Felt's Newest: the IA

During the 2006 Kona bike survey at the Hawaiian Ironman Felt's bike count did not crack the top-10. That's hard for you to imagine, if you've entered the sport since that time, considering the ubiquity of this brand. Contemporaneous with that low bike total, in the Fall of 2006, Felt introduced a game-changing line of bikes based off a mold platform still in production today. When you buy a Felt B16 it comes from that 2007 model year mold.

Four years later, when the Kona bike survey was taken in 2010, Felt had vaulted to third place in the count. This is a real achievement when you realize how many "legacy" bikes carry over from one year to the next. To move from outside the top-10 to third place, in the span of 4 years, Felt was almost certainly the second-best selling brand in tri among Kona qualifiers (and probably to everybody in triathlon). This happened because Felt bikes began to fit properly, were priced well and performed well as a complete bike unit.

In 2011 and forward triathlon continued to be good to Felt, but it's been tougher sledding as the major bike companies – Trek, Specialized and Cannondale – have taken triathlon more seriously. Felt continues to punch way above its weight, as a performance brand in road, tri and MTB. It's a Lance-less market, bike sales are flat, four bike brands totaling $3 billion in sales are locked in a pitched battle for growth, and they see smaller brands like Felt as a place to cannibalize market share.

In this environment all relevant bike companies are forced to introduce new molds annually, and Felt has introduced two skinny-tired molds for 2014: its reworked AR – its aero road bike – and the IA, its new top-end tri bike.

The IA will not replace the DA; they will each slot into Felt's lineup. But the IA is the bike just for triathletes. The IA is not UCI-legal and today's tri customer seems no longer to care about UCI legality (triathletes used to want their bikes to be pan-legal, but that is no longer the case, at least in the North American market).

The Shape
IA stands for Integrated Aero. The idea behind this bike is to do what, it seems to me, Trek very successfully did in 2010: imagine everything on the frame, and attached to the frame, as part of the aero construct. In other words, rather than say, "We are frame makers, we can't be held responsible for how component companies or end users might muck up our clean frame with brake calipers and gels taped to the top tube," the bike maker takes ownership of the entire structure.

The IA is, as a consequence, designed with hidden brake calipers, a place on the top tube for some food and, as has been the case with Felt's bikes since the introduction of its Bayonet forks, a smoothing and integrating of the bike's front end: fork, steerer, stem and aerobars.

What differs between Trek's Speed Concept and Felt's IA? Trek's bikes retain UCI legality. The IA does not. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether UCI legality matters to you. The IA is full of non-UCI elements in its frame design, from tube sections that blow way past the 80mm major diameter maximum to tubes that exceed 3:1 aspect ratios. No governing body in triathlon that I'm aware of cares about these requirements. Triathlon, from its own world governing body on down, shrewdly understands that the UCI has not proven itself a model worthy of emulation.

One other notable departure in frame design is the IA's seat stays, which connect to the seat tube way below the traditional junction. Felt claims that these stays are themselves faired by a rear disc. Okay. Never heard that before. Makes sense that the stay on the lee side might be faired by a disc. If you're riding a disc. If you're not riding a disc? I don't know. I can't imagine the stay is any worse that one attaching higher up on the seat tube.

You see Kamm-tail (truncated trailing edge) shapes on some of the IA's tubes, but not others. When the tubes are close to vertical, such as the seat tube, you see a Kamm tail, just like on the Trek Speed Concept. But you don't see this on the back of the IA's down tube. Felt doesn't buy into the Kamm Tail's utility on shapes that are not square, or close to square, with wind direction. So, why does Trek? Maybe there's a gentleman's disagreement. Or maybe it's in Trek's desire to make the best UCI-legal bike.

Seat Post
I guardedly applaud what Felt's done with the seat post in this bike. For some reason, bike makers even at this late date seem to want to get tricky with seat post binder attachments. The Speed Concept got tricky in 2010 and has since, for 2014, changed to what seems to me the easiest method of seat post binding: a clamshell format with the aft-most piece applying pressure via a pair of, or as many as four, bolts facing forward and threading into the frame.

Felt – like so many other companies – cannot resist the temptation to veer from this platform, but it might actually have developed a system allowing it to successfully do so. This very deep tube serving as the seat post is cloven longitudinally, midway fore/aft, and in a way forms a sort of parallelogram allowing a weighted saddle to flex as a result of this channel. The seat binder sits inside this channel, at the point where the seat post enters the frame. The binder mechanism does not squeeze the post, rather it pulls each side of the post from the inside out, against the frame.

Electronic Ready
The IA anticipates the use of an electronic group. It's also cable-ready, for those who prefer, for example, a SRAM Red groupkit running through the tubes. But the bike wants an electronic drive train and even sports a Felt-specific battery mount inside the down tube, both for the IA and the aero road AR. The Shimano battery for this application takes the shape of the horse pencil many of us used in kindergarten and elementary school.

The IA sits about in between the DA and a Specialized Shiv, geometrically. It is less “narrow/tall” than the Shiv. In fact, if you can imagine the length of a Shiv in size M, and the height of a Shiv one size down (size S in this case), that's a size of a typical IA. And it's that way throughout the size run: size L in an IA is the same length as the size L in the Shiv, and other than in the XS this runs true throughout the entire size run. But the height of the IA in size L is the height of the Shiv in size M. And that's how it is throughout the size run.

I think Felt is okay here, but it's up against the tall end of the spectrum. Bear in mind that Felt's aerobar has, at its lowest option, 45mm of height between the center of the pursuit bar and the top of the armrests. That's not high profile, but it's not low either. Sometimes I think bike brands listen to their dealers a little too much. It's okay to build a high-profile, narrow and tall, geometry for its new B series, as it did last year. But this new IA is not a bike for mid-packers or beginners. My view, which is often considered the outlier view it must be admitted, is that this bike, when fitted properly, will never need the tallest 1-piece stem options. It will always need either the mid-height or low-height stem options.

Felt has obviously come to that conclusion, because it'll only offer, at least for now, two stems: a 90x0 and a 70x30. This means a 90mm long stem that has zero rise above the head tube top, and a 70mm stem with a 30mm rise. This takes what would be a moderately tallish geometry and ratchets it down a bit, and I think these are precisely the stems called for.

If I might segue, this thing about stem options, this is the same issue I have with the Speed Concept. Trek made a pair of stems it did not need to make, when it made its two tallest stems (in long and short configs). Yes some Trek dealers sold the heck out of those stems. Those are the bad dealers – the bad fitters – the dealers who don't know what they're doing. If this is who bike manufacturers want to accommodate and to whom they wish to cater, I don't mind bike makers opting for this if they don't mind me opining as I do. In my view, both Trek and Felt for the DA – and others – should save their money and not make these tallest stems for their flagship tri bikes. Take that money you would've spent on these stems and send your dealers to a proper fit school. If you're putting high-profile bars on high-profile stems on high-profile-geometry bikes, you're wasting everybody's time and money trying to make an aero frameset. On the positive side, a rider's view from up there will be stunning!

Felt chose wisely in spec'ing the stems it did for the IA. These are the first two stems that should've been made for the DA, in my opinion.

Bayonet 4
A new Bayonet fork is always an adventure. Fortunately, Felt is not starting from scratch. The 4 riffs off the Bayonet 3, and uses the same 1-piece stems. The big difference in the 4 is the hidden brake calipers. This is, in my view, really the best way to make an aero front brake: stick it in front of the fork, but hide it. If you put the brake caliper behind the fork you can't close up and smooth out the space between the back of the fork and the down tube.

I'm very bullish on this fork, especially with its stem options, because this fork retrofits back into the DA. I've got a DA, and I'm eying this fork precisely for this purpose.

I won't write here about the aerobar Felt puts on this bike, because I've already written about this bar elsewhere. Felt has done a nice job with it. I've got one of these bars in my workshop. Probably my favorite aerobars these days are the Profile Design's T4 + Carbon series, Bontrager's Race X Lite Clip-on (if it would pedestal!), and 3T's Aura. But Felt's aerobar comes pretty close. It's a great achievement, really, for a company this size to make its own integrated bar this well.

Price and Availability
The IA is undeniably a very nice bike. There is a $14,000 version of this bike going to be for sale this Fall. The sizes offered are 48cm, 51cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm. It's the 54cm what will ship first, beginning in October. Felt's Kona-bound pro athletes should be underneath the IA, if things go as planned.

There will also be a $10,000 version of this bike, also Dura Ace Di2, shipping in January.