Now in its second year, Felt’s Z series is aimed squarely at all-day performance and that means it’s been designed with a focus on comfort – so if you’re thinking of riding sportives next year, read on…
The Z35 is a stealthy stunner with a frame made from what the manufacturer calls ‘Ultra-High Modulus Modular Carbon Fiber’. In plain English, it’s strong and light. The compact chassis has a relaxed geometry with a high front end – a 180mm head-tube on our 56cm model. That’s a stonking 40mm longer than you’ll find on an equivalent model from Felt’s standard-geometry range but still 10mm shorter than Specialized uses on its Roubaix bikes.
The front triangle is oversized throughout, the massive down-tube especially so, extending across the entire width of the bottom bracket shell to hold it firmly in place.
Out back the wishbone seatstay junction with the seat-tube is well below the height of the top-tube joint so the rear triangle is unusually small and taut. At the other end, the front fork has carbon blades and steerer.
The Felt’s spec isn’t particularly flashy but it’s all sound, reliable stuff based largely around Shimano’s mid-range 105 groupset. The shifters work flawlessly with a next-tier-up Ultegra rear mech providing crisp changes across the block. The dual pivot brakes offer well modulated power.
FSA’s compact Gossamer crankset features 50/34 tooth chainrings matched up with an 11-25 tooth cassette to give a gear spread that’s wide enough for most terrain, whatever your level of fitness. Felt’s own handlebar is stiff enough with several good handholds, but don’t be fooled by the seatpost; it might look carbon but it’s actually alloy with a carbon wrap around the outside. More impressive is the stem with its asymmetric internal shim that allows you to adjust the rise from 16° to 8° – Specialized has used a similar system successfully on its Roubaix range for the past year and we’ve always got on fine with the design. Clever stuff. You can also flip it so you get four positions to choose from; new riders might well graduate into a more low down set-up.
The Z35 rolls along happily on Mavic CXP22 rims laced up to Felt’s own aluminium hubs and, although the wheels are only a middling weight, our Olympic-standard wheel wrecker couldn’t knock them out of true during extensive testing.
The cup and cone bearings are easy enough to regrease yourself while the rims come with a wear indicator groove to tell you when they’ve had their day, at which point we’d upgrade.
The Z35 is very responsive to start with but when we fitted a lighter set of wheels it felt instantly more alive, especially on the hills – as you’d expect. And if you’re thinking about using it for sportives, well, you know how those event organisers just love to sling in a few back-breakers.
Compared to a standard road bike, the Felt’s riding position is incredibly upright thanks to that long head-tube, topped by a further 4.5cm of headset and spacers. Although this makes for a lot more wind resistance on your body, you won’t necessarily get to the end of your ride slower. What I mean is, if you’re more comfortable in a less aggressive riding position you’ll be able to keep putting the power down for longer. Plus, there’s the small matter of enjoying it more…
The Felt isn’t excessively light, but it’s surprisingly agile in the hills thanks to the stiff frame, particularly the tight rear triangle that converts your effort efficiently into forward motion. The small (34-tooth) front chainring allows you to sit and winch the bike patiently up long drags while the low-slung top-tube lets you wrestle it to the top when you get out of the saddle.
It’s perfectly well mannered going down the other side, too; you can scrub speed off without trouble if you overdo it going into a tight bend, and you get enough vertical compliance for a ton of comfort.
The Felt Z35 is a bike you can just sit and spin on all day long. Like the excellent Specialized Roubaix range (such as the £1999 2008 Specialized Roubaix Expert we were recently impressed by), the Z35 delivers exceptional comfort while retaining a sporty feel. The geometries are pretty much identical – almost to the degree; even the Felt’s slightly shorter head-tube makes little difference because there’s plenty of adjustability on both bikes and you can almost certainly tune the positioning on either to your exact requirements.
As you would expect, the rides are similar too – both are very upright with a load of vertical compliance to keep you comfortable during long days in the saddle, though the Z35 doesn’t go uphill quite as well as the Specialized – but then again the Roubaix Expert does cost £700 more.
Straight out of the box the Z35 is a really lively machine with no parts crying out to be changed. But when the components do gradually wear out, or when you’ve got a few quid spare and fancy treating yourself, the high quality frame and forks will easily handle upgrading. We tried it with lighter wheels and noticed an improvement immediately – especially on the hills.
It’s super-cool in the looks department too – don’t pretend you don’t care – and it comes at a fantastic price. This all adds up to make the Z35 a top buy for sportives or just longer rides in 2008.