When Fun Is the Goal

When Fun Is the Goal

Suppose for an instant that you were to let go of every bias, every preconceived notion, every macho attitude and each indelibly stamped image of pro cool that you’ve worked so hard to inventory and catalog into that region of your brain that is reserved for passions. Let’s say you cleared your cycling dry-erase board of everything except the fact that you like road bikes.

What would that bike be? I’m not entirely sure how I would have answered two weeks ago, but I can now say I’ve ridden exactly that bike.

My recent visit to Felt was for not one, but two bike intros. In addition to debuting the new FR, a whole new generation of their road racing machine, they also unveiled the new VR series.

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Real-world versatility
The VR is the road bike that is the appropriate response to the needs of most riders. I’ve never been more convinced of the truth of such a statement than I am with this particular bike. But before I can go into too much depth, I gotta go all postmodern and back up a sec.

For some years, Felt had two road bikes, the F and the Z. The Z series bikes were their fondo/century bikes. Compared to the F, the Z had a bit more relaxed handling and more stack for an easier fit. I owned one for a while and had a chance to ride each iteration. It was a dynamite bike; light, reasonably nimble, but comfortable enough to leave you fresh at the end of 100 miles.

More recently, Felt introduced the V series, which were their first adventure bikes. The problem was, the V wasn’t super differentiated from the Z. It was essentially a Z with a bit more tire clearance. Yawn, but they hadn’t invested in tooling for high-end carbon, so going with the V meant going down-market. Cough.

Felt has now dropped both the V and the Z. The VR is their replacement. What the VR does is combine the fit and handling of the Z with the tire clearance and dedicated disc design of the V in an all-new carbon fiber frame (plus a number of aluminum ones).

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That ideal
So back to that dry-erase board. Again, we’ve checked our egos at the door. What is that bike? Here’s how Felt answered the question. That ideal has more stack than your average race bike for a more practical fit. That’s not to say upright, but out of the box, this is a fit that is more likely to put you in a position to generate great power while leaving enough weight on the front wheel to give nimble and confident handling. The bike also has disc brakes for a couple of obvious reasons. They increase braking force (in most designs) by 15 percent, giving you better control and this isn’t a bike that is going to cross the desk of the DMV clerks running the UCI’s technical commission. It also has ISO-certified clearance for 30mm tires and for the adventurous, room enough for some 35mm tires. The frame has been designed to offer as much comfort as possible without sacrificing control.

To that end the top tube was flattened near the seat tube and the seatstays have an unusual evolving shape as they run from the seat tube down to the dropouts. This bike is not a sprinter’s dream, but that’s not who is going to buy this bike. Standing efforts are well-enough rewarded.

There’s one other thing that Felt did with the VR: they gave it gearing appropriate to people who don’t ride 30 hours per week. More on that in a sec.

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Permit me a slight digression: Felt is maybe the most confounding bike company on the planet. They are one of the most creative bike companies and the outfit most driven by the pursuit of product untethered by commercial concerns. They revolutionized triathlon bike designed with the DA and to ride on the wheel of someone astride its descendant, the tri-specific IA, is to know irreversible suffering. But they are awful at communicating the lengths to which they go to make great product. It’s not that hyperbolic to say they spend less on marketing than Richard Sachs does.

Want to know what the rest of the bike industry thinks of Felt? Just check out how many Giant, Specialized, Trek and Cannondale dealers also carry Felt. Allowing a Specialized Concept Store to carry Felt would introduce the kind of chaos that accompanied Ayrton Senna’s arrival at McLaren. Alain Prost was not thrilled. Closer to home, Felt would be to Ritchie Porte what Specialized is to Tejay van Garderen. Oops. But Felt will never compete on an equal footing because they make a fraction of the number of bikes, which is why they can focus so much more energy on materials, production and design.

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Go zoom
Most of us generate our best power when we’re not folded up like a dress shirt. The VR was designed with more than 2cm more stack than the same size in Felt’s FR model. Once you bring up the rider’s torso, it’s important to adjust the geometry so that you still have enough weight on the front wheel to keep the bike handling well. One problem I frequently see is a bike like the Cannondale Synapse or the Specialized Roubaix with 4 or 5cm of spacers and then a -6 degree stem flipped upward. It might make for a comfortable position, but there’s no weight on the front wheel, which is why riders on bikes fit that way frequently look like they may lose control at any moment. And just to be clear, this isn’t a Cannondale or Specialized issue; it’s a fit issue.

Felt increased the wheelbase more than 2cm over the FR series to give riders excellent weight distribution even if their fitter flips the stem up. BB drop ranges between 70 and 72mm, depending on the size. They spec’d two different fork rakes, and while there are four different head tube angles over seven sizes, the 54, 56, 58 and 61 all use the same HTA (72.5 degrees with a 5.0cm fork rake). That works out to a trail of 5.48cm for the 54-61. The smaller bikes all increase in trail; the smaller the bike, the greater the trail in order to offset some of the quick handling presented by the shorter wheelbase.

I rode the 56, which has a 56.3cm top tube. Stack for this bike was 59.5cm, while the reach was 38.6cm. That’s higher and shorter than any other bike I’ve ridden this year. It was a terrific fit straight out of the box.

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We rode the VR over a selection of popular Orange County roads, including the longest light-free road in the OC, Santiago Canyon. We also departed Santiago to climb a portion of a fire road, the famed Blackstar climb. The surface was hard-packed dirt with occasional dustings of loose sand and dirt, just the sort of thing to cause a bit of drifting if you leaned too much in a turn.

Compared to classic Italian stage race geometry, the VR has a higher BB and a bit less trail. The effect, though, is reasonably similar. CPSC requirements demand that a bike be able to corner at a 25 degree lean angle without striking a pedal; that’s a hard thing to get around, which is why virtually all production road bikes have 7cm or BB drop, or less. By increasing the trail from 5.9cm to 5.48cm, Felt was able to offset some of the effect of the higher BB (most Italian bikes were in the range of 7.5cm). Practically speaking, the bike handled with cool aplomb. It would drop with the fall line of any road and with a little hip English you could adjust your line. Give the bar a flick and it would carve into an assured turn. This is a dream bike for all but the most aggressive circumstances. When I think about mountain roads, this bike would be a welcome foil.

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Premium but not pro
Even though Felt called the bike I rode the VR 2, this is the top spec for this given series. Each size of the VR 2 frame uses a customized blend of carbon fiber laid up on a combination of EPS and urethane tooling for maximum accuracy of layup and compaction. The frame is finished in Textreme, which provides a structural layer that also increases impact resistance. Felt is still the only bike manufacturer using the patented material in frames and forks.

The $5499 VR 2 is built up with a combination of Shimano Ultegra Di2 and Shimano’s non-series R785 control levers and new BR805 flat-mount disc brakes. They spec a 160mm rotor front and 140mm rear. The stem, carbon bar and seatpost all come from 3T, while the wheels are Mavic’s Ksyrium Elite Disc Allroads with 12mm through-axles and 142mm rear spacing. Mavic Yksion Elite Guard 28mm tires handle traction duties.

The bike was given mounts for fenders and a bento box, which wind tunnel research has been shown to be a great location to stash items, and is far more aerodynamic than a seat bag.

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Here’s the mind-blowing detail from the parts spec for the VR: Felt worked with FSA to introduce a new crank. The FSA SL-K Modular Adventure crank (BB386EVO) uses 46t and 30t rings. To do that they had to use a 90mm bolt-circle diameter. They call it subcompact. It’s paired with an 11-32 cassette. I’ll grant that a 30×32 low gear is a bit too low to be of much use to flatlanders, but it will be welcome anywhere else. And for the all of us who can’t execute a 45-mph sprint, a 46×11 top gear is plenty high. On our group ride, the bunch split going over the top of one hill and I decided to sprint across the gap on the downhill. After a brief out-of-the-saddle effort I sat down and spun the 46×11 up to 40 mph, rolling into the back of the group on our way up the next roller.

If they’d been willing to let me leave with one of those cranks, I’d be in the garage right now installing it on one of my bikes. It’s genius. And while I encountered some people who expressed concern that such a combination would only be necessary for riders tackling dirt roads, I have to disagree. When I’m out and observe the speeds that most recreational riders pedal at, I think this crank will give almost any rider more usable gears on their bike. Indeed, I spent far more time in the big ring than I would have on any other bike due to all the hills we rode.

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Self-centered
My only complaint with this bike emerges from an entirely self-centered desire. I’d want to run 40mm tires on it; 35mm isn’t quite enough for some of the riding I do. But I ride in a place with more rock than most riders will encounter on their unpaved excursions. I’ve got some curiosity about whether or not 35mm tires will clear the chainstays on all of the different rims I have, but the fact that the frame is only cleared for 30mm tires by ISO doesn’t bug me.

But let’s be honest, most folks who buy this bike aren’t likely to do much adventure riding. And that’s fine. Shod with 28mm tires, this bike will be more comfortable than what they’ve been on by order of magnitude.

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One of the most popular cars in history is the Honda Accord. It bears nothing in common with a race car. The Accord was made for passengers, groceries, has a suspension to keep the ride enjoyable, and yet plenty of go and lively handling. Such is the VR 2. A bike perfect for daily riding. When you consider the frame design, its execution and the gearing, I don’t believe there’s a smarter road bike on the market. And to any bike company that wants to challenge that assertion, I can’t wait to hear from you. Bring it.

Final thought: Why not make the bike for the consumer?

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46 comments

    1. Greg

      … exactly what I was thinking … all we need now is to get these brands to hold the OTT logos …

  1. Mike the Bike PT

    Related to the crank and the gearing, this past year I swapped out chainrings on my aftermarket cranks to a 44×34 with a 11-34 cassette. This has been wonderful for me. The small ring only gets used on steep or sustained climbs. The 10 tooth transition feels more natural than the 14-16 tooth change that most cranks offer. Do I spin out on steep downhills? Yeah, but I would rather get to the top of the climb without feeling torched and not have to shift the FD more than is necessary. Fast is fun but it only makes up a small percentage of any of my rides. This set up won’t be for everyone, but it is close to perfect for me.

  2. Waldo

    TA, IRD, Compass Cycles, and others offer cranks with 90mm bcd. TA makes a 26-tooth chainring for 90mm bcd, if 30 is too high. FSA isn’t exactly reinventing a micro-compact crankset here, but I’m glad they’ve finally seen the light.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I haven’t had a chance to look at the IRD or Compass cranks, but the last time I saw the TA they were still using rings that were neither ramped nor pinned, which means shifting will stink. I’ll take a look again, but if they still haven’t moved to better quality rings, there’s not much to discuss.

  3. Kimball

    Looks like a great bike; Felt has done it’s homework. It pretty much checks all my boxes.
    You need to get that sub-compact crank on your new tandem!

  4. scott g.

    Hi, Waldo the IRD is a 94bcd, so are the TA rings, also Middleburn makes rings and 94bcd doubles cranks sets
    The Compass is 70bcd

    Sugino has been making OX series cranks for at least 3 years, I’ve had OX601 46/30 for a while.
    When buying the OX cranks you spec the rings, so 48/32 and 44/28 are possible, among others.
    Think of it as a 1x +granny, the new triple.

    The FSA on the Felt is also available as a 48/32

    1. Waldo

      Scott, thank you for the correction on the bcds and for amplifying my point regarding plentiful availability of small-ringed double cranksets.

  5. Velociraptor

    The new Felt VR models feature at least 6 different cranksets:

    FSA SL-K Modular Adventure BB386EVO 46/30T
    FSA Omega Adventure BB386 EVO 46/30T
    FSA Tempo Adventure 46/30T
    Rotor 3D30 Adventure 46/30T

    FSA Gossamer Pro ABS Adventure BB386 EVO 48/32T
    FSA Vero Pro Adventure BB386 EVO 48/32T


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, they are using a subcompacts throughout the VR series. It was nice to see they committed to doing that for all riders, though I’m still not clear on why a few got the 48/32 setup.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s a ridiculous thing to suggest, right? I’m sure they spend more than you do, but as a percentage of overall output, I’m positive you invest more. But I’m willing to bet your investment goes much further.

  6. 32x20

    I’m digging where they’re going with these bikes. If I had the bucks to spend on a new ride it’d be something like this.

    Did they elaborate any on their construction methods or is that info from their marketing? You mention EPS foam forms and urethane tooling in both Felt reviews, neither of which is particularly high-end fabrication methods. Not that it matters if the product is good, but I don’t understand broadcasting that info if you have such a meager marketing budget.. I’m also having a hard time believing ‘Textreme’ is anything except an aesthetic high-strand weave.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Just for the sake of accuracy, I want to make clear that using bladders over EPS forms and then urethane tools in the more complicate regions of a frame (i.e. the head tube junction and BB) is what most companies are doing for their top bikes, though some still haven’t even moved to these methods. Felt has a technique they are using for their FRD frames that goes beyond this that no one is replicating. Felt’s head of engineering has been asked to speak to aerospace engineers because the bike industry is actually doing more sophisticated work with composites than they are, due to governmental regulations. It takes forever to change how things are done in aerospace, especially if it’s a government contract.

      Regarding TeXtreme, I’ve attended a presentation by representatives of the company in which they explained the patented process (roughly) by which they create the weave. Considering the weight of the Felt frames that use TeXtreme, and the layers of unidirectional carbon they remove to use the material, if it was tantamount to a 3k cosmetic weave, their frames would have broken with such frequency that they’d have been recalled by now.

    2. 32x20

      …Hopefully this replies in-line.

      I’m sure they’re doing great work. One of the things that bothers me in marketing is the use of industry jargon in an attempt to wow people who don’t know better. I’m sure that was not your intent, but it certainly happens sometimes. Felt’s pdf linked by Scott clears things up…they aren’t using urethane as the cure tool (which seemed crude to me), but as a form.

      I think we’ll see the tide swinging to more ‘allroad’ bikes like this and the 3T Exploro as more riders want the flexibility to ride less traveled roads. I know the gravel bug has bitten me hard!


    3. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, to use a slightly different term, the urethane usage in this and many other Felt frames is a form that allows for greater accuracy in layup. It’s not an aid for curing. It’s the same technology that Cervelo has been using in their high-end frames. I do all I can to use clear terminology when writing about this stuff. The marketing jargon does nothing to aid a consumer’s ability to compare apples to apples, which is why even though I like their bikes, I’ve been critical of Specialized for their 9r, 10r and 11r carbon. It’s not an objective term. I’ll continue to champion the companies that are more transparent about their construction methods.

  7. Scott Matsuda

    Patrick, it’s very satisfying to see that you appreciate the thought put into these bikes. We took great risks not to follow the big brands, but to offer a bike that best fit the majority of the riders out there. To answer a couple of questions… Most front derailleurs will only handle a 16T difference. As we are pioneering the 46/30T size, we were limited by what crank suppliers could provide at every level. Where feasible we paired 46/30 with 11-32 cassettes and 48/32 with 11-34 options.

    Regarding TeXtreme – it is much more than a cosmetic treatment. Individual fibers are replaced by thinner ribbons. You might find this article enlightening http://www.feltbicycles.com/Resources/TechnicalDocuments/Felt_Bicycles_Tech_Carbon.pdf

    Keep up the good work and again, thanks for the props. It’s why we do what we do


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s often up to the smaller brands to innovate. They have the most to gain in presenting a fresh idea and the most to lose by following the pack. The job of the media is to recognize smart work and get behind it. Honestly, in the history of Felt, spec’ing a crank with 46/30 rings isn’t particularly revolutionary, especially when viewed against bikes like the DA, IA and the patented Equilink suspension. But that’s the thing; Felt has shown a consistent drive to innovate.

      And yeah, everyone check out that link to the info about TeXtreme. It’s amazing stuff, and one of the contributing factors to my decision to buy the AR FRD following my review.

    2. VeloKitty

      > Most front derailleurs will only handle a
      > 16T difference.

      Is that something you tested?

      I’m running a 50/39/24 triple… which is way over Shimano’s specs but works fine (with a chain catcher at least .)


    3. Author
      Padraig

      What Scott is saying is that most derailleurs balk at shifting more than a 16t difference between individual chainrings. Triples don’t count in this regard.

  8. Rod

    To paraphrase a famous film line; Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I like almost everything about this bike, except one thing. The gearing. I separate my on-road and off-road riding into two separate bikes, the terrain in the South-East of England kinda demands it. So for me a road going bike needs a 50/34 up front and an 11/28 at the rear. Guess that puts me into the FR bracket. Will you be doing a review on the FR Padraig?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Out of curiosity, why does a road bike need a 50/34 and an 11-28? That’s not a combination that’s been around all that long. What did you do before that was available?

    2. Rod

      Padraig,

      Interesting question. I am relatively new to road biking and have tried a few different combinations of gearing. I have found for the terrain I usually cycle on that works best for me. That said I haven’t used the combination on the Felt. Did you find yourself spinning out on flat roads with the 46×11?

    3. Scott Matsuda

      Hi Rod… I found the gearing on the VR spins out at 39+ mph. I tested this out yesterday because of similar questions. On my race bike, I have traditional 52/36 w/11-23 in the rear for flat courses. My all out sprint efforts are rarely greater than 43mph (my apologies for using imperial units).

      For most endurance rides, we believed that most riders would not be spending much time above 40mph. Ask yourself how often you suffer on a ride because your gearing wasn’t big enough. Typically, at the end of a long day, I’m searching for a lower gear to get over that last bump.

      Patrick can attest as I recall we rode the wheels off his bus the last time we rode together in Taiwan.

    4. Lyford

      46×11 is a hair higher than 50×12. 30×32 is a hair lower than 34×36.

      So it’s like shifting the whole range lower by one cog. Not a huge change, and probably better for most recreational riders.

      I rarely use 50×11 or 50×12. if I get spun out, I’m probably going fast enough…..

    5. Rod

      Maybe I am guilty of exactly the thing Padriag started this article of with. I rarely use a 50×11, but I do spend the majority of my time in the 50. Hills here are short but sharp and I can summit all but the steepest in a 50×28.

      Thanks for the input Scott. Yourself and Padraig have given me some serious thought.

    6. Lyford

      On the other end of the terrain(and maybe fitness) spectrum, I climbed a gap (Vermontese for “pass”) a couple of weeks ago that had me in my lowest gear — 34×32 — for several long stretches, and the option to go lower would have been nice.

      The lower gearing makes great sense for riding on dirt/gravel, where standing is difficult due to limited traction. Being able to sit and spin is a huge help on steep dirt road climbs.

      In any case, it sounds like swapping on larger chainrings would be easy.

  9. scott g.

    Mr. Matsuda, will Felt be selling a VR frameset ?
    What size 650b tires would fit the VR ?, for us non-cpsc compliant types.

    Padraig, the Sugino OX901 (11s) and OX801 (10s) have ramped & pinned rings, use a Shimano CX-70 front mech,
    for STI.

    1. Scott Matsuda

      We plan to offer the frame kit in the VR1 level. As for 650b tires, it really depends on the inner rim width of the wheels you plan to use and the tire itself. Honestly, I have not tested any wheels of this size on this bike as it is really a different animal. This is not to say we are not considering a 650b/700c bike with super wide tire clearance, it just was not the design intent and purpose we were looking to build into the VR line.

  10. Kimball

    The great thing about a 46 tooth big ring is that for the majority of your road cruising speeds you have one tooth jumps between gears. And as Padraig mentions, with an 11 on the back, you can spin it up to almost 40mph. If I need to go faster I just tuck in behind a buddy.

  11. Gary

    The VR looks like a wonderful bike, but for the fact you can’t attach a rear rack to carry lunch, camera, jacket and map. Those three items are, I believe, the minimum needed for even the shortest excursion on a gravel/endurance/any-road bike. (A backpack is not an attractive option for me.)

    Anyway, as I have been interested in the VR, a nagging issue has once again come up. How do you find one to test ride? Felt is just an example of this dilemma. Even if a bike shop carries the brand in theory, good luck finding the model and size you want to try. Of course the owner of an LBS can’t carry every model in every size. Capital is limited and the shop does not know what will sell. Padraig, you are fortunate to be invited to media events for bike launches and I respect your opinion of the bikes you test. Still, nothing beats actual butt-in-the-saddle experience for prospective bike purchasers. With the major brands (Trek, Spech, Cannondale) it is somewhat easier to get that experience. Padraig, you have been in the industry a long time. I wonder if you could comment on the problem I raise–and many others must have experienced–and offer any potential solutions.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Well, if I may, I have to take issue with your assertion that one must have a rack to carry lunch, camera, jacket and map. I mean, where is it written one must have all of those things? And even if the Velominati printed a million T-shirts saying it, I do plenty of rides with a camera slung around my shoulders, a smart phone in my pocket, 2000 calories in various foods in said pockets, while wearing a vest and arm warmers—and I didn’t need a rack to do it. I really oppose the idea that there is a prescriptively correct way to do a ride.

      Now, regarding the test ride dilemma, the only real solution here is to follow the companies you find interesting on social media and keep an eye out for a local visit from their demo fleet. Nearly every company has a demo program in place and there’s no better opportunity to get the test ride on the model you’re interested in. Now some companies will do a smattering of models across a size range, which makes it hard to ride the model you want in the size you want, but others take the approach of just offering one or two models in a complete size run. Both have their merits, though neither may lead to exactly the bike you want in the size you need. I think it’s far more important to ride the category of bike in your size than to ride it with the spec you desire.

    2. Nik

      I agree that for long rides it is necessary to carry a fair amount of stuff. But you don’t need a rack. I use a giant seat bag by Revelate that attaches to the seatpost with wide velcro straps and to the saddle rails with vinyl straps. It’s fine with carbon seatposts.

      I use this on my road bike for double centuries and my mountain bike for 50 mile singletrack rides. I can fit the following inside with room to spare: tube, toolkit, tire levers, patch kit, rain jacket, 2 quarts of water. Water stays cool inside the bag far longer than in a typical bottle in a bottle cage.

      The Revelate bag takes less than a minute to install without any tools. I frequently move it between
      my 2 bikes. It costs about $60 if I remember correctly.

  12. Gary

    Thanks for the suggestion about manufacturers’ demo programs. As far as the ability to attach a rack is concerned, I wasn’t talking about prescription (god knows I don’t follow many of the “rules” when it comes to bike rides), but rather convenience. The VR is supposed to be a versatile, all-road, semi-“adventure” bike, after all.

  13. Gary

    Just a bit more on my last comment. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe generalist bikes (not dedicated racers) should give us more options rather than fewer.

    1. Greg

      Hmmm … Gary, I for one did not get a sense that your comments regarding provisions for a rear rack were prescriptive. And I totally agree with you … a glaring omission.

  14. Tom in Albany

    The comments section in this article is why i read RKP. Talk about Felt and Matsuda chimes in. Drop Sachs’ name, and Sir Richard the Lionhearted himself cues in.

    Padraig, your chops are proven. Keep riding and writing about it!

    Now, I’ve got to find me a Felt dealer in Albany!

  15. Bill Meadows

    Got my shop checking to see when the crank is going to available. GREAT article, thanks!!!!!! if i didn’t already have a gravel bike coming this would be at the top of my list!

    in regard to racks…. there are a million “non-traditional” options theses days……. stuff from Swift used with a bagman attached to your seat rails….. the revelate and porcelain rocket type stuff……. hell, old man mountain can get a rack on to any bike!!!!

  16. Mark Owyang

    “By increasing the trail from 5.9cm to 5.48cm, Felt was able to offset some of the effect of the higher BB (most Italian bikes were in the range of 7.5cm).”

    As Sam Cooke said, “Don’t know much about geometry . . .” and I certainly don’t. But I’m curious to know how trail can offset the effect of a higher BB.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      To make a bicycle turn (countersteer), you have to be able to induce it to lean. If the bottom bracket is too high, you can’t get it to lean much. The alternative is to decrease the trail so that the bike becomes more sensitive to input from the bar.

      I don’t advocate that anyone become a geo chart junkie the way I am. That said, if you look at enough geo charts, past and present, you’ll notice that good designs will either have a low BB (7.5-8.0cm of drop) and a fair amount of trail (5.9-6.0cm) or they will have a higher BB (6.8-7.0cm of drop) and less trail (5.2-5.4cm). What you don’t see are bikes with a high BB and high trail or low BB and low trail.

    2. Mark Owyang

      Thanks. I’d never heard of countersteering, so the learning (thanks, Wikipedia) continues. I assume the original article should have read, “by decreasing the trail from 5.9cm to 5.48cm”

      The VR series sounds great and is on my list of bikes to test ride. Thanks for the detailed review.

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