Tuesday, January 13

Felt AR Review

Snipped from Joel P. from Felt:

Okay, I know I promised this a while back, but the holidays took over, and, well, I got busy...deal with it. :-) So here's a quick review I put together on the AR I had in my hot little hands for over two weeks. ...

Felt’s AR (Aero Road) series of bikes is really a blend of the F-Series and Z-Series as far as geometry, but adds aerodynamics to the equation like no other road bike in the world (not an overstatement!). Obviously, the foundation of the design comes from Felt’s triathlon bike line led by the DA, but it’s not just a copy, they simply used that design as a starting point.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first and talk about the aero properties of the AR. I could probably give you all sorts of mumbo jumbo about the bike, but let me just relay two important pieces of information that should enlighten us all about how aero this bike is (I’m not sure I’m suppose to quote the first numbers, but what the heck, I sell a lot of bikes for Felt!). First, if you take an average road bike into the wind tunnel, it would produce about 1000 grams of drag (I’m simplifying the numbers here because I'm a simple guy). Cervelo makes a fine carbon aero road bike in the SLC, and in the tunnel it reduces drag down to approx 850 grams, which is a very nice reduction. The AR, however, doubles that down to 700 grams! That’s a significant difference. How does that relate to real world applications? Well, that’s tough to answer as there are so many factors involved, but this is the analogy I’ve been shown: in order to negate the aero advantage the AR gives you, approx 2400 grams of weight would have to be added to the bike to slow it down to equal an average road bike – that’s about five pounds ladies and gentlemen. How much would it cost you to take five pounds off your bike?! This is why I think aero is so much more important than weight, and why I think this industry over-sells lightweight everything. I'll take aero over weight any day.

Aero is all good, but how did the bike ride? To answer that, I think we should look at the bike’s geometry, but first a little background noise. Let’s face it, virtually every new bike from every manufacturer is great right out of the box, and of course I really like the ride of the AR. The days of poorly designed and built bikes is a thing of the past for the mainstream manufacturers, and I think all the arguing about which bike is stiffer, lighter, better riding blah, blah, blah is really just nitpicking or personal preference/fanfare. I always tell people who are looking to purchase a bike that they should first narrow their search down to bikes that fit their budget, and, more importantly, fit them. Once those two things are taken care of, you let your heart take over and get the bike you want. Still, there are two things that manufacturers have figured out (or really, rediscovered) over the last few years: there’s such a thing as too light, and there’s such a thing as too stiff. Ride quality and performance is what matters. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that some manufacturers never forgot this important point. Colnago and Look, to name a few of the few, never really gave in to the lightweight or overly stiff bike craze. Both have continued to build high quality bikes that are both light and stiff, but their focus is always on performance and quality of ride – neither are forsaken in the name of weight or stiffness. I’m not saying Felt did forget, in fact their engineers have always been quick to point out to me that there is such a thing as too much lateral stiffness when I say I want the stiffest front triangle I can get, and I’ve found them to be correct (but I still love my F1 Sprint!). What I’m getting at, though, is that the best way to describe the ride of an AR is to say it’s very “Euro” in its geometry and ride.

The AR is not quite as aggressive as the F-Series Felt’s, nor is it as relaxed as the Z-Series. F-Series are long and low up front, sometimes requiring the rider to choose a size smaller than what they think. It’s a quick-steering, very American criterium design that rewards the aggressive rider who likes to accelerate quickly and charge into corners. The Z-Series is a very typical relaxed geometry bike – long wheelbase for sure handling, and a tall head tube for those seeking less aggressive positioning (though you can go low up front if you desire). It’s a highly adaptable bike that many racers prefer in rough road conditions. The AR fits squarely between the two when it comes to fit. The angles are more relaxed than the F bike, but it still offers the rider as aggressive a position as he/she can handle. For me, it rode very comfortably. Fast, for sure, and the bottom bracket really let it accelerate quickly, especially when I got out of the saddle and put in a hard effort. The ride is very smooth, and it's a very sure handler without babying the rider. As I said, very “Euro” in it’s feel on the road, and it’s speed really surprised me because I was used to my F1, which never let’s you forget just how fast you’re going. The AR can really get up and move, but it’s more of a Maserati as opposed to a Lamborghini. In other words, you go fast, but it won’t beat you up doing it. In fact, I really had a hard time with the AR at first because I love my F1 Sprint so much. In the end, I think the Sprint offered me what I need as an overweight rider with a lot of power (I don’t say that in a bragging way, it’s just where I’m at right now. I can hurt you for a few seconds up a short, steep climb, but then I’m toast because I have little fitness), but the AR, I believe, is the better overall bike, and the one I’ll end up with in the end because it’s clearly faster aerodynamically, and a better ride.

So, a lot of words for a fairly simple review. It’s the fastest thing out there and rides really, really nice. What more could you want? Ah, but wait, I do have one complaint that I just can’t let go. Where is the Bayonette fork?!!!!! Seriously, this bike should have that fork as it would be faster and stiffer up front (there I go again with the front triangle thing), and I happen to know it was a matter of contention when the final decision was made on the AR’s design. In fact, I think there’s still a little grumpiness within the corridors of Felt’s headquarters over the final decision to exclude the fork, but my bet is that 2010 will see a Bayonette model…at least I hope so, I have no inside info on that (I do on some other stuff, though - you know, just to tease you a bit).

Feel free to ask any questions. I left a few things out, I’m sure. Hope this helps now that the AR4's are shipping. By the way, the AR1's have been cancelled for 2009. Felt simply can't get the parts.

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