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2009 Felt F3SL.
By Tom Demerly.

 

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL

The Felt "F" Series frame in use at the 2008 Tour de France.

First out of the gate with 2009 product, Felt has broken away from other bike manufacturers with a solo attack on pricing and component spec with the new 2009 F3SL, the only SRAM Red (mix) complete bike below $5000.

This is Felt’s first year in the Tour de France with the Garmin-Chipotle Slipstream H30 team. It signals an arrival for Felt Racing. Felt got their start in high-end, hand made racing machines the same year another American stunned the Tour de France by winning in the final time trial into Paris: 1989. Jim Felt was working on tubing designs for motorcycle manufacturers and began building hand made, one-off time trial frames for elite athletes. The frames went on to win Ironman triathlons and time trial championships. Athletes like Ken Souza, Paula Newby Fraser, Scott Tinley, Greg Welch, Tim DeBoom and others scored major victories on Felt hand made bicycles- some before the brand was even available to consumers. Felt’s first major professional road race team was Team Nutra-Fig based in California.

“Felt got their start in high-end, hand made racing machines…”

Felt’s success in racing has never waned, it has only grown. It took a partnership with industry leader Bill Duehring to bring the racing lineage and focus to the consumer. Felt President Bill Duehring worked in a bicycle shop as a child and grew up in the industry. He recognized the unique, niche-authenticity of the Felt brand and saw an enormous opportunity to leverage Jim Felt’s designs into a consumer product. With the leadership of Bill Duehring, Jim Felt concentrated on frame designs that lead the industry in innovation and performance. As Felt grew they assembled a team of authorities in design, testing and manufacture- especially composite manufacturing- and component acquisition that is unrivaled in the U.S. bicycle industry.

Felt was one of the first manufacturers to introduce a functional molded carbon fiber frame at attainable prices in 2004. The design was based on tube shapes developed by Easton and has been refined every year since its introduction as Felt’s highest end bike, The F1C. Felt has always developed from the top down, with higher value bikes borrowing relevant technology from flagship bikes pushing $10K in some cases. Felt compared to other brands is a technology/value “sweet spot” in the industry.

“Felt is a technology/value “sweet spot” in the industry.”

The 2009 Felt F3SL typifies this sweet spot. Dave Koesel, Road Brand Manager for Felt Bicycles, said he “looked at every legitimate manufacturer” when he designed the component specifications for the F3SL.

“The least expensive bike I could find with SRAM Red anything was $5000”

Koesel tested components in the real world to configure a performance/value relationship that may be impossible for other brands to approach. On the F3SL with a projected 2009 retail well below $4000 Koesel and Felt bested the industry by over 20% on price alone.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL

The fully molded carbon fiber "F" series has been upgraded every year since its conception in 2003.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL - Carbon Fiber Fork

Felt's 1.3 U.H.M. (Ultra High Modulus) fork uses an all-carbon fiber steer tube to save weight.

The F3SL starts with a molded, monocoque carbon fiber fork. This is a significant improvement over other bikes in this price range since the entire fork except the dropouts is molded carbon fiber: The steer tube, the crown and the blades. This has reduced weight, improved durability and ride comfort. Felt deserves credit here since a heavy, metal steer tube is an easy compromise for bike companies to “hide” on a bike since consumers can’t see it when they buy the bike and usually don’t know to ask. Felt’s all-carbon monocoque fork adds significant performance and value to the F3SL and helps account for some of the incredibly light weight of the bike in this (or any) price category. Our complete 54cm Felt F3SL bike weighed 16.2 lbs on our scale out of the box.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL SRAM Double Tap shifter/brake levers

SRAM's bullet-fast Red Double Tap shifters.

The SRAM Red regalia on the F3SL begins with their Double Tap shifter/brake levers. Double Tap shifters are inspired by paddle shifters in Formula 1 race cars. The shifters have superb ergonomics and incredibly short throw. Your hand feels natural and well supported on the hoods. The shifter paddle can be pulled fully rearward to the handlebar and shifts crisply with little movement, a unique feature for ultra-quick shifts in the drops or on the hoods. Having ridden nearly a year on SRAM Red this reviewer can tell you nothing in the industry shifts to a bigger gear faster and more precisely than SRAM Red Double Tap. The ergonomics of the Double Tap levers achieve a new level of comfort and performance. Every hand position on the levers in an improvement on previous dual control lever designs from Campagnolo and Shimano. SRAM Red’s Double Tap ergonomics are such an improvement over the status quo that Shimano and Campagnolo are scrambling to introduce new shifter designs to compete with SRAM Red. Shifting to an easier gear (moving “up” the cogset) with the SRAM Red Double Tap is so fast and smooth it will actually require practice to achieve precision. Like Shimano’s STI dual control levers you move down the cogset one very rapid (much faster than Dura-Ace) shift at a time but you can shift up the cog to an easier gear a few cogs at a time. Double Tap is hair-trigger- if you muscle it you’ll shift up half your cogset and not know what gear you’re in. Like a musical instrument, it takes a couple sessions to learn- and once you learn it your shifting will be faster. I learned SRAM Red’s unique Double Tap shifting pattern climbing from Longmont to Jamestown in Colorado’s Front Range. Once you ride SRAM Red Double Tap other shifters feel broken. While the rest of the SRAM Red kit is packed with exciting features and benefits, the F1 inspired, lightening fast, ultra-light Double Tap shifters may be the best reason to own it. If superior ergonomics and shifting don’t do it for you perhaps the 32% weight savings over Dura-Ace will. A pair of Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 series 10-speed STI levers weighs 410 grams: A pair of SRAM Double Tap shifters is fully 32% lighter at 280 grams. The SRAM Red spec improves shifting, saves a lot of weight and adds value at this price category making the F3SL a solid value.


“A pair of SRAM Double Tap shifters is fully 32% lighter (than Dura-Ace)…”

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  SRAM Double Tap shifter/brake levers

The Double Tap offset provides excellent ergonomics, comfort and shorter shifting actuation.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  alloy bar

Constant diameter 31.8 mm handelbars and four bolt stem: Aerobars clamp securely.

Felt paid attention to detail on the F3SL with the handlebar spec. It is noteworthy that almost no Tour de France professional team is using carbon fiber handlebars- in 2007 there were none- they all use lightweight aluminum alloy handlebars. Felt’s F3SL is spec’d with an alloy bar that has the detailed benefit of a continuous diameter about 5cm on either side of the stem. You can clamp aerobars on these handlebars securely- the bar does not taper where the aerobars would clamp. While aerobars would normally be a no-no on a road bike Felt’s steep-ish seat tube angles in their smaller sizes actually lend themselves to aerobar adaptation making the F3SL even more versatile. The cockpit is completed with a four bolt, front plate stem that clamps reliably at 5 nm of torque in an “X” pattern per bolt.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  enuine Gore Ride-On ultra low friction cables and housings

Felt uses genuine W.L. Gore & Associates Ride-On cable housings on the F3SL right out of the box. Note the frame/cable bumper.

Again, details abound on the F3SL: Felt uses genuine Gore Ride-On ultra low friction cables and housings right out of the box- not a cheap, generic substitute. The cables and housings use poly-tetra fluoro ethelene (P.T.F.E.) invented by Dr. Roy J. Plunkett at DU Pont's Jackson Laboratory. This P.T.F.E. cable coating has the “Lowest coefficient of friction among all known metals & nonmetals” according to manufacturer’s references. This P.T.F.E. coating also contributes to SRAM Red’s fast shifting compared to other manufacturers. A final detail is a small Felt logo’ed cable housing bumper that protects the frame from cable housing abrasion and the rider from the annoying sound of a cable rattling against a head tube on rough roads.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  frame

Complex shapes improve stiffness and ride quality on the F3SL.

As with all Felts the frame is cornerstone of the bike. Felt’s F3SL is their most evolved, molded carbon fiber frame. Original Felt carbon frames dating back to 2003 used exclusively Toray brand carbon fibers. Felt now sources carbon fibers of various properties from a number of vendors. The combination of these different fibers produces the strength, stiffness, light weight and incredible comfort carbon fiber frames are known for. Felt’s Director of Engineering, Jeff Soucek, has changed the material properties of the Felt carbon fiber road fuselage to reduce weight, improve durability and build in more comfort. Each frame size Felt F3SL uses a different composite configuration and lay up. The larger frames are “tuned” using different lay-up, materials and dimensions to build in much needed stiffness in the big frames. Small frame sizes have greater comfort and need less stiffness since the frame tubes are shorter.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL - bottom bracket

An ovalized bottom bracket improves stiffness for accelerations and climbing.

Felt uses a complex array of changing shapes to achieve their design goals on the F3SL. The bottom bracket flares for stiffness and the “ramped” top tube enhances shock absorption. The head tube union is complex and ever changing along the length of the tubes- an elegant and complex equation for lateral stiffness and vertical comfort.

 

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  SRAM F900 carbon fiber crank

SRAM's F900 Crankset is used by pros in the Tour de France in combination with the SRM powermeter.

Felt uses the SRAM F900 carbon fiber crank on the F3SL, a Tour de France proven crank that is seen in the pro peloton with an SRM Powermeter integrated into the spider. This is combined with new SRAM chainrings for enhanced front shifting performance and, of course, the SRAM Red front derailleur. The bike comes out of the box with a 130 mm bolt circle diameter (BCD) and 53/39 chainrings. Want to switch quickly to a 50/34 compact crank for the high, steep mountains? No problem: The SRAM Red front derailleur is designed with two mounting positions: One high for 130 mm full sized cranks, and another one low for 110 mm BCD compact cranks. Again: details.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  rear wishbone assembly

Felt controlled costs with the Rival brake that uses the same geometry as the Red brake but no titanium hardware.

If your road bike fits you correctly and your position is good then 53% of your weight rests on the rear wheel. That accounts for the most complex shape on the bike: The rear wishbone assembly. The rear stay/seat tube union is a complex amalgam of converging curves and sinewy shapes that make the seat stays effectively very short for stiffness- as in out of the saddle accelerations, cornering and climbing- and vertically very isolated from the road shock coming off the rear wheel. This also improves braking by making the brake mounting point unyielding and stiff while maintaining ride comfort.

Felt speced the SRAM Rival brake calipers on the F3SL as a cost-control tactic. You lose the titanium hardware from the SRAM Red calipers but keep the stopping power, sprightly return springs and full range of adjustments. The brakes are stiff and powerful. The Rival brake uses the same geometry as the Red brake.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  binder collar

The modular, replaceable seatpost binder collar and graduated seatpost are real world amenities.

Felt includes a graduated seatpost and simple, non-integrated (read: replaceable) binder collar that clamps with 5 nm of torque. The treasure of the post may be the positive clamping, dual bolt seatpost head which is easy to adjust and stays tight with little torque. If you don’t think this is a big deal ask your shop mechanics about some other seatpost head designs that are complex and awkward to adjust. The Felt clamp bolts are a joy to work with.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -  dual bolt seatpost head

You won't appreciate the simplicity of the seatpost clamp until you use other brands that are complex and fumbly to adjust.

SRAM's superb Red rear derailleur features "Direct Actuation", carbon fiber cages, ceramic bearings, easy to use adjustments and feather weight.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL - SRAM Red rear derailleur

A Rival cogset is splined onto the Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheelset.

The 1770 gram Ksyrium wheelset is proven on bikes at over twice the price of the F3SL.

The F3SL completes its SRAM Red Ensemble with the SRAM Red rear derailleur. The SRAM Red rear derailleur is a wish list of rear derailleur features: The guide and tension pulleys rotate on ceramic bearings for ultra-low friction; the cage plate is beautiful lightweight carbon fiber along with the inner link, the barrel adjuster is easy to grasp and turn even when coated with chain lube. The limit screws are logical and easy to understand. The parallelogram spring- the spring that retracts the derailleur controlling shifting force and speed- is titanium. There is another weight saving here accounting for the overall light weight of the F3SL: The SRAM Red rear derailleur is 15% lighter than Shimano Dura-Ace 7800, 153 grams for SRAM Red vs. 180 grams for Dura-Ace.

The wheelset Is Mavic’s proven, time honored Ksyrium Equipe, the second highest level of Ksyrium wheel. The 24 mm deep rims have 18 front and 20 rear stainless steel straight pull spokes at high tension for strength and bladed for high speed aerodynamics. The front wheel is a radial pattern while the rear wheel uses Mavic’s reinforced “isopulse” Pattern for improved comfort and lateral stiffness. Ksyrium Equipes are reasonably light- but not the lightest wheelset at 1770 grams per pair. They do have torture-test durability and are at home on any U.S. road including the rather nasty ones. This wheelset can be used by heavier riders due to the forged/hammer-hardened H2 spoke holes in the rim and straight pull spokes- no bends in the spokes where a normal spoke would typically fail. This is a wheelset we’re putting on bikes at nearly $8000- it’s that nice.

Straight pull spokes increase strength and durability on the Ksyrium Equipe.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -

Ride comfort has been increased, stiffness maintained and weight reduced on the new generation 2009 F3SL frameset.

Bikesport - 2009 Felt F3SL -

SRAM's Double Tap shifters are inspire by race and performance car paddle shifters like this one.

The drivetrain on the 2009 F3SL is completed with SRAM’s OG-1070 11-25 ten speed cogset using their OpenGlide tooth pattern. This is roughly a SRAM Rival level cogset so it is a trifle on the heavy side, on par with a Shimano Ultegra or 105 cogset. Felt saved about $150 here to keep total bike price down. The shifting is perfect- quiet and crisp. The cogset is partially hollowed out to reduce some weight. It’s utterly unfair to compare this to the SRAM OG 1090 Red cogset, but it is worth mention as a very nice upgrade- albeit a costly one. If you decide to upgrade to the extremely nice SRAM Red OG-1090 cogset it will cost you an extra (approx) $150 and save you 66 grams. The SRAM Red cassette is 29% lighter but 66% more expensive. You save some hefty weight by upgrading but you pay a premium. Most riders will do just fine with the stock cogset. The chain is a relatively unremarkable SRAM ten speed chain that has great durability and holds up with even ugly cross-over gear shifts under load as long as you don’t go too nuts.

The first thing I thought when riding the F3SL was how nice the frame is. I own a road bike over twice the price of the F3SL- with exactly the same wheelset- and honestly the ride quality is impossible to differentiate. Comfort on the F3SL may even be a tick nicer than on my bike but at less than half the cost. I love the fit on the F3Sl since the cockpit feels longish and in the smaller frame sizes we have steeper seat tube angles. If a triathlete is buying a road bike for group rides but may want to ride the road bike with aerobars on super-technical courses the F3SL is tailor-made due to the steeper seat tube angle in the 52cm and 54 cm frame sizes.

Very few road bikes are ride and race ready out of the box when compared to machines used by the top professional teams, and the F3SL is one of those rare exceptions. Felt used years of refinement and experience with their “F” series carbon fiber fuselage and a great mix of pro-level components to keep the pricing low. As of first week of July in 2008, the new 2009 Felt F3SL was being quoted at $3599 initial MSRP. Felt has joined other bike manufacturers in saying the price will increase even during fall due to a host of factors including raw materials, freight and fuel costs and everything else associated with an inflationary economy. That being the case, if you want an F3SL and you want a good price, sooner is better than later. I loved the F3SL for both its frame and mostly its great component spec but the real reason to get excited about the 2009 F3SL is that if you act fast; you can get a nice value in a well conceived, high performance road machine.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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