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Real Deal
By Tom Demerly.

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 2009 Felt F75

The 2009 Felt F75 is the most advanced version of this strong, versatile "entry-plus" road bike.

Compromise can be an ugly word. It means you have to give something up, give something away in exchange for something else. In the case of an entry level bike the compromise is usually a list of excuses to justify an entry level price. Bikes at the entry level price category are typically watered down, dumbed down bikes with an emphasis on comfort to the point of pandering. The performance goes out the window when the price comes down. It’s as if bike companies hold true performance hostage until you’re willing to pay a certain ransom.

Felt bicycle rescued the hostages with a daring raid on their venerable F75 road bike. The F75 has been around for years and began to straddle the fence of a comfort/entry level bike. Like a politician trying to be all things to all people the inevitable result is compromise so great the bike will do a lot but isn’t particularly good at much.

 2009 Felt F75

A. Full Carbon Fiber Fork with Carbon Fiber Steer Tube and Crown.
B. Shimano 105 STI 10 Speed Dual Control Lever.
C. 31.8 mm Constant Taper Aerobar Compatible Ergonomic Handlebars.
D. Mavic CXP22 Rims w/dt Swiss Spokes (28) on Felt Hubs (32 spokes rear).
E. Vittoria Zaffiro Kevlar Belted Flat Resistant Tires.
F. Shimano F600 Alloy Crank w/CNC Chainrings 50/34.
G. Full Carbon Fiber Seatpost.
H. Felt 1.3 SLR inspired Saddle w/ hollow Cro-moly Rails.
I. Tektro Dual Pivot Brake Calipers w/ Koolstop Brake.
J. Shimano 105 Short Cage 10 Speed Rear Derailleur.
K. Custom molded Monocoque Carbon Fiber Seat Stay.
L. 7075 Custom Butted, Externally Shaped Aluminum Frameset.
M. Shimano 105 10 Speed Compact Specific Front Derailleur.

Felt got off the fence with the F75 for 2009: It’s a real bike now: a true high performance bike in the world of watered down compromise bikes below $2000.

The 2009 Felt F75 vaults forward in component spec and frame design with re-designed dropouts inherited from Felt’s Tour de France team frames, an all carbon fiber fork- and I mean all carbon fiber including steer tube, crown and blades, size specific head tubes tuned for ride quality and handling, new lighter, more compliant rear end design with one piece seat stay interface, butting thickness ratios trickled down from Felt’s highest end Scandium road frames, a new higher performance wheel spec (custom built and speced by Felt) and a host of other race bred upgrades. These improvements swing the bike out of the mamby-pamby category and into the real world, high performance bike category- likely the least expensive true performance bike available.

 2009 Felt F75

 2009 Felt F75

 2009 Felt F75
The carbon fiber wishbone seat stay is attached to frame size specific drop-outs, different for each frame size. This carbon fiber seat stay improves ride quality by damping road vibration.

 2009 Felt F75
The handlebars do not taper down after leaving the stem: You can securely mount aerobars on the F75. This is an impressive detail missing from other bikes in this category.

If the devil is in the details the F75 is possessed. Race ready details abound: The handlebars are aero posture, ergo bend racing bars. The top section of the bar maintains a constant 31.8 mm diameter from stem to handlebar tape enabling the use of aerobars. Many other bikes use a tapered top section bar that you can’t clamp aerobars to. Additionally, seat tube angles on the smaller frame size F75’s are aerobar compatible, enabling the rider to maintain an open torso to femur bone angle while in the aero position using clip-ons. This is an important consideration for the performance, athletic road rider who would like to keep the option of trying triathlons or duathlons open.

The head tube of the frame is internally relieved, a feature no customer will see but one that helps reduce frame weight in smaller frame sizes and improve ride comfort. The reinforced, thicker wall tubes in the larger frame sizes provide better ride stiffness and durability on bikes with longer frame tubes.

From 2008 to 2009 the F75 lost a significant amount of weight. Its weight loss program includes a change to a full carbon fiber fork with carbon steer tube and crown that weighs a scant 400 grams. The relieved head tube reduces weight. The seatpost is a true all carbon fiber post- not a faux carbon wrapped aluminum post as used on other bikes in this price category. The post is a bantam weight 175 grams. Frame weight has been reduced by the use of a size specific rear end with a one piece rear dropout design. This design means Felt must have separate dropouts with different angles for all seven frame sizes, a significant expense but a necessary one for true high performance, comfort, dependable durability and lightest weight.

 2009 Felt F75
Shimano 105 STI Dual Control 10 speed shift levers.

Another area Felt saved weight in sub-$2000 bike specifications is the wheels. The new 2009 Felt F75 uses a custom wheelset speced by Felt specifically for this bike. No stock wheelset from Shimano, Alex or other pre-built wheel vendors can match this spec: Mavic CXP22 rims built with DT Swiss Spokes on forged aluminum alloy hubs with sealed bearing in the rear. The wheels are differentially laced, 28 hole radial in the front and 32 cross three in the rear.

 2009 Felt F75
Custom built Mavic CXP 22 rims with DT Swiss Stainless Spokes, 28 spokes front, 32 rear.

All these combined weight reductions shaved the Felt F75 down to 18 pounds, an impressive figure for a carbon fiber/aluminum combination frame with a Shimano 105 component spec and custom wheels. This light weight makes the bike more responsive and agile, a quality customers always enjoy in a performance bike. The Felt F75 rides like a bike costing much more.

One of the first things you may notice about the F75 compared any other road bike below $2000 is that it does actually look like a race bike. The bike has a roughly horizontal top tube and snappy enough head tube angle to maintain good steering response. Steering is precise and responsive, not sleepy and sluggish as with the high head tube, “comfort” road bikes in this price category from other manufacturers. A lot of this owes to good weight distribution on the F75 with a mounted rider. So called “comfort” or high head tube compromise bikes that dominate this price category shift the rider’s weight onto the rear wheel. The more weight on the rear wheel the less the front wheel responds to steering input and the more pedestrian the bike feels. Felt’s race inspired frame geometry and fit on the F75 provides equitable weight distribution for sure footed handling.

If there is compromise anywhere on the bike it is in two areas I can live with: The brakes and the tires. As with any good compromise, you get something back when you give something up. Felt speced the relatively heavy Vittoria Zaffiro tire on the F75. In exchange you get great tire durability. This is a refreshing change from the traditional spec at this price point which is the Vittoria Pro Slick. The Pro Slick rides great but is short on durability. It’s beefier, more flat resistant brother, the Zaffiro, has a flat resistant Kevlar belt that means you spend more time riding and less time changing flats.

The F75 is nearly a “pure” Shimano spec bike until you get to the brake calipers. These are upgraded Tektro calipers with metal barrel adjusters and Felt custom spec Koolstop brand brake pads. Koolstop brake pads are a popular aftermarket upgrade item and $19.99. Koolstop makes the carbon fiber specific brake pads for Zipp wheels. They come stock on the Felt. We found the up spec to the Koolstop pads is a better decision than using the Shimano calipers: The pads exert more influence on the stopping power of the brake system than does the caliper. In any event, the Tektro calipers have an uncanny resemblance to the OEM Shimano non-series brake caliper Felt could have provided- but with lesser brake pads than the Koolstop shod Tektros.

 2009 Felt F75
Vittoria's Zaffiro kevlar belted, flat resistant 700 X 23c tire.
 2009 Felt F75
The Tektro Dual Pivot brakes use high end Koolstop brand pads.

 2009 Felt F75
Excellent front shifting is insured by the Shimano Crank and Chainrings.

 2009 Felt F75
Even fitting details such as size-specifc, correctly proportioned crank arms help insure an accurate fit and position.

Perhaps the single largest component upgrade on the F75 is the crank. The Shimano compact crank provides the best front shifting you will experience south of Shimano’s highest end Dura-Ace components on $5000 bikes. The chainrings, stiff crank spider and dependable front derailleur move the chain reliably from the small ring up to the big- any bike’s most difficult shift. This is a particularly important upgrade for newer road riders who don’t have the experience the finesse a finicky drivetrain. Because of the Shimano crank on the F75 you will always have dependable front shifting.

The transmission on the F75 is Shimano 105. When new riders do research on components they find the best value component group is Shimano’s tried and true 105 10-speed. This is the go-to new rider’s performance component kit. Shimano 105 has been consistently updated for more than a decade and incorporates many features trickled down from previous Dura-Ace components like the cog shift ramp design and derailleur actuation along with the way the Shimano 105 STI shift levers work. From shifter to rear derailleur the F75 uses the latest version of Shimano 105 10-speed. The rear derailleur is the short cage version of 105 delivering the fastest, close-ratio rear shifting performance available at this price.

 2009 Felt F75
Shimano's venerable 2009 105 10 speed short cage rear derailleur, the best shifting version of the 105 derailleur.

 2009 Felt F75
This is the taper in the seat tube as it transitions toward the bottom bracket improving stiffness and ride quality.
 2009 Felt F75
The tubeset is custom butted with size specific butting placements, wall thicknesses and tapers.

Overall construction of the F75 frame is custom butted 7075 aluminum with a carbon fiber wishbone seat stay assembly. “Custom” butted means the tubes varying in wall thickness over their length using transitions specified by Felt. The butting, differential of thickness and location of the butting is different in each frame size. The carbon fiber wishbone seat stay adds some weight to the F75 but increases shock absorption enough to notice as compared to an all aluminum frame. You simply don’t feel the bumps as much with the carbon rear end. Add the all carbon fiber fork and the carbon fiber seatpost and you have carbon where you need it, aluminum where you don’t want to pay for it.

Talk to any experienced cyclist and they will say "Pay attention to frame quality when buying". Components are upgradeable at minimal cost but the frame is the heart of the bike. Felt put significant emphasis on frame quality with meticulous weld quality usually seen on expensive custom bikes. The attention paid to the frame adds significant value to the F75. Again, this is a real bike with a beautifully made frame and the ride quality you'd expect from a high end frame. No excuses here: Great comfort, stiffness, light weight and durability. It is a very good integration of frame design and construction elements.

Riding the F75 is like getting a free cup of really good coffee: It’s a nice surprise, invigorating and less expensive than you’d think. There is a joke among the guys in the store, “Never let a guy buying a $3500 road bike ride an F75. If he did, we’d have some explaining to do…” The ride of the new Felt F75 is that good. Most of what makes the F75 work well is very basic: Good frame geometry and proportions. There are seven sizes in the F75 with tubing and angles tuned specifically for each size bike. Every component on the F75 has been proven as a viable after market component. It’s all proven, all functional, all workmanlike. The F75 is not a new bike but the 2009 version has renewed the direction of the model. Even the new color scheme, after years of being a black bike, has adopted a race-bred graphics story and a vibrant new color palette that exudes speed and performance. This isn’t a lame bike.

 2009 Felt F75

 2009 Felt F75

 2009 Felt F75
Excellent frame workmanship is evident at the welds. Frame details abound such as the cable housing protectors on the head tube and the modular/replaceable seat post binder collar.

It isn’t difficult to make a bike handle well, corner with a sense of control, have good bottom bracket stiffness and nice comfort after five hours and provide solid, repeatable mechanical dependability. Other bike manufacturers simply chose not to. They have decided to chase a different market, believing that new triathletes, racers and athletic riders buy bikes above $2000. Judging by their 2009 line ups, most bike companies believe buyers under $2000 want high handlebars, short top tubes, upright positions, gel saddles and bikes that handle like a loaded wagon. While there is a place for the geriatric, upright, high handlebar “comfort road” bike the high price of valid performance bikes have kept a lot of new riders off really nice equipment. The F75 changes that by offering a genuine performance road bike well below $2000.If all you do is tour coffee shops and bakeries on Sunday mornings the F75 isn’t your bike. If you’re interested in staying in the Wednesday night club ride, trying a triathlon but also trading fast pulls at the front of a group ride including a couple spirited corners and accelerations then you are better off on an F75 than a dumbed down “comfort road” bike.

The F75 is a bike we’ve bought for years and the 2009 version is a welcomed and exciting upgrade and a move in the right direction for the bike. While most bikes below $2000 pander to a transient fitness cyclist who is not likely to explore the sport extensively the F75 is a valid entry to performance cycling that doesn’t talk down to the new rider. After years of looking for its niche in the market the F75 has now become the performance aspiring rider’s real deal.

 2009 Felt F75
Felt's F75 is reborn for 2009, more defined and upgraded than any previous version.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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