The new Felt AR2 aero road bike ridden, reviewed and rated
Felt AR2 2014
The AR aero series has been in Felt’s arsenal for a while, but they’ve rolled out a new chassis. Do the heady claims of 23 per cent lighter, 39 per cent stiffer and 24 per cent more aero performance than the previous AR match up on the road?
Frame and fork
As with many aero road bikes, the AR frame draws a lot of drag-reducing cues from the full-on aero bike in Felt’s family, the DA. This includes the stepped-down twin-tail fork and seatstay design that slims the profile down dramatically below the level of the tyre, to improve airflow and reduce shock transmission.
Most manufacturers claim a unique advantage to their particular construction method. However there’s no doubting Felt’s inside-out UHC Advanced carbon fibre construction, which uses hard internal formers rather than just air bags, produces a distinctively hollow, bone china feel that all our test team commented on.
Felt’s aero seatpost uses an internal Internaloc wedge and side-pull bolts to allow a much thinner, vibration-reducing, slotted tube wall that you can squeeze with your fingers.
The flip position design also lets you change effective seat angle from 72.5 degrees to a full-on tri-style 78.5 degrees.
All electric and mechanical cabling is internally routed, the battery is stuck to the end of the seatpost and the direct mount Ultegra rear brake is hidden under the chainstays. Despite all the aero tweaks, the frame still sits right on the 1kg line in a medium size.
At the time of testing, Felt only had the Ultegra Di2, 3TTT deep wheel-equipped AR2 available. It’s worth noting that the AR4 with conventional cable shifting and a Shimano RS31 wheelset – ie a slightly better spec than the other bikes here – only costs £2,499, which is outstanding value.
Once you’ve added 3T wheels, top quality Vittoria tyres and the fact the AR2 Ultegra suite also includes the super neat auxiliary Sprint shifters on the drops of the carbon fibre bars, even £4,500 is good for a Di2 machine.
While it needs spacers to fit the BB30 bottom bracket, the 52/36T ring spread of the Ultegra chainset works well for the broad riding remit of the AR2. Again the compact 3T bar had fans and foes in our test team, but the perforated bar tape, with colour coded under layer and Prologo saddle, were universally well liked.
We’ve already commented on the distinctively aristocratic, bone china sensation of the AR, and every tester commented on the hollow feel of the frame. That does give it a slightly tinny feeling when you’re rolling along rough roads at slow speeds or forced into the gutter by town traffic. We’re impressed Felt has added springy zip ties to the internal Di2 wiring to stop the cables rattling about noisily inside the big tubes though.
Find an empty road and open the throttle and the Felt feels wonderful too. The smooth aerodynamics and quiet frame give a real sense of speed even when you’re still spinning the middle ring.
The faster you push the bike the smoother it feels too, with the kind of flowing vibration damping you’d expect from a sportive bike rather than an aero machine. Despite the extra battery and motor mass it’s still the lightest bike on test and it was keen to prove that every time the test roads turned upwards. Keep revs relatively high and it dances out of the saddle like a lightweight road bike, eager to accelerate and put the hurt on others even on steep pitches.
Despite having the deepest section wheels on test during a very blustery autumn testing period, the Felt remained resolutely calm and composed whatever the conditions. It felt clean and efficiently fast in serious sidewinds too, backing up the wind tunnel data that shows its biggest comparative aero advantages come in crosswinds. The calm, yet not dull, handling also helped lower overall fatigue levels and, combined with the frame flow, kept our test team fresh even on the longest test days.
While we were always glad to swap onto the Felt from a ride quality and relaxation point of view, the skinny rear axle and slim stays mean it does suffer noticeably in terms of power delivery compared to the stiffest bikes here.
Swapping the rear wheel put a lot of punch back into the Felt fight though and we think most riders will see the low-weight, high-comfort, efficient, aerodynamic, impressive-value bonuses of the Felt as sufficient offset for ultimate sprint performance for the majority of the mileage. Particularly if you’re one of many who’ll switch the seatpost and add some clip-ons straight away.
+ Light, smooth, friendly handling, tri angle adjustable frameset
+ Excellent value whether you go Di2 or conventional format
– Flexy rear wheel means it’s not the stiffest option in a straight-up sprint
– We’d probably go for the AR4 and upgrade wheels later