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First Ride: Felt’s $26,000 TA/FRD super bike

If someone offered you the keys to an F1 car, you’d grab them and fire that baby up, right? We had that very opportunity when Felt invited VeloNews to Los Angeles to ride its TA/FRD pursuit bike, a project that made waves as much for its $26,000 price tag as for its technological advances that include a left-side drivetrain, asymmetric tube shapes, proprietary HED wheels, and much more.

Of course, you’d need some preparation and lessons before ripping around Monaco in that F1 car. Such is the case with the TA/FRD. Part of that steep price tag includes a fit session and aerodynamics analysis at the velodrome in LA. It’s a process that could result in significant watt savings for serious racers.

We were skeptical, so we went to California to experience the process firsthand and see if the TA/FRD really does what the price promises. Our first stop was the Felt Bicycles headquarters so we could see what exactly went into the development of this super bike that took the U.S. women’s Olympic pursuit team to a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.

Here’s what we saw

Felt is hardly the only company to claim carbon layup superiority, and they’re definitely not the only company that uses 3D-printing to mock up new bicycle designs. So while we knew a significant amount of time, resources, and technology went into developing the TA/FRD, we were still looking for the magic that made this such a noteworthy design. Every technological advancement looks amazing on paper; we wanted the tangible results.

So our next stop was the Velo Sports Center in Los Angeles to actually test out the bike. I had only ridden on a velodrome once before, so to offset my inexperience, VeloNews managing editor Chris Case joined me, toting along his hour-record experience with him. The goal was to see hard data that proved the TA/FRD is faster than the bike Chris used for his hour record attempt, which was a Felt Tk1. More so than just proving the bike was faster, we wanted to see if the TA/FRD was a lot faster, enough to outweigh the benefits of, say, upgrading a helmet or skinsuit instead. Case shipped the bike he used for the hour record to California for this effort.

Fortunately, National 3K Pursuit Master’s Champion Dean Phillips was also in attendance to test out the bike. Phillips has undertaken extensive testing on his own dime, ultimately to achieve his most aerodynamic position and to shave as many watts as possible in pursuit events. We were excited to see what the TA/FRD could do for a rider who had already done such exhaustive testing and training.

Here’s how it all went down

Phillips wrote his own blog post about his experience with the TA/FRD and the testing results from ERO Sports. You can read that here.

Case’s results were also revealing.

He did two runs on a Tk1 (the exact bike he used for his hour attempt) to establish a baseline aerodynamic drag, or CdA (which represents drag coefficient over a given area. You can read more about that here). Next, he rode the TA/FRD. In his first session on the new bike, Case recorded a 5.6 percent improvement in his CdA over his baseline results on the Tk1. On his second run, he saw an 11.5 percent improvement. On average, the TA/FRD would save Case 2.3 seconds per kilometer, assuming he was pedaling a constant 300 watts and maintaining 40kph. That’s equivalent to an average 16.4 watt savings over the Tk1.

Felt’s testing at the wind tunnel and velodrome conservatively estimates a time-savings of at least one second per kilometer for a world-class team pursuit effort. Case exceeded that significantly.

Chris Case’s results

“Going from the Tk1 — which is itself a fantastic bike on which countless records have been set — to the TA/FRD is an amazing sensation,” says Case. “It is immediately noticeable that it’s faster. It’s interesting because at first that extra speed disrupts you in the corners — it’s harder to hold your line because you’re not used to traveling that speed. But once you adjust, it is incredibly manageable, and feels locked in on the corners. It’s a purpose-built machine if there ever was one for the track — it’s built to turn left while going very fast.”

But are watts-per-dollar worth it? A 20-watt savings is a lot, but it’s also potentially the difference between a normal road helmet and an aero helmet. Here’s the thing, though: If you’re even considering this bike, chances are you’re after every marginal gain you can get, costs be damned. You’ve already got the aero helmet, the fastest skin suit, the most aero socks and shoes. You’ve already honed your position and maybe you’ve even gone to the wind tunnel. If your end goal is to go fast no matter how thin your wallet gets, then certainly this bike is worth a gander. The rest of us really don’t even need to look at this bike as anything other than a stunning curiosity.

In other words, don’t go emptying your kid’s college fund or getting a second-mortgage on the house just to go a few seconds faster at your Wednesday night pursuit meet. Felt doesn’t expect to sell many of these bikes. The audience is exclusively track riders, and even more refined, pursuit riders. And even more refined than that, pursuit riders who can afford the shocking price tag. That’s a pretty small customer cross-section.

For the rest of us, the best reason to get excited about the TA/FRD is less about the bike itself and more about what it could mean for other bikes. The left-hand drive and asymmetric tube shapes all cater to the winds prevalent in a velodrome, and now that the expensive and tedious research has been done, Felt knows this and can apply it to less expensive bikes. When that happens, it’s time to do your watts-per-dollar calculations again.

A custom bike case, extra chainrings, and two cranksets (one for competition and one for practice) are included with the cost of the bike, as is aerodynamic testing and a fit session. Both the fit and aero tests are optional and are generally conducted in California, though Felt says you can get fitted remotely if you prefer.