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Felt F35: Best Value Road Bike.
By Tom Demerly.


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Felt bicycles aren’t a secret anymore. The company that started at the top end of the road market over eight years ago has grown to create the most powerful value- oriented line-up in road cycling.

If you are a careful comparison shopper you already know, bang for the buck, Felt leads each price category in frame specifications and component selection. The new Felt F35 is a case in point.

 


Dura-Ace STI controls on a carbon fiber reinforced handlebar.

With an enormous influx of new road and triathlon cyclists there have been greatly publicized shortages of road components in 2004/2005 season. This has been most apparent at the important $1400-$1800 price category. Value and performance seem to converge in this price range, where a consumer can expect a very high-end frame with excellent quality components that are fully “fittable” to the individual. This is the price range that makes the most sense for first time buyers. Between $1400 and $1600 you get one dollar worth of performance for every 100 cents you spend on a bike from most manufacturers. Largely, manufacturers have been specing Shimano Ultegra components in this price range.

A nice finish, carbon rear end, handmade aluminum frame and excellent component spec at a bargain price.

Felt did an end run around this and used economy of scale, good buying and plain old good engineering to bring us a bike in this price category. The new Felt F35 uses a predominantly Shimano Dura-Ace 9 speed component package, some nice upgrades such as Full Speed Ahead carbon cranks and an excellent frame with a carbon seat stay assembly and carbon fork. Add a great wheelset, carbon reinforced handlebar with CNC machined stem and a nice quality saddle and this is the category killer in the sub $2000 league.


Tubing and weld quality on the F35 is excellent.

The Felt F35 also has another interesting feature carefully hidden in its geometry chart. The bike actually features a seat tube angle steep enough to facilitate the use of aerobars for many riders, depending on their torso length. This enables the bike to do some double duty as a road bike for group rides and also as a tri bike for occasional triathlons while using aerobars. Both the 50-centimeter and 52 centimeter frame sizes sport unusually steep seat tube angles for a pure road machine. The 50-cm is 76 degrees while the 52-cm, the size I ride at 5’9”, is 75.5 degrees. While top tube lengths in these frame sizes favor the longer torso, this is steep enough to easily have a good run off the bike if you have long enough femur bones. A good bike fitter can determine if this will work for you.

Shimano Dura-Ace derailleurs with FSA Carbon Pro crankset on ISIS bottom bracket.

When we have fitted F35’s with aerobars for customers we have also been using a center-mount seatpost such as Thomson to facilitate better aerobar use. This further steepens the seat tube angle by almost ½ a degree, but does not shift weight so far forward on the bike as to compromise handling- also thanks to Felt’s longer front-center dimensions with the longish top tubes.

The short story is that this bike appears to be a better option for many riders than either the Cannondale Ironman 600 or the Quintana Roo Trueno, two bikes we have never cared for due to their fence-sitting frame geometries. The F35 is several hundred dollars more than either the Ironman 600 or the QR Trueno, but it is much more different (and upgraded) in component spec and in frame quality than it is in price. In other words, it is more than worth the extra money for those who were considering the $1100-$1300 price range.

Externally and internally butted tubes provide great stiffness and fine ride quality.

As with all Felts the heart of the bike is the frame. Using Felt’s custom drawn 7005 internally and externally butted aluminum combined with a wishbone, carbon fiber seat stay assembly the bike delivers on a comfortable ride but more than adequate bottom bracket stiffness. Most ride quality is controlled by tires, wheels and forks and Felt did a fine job of specing landing gear that soaks up the bumps while letting the frame dish out the power from the FSA carbon cranks to the rear wheel. The result is the combination of comfort and stiffness you want in a sporty road frame. It feels like a race bike but is comfortable enough for five hours in the saddle, especially when shod with the out-of-the-box Velomax wheelset and Hutchinson Carbon Comp 700 X 23c tires that come with the bike. Later year 2004 Felt F35’s have featured this newer Velomax Circuit wheelset with round spokes and sealed cartridge bearing hubs.

Shimano Dura-Ace rear derailleur.

Earlier versions of the F35 had Mavic Ksyrium Elites, which were heavier at 1770 grams and stiffer riding even with only 18 spoke front and 20-spoke rear lacing. Despite the bladed spokes of the previous Mavic wheels, the newer Velomax wheelset is actually more aerodynamic owing to their deeper 28-mm cross section rim, “V” shaped aero rim. Although it has a more durable, higher 24 spoke front and 28-spoke rear. The weight savings resulting from the upgrade from the Mavic Ksyrium Elites to the newer Velomax Circuits is not minimal. Even with the additional durability and spoke count and deeper 28-mm aero rims on the Velomax Circuits the new wheels are fully 8% lighter than the Mavic Ksyrium Elites at only 1645 grams for the new Circuits. Additionally, the change in spoke configuration and count offers a much more comfortable ride. Finally, Velomax’s quality control is second to none. The U.S. based Velomax wheel factory keeps records for every single set of wheels manufactured that records individual spoke tension for each and every spoke for every wheel they have every manufactured. Give Velomax the serial number on your wheels and they can access the precise spoke tension for every spoke on your wheel at the moment it was built. Velomax wheels are made here in the U.S., giving the manufacturer shorter lead times, lower pricing with no currency fluctuations and overall better supply. Additional minor details like the Velomax rears being built with brass spoke nipples on the drive side but alloy nipples on the non drive side and front wheel further enhance the wheel package.

The Selle Italia C2 saddle works well for most riders.

While the frame quality and unique geometry of the F35 are the best reasons to buy it, it is likely the component spec will be the dealmaker. The component package puts performance where you need it and holds the line on cost where you don’t.

The drive train on the 2004 F35 is Shimano Dura-Ace 9 speed. This includes the Dura-Ace 9 speed STI shifters, rear derailleur and front derailleur. Front and rear brake calipers are down spec’d to Shimano Ultegra, shaving a hefty amount of money off the total price of the bike, nearly $60 at retail. The difference in weight between the Dura-Ace and Ultegra caliper set is 21 grams as reported by Shimano, or a little more than an ounce. The crankset is the new FSA Carbon Pro spinning on an FSA ISIS splined bottom bracket with sealed cartridge bearings and alloy cups. All crank lengths are represented throughout the size run of frames and we have been making changes in crank lengths at no charge for individual fitting purposes. The chain is a Genuine Shimano brand 9 speed specific Ultegra chain, not a cheap aftermarket brand substitute. A nice quality, medium offset 2 bolt micro seatpost means you won’t have to change out your seatpost for the $89 upcharge to a Thomson center mount design unless you are dedicated to using aerobars on this bike.

Unique carbon fiber wishbone seatstay assembly.

As you get deeper into the component spec the equipment only gets better. Felt did not cut corners anywhere on this bike. Even the tires are the $50 retail folding versions of these fine Hutchinsons and the handlebar tape is premium gel-padded wrap instead of a cheaper synthetic cork. This is an $18 roll of handlebar tape! The Genuine Selle Italia C2 saddle will suit most riders, as it is pretty neutral and reasonably forgiving when combined with good cycling shorts and enough saddle time. Even a dissection of the cables reveals that Felt uses actual Shimano brand cables and housings as opposed to Taiwanese substitute cables and housing. Handlebars are a carbon reinforced anatomic bend with a CNC machined and forged stem.

Ultegra brake calipers keep costs down.

“It’s just a good, well put together bike with no shortcuts.” Said Felt outside sales rep Dave Koesel about the F35 spec. “This price range represents the entry point for the majority of road cyclists and triathletes into the sport, it was critical we put our best foot forward at this price and continue to make it better and better.”

Velomax Circuit hubs with sealed bearings- even lighter and stronger than Mavic.

When asked how Felt could build a bike like this at a price hundred less than some manufacturers Ultegra equipped bikes (when the F35 has Dura-Ace) Felt told us it is about buying relationships. The primary management team at Felt is the same group of designers and product managers from GT Bicycles over a decade ago. GT Bicycles enjoyed annual gross sales of $240 million dollars, one of the largest players in the industry at the time. When GT’s buyers went to Asia to source frames and components, they commanded a lot of respect with a quarter of a billion dollars in buying power. According to Felt, that buying power still exists. “Our buying ten years ago put these guy’s kids through college” said one source inside Felt. “Those relationships are still in place and so is the pricing that no other manufacturer can access at these levels. When most other companies can’t even get components, we’re running a sale on current model year bikes.”

For some Felt Bicycles may be the new kid on the block but the management and design team have been around that block many, many times.

Even with its home run component spec the best reason to buy the Felt F35 is the frame. The sturdy aluminum frame is so well made it is sold as an aftermarket upgrade as the “AC1” frameset. The seat tube of the frame starts at an external diameter of 31.8 mm at the seat collar and flares to a portly 35mm as it bear hugs the bottom bracket shell, allowing no unwanted wiggle under pedal load. As the diameter of the tube increases, so the wall thickness of the tubing decreases, holding the line on weight and ride comfort. Additionally, an unusual and elegant feature is that all Felt tubes meet at their centerline- in other words there is no off-center alignment of tubes at the welded joints. This eliminates almost all twisting forces at the joints. This is the most rigid design for two tubes intersecting, and also makes for easier, more precise alignment that, in turn, provides great handling and proven durability as well as superior, all day ride comfort.

This is a light set of tubes and parts too, with a 54cm bike just a touch over 17 pounds total according to our scale.

Riding the Felt F35 puts you in touch with what it feels like to be on the best $3500 Dura-Ace equipped road bikes- for about $1800 less. It is faultlessly stable and comfortable. The unique frame geometry means there is no toe clip overlap on any size we tried. This is a good “peace of mind” feature for entry-level cyclists. Even with a shorty pair of aero bars the bike handled with a certainty and security you find on most long front-center, 78 degree tri bikes. Climbing and descending on the F35 are also very good and cornering is sure footed although not as hair trigger as your would find on a high bottom bracket, super short wheelbase criterium bike. It is interesting that the industry has moved away from criterium style geometries in favor of more stable, comfortable bikes like the F35 that can wear a pair of aerobars with less problems than traditional road geometry.

If the Felt F35 matches your body dimensions, it is nearly impossible to make an argument for any other road bike at this price point. And with this key entry level price point being the first ticket most road cyclists line up for, I suspect there will be a lot people on clean, white F35s over the next few years. The Felt F35 is our pick for “best in category” at the sub $2500 price range.

 

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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