Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Astr Sidewinder - Uday's Experience

It's been an year of riding the Merida road bike. I'm starting to think that instead of just sticking to one bike, I'd have to ride other bikes occasionally to get to know them and feel the difference. My activity included daily commuting to work, random evening solo rides, and occasional weekend rides with TBA. I was doing all of this on the same bike, and crossed the 5000 km mark this month. My increasing interest in other bike types had been bugging me to buy another bike for commute. Of-course there were other things that led me to take this decision. Commuting on the road bike made me more aggressive and fast on the roads. The ever increasing traffic made it even worse, I was always on the lookout for that pothole which might pop out of nowhere, the autos which stop suddenly to the left, the bikes and cars that come in the wrong direction with high beams that blind you, the bikers who try to overtake you through the little space.

Just one look at Astr Sidewinder bike, and I was really impressed with the simple design. I've always wanted an alternate bike for commuting to office, instead of the Merida road bike. I did my first test ride of the bike at The Bike Affair Kondapur in the Fixie mode, and I loved the responsiveness of the bike. However I had decided against riding in the Fixie mode during office commute owing to my notoriously spiky speed graphs ;)


I got to choose between yellow, white and silver frames for my height, and I chose the white frame with blue rims. I really loved the look of the bike, the simple frame, no gears and the bull horn with the blue bar-tape (We have a choice of various types of handlebars) Riding a new bike, after having ridden the road-bike for the past year, was an entirely new experience. The frame was a little heavy, the handlebar was very light, the brake position was different, and there was no more gear shifting.

Commuting on this bike felt like meditation all the way. I didn't have to bother shifting gears to maintain the cadence (This was one of the causes for the spikes in speed graph), and most importantly I was enjoying the ride rather than rushing my way to the destination. I was skeptical about choosing the gear ratios while assembling the bike, but after talking to Gokul, I decided to go for the usual 42/18 keeping the uphills in mind.


Ever since I started riding the bike in free-wheel mode, a few things that I noticed during my commute was the consistent speed, less use of overall power (no more profuse sweating in the mornings ^^ ), improvement in the overall stability of the ride. The last addition was my music system (Bluetooth speaker fixed to the handlebar) to this bike. This time I chose some light music instead of the usual heavy metal (which almost turned my road bike into a mean-machine), and it's a perfect match.

I feel like this bike has given me so much insight into how we can enjoy commuting in the city. I also feel that this is the perfect bike that I've been looking for, to start off my video channel about commuting in the city. And the best part about this bike is the style, which is a result of some really good color combinations and the simple design. I find this riding experience to be soothing my mind. I love this bike !!








































































































Edit: I've shifted to Fixie mode for about a week. Been commuting and also did a 100km long ride in that mode. After that long ride, when I got off the bike, the walking felt really weird. May be I was so much into the bike, that my legs forgot how to walk ;) During the long ride, I've met another rider, Lipi, with the SideWinder. It felt like I've met a fellow countryman in a distant country­čśÄ. She was riding really well, and she told me that she's enjoying the bike, but still have to get used to the Fixie mode. Now I'm completely riding the bike in this mode, and wish that I get rid of those brakes soon.

------------------------------
As sent by Uday Bhasker.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review - FELT FR 40


Few months back, when we were told that FELT is entering India, we had mixed opinion about the brand. On one side, it wasn't like we didn't hear about FELT. We had come across some of their popular bikes in bike magazines. On the other hand, it wasn't like one of those big brands that you keep hearing about all the time. So we wrote to them asking " How do their bikes compare with some of the bigger brands ? The answer we got is "Felt is a smaller company than the larger brands we compete against. The reason Felt is able to compete with the largest companies in the world is because every single employee is passionate about making the best products.  The best answer to this question is ride a Felt and then ride another brand of frame  at similar price. I have rode a lot of bicycles in my life and Felt truly has magical ride quality. This of course is a short answer and I can go on and on. I really do not like talking about what other companies do I enjoy talking about what Felt does "




Of course, we discarded it as "probable brand talk", but was still keen to ride some of their bikes and find out if there is something really "magical" about them. By then, we have done some googling and realized that the brand has a very rich race legacy. One of the very first bikes Jim Felt ( Founder of FELT bikes) made went on to win the Ironman world championship. Jim was also a triathlete and hence their focus on performance is very high.


FELT FR 40

We had out chance when FELT send us few of their demo bikes, one of them being the FELT FR 40.  We unpacked and assembled the bike soon. A ordinary looking bike, white and black , nothing flashy about the bike by itself. We weighed it in the store. The 54 cm demo bike weighed 9.35 kg , without pedals). That's not bad, I thought. The challenge in building a road bike especially with an Aluminum Alloy frame is to have the right balance of stiffness, compliance and weight. The weight part is good, we will soon be finding more about the other two.

The Felt FR40


Frame & Geometry
6069 Aluminium frame

The frames that come to India is made of 6069 aluminum alloy. We also learned Felt have been using size specific tubes and butting. This is very important because traditionally frame designing and prototyping is done on a mid size ( usually 56 cm) frame. Later on the other sizes are scaled up and down after finalizing design.  However the issue here is that the smaller a triangle the stiffer it is and hence the bikes can start behaving differently across sizes. To compensate for this size specific tubing and butting come to play so that all sizes behave the same way

The frame geometry was on the aggressive side, but there is scope for adjusting the handle bar drop based on the variable adjustable stem (as described later).  Cabling is Internal.

When Jake Duehring (former Felt sponsored US Track Champion who works for Felt now) was in Hyderabad we had a discussion around the races in which the FR is used. Interestingly, Felt does not have a different bike to race for the classics and uses the FR itself, but with wider tires. Also another interesting thing he mentioned is that the Felt sponsored pros use exactly the same bikes as what is available to the customer ( no custom frames for pros, which means your bike could be same as the pro who wins stage on his FELT roadie) .




The fork is made up of Carbon Fibre blades with a carbon dropout. It has a tapered headtube and the headset bearing dimension also varies across the different sizes.

Wheels
The wheels feel very light and strong. The wheels weighed only 2.1 kg (1.2 rear and 0.9 front), which is among the lightest in this price range. The wheels come with 28H (front) and 32H (rear) rims. I was surprised to find this as even with 32 spokes, the rear wheel was very light. The front hubs are ball bearings and rear are sealed cartridge bearings. These are fantastic for training / regular riding.



The rims are tubeless ready and the rear hub is 10 & 11 speed compatible. So the wheels can also be easily upgraded.

Components
Shimano Tiagra Groupset
The FR 40 comes with the Shimano Tiagra 2 * 10 speed gears which felt sufficient and worked without any problem. The crankset is Shimano Tiagra as well, and the bike is paired with a shimano tiagra brakeset. The crank is 50/34 and rear cassette is 12/28, providing a gear ratio suited for training and climbing.

Shimano Tiagra brakeset


Ride Quality

A quick spin, and I was impressed. 
Soon enough, I took it for a longer weekend ride. I remember reading somewhere that George Hincapie (former pro rider) had this habit of riding upto the front and asking his teammates to check if the chain was still on as pedaling was so easy. This thought kept coming back to me throughout the ride as that is exactly how the FR feels. Effortless! Shift to a gear where you can maintain a high cadence and the bike feels so light and easy to pedal. That was the first impression.

Initially on climbs I found myself shifting to a higher gear than what I generally do and grinding at a very high gear towards the end of the climbs. This could be due to the high level of responsiveness at the lower gears. But once I got used to the gearing it was more easy on the climbs. The bike corners and descends very well. I was very comfortable on the bike during and after the ride as well.


Interestingly the FR 40 also absorbs the road vibrations very well. The bike felt very comfortable on village roads and gravel as well. The FR40 is built with the BB386 for additional stiffness and tyre clearance.


Miscellaneous

The stem angle is adjustable , thanks to some innovative design by Felt
Variable Adjust stem allows the stem angle to be adjusted anywhere between 8 to 16 degrees

The sleeve inside the stem. It can be turned around to tweak the stem angle

The handle bar is a variable shaped. The handle bar diameter is wider towards the center (where it clamps on to the stem) and thins out where we hold at the top or drop and hence very comfortable to hold even for people with smaller palms. The bar tape also nicely complements it by being comfortable but not too thick.

Its also nice to see the stock bike being paired with quality tires. This is one of the areas most brands cut cost.  The FELT website mentions some of the FR series road frame being able to take 28 inch tires, but the stock bike comes with 700x25c tires.

The 700x25c Schwalbe Durano tyres are fast and grippy, and comes with a level of puncture protection
The saddle has few spots of gloss finish which makes it a little slippery at times. It does have a small depression in the middle of the saddle to ease out pressure on the nerves.

The bike comes with a carbon seatpost. It also has a very useful scale near the place where the saddle rails clamp the seatpost to indicate the saddle tilt.

Snapshot




What we like :
  • One thing that stands out is the "ride quality". Size specific tubing ensures the same ride quality is maintained across all frame sizes (  a rarity in Aluminium road bikes across brand)
  • Soaks up road vibrations on gravels/dirt roads
  • Strong  yet light weight wheels ( 32 spoke rear, 28 spoke front)
  • Tubeless ready rims
  • We also like that FELT has not overlooked some of the "usually ignored areas". Examples being high quality bar tapes and good tires . The stem adjust-ability is very thoughtful and is a great feature for beginners.
Scope for improvement :
  • Nothing much we can think of. One small area could be the saddle. Would be nice to get rid of those glossy surface

Conclusion


It is a tough race between the performance road bikes with some of the top brands available in India. I would rate the Felt FR bikes to be the best of the lot that I have ridden. It is the best option for a rhythm rider looking for an all round bike. With light and fast wheels, the complete package is very fast and comfortable. Like their technology page describes, it allows you to save on watts on the early stages of a race so that you have more energy left in the tank for the finale. Highly recommended for training, racing and even some endurance riding. The FR 40 is  priced at Rs 101050 (and there is a limited period 10% launch discount)  and is available in 51 and 54 cm.

Reviewed  by Gokul Krishna, Photographs by Krishnendu Basu
Gokul has owned and (or) ridden Cannondale CAAD 8, Orbea Aqua,  Merida Ride 100, Bergamont Prime 6.4 , Velocite Geos, Fuji Touring, Specialized Allez Sport, Merida Reacto 5000, Merida Scultura 400, Merida Ride 300, Specialized Diverge and a few unnamed Astr Prototypes at different points of time.