The Felt "F" Series frame in use at the 2008
Tour de France.
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
“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
“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.
The fully molded carbon fiber "F" series
has been upgraded every year since its conception in
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.
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
of SRAM Double Tap shifters is fully 32% lighter (than
The Double Tap offset provides excellent ergonomics,
comfort and shorter shifting actuation.
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.
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.
Complex shapes improve stiffness and ride quality on
|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.
An ovalized bottom bracket improves stiffness for accelerations
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ride comfort has been increased, stiffness maintained
and weight reduced on the new generation 2009 F3SL frameset.
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.