Felt F4 Bike Test
Felt Bicycles may not have a huge presence in the UK, yet, but this is set to change as the bikes are now the choice of Team Slipstream, which, with David Millar and Magnus Backstedt onboard, is set to light up the peloton this year.
Founder Jim Felt can boast of having acquired a lot of expertise before committing his name to a range of bikes. Originally starting out in motocross as a mechanic for a top rider for whom he built a triathlon bike for training purposes, Felt then took his cycling know-how to Easton, building frames for some top athletes (including top MTBer John Tomac, before separating and setting up Felt Bicycles.
The Felt name applies to bikes of all disciplines, but its F series are intended for racing cyclists. With eight F series bikes to choose from, there's something for all wallets, but the middle-rung £1,700 F4 represents great value for money. RCUK went in for a closer look…
The frame is striking to look at. With its unique design approach it certainly stands out, whether on the shop floor or in the peloton. The frame, finished in nude carbon with bold white decals, split opinions – I’ll stand in the ‘I like it’ camp. But it’s under the lacquer that the really interesting stuff is occurring.
The F4 – and all the F series frames – are built using Felt’s Modular Monocoque Method. Simply, it means that Felt moulds the front triangle, seat stays and chainstays separately as 'monocoques', then bonds these three parts together. Additional layers of carbon are applied to the joins, such as in high stress areas as the head and downtube junction.
This approach allows Felt complete control over the optimising of each frame section. Another upshot is that the carbon lay-up, tube diameters and wall thicknesses can be tailored for each of the six sizes available (from 50cm to 60cm), meaning each frame is optimised for its size and likely rider build.
To ensure incredible stiffness, Felt have included a carbon fibre ‘rib’, extending from the chainstays and wrappring around the bottom bracket shell, beefing up this area. Further stiffening of the bottom bracket area is helped with the seat tube swooping backwards to meet the box section chain stays way behind the bottom bracket.
The traditional horizontal top tube flares up at the seat tube junction, providing a large contact area, and the monostay seat stays meet the seat tube a good few inches below the top tube – giving the frames their signature identity. The performance benefits of this design are questionable, but it does mean the bikes are easy to spot in a peloton.
3D cold-forged dropouts are used to keep the weight down and avoid any loss of stiffness at this vital junction. Felt also design their own fork, which is an all carbon affair that matches the frame. All the F series frames get the same semi-compact race geometry, with short head tubes (140mm on the 56cm model) keeping the front end low.
It’s mostly an all Shimano Ultegra SL groupset except for the long-reach brake callipers, which Felt seem to like speccing on their bikes. Backing up the bike's intentions for ‘owning’ the race circuit is a 53/39t chainset and 11-25 cassette – not a wise choice for getting up Mow Cop in the Cheshire Cat, but fine everywhere else.
Finishing kit is mostly Felt branded stuff, with the stem, seatpost, saddle and handlebars baring the logo. Felt choose to fit different length cranks and handlebar widths depending on the size of bike, which is a nice touch. Personal preference however required a change to narrower (42cm) bars for testing, as well as a saddle swap to something that aims to be comfortable.
Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels aren’t anything to shout home about, but the 24/28 spoked wheels are reasonably taut and resist some deflection. They didn’t however make it though the test period without the rear wheel developing some play in the bearings. And at over 1.8kg for the pair, they won’t win any awards for lightweight. If I was buying this bike I would look at a wheel upgrade within time. The Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres revealed no faults, being fast and grippy.
Expectation was divided before the inaugural test ride, but following a change of bars and saddle, the bike immediately impressed. Felt make no bones about this bike's race intentions, so it was no surprise to discover the bike was fast, sprightly, stiff, quick handling and responsive. Breakneck speeds are easily obtainable from the frame, which displays very little twist or deflection, and when at race speed the bike settles down into a rock solid groove, providing the perfect platform from which to launch winning attacks.