The AR3’s frame and fork are designed to pass through the air unnoticed, and it comes with some seriously lightweight kit. Fast on the flat or uphill, it proves that aero machines don’t need to be heavy. While it’s no magic carpet, it takes the sting out of rough tarmac better than some of its rivals. But other bikes offer fans of the solo breakaway similar speed at a lower price.
Frame: Considering it’s been shaped by hours in the wind tunnel, the Felt’s frame is impressively light. The low head tube helps aerodynamics (8/10)
Handling: As agile and fun as a race bike should be, but stable enough if you ﬁt clip-on tri-bars. The ride is ﬁrm but still fairly easy to live with (8/10)
Equipment: The AR3 comes with top-notch kit. SRAM’s Red groupset is light and functions well and the own-brand bar, stem and saddle all give good performance (9/10)
Wheels: SRAM’s S30 AL Race wheels have the aero credentials to make a good match for the frame. Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres are good quality (9/10)
Felt ar3: felt ar3 Paul Smith - www.smithpic.co.uk
Californian bike makers Felt are among several brands who now give roadies the choice of conventional race or aero bikes. Go for one of the ‘F’ range, with their more normal tube shapes, and you can expect a slightly lighter bike for your money. Choose one from the ‘AR’ line and weight comes second to passing through the air almost unnoticed.
Not that you’ll be riding a heavy bike; far from it. The AR3’s frame weighs in at a very reasonable 1,290g. Felt use advanced construction techniques to trim off a few grams, such as placing polyurethane inserts within the frame during the moulding process which are inﬂated to precise pressures for ﬁne control over tube shape and thickness.
They’ve also spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel designing the AR range. The result is a complex series of curves and sharp edges. The down tube hugs the shape of the front wheel, and the seat tube does the same at the rear. Chunky chainstays and the acres of carbon surrounding the bottom bracket look ready to resist a gorilla’s power output, while the short head tube (160mm) keeps the handlebar low, tucking the rider out of the wind.
The impressive frame is matched to a bike geek’s wishlist of lightweight and aerodynamic kit. Take the SRAM S30 AL Race wheels. Look closely and you’ll see rims bulging outwards. SRAM call the shape ‘hybrid toroidal’ – it’s a wind-cheating trick borrowed from the company’s wheel-making subsidiary Zipp. The low spoke count (18 at the front, 20 at the rear) also helps cut through the air.
Power along a ﬂat road and speed just seems that bit easier to come by than on most bikes. The mid-section rims might not look light, but appearances are deceptive. Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres are light and supple, too. Put them together and you have an aerodynamic wheelset with a surprising appetite for the hills.
The aero tubing and mid-section wheels make for quite a ﬁrm ride. No such nit-picking is necessary when it comes to cornering and descending. Simply choose a line and the Felt will follow it. It’s an agile and precise bike that gives you a better ride the faster you go.
Shifting is courtesy of SRAM with their top-end Red groupset. It’s pro quality kit. There’s a more positive click when changing gear than with Shimano shifters, but not everyone gets on with the ‘double tap’ system (a small push on the shifter moves the chain one sprocket to the right, a longer push moves it one to the left). We’ve grown to like the fast gear changes and the deﬁnite engagement, although the ﬁnish around the brake hoods seems cheaper than the solid, high-quality feel of 2011 Ultegra.
The 53/39 chainset is what you’d expect on a high-end racing machine, although we were pleased to see a 26-tooth sprocket at the back. It helps you spin rather than strain up steeper hills. The smallest sprocket has just 11 teeth, giving a high gear for ﬂat-out descending or aggressive sprinting. If you relish the elbows-out action of a sprint ﬁnish, then you might wish for a stiffer bottom bracket. The ﬂex is only noticeable when really winding up a full-bore effort, though.
Felt’s in-house bars and stem don’t lack stiffness though, and the Felt Superlite saddle is comfortable enough. It’s not a favourite, but we’d be in no hurry to replace it either.