Roubaix Tech: Special Edition Felt F1

 

The efforts to tame the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix have included everything from running lower tire pressure in 28mm tires to wrapping the handlebar with foam pipe insulation and even using cyclocross bikes. The cyclocross bikes have been a less than stellar option for a few reasons. First, they’ve been chosen because the standard race bikes from the teams’ sponsors have allowed clearance for 28mm tires; in some cases they won’t even allow 25mm tires. Second, they feature geometries that include high bottom brackets (for pedal clearance) when the average Roubaix rider wants a lower BB to make the bike easier to handle over the bumps.

Felt has taken a novel approach to meeting the needs of their sponsored riders. For this year’s Paris-Roubaix, the Argos-Shimano team rode on a special run of the company’s F1 frames. How these frames differ from a standard F1 might surprise you. Unchanged is the bike’s layup and stiffness, which many might guess would be the first concession made to the cobbles. In fact, the changes are deeper in the DNA of the machine.

Felt’s engineering team changed the geometry of the F1—giving it handling and tire clearance perfect for the cobbles—without cutting new molds. Seems like an impossible trick, huh? Let’s cover the changes to the geometry and the rationale for it and then we’ll get into just how they did it.

The F1 seen above features head and seat tube angles a full degree slacker than the stock bikes. They also have a 10mm longer front center and 13mm longer chain stays to keep the weight distribution virtually unchanged. Felt’s engineers also managed to drop the bikes’ BB height by 3mm even after the addition of 28mm tires. And of course, the modified the fork and the rear triangle to create clearance for those bigger tires.

Again, the amazing thing here is that they managed all these changes without cutting new molds for bikes that will essentially be raced once a year. So how’d they do it?

Dropouts.

They designed new dropouts that moved the rear wheel back and up (relative to the old position) which dropped the rear end of the bike and increased the wheelbase of the bike. Up front, new dropouts raised the fork crown and increased the rake, compensating for the decrease in head tube angle to keep trail consistent. The slacker seat tube angle allows riders to sit back a bit more, shifting some weight off their upper bodies to give their hands, arms and shoulders a bit of a break.

And to compensate for the changes to the fork and rear triangle, non-series Shimano long-reach calipers handle the stopping duties.

This isn’t the first time Felt has done this. In 2008 when they were sponsoring Garmin-Chipotle, which included Magnus Backstedt pictured above, Felt produced a run of F frames for the team. Those frames also featured Felt’s “Superstiff” layup, a feature that wasn’t required this time around as the new F1 is both lighter than the previous F1 (standard layup) and stiffer than the Superstiff layup.

While Trek and Specialized realize excellent marketing benefits from putting their sponsored teams on the new Domane and established Roubaix, Felt’s approach yields a bike more purpose built to the racers’ requirements. Both the Roubaix and Domane feature more trail than their racier counterparts. What’s most surprising here is that more companies haven’t had the insight to create a second set of dropouts to give their top-flight race bikes more versatility. Maybe this will help illustrate just how bright Felt’s head of engineering, Jeff Soucek, and his team are.

 

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18 comments

  1. Wsquared

    Unless my eyes deceived me, both Turgot & Boom rode CX bikes onto the podium today, so I guess they actually do work OK for Roubaix.

  2. A Stray Velo

    Pretty good idea from Felt.

    This was the only “Roubaix Bike Special” that I read on the internet. I figured the rest were only marketing fluff. It’s always nice to read about smart engineering.

  3. Wsquared

    Er, in my previous post I put Boom on the podium with Turgot & Boonen. It should have been Ballan, who was not riding a CX bike. Like Turgot, Boom was on a CX bike, but he finished down a few places. (That’s what happens when I text from memory while riding.)

  4. Rob Beard

    Canyon has an adjustable front fork dropout too–they call it “Shift Rake.” See, e.g., http://www.canyon.com/_en/roadbikes/bike.html?b=2520. I wondered whether this was just a gimmick–I love this concept. Adjustable dropouts (front and rear) and disc brakes on a top of the line frame=dream bike that could feel purpose-built any and everywhere. Has anyone on here ridden one of these bikes with adjustable dropouts?

  5. A Reader

    Check again, Trek (among others, I’m sure) have been using alternate dropouts for cobbled races for years. It seems your Specialized sycophancy has recently turned into a Felt fetish.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Rob Beard: I’ve heard about the Canyon “Shift Rake.” You’ll have to pardon me, but it really sounds like a cop out from a product manager who couldn’t decide what the geometry ought to be. Is it a TT bike or a road bike? Changing the fork rake alone won’t determine the whole of a bike’s identity. And of all the places on a bike where I want something to be adjustable, the fork isn’t one of them. I’d really like to see just how it is designed, but the idea of moving parts at dropouts concerns me. And as pertains to this post, those adjustable dropouts wouldn’t help with increased tire clearance.

      A Reader: Trek’s work in this regard didn’t impress me at all. They used a fork not designed for the Madone in place of the original fork; a source I know told me they were using old Pilot forks. And the rear dropouts made wheel changes difficult and left the bike’s ultimate geometry to chance. Felt’s work was far more impressive. They established design goals and then backed into them via dropouts. That said, the new Domane is a bike that does impress me. I’m interested to ride one the first chance I get; I’ll be honest and say I find a few of their marketing claims a bit dubious, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to review the bike in person. Finally, consider this your little reminder that we ask the conversation stay cordial. It’s possible to disagree without calling me a sycophant (a charge better leveled at VeloNews BTW) or a fetishist, your alliteration notwithstanding.

  6. Rob Beard

    I have thought sort of the same thing–though I don’t have your experience to make a good assessment of the concept. If Felt’s idea (Trek, or anyone else, for that matter) works, I think it would be great! I rode my touring bike at the Paris-Roubaix Challenge last week and had a mechanical that took a couple hours to fix. I would have been on my race bike, but for the tire clearance issue…

    I am excited to try the Domane too. Thanks for replying. And A Reader, this place is a far cry from the advertising that poses for content over at VN. Thanks Padraig–keep it up!

  7. Mark

    Padraig,

    Thanks for your report. It seems impressive that modifying the dropouts, such a small part of the bike, can make that much of a difference.

    My larger (perhaps rhetorical) question is — why do most companies insist on making these bikes a one-off or special edition? I’m interested in the Domane, and appreciate Trek’s intent on building and marketing it, but why isn’t it more common? With the interest in Battenkill, D2R2, the Dirty Kanza, etc., to say nothing of simply exploring the innumerable dirt roads in the west or poor-quality pavement across the country, why don’t more companies give us the option of good, high-quality bikes that fit 28mm or even 32mm tires? I find it bizarre that many of the “plush” bikes still won’t fit tires wider than 25mm, and those have compromised handling and riding positions. I’m shading into a retrogrouch here, but I’m troubled that the expense for carbon-fiber molds forced us to give up so much versatility for the last 1% of performance when most bikes are ridden rather than raced — particularly when rolling resistance in the real world is probably better on wider tires than 23′s?

    Felt, if you’re listening: consider offering this bike for sale. With the right marketing (and a different color?), you might find more sales than you anticipate. But then, I don’t know how well the Gary Fisher Cronus bikes sold, nor how the Jamis Endura’s sold. I’m still riding a titanium bike, so maybe I’m part of the problem in not voting with my wallet.

    Perhaps I’m simultaneously tilting at windmills and being too rational, and buyers are more interested in the romance of a pure-bred race machine than looking at trade-offs.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Mark: You ask some good questions. Actually, you ask a lot of good questions, too many to answer here. I’m going to have to write a post that intersects with many of these issues.

  8. Peter Lin

    Mark’s comment inspired me to post a response. I am addicted to riding and get out as often as the weather permits. Living in central MA, I see numerous potholes and have had similar thoughts. I love watching the pros race on TV, but have no desire to race.

    There have been occasions where I took a wrong turn in western MA and found myself on dirt roads. Having a bike that handles bumps well would have saved my bottom from several miles of abuse. Rides like D2R2 look fascinating, but I don’t own a cross bike and don’t really want to use a mountain bike for it. If these “one off” bikes really make bumps gentler, I would think there’s a market for it. Take Vermont for example, many of the roads are not paved.

    My question is this, “Is there a trend with plush models?” Seems like not all manufacturers have plush models. The ones that are most often mentioned are specialized, Cervelo and Giant. Now with Trek Domane, will this trend grow?

  9. Touriste-Routier

    This appears to be a brilliant solution.

    Unfortunately most of the endurance/plusher (it is all relative isn’t it?) models still miss the mark by a long shot; it is bad when your P-R frame struggles to accept 25 mm tires with any amount of clearance.

    This is a trend that started long ago. Real world bikes started dying off in the late 80s; by the mid 90s, they were largely gone. They are making a comeback via the hand built sect, but not too much beyond that.

    My gut tells me most consumers don’t know any better, and are happy to get sold on what everyone touts as the latest and greatest. Stiffer doesn’t always mean better, but that is what all the manufacturers tout, and what the consumers eat up. I also honestly don’t know how anyone fits properly on bikes with steep seat angles and zero setback posts that are so common today…

    I suppose it is a good sign that Cervelo, Specialized and a few others recognize that we all aren’t 19 years old anymore, I just wish they’d take it further. Changing the dropouts to change the frame is pure genius; maybe others will look at similar solutions and make them available to the public.

  10. Dan O

    As already alluded to in previous responses – this would make a great real world bike. Jumping up to 28c tires make a world of a difference comfort wise, and are not any slower then 23c tires usual found on modern road bikes.

  11. Derek Blagg

    The biggest complaint I have about my carbon bike — lack of tire clearance. It barely fits 25c tires. Don’t even think about trying to squeeze on full fenders for the rainy season.

  12. Wsquared

    My 2011 Cervelo r3 is finicky about which 25c tires I can mount. Cervelo has special “mudder” frames in the classics with extra clearance for big tires. On my stock bike, 25c Vittorias are just ok, contis are pretty tight but runnable if you don’t pick up major grit & Michelins are mountable, but with too little clearance for my peace of mind.

    In February I decided to try going in another direction. I mounted Shimano RS 80 c24 carbon/ aluminum composite wheels & 23c Hutchinson Fusion 3 tubeless tires. They are at least as comfortable as the 25s I was running before and clearance is no longer an issue. I have more than 1000 miles on them without a flat and have been riding them ocassionally on some of the local Strada Bianchi roads around Boulder county in acceptable comfort. I weigh about 205 lbs & find they work well for me at about 102/105 psi, with room to go down a few pounds for extra comfort. Next Winter, I might try 25c tubeless Intensives, which I gather run a little narrow and are bullet proof.
    YMMV.

  13. ExAlfa

    +1 W2′s comment on the switch to tubeless Fusion 3′s on the RS80′s. I ran Battenkill at 85f/90r psi (I’m 160 lbs) on a SuperSix and it saved me from being vibrated apart. Running the cross bike with it’s tubeless Griffo’s would have been comfy but I would run out of gear on the fast stuff.

  14. SuperDave

    Felt Listens.

    While the concept of the PR F1 resonates with some consumers, the geometry, low head tube, and high STW still have it as a specialty frame, not an every-man’s machine.

    The Felt Z-series is right at home on the pave with the stock 25mm tires and slightly slacker angles and slightly longer for offset.

    For the team, the fit on the Z-series is different enough than their pure-race developed F1s that they use for the rest of the races that the resulting position changes make the swap to Z for PR less than ideal. CX bikes present the same problems and more as was previously mentioned. Rather than make special Z bikes with low head tubes as Trek and Specialized have done for their riders, we make custom F bikes that give the handling traits they desire on the cobbles.

    As for making the F1 PR available for sale, we did that in 2010 in very limited numbers. Felt reached the podium in our PR debut with Steffen Wesemann and has had been lucky to have input from PR winners like Magnus to continue to develop frames used with success under Martijn Maaskant. The ability to cater to such a special race like PR is also used to evaluate if those changes would be viable to products with consumer appeal.

    In short; you can’t buy the bike that Boonen rode, you can’t buy the bike prepared for Cancellara, and you can’t currently buy these F1 PR frames. I don’t think we’ve all came to the conclusion to not bring these bikes to market because the demand is there but we’d prefer to ignore it. I think we’ve all found that we can make a much better product for the masses that suits the multi-surface uses being dicussed here.

    -SD

  15. Cat4Fodder

    At the end of the day, a Cross bike with a 52 Chain Ring is perfectly sufficient for most riders, and allows you to fit wider tires. Sure – there is the issue with cantilever brakes, but I have been bombing down some of the mountain passes and roads here in Colorado on that bike in the winter, and those brakes work fine (and they are lower end Avid brakes).

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