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Felt AR Advanced review

14 Aug 2020
Verdict:

An aero bike that ticks boxes for its speed and acceleration, but overall weight holds it back at times

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£5,759
For 
Fast • Punchy • Comfortable
Against 
Heavy

I have a soft spot for bike companies named after their owners. Once upon a time it was because some old fella who smelled like hot tin and burnt tobacco made the frames, so naturally stuck his name on the down tube.

It’s why there are such wonderfully christened bikes as Hilton Wrigley, Whitaker & Mapplebeck, Leach Marathon and Pemberton Arrow (OK, so ‘Arrow’ and ‘Marathon’ are model names, but still, they’d make superb Agatha Christie characters). It’s also why Felt is Felt, named after founder Jim Felt, who started things off in 1991.

Jim has since departed, having been bought out by sports consortium Groupe Rossignol in 2017, but the company’s drive for innovation remains strong.

Felt the man was trying to perfect aero-triathlon bikes as far back as the 1980s; Felt the company has just unleashed this redesign of its AR. Aerodynamics, then, is still front and centre of the Felt masterplan. 

Angularity clarity

If you doubt Felt’s credentials for aerodynamics, consider that the Felt IA triathlon bike has won six straight Ironman World Championships.

Felt also wind-tunnel tests at the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel (which is a bit like going to the Lindt factory to mess around with truffles), has sponsored numerous pro teams, and in the AR there exists near-on five years’ R&D.

 

The last AR arrived in 2014, and as director of development Alex Soria says, ‘We identified this project about a year after that, having waited for disc brakes to be signed off as the future. Making a new bike just for the sake of it is something we never want to do, so it had to be faster.’

The result is a bewildering set of drag numbers that prove this is Felt’s fastest road bike to date, with claimed efficiency improvements under 10° yaw (conditions which Felt says riders spend around 90% of their time), ranging from 0.7% at 10° attack angle of the wind, to 9.4% at 0° yaw.

Buy the Felt AR Advanced from Felt UK here.

Yaw angles or yawn angles, I don’t think anyone will fail to be impressed by how fast this thing accelerates. Not since the Venge ViAS, which I tested back in 2016, have I been so impressed by a bike’s quickness off the mark. But just looking at the AR, it makes sense.

Side-on the bike is less flying gate and more flying door. Measuring 58mm deep, Reynolds’ AR wheels are a couple of 12-inch vinyls away from being discs, and the tube shapes, although truncated teardrop-style, are tall.

Meanwhile, the rear wheel tucks behind the seat tube via a scalloped trailing edge (hilariously nicknamed ‘fish lips’ for its flared edges); the fork legs are wide, the tessellating crown section substantial; the stem could hold pepper in an Italian restaurant, and you could sheath a sword in that seatpost. But look at the AR square-on and the bike near disappears.

 

In this, the AR feels almost dated. Tall and narrow aero-bikes seem like old news. But then again, look at the world of non-UCI governed triathlon, where a bike’s aerodynamics is almost all that matters, and tall-narrow reigns supreme.

So regardless of the aesthetics, there’s no denying this bike is devilishly quick – both off the mark and when sprinting – and cuts wonderfully through a headwind. It even deals with gusty side-on wind in a way its large surface area belies. So job done for Felt?

Aero vs weight

First and foremost, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this bike. It’s fast and fun to ride, and certainly turns heads. However, for me there are compromises I’m unwilling to make.

The overall comfort is really very good, the seatpost is effectively a hollow prong, meaning the two halves can flex independently, and it even sits in a rubber sleeve to further dampen vibrations.

But the clamping mechanism is finicky to adjust or pack down for travel, and something in me objects to having to cut little strips of clear rubber (supplied) to insert in the gap between the prongs. It seems like a way to solve a problem that shouldn’t exist.

 

However, all this I could forgive were it not for the weight. I know there’s an argument that says aero is faster than low weight, but as a rider out to have fun in any scenario, weight matters because I feel it every time I move the bike beneath me.

An 8.5kg bike is 12% heavier than a 7.6kg bike, and 7.6kg is the outside weight of what I have become accustomed to for a top-end disc bike. In short, that weight is very noticeable.

Buy the Felt AR Advanced from Felt UK here.

For me, I’d take diminished aero for a more light-footed ride, although I concede this isn’t a view shared by all, and that this was also a consideration for Felt, which felt (ha!) the compromise was worth it. Plus, there is an even more refined FRD version coming out soon (same shape, different layup), so while there aren’t yet published weight figures, it will be lighter – but also more expensive.

All told, the AR is a considered bike that is another excellent addition to the aero oeuvre. Which would be a great name for a wind-tunnel tested chocolate.

Pick of the kit


 

Rapha Cargo bibshorts, £195, Mr Porter

These aren’t even really road cycling bibshorts. With their heavier weight, water-repellent fabric and stretchy-mesh thigh pockets, the Cargos were designed more for off-road.

Yet I’ve become magnetically drawn to them for whatever kind of riding I do, and purely for reasons of comfort.

The pad just suits my old backside, the fabric stretch is compressive yet uninhibiting, and the straps are wide and sit comfortably against my skin. If I have a criticism it’s that the hems feel a bit thick, with lots of stitching.

But then the Cargos are designed for rugged adventuring, and the mesh pockets need to be supported properly at their bottoms. Don’t want to lose an energy gel.

Alternatively…


 

Back to the analogue

If you prefer the feel and ease of maintenance of mechanical shifting, the FR Advanced comes in mechanical Ultegra guise at £4,699. Both this and the Di2 version are available in this fetching blue.

 

Hold your horses

Felt does a line of no-expense-spared bikes under the moniker FRD, so if you can wait a few months and have £11,699 to spare, the Felt AR FRD promises a lighter chassis and higher-spec parts.

Spec

Frame Felt AR Advanced Ultegra Di2
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Brakes Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Chainset Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Cassette Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Bars Felt Devox
Stem AR Integrated
Seatpost AR VariMount Aero Road
Saddle Prologo Dimension T4.0
Wheels Reynolds AR 58 DB, Continental GP5000 25mm tyres
Weight 8.46kg (54cm)
Contact feltbicycles.com

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