Felt AR3 Bike Review
Guy Kesteven tested the Felt AR3 aero road bike (£3,700) for Issue 26 of Triathlon Plus magazine and found an outstandingly charismatic ride.
Felt’s roots are set into the tri scene so it’s no surprise that it was an early entry into the aero road bike market. The sculpted AR family of aero road bike frames share a lot of drag-reducing cues with the superb DA triathlon family too, creating a bike that’s both very efficient and very enjoyable to ride.
The aero effect starts with a tall but narrow head tube with gear cables plugging in vertically behind the stem and then running right down inside the down tube. The super narrow down tube gets a little notch behind the fork to sync with a rear lip on the fork crown and there’s also a wheelhugger fin for the front wheel. This curves away again before it flares into a fat belly section for the conventional bottom bracket. The seat tube is cut deeply into by the rear wheel, with a scooped back for extra clearance as it curves up and back to form the wishbone section of the deep but thin and centrally waisted seat stays. The shield shaped top tube carries the rear brake cable internally. There’s an optional forward offset post available for a more open hip angle for post-ride running comfort too.
As they’re tucked away out of the wind, the chainstays are much deeper and chunkier pieces than the rest of the frame and the dropouts are simple and effective with a replaceable gear tab to limit transit/crash damage. The front gear cable pops out just before the seat tube, curling up to the mech through an alloy noodle for smooth operation, while the rear cable runs under the chainstay. Up front the aero forks are full carbon, with a tapered in, then flared out ‘loon pant’ profile to minimise drag. At under 1,300g it’s light for an aero style frame, although the next frame up (AR1) gets Nano carbon particles in the composite to create an even lighter chassis.
As you’d hope for the best part of £4,000 we’ve no complaints about most of the kit on this Felt AR3. SRAM’s Red transmission is super light with a crisp and incisive shift that syncs well with the overall ride character. Felt match the anodized red accents with the cable ferrules and Aheadset top cap bolt. Felt’s cockpit and seating gear is some of the best own-brand componentry around, keeping weight low and fit and feel friendly. The full Shimano Di2-equipped AR1 costs an extra £6,800 though, so it’s no bargain considering you can get the Ultegra/Mavic equipped AR4 for £3,000. The basic dual pivot SRAM brakes are a sneaky downgrade though, even if they work OK. The SRAM alloy rimmed wheels get a fat Zipp style ‘doughnut-shaped’ section for a comfier, more aero ride than normal. An even lighter, carbon set is an obvious addition to the upgrade wish list though, and the fact you could add those to the Cervélo or the Boardman here and still have change, compared with the Felt, is worth keeping in mind.
While it’s definitely a hefty chunk of money to find, the good news is that the Felt AR3 is very quick to validate your investment on the road. Even with the mid-price wheels, there’s a real urgency and smooth surge of speed as soon as you press the pedals that lights up your enthusiasm straight away. Despite the thin frame tubes up front the power transfer is very impressive even on slow grinding climbs and there’s surprisingly little yaw up front if you’re putting all your swimming muscle into the propulsive mix too. Keep the hammer down and the aero edge becomes increasingly obvious as the speed rises and holds steady as you drop low into the bars and keep the gears spooling. Actually steady isn’t the right word, as this bike is a proper screamer, encouraging you to press that little bit harder, tuck a little bit lower and brake that little bit later whatever you’re doing. Whether its ultimate top speed is any higher than the other two carbon bikes here is a moot point. The way it gets there and the frame of mind that puts you in is certainly a cut above, and while the aero gains are clear at higher speeds you don’t feel like you’re trading any of the spark and zip of a conventional lightweight road bike to get them. While it’s sharper than the Noah, the ride quality is comfortable enough for hours in the saddle, even if you’re riding well away from the roads the council care about. The reduced sail effect of the skinnier front end and the rounded toroidal rim profile also means handling is friendly in gusty, greasy weather despite relatively short stem agility. It was equally obedient yet eager with a set of 60mm rimmed wheels slotted in.
Verdict: Felt combines the aero advantages you need for solo speed – plus tri friendly positioning – with the agility and enthusiasm of a class aero road bike
GOLD AWARD WINNER
Take a closer look at the Felt AR3…
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