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Felt's AR3 is one of the new breed of road bikes that combines a light weight with genuinely impressive aerodynamics to create a fast, sparkling ride.
Remember back in ye olden days? Back when all this was still fields? You had lightweight bikes, and you had aerodynamic bikes, but you didn’t have lightweight aerodynamic bikes. Felt combined the two in 2008 with the introduction of the AR range.
Fine, aerodynamics aren’t of supreme importance when you’re sheltered in the middle of a 100-strong peloton (although, even then, every little helps), but we’re guessing that you don’t ride in a huge bunch every time you go out on the road. The AR3 gives competitive riders the option of time trialling sections of a road race, and everyone else the chance to ride that little bit quicker.
There are five bikes in the lineup, kicking off with the £2,500 Shimano Ultegra-equipped AR4 and going right through to the £6,500 AR1s – there’s a Team Issue model with Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate wheels and a Shimano Dura-Ace groupset, and a Di2 version with Shimano’s electronic shifting and Dura-Ace wheels. (Felt haven’t produced a Special Edition in the AR range, although we’d pay good money for one if they did, just for the decals on the top tube). Our AR3 shares the geometry of the top-of-the-range models although it’s made merely from high-end carbon rather than the super high-end material you get if you pay more.
We like Felt as a brand. We like the way the California-based company do things. To us, they’ve got their priorities right. You get some bike manufacturers who push research and development, investing a lot in the innovation of technology, design and manufacture. And then there are other brands that wait for the others to do the work and then – how can we put this? – they’re ‘inspired’ by it. Actually, let’s call a spade a spade: they copy it.
Felt are firmly in the first category. They spend a lot of time in the wind tunnel in San Diego, for example, to fine-tune the aerodynamics of their designs, and that’s not cheap. But it pays off in designs like the AR.
The frame is an ultra-high modulus carbon fibre monocoque with a high ratio of fibres to resin, giving thin tube walls and a light weight without sacrificing frame strength or rigidity.
The airfoil-profiled down tube is deep – it varies but it’s never less than 65mm – and shadows the line of the front wheel, while the seat tube moulds around the leading edge of the rear wheel to smooth the airflow there. The top tube has a shield-shaped profile – it’s flat-topped with curved sides and tapers considerably as it slopes gently down to the seat tube junction – and the seat stays are slim, not to say skinny, in contrast to the meaty chainstays.
The head tube is certainly on the short side at 162mm (well, 161.6mm, according to Felt’s official stats, but what’s 0.4mm between friends?) to give a low and aggressive ride position, and the bladed seatpost, which is ultra high modulus carbon fibre too, extends the aerodynamic theme northwards.
Felt’s 1.2A forks are as you'd expect carbon fibre too, including the steerer tube and dropouts – ultra high modulus with bladed legs – while the gear cables and rear brake cable are neatly routed internally, out of the wind.
The groupset components are top-line SRAM Red so you get Double Tap shifting – a short push to go down the block, a longer push to go up – with a 53/39T chainset and SRAM dual-pivot brake callipers.
The wheels are Felt’s Aero R2s which come with 28mm deep aluminium rims, sealed bearing hubs, and aero bladed spokes, while the tyres are Vittoria Rubino Pros. The bars, stem and saddle are the only other in-house components and they’re all decent if unspectacular alternatives to big-name options.
Our 56cm model weighed in at 7.58kg (16.7lb, without pedals) – pretty light. You can get lighter, of course, but you’re taking a slight hit for the extra material used for the aerodynamic features. In theory, the time you gain here should easily outweigh any time loss caused by a little extra weight.
The AR3 is quick. It rolls along fast. It’s not exactly scientific, but we’ve done our fastest solo long rides of the year on this bike, and our fastest solo short rides too. Okay, it could be coincidence – we’re talking about seconds in an hour, maybe a minute – but we just seem to ride with a bit more speed when we’re on board the Felt than on a standard, non-aero road bike.
It bowls along flat sections, munching away at the miles with a real enthusiasm. Slap the AR3 into the big ring, get down on the drops and you’re away. The low ride position provided by the short front end clearly helps here; your upper body is flat enough to keep drag to a minimum although those who struggle with back flexibility might be in trouble. It is, after all, a full-on race geometry, as used by the Garmin-Transitions pro team, not a bike built for sight-seeing.
That said, it’s a smooth enough ride even over Britain’s worst, frost-damaged roads and we were happy enough perched on Felt’s narrow-nosed 1.2 saddle. The first ride we did on the AR3 was a monster 150-miler, and we came home feeling fine. Well, you know, relatively; as fine as you can do after riding that far.
Accelerations are sharp with the AR3 keen to wind up the speed whether you’re starting from stationary or already rolling. We’ve known stiffer bikes when it comes to all-out sprinting – we had a small amount of torsional flex when we really fired up the quads and gave it everything, but not much. Power-transfer is still direct enough and the steering is accurate when you’re carving through the tight bends.
The Felt is equally impressive when you hit the hills. It climbs really well. A bike a pound or two lighter might shade it out in a dash for the summit but it’s still a lively climber. Ask for a little extra speed halfway up a tough slope to drop your ride-mates or race rivals and it’ll happily respond. And if you want to improve the AR3’s climbing prowess further in the future by lightening the weight, there’s scope to do that by upgrading the cromo-railed saddle, swapping the alu bars for a carbon option and, if you’re really flush, going for some truly lightweight wheels.
In terms of bangs per buck value the AR3 is probably the pick of the AR range, yes £3000 is a lot of money, but you are getting a lot of top end kit on a very up to minute piece of frame technology.
Super-aero speed machine that comes in at a decent weight; a smooth ride too
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Make and model: Felt AR3
Size tested: 56cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Ultra high modulus carbon fibre monocoque frame and forks, carbon dropouts, internal cable routing.
Shifter/levers: SRAM Red Double-Tap
Mechs: SRAM Red double front, short cage rear with ceramic bearings
Chainset: SRAM Red 53/39
Cassette: SRAM OG-1070 11-25T
Brake callipers: SRAM dual pivot
Handlebar: Felt 1.3 2012 triple butted aluminium
Stem: Felt 1.1 2014 aluminium 3D forged
Headset: FSA 1 1/8in integrated
Bottom bracket: SRAM GXP Team
Saddle: Felt 1.2 Road with carbon Injected base, hollow cromo rails
Seatpost: Felt 1.1a ultra high modulus carbon fibre, bladed monocoque
Wheels: Felt Aero R2 28mm aluminium rims, Felt Aero R1 sealed bearing hubs, DT aero bladed spokes
Tyres: Vittoria Rubino Pro Folding
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Felt say of the AR range, "Challenged by Garmin/Slipstream pros team to apply aerodynamic know-how to a road bike, Felt engineers created the AR. It debuted at the 2008 Tour de France and quickly set a new standard. Following cues from the DA time trial bike, the AR is as aerodynamic as a road bike can get. Designed with a purpose-built down tube, head tube, chainstays, seatstays, fork blades, a wheelwell-conforming seat tube, and shielded internal cable routing, the AR maximizes every aerodynamic advantage."
On the AR3 in particular they say, "This is as aerodynamic and efficient as a road bike gets. The radically shaped down tube, head tube, chainstays, seatstays and fork—all meticulously constructed from Ultra High Modulus carbon fiber—slice through the wind like nothing else available. Add in a lightweight, snappy feel for climbing and accelerating, and the AR3 is designed to keep you at the front of the pack."
In other words, it's a race-ready road bike that incorporates a whole load of aerodynamic features.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Spot on. The frame is really neat, the entry/exit points for the internal cable routing being particularly tidy.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Felt use three grades of carbon fibre. The ultra high modulus material used here is the middle one with thinner walls and a lighter weight than their straight high modulus carbon.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Our 56cm model came with a 73.5° head angle and a 73.125° seat angle. We're not sure about the 0.125° bit, but it feels pretty standard road bike fare.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Height and reach are about normal (with a 100mm stem). The head tube is 162mm - short and racy but not extreme.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Depends what you're measuring it against. It's not as comfortable as a more relaxed sportive bike, say, but against other race machines it stacks up well. A good, smooth ride – and that really makes a difference during long stints in the saddle.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too felxible?
Yes, pretty stiff with a small amount of flex during flat-out sprinting.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, direct and efficient.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
A tiny amount on our 56cm model- not a worry.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Lively and manoeuvrable. Perfectly well behaved on the descents.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, it would definitely be on the shortlist
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Age: 36 Height: 184cm Weight: 74kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.