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A lot can happen in six years. For bicycle design, that can seem like an eternity. Back in 2014, bike manufacturers were tepidly embracing 25mm tires as wide and road disc brakes were about as rare as Bigfoot. That year also happens to be the last time Felt updated its AR aero bike. While fast, and loved by many, it is feeling these days like a relic from another era, clearing only 25mm of rubber and offering just a rim-brake option.
Now that it’s 2020, disc brakes are de rigueur and riders want as much tire volume as they can get. With a renewed focus on making a narrower line of high-performance bikes, Felt listened, and the new AR builds upon its predecessor in just about every way.
Conventional wisdom once held that cyclists spend the majority of their time in higher-yaw-angle conditions. But new research shows that cyclists spend a majority of their time in situations where the yaw angle varies from –10 degrees to +10 degrees. The consensus is that anywhere from about 70 percent to 90 percent of time is spent riding at these low yaw angles—more when shielded from wind in a group ride. Accordingly, Felt set out to create a bike that is faster in those low-yaw conditions, spending months just developing new tube shapes and arriving at a new truncated airfoil shape before moving on to create a whole frame.
Independent wind-tunnel testing shows that the new AR is 9.4-percent faster than its predecessor at zero degrees of yaw. As you experience higher yaw angles, the benefit begins to drop off, but remains present throughout the range. Felt is willing to claim that, in overall conditions, the new AR is 1.4-percent faster than the previous AR.
But Felt’s engineers didn’t want to just make a faster bike and call it a day. They wanted a more well-rounded bike that performed better across the board. There was no question that it would be disc only, for the added stopping power. They reworked the rear triangle to fit in 30mm of rubber as well, offering a way to introduce more comfort. Additionally, a new proprietary seat post contains a slot in the middle, allowing both halves of the post to flex independently, resulting in a claimed 112-percent more deflection at the seat post than before. And, of course, the bike got stiffer too, with increases in lateral head-tube and bottom-bracket stiffness.
For stronger layups needing less resin, Felt utilizes a form of carbon called TeXtreme, which uses flat tapes of carbon, rather than yarns of fiber, to pack more carbon into a given area. This carbon replaces heavy unidirectional carbon in Felt’s layup. But despite lighter carbon layups, the bike itself is a tad heavy. Our size 54 built up with Ultegra Di2 weighed in at 18.37 pounds (8.35 kilograms).
We’ll be perfectly clear up front: The new AR is undeniably fast, and simply tears up the flats. Though the 58mm-deep Reynolds wheels are liable to catch a strong crosswind, the bike remains very rideable in lighter winds.
Downhill, the aero advantage only amplifies for blazingly fast descents. It’s a rocket that keeps finding the mph’s. Perhaps the most telling example of this bike’s speed is a small descent on a normal route of ours. It’s only a quarter-mile long, but without even trying to go fast or set a personal record, we went five seconds faster than usual. Its handling on descents also impresses—not too twitchy for holding a confident line, but still nimble enough to respond well to most winding descents.
For an aero optimized road bike, the 2020 Felt AR is surprisingly effective at soaking up the road chatter. We noticed this especially in the rear of the bike and attribute it to the inventive design of the new split seat post and damping sleeve.
The 2020 Felt AR was a blast to ride, to corner, to descend and to admire. While we all had to wait a few years for Felt to make dramatic changes to this popular model, in our opinion, the wait was well worth it.
$6,500; 18.37 lbs / 8.35kg (size 54, w/o pedals or cages)
Shimano Ultegra Di2 hydraulic (52/36 crank, 11–30 cassette); Reynolds AR58 DB Custom wheels; Continental Grand Prix 5000 25c tires; Felt integrated stem; Devox Carbon Aero handlebars; Prologo Dimension T4.0 saddle; Felt seat post.