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