No one ever launches a new bike and says, ‘It’s heavier, flexier and less comfortable!’ All launch speeches typically follow the same script. Through incredible research and innovation, painstaking engineering and tireless passion brand x has not only made their new bike lighter, stiffer, more compliant and, these days, more aero they have created a revolutionary new bike that redefines the category.
It’s safe to say these type of announcements are greeted with a fair amount of healthy skepticism and with that skepticism in hand we attended Felt’s 2014 product launch at their headquarters in Irvine, Ca. As the presentation got under way we heard the same kind of rhetoric, the same catch phrases – ‘formula one technology’ ‘our pro teams are about product development, not marketing’ ‘wind tunnel’ ‘CFD’ ‘FEA’ and yes, of course, ‘lighter, stiffer, more compliant’.
What was different, what was surprising, was the palpable sense of pride everyone from Felt exuded. While the script may have been the same, the emotion coming from this small company in Irvine was obvious. This was not a launch as usual for Felt. The products they were about to show us were much more than part of a typical product cycle. According to their numbers, they had made big leaps, they had vastly exceeded what they had done before and they were dripping with anticipation. Felt could not wait to uncover the new bikes and one bike in particular was the focus of this pride and excitement – the 2014 Felt FRD AR, their new aero road bike.
Felt’s aero credentials are well vetted. Jim Felt was welding up some of the first aero bikes ever made for triathletes in the 80′s and their original AR was one of the first aero road platforms. According to Felt, this new AR mops the floor with the old bike. In fact, according to Felt, it mops the floor with every other aero road platform. They base this on their own testing, which they are quick to point out was as neutral as is humanly possible in the black arts of aero quantification. What we have not seen are the numbers from these tests. Felt engineers tell us this is because they were so startling they are being legally vetted for the tech crazy German market before they can be released, but they will be released.
What did Felt do that created such an aero bike and created buzz and pride within the company? It starts with their FRD program. Felt Racing Design was created to take the financial and time restrictions off development. Simply put, do what it takes to get maximum results, whatever the goal.
With the Felt AR this manifested itself in two main ways. The wind tunnel was a development tool, not a test tool and new material partners were discovered. Instead of developing the frame using computational fluid dynamics and then heading to the wind tunnel see how they did, Felt was on cycle of CFD, rapid prototype and wind tunnel test of specific tube shapes or frame joint before a complete frame was ever made. The goal was to scrape every gram of drag possible from the frame. They aren’t the only cycling company working this way, Zipp for instance used a similar process to create the Firecrest rim shape. But there are only a handful of companies with these capabilities.
The bike does away with traditional airfoils, like the other new breed aero road bikes, in search of shapes that deliver in cross winds and help create a light and lively frame. They are wider and more rounded, but not fully truncated like a Madone or Foil. The frame is essentially as aerodynamic as their DA time trial frame. They claim it can create thrust, like a sail, in significant real world yaw angles. This phenomenon was first recorded in cycling at very steep wind angles by Zipp and their 808.
Filed under the heading, ‘cake and eat it to’ are ride characteristics equal to their F-Series road bikes. The AR is 40% stiffer then their previous aero road platform yet hovers around the 900gram mark. This was achieved thanks to a strategic and exclusive partnership with Textreme. Textreme composites are called Spread Tow fabrics and look on the surface Iike a very wide weave but without the crimping normal weave suffers from. Textreme fabrics create the stiffness of a high mod fabric with the strength of lower modulus due to the fabrics inherent structure. Where Felt would use two layers of unidirectional fabric due its propensity to peel like string cheese, they can use a single layer of Textreme. They basically replaced the 30ton fabric a frame normally uses with Textreme and retained the ultra high modulus 60ton for lightweight and stiffness. The cost associated with this is significant. A typical frame takes seven square meters of fabric, in the FRD AR three of those square meters are Textreme, and those three square meters cost more than the original seven square meters of traditional carbon.
To handle the aero bikes traditionally lousy comfort characteristics Felt rethought the seat post. Aero shapes hate to flex front to back, and this is precisely what you want from your seat cluster for comfort. To create it Felts AR post clamps from the inside out so it doesn’t have to resist crushing force at the collar. This allowed them to make it thin, light and split right down the middle. It creates more compliance than the F series bike’s as it compresses down the middle under impact. It also weighs only 130grams. To add convenience the post head works with both round metal rails and oval carbon rails and can be fitted with 3T’s elastomer inserts for even more dampening.
The FRD influence has been felt by the F-Series bikes as well. Textreme fabric has been used to make the F-FRD, the bike Argos Shimano rode at the Tour, and according to Felt, it is the new stiffness-to-weight ratio King. Of course, Cervelo, Cannondale and Scott all make the same claim. Like the aero claims about the AR, we will be keeping a shape eye out for the publishing of those test results. Additionally we will be getting our hands on a review bike very soon, after all, none of this matters if it doesn’t translate to the real world application. But, if the pride and emotion the team at Felt feel about is bike is any indication, it’s going to be one hell of a fun bike to ride.
For 2014 Felt’s AR line will consist of five models, with only the top of the range FRD AR using Textreme material.
AR FRD Shimano Di2 9070 $12500
AR2 Shimano Ultegra Di2 $6200
AR3 Campagnolo Athena EPS $5150
AR4 Shimano Ultegra $3500
AR5 Shimano 105 $2500
AR FRD Frame Kit $4000 AR1 Frame Kit $2500