Felt F1

Recently Ian Williams, no relation, gave me the chance of road testing his very own, personal, Felt F1.  Wasn't sure what to expect, so before I did I decided to do a bit of homework to find out more about the bike, the company and the man behind the name.

The History
Jim Felt was a top motocross mechanic with a passion for speed, and like any motorsports person, engineering excellence.  He started Felt Bicycles in 1989 by designing and building a triathlon bike for one of his charges.  Over the years he developed his burgeoning company with many differing technical and business partners.  Today it's metamorphosised in to a giant corporation that produces 140 bike lines sold in 27 countries across the world.  Progress indeed.

Their mission statement is, "to design, develop and deliver the best bicycles in the world".  A not unadmirable objective and something you'd expect from the brash Yanks. 

Spearheading their road range is the Felt F1.  This year the Slipstream Garmin professional cycling team have chosen to race F1's over the roads of Europe and America.  Felt promised Jonathan Vaughters that he would build his team the best bikes they'd ever ridden.  Again, something you'd expect an American to say...

Garmin Chipotle have to ride Felt's as part of their sponsorship deal; so they'll obviously say they're good won't they!  The real question is, how does the Felt F1 stand up to flamme rouge scrutiny and being ridden on the roads of Jersey?  Read on to find out.

The Frame
The semi-compact frame is built as a modular monocoque, which sounds a contradiction in terms; and it's constructed from UHC (Ultra Hybrid Carbon) which again, appears to be a contradiction.  But this is a plausible solution to a complex technological problem; that of balancing torsional stiffness, lateral rigidity and overall comfort.  There's no use having the stiffest bike in the world if you're too knackered to ride it after 30 miles!

The "weave pattern" you see on the outside of the frame is not the same carbon as that on the inside of the frame.  The bit you see is 3k carbon which has many qualities, but the primary use here is for cosmetic appearance and a balancing of the qualities from the other carbon fibres used.  This is the first layer that's placed in the mould.

You often read of high-modulus carbon being the best, it is, but only for certain situations.  You wouldn't want to ride a bike built entirely of high modulus carbon, your fillings would fall out!  And you wouldn't want to ride a full-on race bike made entirely of 3k carbon.  You'd be comfortable but it'd sprint like it was made of cheese.  The designer's skill is in how they mix the carbon ingredients to maximise their qualities in all the areas they need to address.

To cut a long story short, Felt have, in my opinion, got the mix absolutely spot on.  This frame is stiff but not harsh, and comfortable but not sloppy.  It was an absolute joy to ride.

That could be down as much to the geometry and size specific mouldings as much as the material used.  A small Felt has smaller cross-sections of the main areas than a large sized frame.  Also the fillets, gussets and radii of the tube junctions are also size-specific.  This means that a small framed Felt will have the same characteristics and give exactly the same "feel" as it's larger sized brothers.

If you look at the bottom bracket area in the photo above, you'll see there isn't a straight edge in sight and how all of the space is filled to it's maximum potential.  This part of the bike is built for one purpose, stiffness and rigidity.  Yes I know that's two but the purpose is to aid climbing and sprinting.  What you can't see are the internally ribbed chain stays which also beef up this area.

The seat stays also help stiffen the rear end as they "attach" to the frame "underneath" the top tube, as you can see in the top picture.  This joint is a  wishbone set up that also acts as the rear brake mounting point. 

This short rear triangle gives a super stiff drivetrain area and cuts down the effects of rear end whip which can affect your sprinting or give an impression of  rear end steering when descending tight alpine corners at speed.  There's none of that on this bike.  It's as solid as they come.

The Front End
The head tube is just 140 mm high which is fantastic because you can really get the bars low if you need to.  Which is a great because this bike is built to corner.  With a Ritchey WCS stem and Felt carbon bars coming in at just 185g, the steering is light, accurate and quick without being nervous or twitchy.  It also tracks well in a straight line.  Which isn't as common as you might think in pro-level racing frames!

There's also a Cane Creek 1 1/8th inch headset which is a class leader as headsets go.  But to be honest I've yet to see a bad one.  The fact that they are now fit and forget items is a god-send to those of us that remember the old days!  Headsets are now a fashion accessory.  Fit your favourite one and never worry again about adjustments, speed wobbles or brake shimmy.

At the base of all this mechanical excellence is a pair (although there's just one!) of ultra light Felt 1.1 UHC Carbon forks, with a carbon steerer tube and carbon drop outs.  This is one seriously light fork. There is a slight curve to the forks which seemed to emphasise the rake and trail of the tyre contact patch.  A road ride will see if it's up to the task.

The Wheels
Almost everyone I know has a pair of Mavics.  Which tells you something.  These wheels have a massive reputation and are seen as a must-have upgrade to any bike.  On this particular Felt there was a pair of Cosmic Carbone Premiums, hugged by a pair of Michelin Pro Race 3 slicks. 

Mavics combine the best of both worlds.  They have the aero section carbon shroud to give you that high speed effortless gliding (and that fantastic whooshing when you get out the saddle) and they have an alloy braking surface.  An absolute essential when riding with people whose peloton skills may not be of the highest or for safely descending steep, log and fast mountain passes.

I always ride alloy wheels on my sportives to give me reliable braking when descending, especially in the wet and to allow room to manoeuvre when those around me are locking wheels and skidding everywhere as they slam their pads on to their carbon rims. 

These wheels are an excellent choice.  They're not the lightest and they don't spin up like Campag's Hyperons or Shamals but they're safe, reliable and an excellent compromise for all situations.

The Finishing Kit
The mandatory Dura Ace groupset was fitted and as ever worked faultlessly.  I won't bore you with the details, but the gears changed when asked and the brakes stopped admirably.  You know my opinions on the cable's aesthetics and it seems for 2009 the Shimano engineers have agreed with me.  Victory for the little man!

Ian is a little taller than me and I didn't want to drop his very nice Ritchey seatpost 1 cm in to the frame.  So I dug out the only 27.2mm seatpost I had, an old aero TT one!  So ignore that.  To which I fitted one of my Fizik Arione saddles. 

The one thing I've always been wary of is ceramic bearings.  The engineer in me tells me that they are better and I know all the reasons why.  It's just that I can't bring myself to pay 70 for a pair of FSA Jockey Wheels!!!  Ian's blinged his bike up big time.  There's little red bits everywhere.  How much difference can a jockey wheel make?

The Ride
The F1 has exactly the same frame geometry as I'm used to, so I knew I would immediately feel at home as soon as I set off on our morning's training ride.

But nothing could prepare me for the "feel" of this bike.  Before I had reached the end of our drive (it's not as grand as it sounds) I was struck by the unbelievable smoothness of the ride.  This bike just glided down the road.  It really did make me take notice of the difference.

At the end of the drive I got out of the saddle to push out on to the open road and the bike just sprung forward in an effortless surge.  I really was impressed more than I've ever been before when testing a bike; and I hadn't even got 100 metres from home! 

Now I hate the pretentiousness of some bike reviews that say "the bike went forward when I stamped on the pedals etc.."  All bikes go forward when you pedal them, even shopping bikes!  But first impressions told me that this one really did feel different.  By the end of the ride I was of the opinion that this is, without doubt, one of the nicest bikes I've ever ridden.

It was very taught yet supremely comfortable.  There was no road buzz and no harshness coming through the frame or bars.  I didn't get the chance to try it over cobbles (we do have some) but I would imagine it would just take them in it's stride.

I hate to say it but I do think these ceramic bearing jobbies make a difference.  There was no drivetrain noise and the gears just quietly and efficiently slipped in to place the instant the lever was moved. 

The frictional gains from bottom bracket (as I still call it) and rear mech bearing upgrades can only be cosmetic surely?  But I could feel a difference; honest!

Once out on the open road we looked for some hills and sharp turns to put the bike through it's paces.  As you would expect a road tester to say, I stamped on the pedals and the bike surged forwards on the climbs.  Well it did.  The short, tight  rear triangle does help the bike feel as though you're in a gear higher than you actually are when you are climbing.

When descending the bike is surefooted carves a good turn until you get right to the limit on turns of more than 90 degrees.  But I do mean right on the limit. 

The rear of the bike appears to hold the road tighter than the front.  I was going to try and dial this out with tyre pressures but didn't really have the time.  At first I thought the front fork may be flexing and allowing the bike to run wide when pushed to the absolute limit. But this didn't appear to be the case.  Looking down at the forks for flex when cornering at 30mph is something you only do when you really have to.  So once I sussed it wasn't that, I stopped doing it.

This "absolute" limit is probably way above the normal weekend warrior racing scenarios and may not make itself apparent during the normal lifetime of the bike.  So it should really be of little concern.  But now I'd found it I wanted to satisfy my curiosity so went looking for tighter and tighter (car free) corners.

It could well have been down to the wheels.  The Michelin Pro Race 3's were excellent.  Even though they were slicks they just gripped the road as though they're life depended on it.  It didn't but mine did.  And I never lost confidence in them.  The movement wasn't due to the tyre sliding it was more to do with the feeling that the wheel was steering the bike rather than me and the handlebars. 

Have you ever noticed how a supermarket trolley has it's steering axis in front of the wheel axis?  That's the castor angle and having looked at some stats it seems the Felt has a tyre contact patch slightly further back than the straight blade forked Colnago's I'm used to.  So, it drops the wheel in to the turn different than I was expecting.  Not better or worse, just different.  I was going to change the wheels to try out my theory, but again time got the better of me.

Anyway, I was having too much fun riding this bike to be messing about with equipment.  So to put this issue to bed; I think it was down to the combination of fork angle and wheel flex.  A full deep rimmed wheel like a Zipp or Bora would probably make the whole, once in a lifetime, drift, disappear.  Let's move on.

So there we have it.  A curvaceous frame that's stiff and comfortable.  A ride that's dream carpet like and a frame weight of just 900 grams.  What more could you want? 

Of all the bikes I've tested this really is one that I'd seriously consider buying myself.  I wouldn't, but the fact that it even made me consider not buying a Colnago as my next bike is the biggest tribute I can give it.

The 56 cm one tested came in right on the 6.8 kilo limit and that was with "heavy" wheels.  Now these Mavics are anything but heavy you understand but there are lighter hoops available if you're in to superlight stuff like that.  Just make sure you don't win a UCI event when riding it!

After the ride, I spent an hour cleaning the bike and just looking at all the little curves and bends on the tubes and the attention to detail and engineering design that has gone in to this bike.

Ian, who the bike belongs to, like me has an engineering bent, he's also an ex-racing driver, and also has a gorgeous wife!  The only difference between us is, he's a sublime airline pilot and I'm a gobby scouser.

Even though our personalities are poles apart, we both enjoy the finer things in life and it's no surprise that we both find this bike a fantastic machine.  You should to.  Try and get a ride on one if you can, just be prepared to put your hand in your pocket when you've finished!

In fact there's a 54cm frame for sale right here...

The Tester
What makes me think I'm qualified to write articles and critique bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.