One thing that gets the blood flowing even more quickly than a 'Two for One' label at the local supermarket is a bargain of the two-wheeled variety. And you don't have to wait until the autumn, when most manufacturers sell off their stock in readiness for the next year's models.
So what does constitute a bargain bike these days? Look back at the previous bargain status winners and the Specialized Allez was, and still is, an entry level bargain at £499. And while it's not renowned for its stiffness, the Ribble Dedacciai SC61's aluminium tubing and Campagnolo Centaur means that it's a really great bike in the hands of a lightweight rider and costs a truly remarkable £899. The Pedal Force ZX3 carbon frame is also a worthy contender at just over £400 for the frame only. At the other end of the price spectrum, the Storck CD1.0, Pinarello Paris and Wilier Imperiale are great rides, but you pay a disproportionately large amount for the privilege of owning them.
The F5C pampers the rider with a magic carpet ride
So, has the passage of time and the reduction in cost of carbon fibre bike frames done anything to change the view that the real performance bargains are alu bikes at the £500 and £1300 price points?
Felt is the kind of company that places the emphasis on the overall package, so they're always strong contenders for Bike of the Year at either end of the price scale. A case in point is their F55: equipped with Dura-Ace components, it set a new benchmark for price at just £1500. So how does their carbon entry point Shimano 105 equipped F5C, at £1300, stack up against the competition? And is it better than their F55?
At 1380g, the Felt's carbon frame is just 30g lighter than their aluminium / carbon series, so we'd have expected a lighter design than the lugged construction used here. While others prefer to show off the natural carbon weave, Felt place a lot of emphasis on the quality of the graphics of their carbon 'F-C' series frames, and the design and finish is at least as good as we've seen from Wilier in Italy. The organic curve to the extended part of the seat-tube sets it apart from other carbon designs, and there are five sizes of this semi-compact frame available, ranging from 50-60cm. Gear adjustments can be made on the fly at the down-tube and the seatpost fits without needing any more than the usual tug on an allen key.
Last year, Felt garnered a Best Buy award in Cycling Plus with their F5 5 aluminium bike. Twelve months down the line the similarly priced, but less well-equipped, Cannondale R800 has the edge on the F55 with a better frame, so it was interesting to see how Felt's carbon frame would compare to the Cannondale. The Felt doesn't set any new standards for low weight. It's barely lighter than the F55's aluminium/carbon frame, but the F5C pampers the rider with a magic carpet ride that makes the bike feel lighter than it actually is. We've noticed this to a lesser extent with Trek carbon frames and it really is a positive characteristic. Riders who fancy pushing their limits will instantly warm to the Felt F5C as it steers like a thoroughbred racing machine - the wheels staying perfectly in-line even when cranked over on surfaces that change from rough to smooth in an instant.
The Felt hasn't got the lightest frame but retains its weight credibility with light finishing kit. The two piece FSA Gossamer crankset is loosely based on the current Shimano Octalink 2 design. The stem is a neat 4-bolt lightweight, own-branded 11.5c m design, and the anatomic handlebars are similar to the IT M shape and lighter than those fitted to the BH L60. A couple of testers felt that the stem was a little on the short side, however the broader than average (47cm) handlebars largely compensated for this. The Velo saddle has a profile that's rather similar to the Selle Italia SLR-XP but with more compliance, something which was welcomed by the testers.
The Felt uses the popular Alex 270 wheels, which are slightly lighter than the Shimano WH-R500. They use 20 front and 24 rear spokes and semi-deep rims for a stiff and efficient ride. While the conventional ball bearings could have felt a little smoother, the hubs look well made. The wheels are shod with the Vittoria Rubino 23mm, which is highly resistant to cuts, and rides more like a tubular tyre than a mid-range clincher tyre.
The Felt F5C is definitely a bargain even with an upgrade to some lighter hand-built wheels, you'll still be paying considerably less than the £3000 plus price tag an Italian branded frame would cost you - for similar levels of frame performance.