So a couple of weeks ago when I posted about the Felt Media Day, there were two models I wasn’t supposed to mention—at all. One was the complete redesign of the AR model, while the other was the introduction of the IA, a brother to the DA. The IA is a triathlon-specific aero bike. Naturally, what makes the IA tri-specific are its tube shapes that in many cases exceed the 3:1 ratio set (arbitrarily) by the UCI.
I suspect that even now Pat McQuaid is dispatching goons to the corners of the world to make sure that no Cat 4 enters a local time trial on such a dastardly invention. All snark against the UCI aside, the IA is a pretty fascinating bike because it falls in the tradition of a great many bikes from companies like Lotus and Colnago, bikes that were responses to a very simple question: How aerodynamic can a bicycle be?
It’s a fair question and the UCI’s meddling in innovation hasn’t actually resulted in safer riders. Worse, it has stifled genuine innovation. I’ll also take a moment to add that the UCI’s claim that they restrict designs (and created the bike approval process) to ensure the safety of riders is silly for the simple reason that going to market with a bicycle that can’t pass the CEN standards is essentially impossible and there is no stronger motivation against marketing a shoddy product than the black eye that would come from having your bike disintegrate on worldwide television. Talk about powerful motivators.
For roadies, the biggest news is that the company’s aero road bike, the AR, has been completely redesigned for 2014. They scrapped the existing design and built a new bike, one tube at a time. Dave Koesel, Felt’s road product manager, reports that while the new AR isn’t as stiff in torsion as the F bike, it is significantly stiffer than its predecessor; it now matches the stiffness of the Super-Stiff layup of the previous generation of F. This is the bike that most Garmin riders were riding. While the AR is a better sprinting bike, the company’s testing has shown that it is much more comfortable than most aero road bikes. Comfort-wise, the AR is said to fall between the F and the company’s grand touring road bike, the Z.
Irvine is but two hours from the San Diego Low-Speed Wind Tunnel. If another company has spent more time there testing and developing new designs, I’d like to hear who it is. Among their many trips to San Diego, Felt took aero bikes from its competitors and after building up each bike with the same components and wheels in an effort to make the tests as fair and equal as possible and then “blew” (as the engineers at the SDLSWT like to say) each bike. Felt says the AR was the fastest bike of the set.
Of the AR’s many innovations, one of the more surprising was what the engineering team did with the seatpost. They created a clamp that pinches only the carbon fiber walls of the post, not the whole of the post. The channels you see in the post are what allow the post to slide up and down on the clamp. Once saddle height has been set, there are polyurethane plugs that can be cut to length to fill those slots. The design allows Felt to go with thinner walls for the post, which is part of what helps give the AR its reportedly improved ride quality.
One of the changes that the engineers made in the redesign of the AR was to move the rear brake under the chainstays. Because a few different companies have done that, Shimano has come up with this quick release for the rear brake to make fixing a flat a little speedier.
The brake used on the AR has a very low-profile design and offers plenty of stopping power, in part because each brake arm mounts to its own post, much like U-brakes or cantilevers.
You’ll notice that both the AR and IA have a checkerboard pattern to their layup that is uncharacteristic of other top-shelf carbon fiber bikes. That’s because they use a material called Textreme. So far, Felt is the only company in the bike market to use this material. You can find it on each of their bikes that carry the “FRD” (Felt Racing Design) designation. If the look is at all familiar to you, it may be because you saw the same pattern on the F FRD ridden to four stage victories at this year’s Tour de France by Marcel Kittel.
Textreme is interesting enough to merit a post of its own, but its manufacturer has figured out a way to produce sheets of material that looks much like traditional 3k or 12k nonstructural weave but offer structure while remaining lightweight and still providing a degree of impact resistance. It’s an intriguing material, and so far, Felt is the only company using it.
The bottom bracket area on the AR has been built up substantially to give the bike better handling and a more responsive demeanor under out-of-the-saddle efforts. And naturally, like all Felt bikes, the AR is going to come in a full range of spec, some of which will be remarkably affordable.
I’m going to have a chance to ride the AR soon and I’ll be able to report some first impressions. Even if it’s not the absolute fastest aero bike out there, if it can be reasonably comfortable and stiff enough not to scare me on a descent, I’m intrigued.
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.