqueness that the reel offers. Casting is really the hallmark feature of the Concept Z as most anglers will find that when set to match their casting preferences it can deliver an extra 10 or more feet of distance than similarly configured competing reels.


The Concept Z may not be everyone but anglers should still recognize the uniqueness that the reel offers

When I first heard that the Concept Z would be priced at only $199 dollars I was surprised how aggressively priced the reel was but at the conclusion of our tests I feel that the reel is priced right. The Concept Z is unique, and while the use of bushings in reels is nothing new 13 Fishing had the balls to invest in a design that utilizes new materials to create a reel that is not only worthy of debate, but one that excels in a number of categories and is fun to fish.

What makes the Concept Z so innovative is not just the modern day take on bushings but the fact that 13 Fishing was willing to bring this technology to market. The Concept Z is all about introducing the world to their CZB bearing design and technology and the statement the reel made to anglers was to literally rethink ball bearings. If the company had introduced another Concept reel with a mix of ball bearings and a few CZBs nobody really would have noticed but the Concept Z, a performance oriented zero ball bearing reel, was a deliberate and bold statement designed to show the world that 13 Fishing is willing to take chances and defy industry convention.


The Concept Z may not live up to all aspects of the hype but it does deliver in a number of areas including max casting distance and durability. This reel makes bushings not only relevant again but gives 13 Fishing a new tool for future reel design. Bringing this reel to market was innovative in itself

Doing things differently, the introduction of something new, is really the definition of innovation and if you are an early adopter, like to try different things, or simply want an orange reel that can outcast just about everything else at the same price point, the Concept Z is worth the $200 dollar price of admission.

So what’s next for 13 Fishing’s CZBs? If the Concept Z was a showcase, a launch platform, I really would not be surprised if they introduce new reels featuring CZBs, either alone or in combination with traditional bearings, to improve performance attributes especially in saltwater or big bait applications. The industry already has an incredible array of quality bearings to select from including ceramic, ceramic hybrid, stainless, supertuned high spin bearings, and now 13 Fishing has one more choice in their arsenal with the CZBs which can be installed in combination with these traditional bearing choices to maximize performance and durability in their upcoming reels, and I’m looking forward to see just how far 13 Fishing is willing to push the envelope.


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