On Tuesday I went to Felt Bicycles’ headquarters in Irvine for the introduction of their 2014 line. Of all the bike companies I know, they are the most intensely product-focused. By that I mean they devote a disproportionate amount of their resources to product. It’s a double-edged sword; no other company this small (they have fewer than 50 full-time employees in the U.S.) produces such a vast range of bikes, but I’m also reasonably certain that no other company producing product at the quality level and value they do spends less on marketing and advertising. There again, another double-edged sword. By spending a fraction of what Specialized does on marketing, Felt’s bikes are noticeably more value-packed at a given price-point. I’ve encountered riders for whom the effect induced suspicion, as if there must be a man behind a curtain somewhere.
Maybe that will change for 2014. Felt is coming off its most successful appearance at the Tour de France in the company’s history. Marcel Kittel of Argos-Shimano won four stages and wore the yellow jersey for a day. And let’s be honest, Argos-Shimano is a team that doesn’t get the props, attention or respect that Garmin-Sharp does, yet they gave Felt a far better return on investment. Also, while this isn’t exactly germane to the point at hand, I don’t mind adding that with four very evenly matched sprinters (Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel), the sprint stages at this year’s Tour were the most thrilling the race has seen in decades.
Before I go any further, I need to clarify what I meant in the headline. There are bikes that we saw that are currently under embargo. I’ll report on them shortly.
The other thing worth noting about Felt’s line is that they offer road bikes at some nearly unheard-of values. Case in point: the Z5, which retails for $1699. While it’s possible to find a carbon fiber bike in this price range, most of Felt’s competitors are spec’ing a Shimano Sora group. Felt specs a mostly 105 group. That’s a big step up in quality.
The other really interesting development I can talk about for now is the new Virtue Nine. Pictured here is the Virtue Nine One, the top-of-the-line. The Virtue has been Felt’s trail offering, fitting in that 120mm to 140mm-travel range (it’s 130mm front and rear). Thanks to a newly designed seat tube and (for those models that use a front derailleur) a new front derailleur mount, Felt’s engineers were able to revise the rear suspension to keep the rear wheel in tight enough that you can pick up the front end when you need to. The challenge they faced was Felt’s patented Equilink design, which is actually a six-bar linkage.
The bar running vertically behind the seat tube minimizes pedal-induced bobbing and helps control the path of the rear wheel. Of all the new mountain bikes I’ve seen announced for 2014, this is one of the ones I’m most excited about.
I continue to marvel at the quality of the layup work on Felt’s bikes. Little touches like the one above, which are cosmetic rather than structural, are a great chance to showcase just how good the work is. So far, I’ve only seen work like this showing up on bikes from Alchemy.
Felt also offers an astounding number of cruisers, fixies and other assorted city bikes. Give them a frame and they’ll come up with five ways to spec it. The bike above is the York, which features a steel frame, aluminum fenders, that carrier and a two-speed kickback hub and carries a suggested retail of $829.
The ever-popular (and nearly impossible to get) New Belgium Fat Tire cruisers have been produced by Felt for the entire run of the offering. Each year they change them up a bit. This year they head in a new direction with the addition of 29″ wheels and a new Felt tire.
The embargo will run out on … other stuff in about 10 days. Check back for more revelations then.