The economics of bike design mean a manufacturer does well to design composite bike molds for several model years over a number of models. Felt Racing has been a practitioner of this philosophy since molded carbon fiber became the industry standard. The 2011 Felt F4 benefits from a recent mold change spread over all of Felt’s “F” series road bikes. It is the best version of the popular F4 road bike yet, with an all new frame design and geometry set proven by Felt’s involvement with top professional cycling teams.
The Felt F series road bikes are real road racers; low and long. In their previous versions there were interesting departures from the traditional road geometry of parallel 73 degree seat and head tubes. As the bikes got smaller on earlier versions, the seat tube angles got steeper, with a 52cm F4 from the old molds wearing a 76 degree seat tube angle that was more at home on some brand’s triathlon geometry chart.
“It simply rides like a bike much more expensive than its price.”
For 2011 the Felt “F” series adopts a true road geometry inspired by their pro team involvement and the influence of their Road Brand Manager, Dave Koesel. The steepest seat tube angle is the 74.5 degree angle on their minuscule 48cm frame size. As the sizes approach the more common area of the geometry chart, size 54cm, 56cm and 58cm the angles become much more like something we’re used to in the peloton of the grand tours and spring classics. The 54cm, 56cm and 58cm Felt “F” series bikes use a 73.5 degree seat tube angle.
There are seven bikes in the newly redesigned Felt “F” road series that share this geometry set, beginning with the Tour de France proven F1 and trickling toward the optimal conversion of value and performance at the Felt F4 we’re reviewing here. These seven bikes are differentiated by component set, wheels and most significantly, carbon fiber composition.
The new 2011Felt F4 shares the same frame as the F3 and F2. The F4 also uses a carbon fiber steer tube fork with carbon dropouts for lighter weight and better ride quality. Another mechanical frame detail is the BB30 to 24mm threaded Shimano compatible bottom bracket configuration. This design enables the use of industry standard BB30 bottom brackets along with Shimano cranks as speced on the bike. This thoughtful mechanical detail assures a high degree of forward compatibility with emerging crank technologies. More well conceived details on the F4 include a tapered head tube going from 1.125” on the upper race to a large, stiff 1.5” lower race for great front end performance, ride quality and steering. The replaceable derailleur hanger is particularly robust and assists in precise shifting performance.
Cable routing on this bike is traditional external wires meaning cable changes are as easy as they can be. Barrel adjusters are threaded into downtube cable stops for dependable on-the-fly cable tension adjustment.
Felt stayed true to Shimano with pure Shimano component spec all the way to the chain and cogset. That combined with the new frameset provides incredible component performance- perhaps the best performance available from the newest version of the Ultegra component kit. Front shifting from small ring up to large ring has never been better in the industry. The new Shimano Ultegra FC 6700 crank uses the same hollow forge design as the marque Dura-Ace kit. This Hollowtech II crank uses Shimano’s proprietary hollow-forged “Hollowglide” large chainring. This chainring dramatically improves front derailleur performance, especially shifting from the small ring up to the large ring. Another interesting feature is the forward compatibility with Ultegra Di2. The crank spec on the F4 is a full sized, 130 mm bolt pattern 53 tooth large ring turning with a 39 tooth small. This crankset sends power along a genuine Shimano chain to an 11-25 Shimano 10- speed cogset.
Controls are the new Ultegra ST-6700 dual control lever. This lever has a new pivot location and angular ergonomics to facilitate shorter lever throw, lower actuation pressure and faster shifting. The braking performance from the hoods is especially improved on this new lever. The new finish is dark pewter on the molded composite lever. A wedge adjustment is available to shorten the reach of the brake lever for smaller hands. The shape of the hood has changed slightly from previous Ultegra models.
Front derailleur uses the new wider link on Ultegra also borrowed from new Dura-Ace. Spring tension has been reduced on the new Ultegra derailleur to makes shifts easier at the shift lever, especially from small ring up to large. This derailleur works with 50 tooth large rings up to 54 tooth large chainring and everything in between. It will cross a 16 tooth difference between large ring and small meaning this derailleur is fully compact crank compatible.
Rear derailleur is the RD-6700-SS with low friction, fluorine coated link pins. The rear derailleur on the Felt F4 can accommodate up to a 28 tooth cog.
The Shimano spec on the F4 extends to the brake calipers with Shimano BR-6700 Super SLR brakes. The brakes have adjustable toe angle and use a new compound brake pad that Shimano claims to have “100% better” braking performance in wet conditions. Changes to the shape of this new caliper make cable routing straighter as it goes into the caliper for better feel, especially on small frames with a low head tube on the front brake.
With a lot of bikes in this price Category Felt was under pressure to provide not only a nicer frameset but also a tangibly better wheel specification. They easily succeeded with the aftermarket quality, new version Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels. This 1690 gram clincher wheelset with alloy rims is 40 grams lighter per wheel than previous versions due to a totally new rim extrusion. The combination of Mavic’s straight pull spokes and optimal positioning of the bearings in the hub shell give great wheel stiffness. Finally, the braking performance on this wheel is quiet and predictable due to the machined finish on the rims. The bike rolls on 23 mm wide Vittoria Rubino Pro tires in a bilious orange color that matches almost nothing else on the bike except the orange rear derailleur cable housing. When you wear these tires out and install black tires the bike looks nicer.
Other details on the Felt include a new seatpost that adjusts for saddle angle exclusively from the side. It’s easy to adjust saddle fore/aft and angle. The seatpost head has moderate setback, a thoughtful idea with the new seat tube angles on the F4. The binder collar on the frame is alloy and fully modular so, if you ever break one packing the bike in a flight case it is very easily replaced.
Felt got many other details very right on the F4. The width of the handlebars on the stock 54cm bike was 43cm measured center to center. Finally- wide enough handlebars! The saddle is a basic 27.5 cm long saddle with a flat profile. I could ride this saddle all day- I didn’t perceive a need for an upgrade.
The first thing I noticed when riding the new Felt F4 is how difficult it would be to guess the price. If you lined this up next to bikes costing up to twice the price differentiating between them would be more a matter of luck than perception. It simply rides like a bike much more expensive than its price. The changes to the front end of the bike, along with the sweeping geometry and mold redesign mean this is not the previous Felt F4. This is a more precise, sportier bike. With its ruler-straight seat stays and robust chainstays this is attentive to the first three pedal strokes of an attack. Given the large lower headset race and hefty bottom bracket you won’t feel much lateral flex. It’s a racer, and it feels like a Tour de France team bike at the cost of the wheels on a pro team grand tour bike.
Initially I was puzzled about why Felt wouldn’t rename the new F4 since the entire frame has been redesigned for 2011. Ultimately, the best reason is to continue the legacy of the F4 marque as a value leader. This latest front-to-rear redesign of the F4 adds “performance leader” to the list of attributes as the sweet spot in Felt’s new F series road bikes. No survey of the Ultegra equipped road category is complete without a thorough examination of this superb offering from Felt. I go so far as to give it best in category of the sub-$4000 range.