Felt B12 (2013)

Taking a trip back on the Way Back Machine, Felt was in a 12-way tie for second place in the tri bike market in 2006 and before. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the Kona Bike Survey in 2006. Cervelo was first, Trek second, and Quintana Roo third. Then it was Kestrel, Cannondale, Kuota. Thought you’d see Felt before then? Then in 7th it was Litespeed, then Scott, Specialized, Giant, and in 11th place sat Felt, with 40 bikes in the race.

Then came a revolutionary introduction by Felt and that changed everything. By the 2008 Kona bike count Felt had jumped to 7th. Last year Felt was in the number-3 position, and in the race just concluded in Kona Felt was a strong 4th.

What accounted for Felt’s performance over the past 5 years? That fabulous mold it introduced in 2007. That changed everything for Felt. Simply put, its bikes fit. The B series bikes (B2, B12, B16, and so forth) were born from that 2007 mold and Felt has been a serious player ever since. It became the clear #2 triathlon specialist behind Cervelo. Trek and Specialized—a couple of $800 million behemoths—stopped what they were doing, and focused engineering, production, marketing and distribution on triathlon almost to the exclusion of everything else. It took this kind of effort for those two companies to jump over Felt in the Kona count. Whether they’ve jumped over Felt in overall tri sales I do not know.

In the intervening years, Felt has worked on other triathlon projects. A year and a half ago Felt introduced a new, dynamic mold that became the chassis for the DA series. It immediately overshadowed the B series mold and made that older mold—very sexy when first introduced—suddenly look ordinary. Not to worry (thought I), Felt will downstream this DA mold in upcoming seasons.

But Felt did not do that. It did something I did not expect. It came out with an entirely new mold for the B series, and this upcoming 2013 season is this mold’s debut. We’ve written about it here and there on Slowtwitch, shown some pictures, since its unveiling in July, but this is the first we’re writing about the nuts and bolts of a complete bike made from this mold (pics below).

There is one big difference between this bike and anything else Felt has ever made. It has been my observation that when Felt makes a new class of product, it often tends to be geometrically aggressive, at least in how the bike fits. Low in front. That is certainly the case with Felt’s F series road race bike. It was the case with Felt’s old S22 bike (prior to 2007). Then, Felt gets a sense for what part of the market it isn’t satisfying, and it then builds successive models (such as its Z series road bikes) to fill that demand. The DA mold was a fairly aggressive geometry, though not overly so, and was similar to the 2007 B series mold in geometric theme.

But this new mold is wholly different than what Felt has made in the past. In a way, it’s kind of analogous to its Z series road bikes. It’s built for everyone the DA will not fit. It is what we call, in the world of bike fit, a “narrow/tall” bike and, as such, it is a lot more like (in fit) the bikes built by Scott, Specialized, and Blue. For example, in my size (58) the stack and reach of the new bike is 576mm and 435mm respectively. In the old B series the bike would have a stack and reach of 546mm and 449mm. In other words, in my size, the head tube top is 3cm taller (versus the bottom bracket) and sits 1.5cm closer, horizontally, to the bottom bracket.

What does this mean? For me, if the front end of the bike were the same (same stem, bars, etc), I’d need to sit back in the saddle 1.5cm for this new bike to fit me, and I’ve have to ride with my aerobars 3cm higher.

But remember, I ride fairly aggressively on my tri bike (as regards position and fit, I’m and old pooper on my road bike, but not so on my tri bike). So, Felt’s DA fits me quite nicely. I’d have to struggle with the new B series to make that bike to fit me (and this means it is a better fit for many of you who previously struggled with the sorts of bikes that fit me best).

All this is good news for Felt dealers who needed a bike that served as a geometric bookend to the DA. In the same way that the F series road race bikes made by Felt serve those who like to ride low in front, you have Felt’s Z series for those who don’t. The DA gives triathletes who want to ride low in front that choice, but for those who don’t (a huge number) the new B series is made for them.

The combination of a morphologically longer torso (versus leg), the tendency to ride steep, and to ride low in front, all conspire to make the DA more your bike (although the DA has proprietary stems available that work for those who don’t fit this model). Any combination of choosing to ride less steep (78 degrees instead of 80 degrees of seat angle), less low in front, and to the degree you are morphologically evenly proportioned or even long-legged (versus your torso) conspire to make the new B series geometry work better for you.

Engineering and Aerodynamics
In recent years I’ve appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of Felt’s engineers. They are as likely to be reading and studying about motorcycle design as bike design, and not just as a hobby. In the same way that you can blow 30mph on a bike in the wind tunnel and extrapolate what the wind is doing at 18mph, some of the elements of frame stiffness (versus some flex and ductility at certain places in the frame) show up more ardently and stridently in a motorcycle, at high speeds, than in a bike. Bike riders can get used to just about anything. But that doesn’t mean that anything you put under them performs the same as anything else.

This frame is made with big sections, much like the DA, much bigger than on the old B series mold. This makes the frame lighter and more aerodynamic, it makes it stiffer if that’s what you need. Felt also took what might seem the risky move of building a bike that mates with an aero downtube water bottle. I say risky because that’s basically the idea behind the P4 (while Cervelo’s P5 has been nothing but a striking success, the P4’s launch was less so). The difference, I think, is that Felt’s B series still looks like a bike without the bottle, whereas the P4 looked lost without the bottle. The bottle in question is the Torhans, and the co-engineering of frame and bottle makes sense. I’d like to see that bottle eventually available in a different motif, where you can store your spare tube, inflator, and cartridges for example.

Felt uses a high quality carbon and its “InsideOut internal molding process,” which is the way good bike makers are molding their high-end frames these days. Simply put, rather than just molding the outside of the frame with a lot of flash and goobers inside, the inside of the frame—which you’ll never see—is just as carefully crafted. This hogs a lot of weight out of the frame.

The frames are designed using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) which is almost a must these days. It’s hard to wind tunnel test a frame and use that as a basis for designing the frame, since you have to have a frame in the tunnel to test in the first place. What are you going to do at that point? Trash the mold and go back to square-one? Otherwise, you’re testing a frame that’s got a lot of putty on top of standard tubes, and you’re part fluid dynamics engineer and part Michelangelo. In the end, that’s an expensive and laborious process.

This is a BB30 frame and I rather like the idea of 30mm bottle bracket spindles. The fact that the bike is BB30 means that cranks made for the narrowness of a 68mm BB shell can be used. Now, hang with me here, because Felt did a lot of you a favor. For more on this, you might want to refer to a discussion of bottom bracket standards featured here back in February of this year. This bike is spec’d with a true, native BB30 crank, the Vision Trimax. This crank does not work on both BBright and BB30 frames. Were that the case, the crank would have an 11mm spacer on each side, the crank arms sitting outboard of these spacers. This crank sits flat up against that 68mm shell, and the crank arms splay out to their 150mm (or thereabouts) Q factor.

This means that those who ride splay-footed (like I do) have the heel clearance each revolution, when the heel passes by the crank (when the crank arm is pointing straight forward). This is the way bikes used to be made. This is the way I prefer bikes to be made.

Further, unless I’m wrong, this crank is made in a 110mm bolt pattern, so it can be retrofitted with smaller rings for those who want to ride the cadence of their choice and who need a chain ring down to 34 teeth in order to do so. This crank is also available all the way down to 155mm lengths, and features that very hard to find 167.5mm length. This is truly a great spec for this bike, and don’t let the fact that it’s aluminum scare you off. I think a lot of these cold forged aluminum cranks are every bit the equal of many of the sexier carbon versions.

This is not an entry level bike, but at $3000 it sort of is, for many people. I would say that “entry level” now means $2500 to $3000 in triathlon, and bikes below that are what I’d call “budget.” If you spend $3000, you’re going to get a true tri bike in every sense, but you’re not going to get electronic shifting and 80mm Zipp deep wheels. Does this bike meet that threshold in terms of spec?

It’s not just the crankset that is Vision (or sister brand FSA) on this bike. The headset, chain and the Metron shifters are all from this company. The headset, fine. No problem. The chain? I don’t know. It’s a pin-operated connection system, rather than a connecting link, and I prefer the connecting link motif.

Now, Metron, this is where I don’t know enough really to opine. I just don’t have time on Metron shifters. My concern is this: the Metron is an indexed front shifter. It’s the only one like this in existence, unless you consider electronic systems, as well as the only one other indexed front derailleur bar-end shifter: the new SRAM Red shifter. The problem with index shifting for the front chain ring is the ability to trim the derailleur to get rid of chain rub on the side of the front derailleur cage when you’re on one side of the cogset or the other. The new Red shifter relies on the new yaw front derailleur that does not require trimming. The quicksand you fall into with an indexing front shifter is maneuvering around Shimano’s patents for front derailleur trim. Does the Metron shifter solve this somehow? I don’t know. Maybe user Facebook comments appending to this article will help answer the question.

Derailleurs are Ultegra, and brakes are sort of a Felt/Tektro collaboration. I dislike having to fart around with center pull brakes. However, you’re sort of stuck with them if you want an aero bike. Fortunately, on this bike you’ve got a nice side pull front brake, you’re going to give up a few grams of drag. I’ve found that these few grams are inversely proportional to blood pressure. Every gram of drag reduced by a funky brake increases blood pressure of the user one millimeter of mercury, due to the hassle of adjusting and centering said brake.

Wheels are by Felt and this company does spend some time on this, and they do think about it. I’ve written in the past about how Felt narrows flange width and widens fork blades, to reduce interference drag in the front of the bike, such idea a rediscovery of something we did during my QR days way back when (which was in turn a technique I stole from custom frame maker Dan Wynn from Seattle).

The saddle is a Prologo Evo Nago which, if you all don’t remember, is “the saddle Fabian built.” Honestly, when I fit people to their bikes, and I try a lot of saddles underneath riders, this is not the most common saddle selected. A lot of folks prefer Cobb, or ISM, or Profile Design TriStryke, or the old standard Fizik Arione Tri 2. But this saddle is in the discussion when it comes to tri saddles, and the nice thing about it is that it’s a desirable enough saddle your retailer won’t mind taking it back in trade as a saddle he can resell aftermarket, if it turns out you’d prefer to buy this bike new with one of the other saddles mentioned above.

There is one way aerobars are being made nowadays that trumps every other method: pads and extensions are fixed together, and the entire complex rises or descends in elevation based on aero pedestals placed under this pad/extension complex. Felt already showed it can make a nice aerobar when it debuted its Devox bar. This new Bayonet 3 bar is a step up, and joins Bontrager, Profile Design, Zipp and Vision as making bars that mount and adjust in this way. This is no surprise, because the Felt engineer working on this bar project was Anton Petrov, formerly of Profile Design.

Here’s the thing: This bar is not a particularly low-profile aerobar. The top of the pad sits 6cm above the centerline of the bar bore (center of the pursuit bar) in its lowest config. Since the new B series frames feature a rather tallish geometry, that’s tall on top of tall. Felt mitigates this by spec’ing a –17° stem on these bikes (stem parallel to the horizon), which is the stem config I like, since a stem in this pitch punches a smaller hole into the wind. My one criticism of this bike’s spec is the 20mm headset top cap. Because this is a tall bar on a tall frame geometry, I’d like to see that top cap be somewhere between 5mm and 10mm. I’m researching right now what replacement top cap to order from FSA so as to mitigate this for riders who find the whole bike too tall for their liking. I’ll add the answer as an addendum to this article, or I’ll reply via a Facebook comment underneath this article.

The bar accepts the F-bend extension, and this extension needs a sprucing up. It was designed in the days when Felt’s aerobars (and many aerobars) featured pads that were pedestaled separate from the extensions. Therefore, the extensions need to have their fronts cut down—the upturned part—if the extensions were not pedestaled. If the pad was pedestaled, then the back of the extension was cut to provide proper length, and the shifters were pitched up higher in the air to form a planar relationship between pad and shifter. In other words, when you lay your forearm on square on the pad, you want the shifter to be where your hand naturally sits, rather than above or below it.

Then Felt went and had the bad form to build a really, really good aerobar for this bike! Now that its pad and extension move up and down in tandem, most riders will not want or need all the upturn that the F bend extension provides. Accordingly, some riders will want to decable their new B12s, right from the get go, and cut the front part of F bend extension, probably leaving the upturned section after the first bend, but the cut will take place right before the second bend takes place.

If you feel that a B12 is in your future, and the dealer doesn’t think he should have to do this, print out this article, take out the yellow felt pen, highlight this text, hand it to him, in which case he’ll cuss me out instead of you. The point of the exercise is this: make sure that when you lay your arm flat on the pad, the shifter sits right in your hand.

What you can always rely upon, full stop, from Felt is the best value. Year after year, on average, in cost per feature, nobody is ever going to beat Felt, in any bike category. Road, BMX, cross, tri, you name it, Felt delivers as much or more bang for your buck than any bike company that I know of. However, this doesn’t mean the B12 is the right bike for you. I’ve discussed above how this bike differs from the B12 of last year. Obviously, I’m in favor of your figuring out in advance what class of bike works well for you, and then you make your decision. This bike is, on paper, on the tall side when considering both frame and aerobar geometry, but remember that this is somewhat mitigated by the flat stem spec. That said, changing the stem pitch is easy to do on any bike.

It’s very hard to find a frame of this quality, spec’d with Ultegra derailleurs, with an aerobar and saddle of this quality, at $3000. Still, when Felt calls this an “Shimano Ultegra drivetrain,” one is left wondering where that drivetrain went, once we leave off talking about the derailleurs. But this doesn’t bother me since, for my money, for what I need, I’d rather have the Vision crankset on this bike than an Ultegra, because of the nature of a BB30-native crank. Yes, there’s going to have to be a little fiddling with this bike: perhaps replacing the headset top cap, cutting down the extensions from the front back, making a change of saddle depending on how your boys like the saddle (assuming you’re a male and therefore have “boys” that are particular about comfort).

But overall with the Felt B12 customers can rest in the knowledge this is an exceptionally well conceived and well made bike.

The Felt B12: very nice bike for the money, as all Felt tri bikes are.

This crankset is the perfect match for this bike, because it's native BB30, has arms made down to 155mm, and has 110mm bolt pattern.

Felt used everything it learned while designing the DA, investing that knowledge into the B series mold.

This is Fabian Cancellara's saddle. If you don't like it, your retailer should accept this back in trade for a saddle you do like.

Great, great bars Felt has made. But the extensions may not necessarily be the best match for what is otherwise a top class aerobar.