Hot-pressed, laboratory-made, ZrO2-based composites with 40 vol. % WC, TiCN or TiN were surface finished by electrical discharge machining in order to compare their reciprocating sliding friction and wear response against WC-6wt%Co cemented carbide in unlubricated conditions. Sliding experiments were performed using a Plint TE77 pin-on-flat wear test rig, revealing a strong impact of the secondary phase on the tribological behaviour of the ZrO2-based composites. The worn surfaces and wear debris were characterised by scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray analysis and surface topography scanning, pointing out abrasion, polishing and adhesion as main wear mechanisms. The most favourable friction and wear characteristics were encountered with ZrO2-WC composites compared to the other grades with equal amount of volumetric secondary phase. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.