First ride: Felt’s new Z2 carbon road bike with Di2

By Gary J. Boulanger,

Felt pioneered the aerodynamic road bike concept in 2007, and while that category is expanding across the bike industry, the non-racers seeking high performance in gran fondos and other long distance rides will be excited to try Felt’s revamped Z2 model. A longer wheelbase, slightly taller head tube, more efficient carbon layups, and improved tube shapes have all been addressed for 2013, which, according to Felt’s engineers, have shed 50g and stiffened the ride 25 percent over last year.

Sounds like my kind of bike. I also had the advantage of attending the recent Felt media launch in Irvine, California, so I decided to find out if the actual ride matched the paper spec. It helped that the roads around Irvine rise mightily, providing our group with some 20-percent climbs and ripping descents to put the Z2 through its paces to see if the weight savings and subtle stiffening would be noticed.

The tech

The frame material is made from Felt’s Endurance Road Ultra Hybrid Carbon (UHC) Advanced Modular Monocoque Construction (MMC) carbon fiber with a 3K protective weave, which Felt says is 20 percent lighter than its UHC Performance carbon. Felt says its InsideOut internally optimized molding process eliminates excess material. How? Felt achieves this by placing polyurethane inserts inside the frame during the molding process, especially at the head tube and bottom bracket areas, then applies a precise amount of pressure and heat, resulting in the desired tube shapes and diameters.

 

Felt also modified the seat stays with smaller and rounder constant-diameter cross sections that intersect low on the seat tube to increase comfort and dampen ride quality without sacrificing torsional stiffness or vertical compliance, the usual performance-robbing suspects. The new Z frame also has a "kick-up" in the chain stay, a subtle modification to smoothen out the ride.

The components

My 56cm tester was built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting, with a secondary climbing shifter pod on the top of the handlebars. Felt has specced a 3T Ergonova Team HM carbon handlebar, 3T AR Team 7075 aluminum stem, 3T Dorico Team UD carbon seatpost and Prologo Scratch pro titanium railed saddle. Shimano RS20 wheels rounded out the component selection.

I began the ride a novice on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting. Already having ridden the Campagnolo Record EPS a month ago, my learning curve was short and sweet. Shifting was crisp and immediate, and I was also thankful for the 28-tooth cassette cog on the climbs. I was able to stay in the 50-tooth large chainring while cross-chaining up the cassette on the gradual climbs without any interference, and the 34-tooth small chainring was low enough to tackle Koesel’s lung-bursting ascent of Modjeska Grade.

The ride

Our small band of journalists clipped in to our demo bikes, following Felt road product manager Dave Koesel and engineer Nick Ducharme for a 90-minute jaunt. They led us on part of the section of a famous Sunday morning group ride called “Como Street”. We started up El Toro Road past Live Oak Canyon onto Santiago Canyon Road, and onto the motorcyclist hot-spot “Cooks’ Corner”.

The gradual climb was interrupted with a right turn onto Modjeska Grade, which Koesel refers to as the “mini L’Alpe” of Southern Orange County, where thousands of cyclists test their legs (and lungs and machines) up the nearly 20-percent grades.

The twisting descent allowed me to test out the stability of the Z2. With my hands in the drops and my butt shoved back in the saddle, I carved the turns with confidence, skirting a few busted rocks and sand strewn across parts of the road. Riding with strangers on strange roads is usually a little unsettling, but the company I kept was reliable and smooth, just like the Z2.

Our quick descent back to Santiago Canyon Road and back through Foothill Ranch (past Oakley) to Felt headquarters in Irvine was slightly wind-aided and blistering. We strung out in a single line to let ‘er rip, pro peloton style, and I was actually wishing I had a more pro 53-tooth large chainring to keep up. The 10-speed cassette starts with a 12 tooth, so I was spinning out a bit in the 50/12 gear combination. Ducharme saw to it that I was brought back to the paceline.

The verdict

At a hair under 16.8lbs for my 56cm tester with bottle cage without pedals, the Felt Z2 is competitively light, considering the Ultegra Di2 gruppo with remote buttons. I never felt nervous or skittish on the ride, and was impressed by the handling and responsiveness compared to other similar models I’ve tested from other companies. The sloping top tube allowed for some welcome flex in the longer seat post, but nothing that inhibited performance. This is an ideal machine for the performance-seeking unracer.

Available in matte carbon with red highlights, the Felt Z2 will be available in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm sizes, and will retail for $5,999.

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