Review: Felt Gridlock

By Matt Kasprzyk

For 2011, Felt is offering six distinct urban models in its Fixie line, the Gridlock being one of the most versatile, and expensive. It will immediately appeal to some people, as the design is clean and classic, drawing inspiration from urban cycling subculture. The paint and build kit accentuate the niche appeal Felt has gained with the recent commercial success of their track frames.

At first glance, the bike may look understated and simple, but there are some serious features often seen on more performance-oriented bikes. Under that matte copper paint is a carbon-bladed fork with aluminum steerer tube and dropouts. The frame is butted and hydroformed aluminum with steel track dropouts in the rear and mounts for a rear rack. The cable routing is internal, helping to maintain a clean look if you want to remove the brakes. One of the most eye-catching items is Felt’s integrated aluminum handlebar and stem, called Mr. Tea. It’s hard not to think of some ex-girlfriend jeans when you see it. As the bar’s name suggests, it’s one piece, only 20” wide, and has a fat 35mm grip diameter (not compatible with standard grips). If you have larger hands, the thicker grip might suit you well.

The Gridlock’s geometry has similar head and seat tube angles as Felt’s road frames. However, the Gridlock’s wheelbase is in between that of their road and track frames. The narrow bars add to the quicker handling and more nimble ride when compared to a typical road bike—fun in the turns, but not as stable bombing hills. The 65mm bottom bracket drop is not quite road bike low, but far lower than a typical track bike, something to be aware of if riding fixed on one of the larger sizes. The reach is also shorter than both road or track geometry, giving a slightly more upright riding position.

The drivetrain isn’t as simple as it looks. It’s a 3-speed fixed-gear Sturmey- Archer S3X internal hub with thumb shifter. It comes as a 46×13- tooth fixed-gear set-up with a 16-tooth freewheel adapter if you’d rather not ride fixed. The third gear is direct drive (1:1 ratio), which is what I spent most of my time in. I only used the other two, lower gears if I needed a bailout on climbs. Anyone used to singlespeed riding will have no trouble with the gear range, but there certainly isn’t anything near the highs of a road bike or lows of a mountain bike.

The thumb shifter is indexed. Even so, I found a bit of delay between switching gears. Sturmey Archer says that a delay in shifting, similar to that of a typical front derailleur, can be expected with internal hubs. The hub is moving more cable than a road or mountain rear derailleur, so it will naturally take a little longer to engage. Although you won’t get the precise shifting characteristic of performance drivetrains, there is quite a bit of practicality and ease with an internal hub.

Tektro brakes do the stopping (if you choose to use them) with enough clearance for fenders. The wheelset is a Felt Urban pair with a CNC-machined braking surface and 24 stainless steel spokes both front and rear, shod with 23mm tires. Another notable accessory is the Felt BeerNuts axle nut and bottle opener tool, but be careful with that—not everyone washes their hands.

The only real pill that’s tough to swallow is the Gridloc’s handlebars. I found that the thicker diameter grip was rather comfortable. However, the width of the bar doesn’t suit every application. Short distances it’s nothing to worry about, but on a long commute, the completely straight and narrow bars tended to hyper-extend the outside of my wrists. And as you can imagine with bars that narrow, the steering is quick.

I can’t help admiring how the Gridlock fuses tech and style. The price tag might eliminate some riders to whom the style appeals. However, if you’re on the fence, there might be enough bells and whistles to convince you this is worth the money. It’s not the simplistic back-to-basics, Jamaican-messenger austerity, but it could help you begin to appreciate that. Unwilling to commit to a singlespeed fixed geared bike and want something that looks great outside your frequent stops? Or have a short city commute and want a more practical urban machine? Check out the Gridlock.

Tester stats

  • Age: 31
  • Height: 6’2”
  • Weight: 190lbs.
  • Inseam: 33.5”

Bike stats

  • Country of Origin: China
  • Price: $1,000
  • Weight: 22lbs.
  • Sizes Available: 51, 54, 56, 58, 61 (tested)
  • Online: www.feltbicycles.com

Update

In an effort to consolidate their line of fixed gears and singlespeeds, Felt has discontinued the Gridlock for model-year 2012. -ed.

 

 
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