Felt Z-15

If you haven’t heard, Felt has continued their sponsorship of the Slipstream/Chipotle powerhouse that is positioned to replace the Discovery Team as the American-based, Pro Tour race team. Felt produces a wide range of quality bikes from cruisers to wind-tunnel-certified carbon time trial and Tri machines. Our Z-15 test bike hails from Felt’s Z-line of relaxed-geometry road racing designs that it defines as ‘Alternative Road’-which designates a taller head tube and more comfortable, upright cycling position.

THE PLUG
What caught our attention was the fact that half of the members of the powerful Slipstream squad, when given a choice, preferred to race the Z-15 over the more traditional F-series. When asked, team member Jason Donald said that he chose this frame because, ‘I am an unusual rider; at 6 foot 3 inches and with an 82-centimeter seat-height, with a long torso, legs and arms-and this bike is more comfortable for me. The relatively longer headtube makes it easy for me to have a low stack-height on my handlebars, which makes the bike look more normal.’ Teammate Will Frishkorn chose the Z-15 frame as well, saying: ‘Over the years, most of us tend to move the bars up a bit into a more comfortable position, and with the Z-15, I can ride with only a tall top-cap and no spacers, keeping the front end stiffer and cleaner. After all, one can always bend his elbows!’

The hopeful riders of Team Slipstream/Chipotle will be on the Z-15 in 2008.

THE FRAME
The Z-15 is the top-of-the-line frame in the Z-series, featuring a ‘Felt Custom-designed Relaxed Geometry Modular Monocoque frame,’ which is a process where the frame is molded in four subsections (front-section, chainstay/bottom bracket/seat tube, and seatstay wishbone), and then bonded together in a second operation. The resulting structure is remarkably thin and lightweight. Felt uses its latest UHC (Ultra Hybrid Carbon) construction on the Z-15, which also features a Felt monocoque carbon fiber 1.2 fork with a carbon steerer. The Z-15 frame features a sloping toptube and a taller headtube. Stiffness under power is insured by the Z-15’s distinctly oversized downtube, and a beautifully profiled toptube with a reinforcing spine on its upper axis strengthens the seat tube junction. Both frame and fork are finished with a 3K-weave carbon top layer to give the Felt uniform-looking, elegant cosmetics.

THE PARTS
The Z-15 is built up with Shimano Dura-Ace components, including a Dura-Ace 1380 carbon clincher wheelset with Vittoria Diamonte Pro Light tires. The cockpit is made up of a 44-centimeter-wide Felt 1.1 carbon handlebar, a Felt 2.1 aluminum 3D-forged stem and Team 2.1 Ti-rail anatomic saddle, and FSA’s K-Force hollow carbon-fiber crankset, with a ceramic-bearing bottom bracket and standard-size, 52/38 aluminum chainrings.

THE NUMBERS
Our 58-centimeter Z-15 featured a 72.5-degree head angle, with a 73-degree seat angle, and measured level, the toptube was 57.5 centimeters. To understand the Z-15’s relaxed geometry, compare this to Felt’s all-out-racing F-1, with its longer 58-centimeter toptube, and steeper 74-degree head and 73.5-degree seat tube angles. The headtube is 30 millimeters taller than a level-toptube frame and the Felt 1.1 carbon handlebars were 44 centimeters wide. The Z-15 is available in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61-centimeter sizes. Our 58-centimeter test bike weighed 15.5 pounds, and Felt’s weight for a 56-centimeter bike is 15.18 pounds.

THE RIDE
We tend to agree with Felt that due to the number of riders joining our illustrious fold, there needs to be race bikes designed to address the variations of body types and riding styles. The comfort-biased Z-15 is a worthy machine, because Felt makes it using the same material and process as its premier, F-1 road racer. It climbs exceptionally well, and out-of-the-saddle sprints are natural and powerful. Speed freaks will find that the Z-15 really excels when cornering and on descents. Some of its cornering prowess comes from its Vittoria Diamonte Pro Light tires and Shimano Dura-Ace Carbon wheelset. All of RBA’s staff were inspired by the Felt’s stable cornering and excellent handling qualities while we were in the drops.

The top tube on the Z-15 has a dorsal fin feature. Nice.

The Z-15 rides more rigidly than one may expect from a ‘comfort-class’ design, but its saddle, gel-infused handlebar tape and ergonomic handlebar insulate the rider from at least some of the rigors of the road. Our one issue with the Z-15 was that in certain gear combinations, the chain and sprockets created a harmonic buzzing that could be felt in the saddle and through the handlebar. Like guitars, thin-wall tubular structures tend to transmit vibrations at harmonic frequencies. Perhaps some experimenting with different brands of chains and sprockets will silence the buzz.

THE VERDICT
Kudos to Felt for addressing the rising hordes of road riders who want to race, or throw down for a personal-best century-without requiring a trip to the chiropractor to walk upright after the event. Kudos to the Slipstream/Chipotle riders who are proving that you can win and go fast on a more relaxed, upright frame. As Will Frishkorn says, ‘For the style of racing we tend to do on open roads, a solid, dependable, and very predictable ride is ideal. Across the board, even in a criterium, the laid-back geometry makes for a stable and confident ride.’
We wholeheartedly agree.

Price: $4999
Weight: 15.5 pounds (58-centimeter)
Info: www.feltracing.com