We're going to consider Felt's B12 here, a bike priced at $3000 complete. But here's a time-saving tip: If you're intending on reading about both Felt's B12 and its B14, you'll find the two write-ups very similar. Like Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, I'll stick on a new front grill, but otherwise use a lot of the same parts.
This, because I like to contrast one bike with another in its competitive set, and, the B12's bike's closest rival is, without doubt, the B14, cheaper by $500. There is not much to differentiate these bikes. I'll write about what's common to them, pointing out the minor differences and what they might mean to you.
Let's talk about why you might want to consider a Felt tri bike. Two reasons, really. First, for the 2007 season Felt went back to the drawing board. It retooled entirely. The outcome was a frame that fit potential customers much better than their prior models, and was sexy and stylish in appearance. The model stood up well over the past three years, albeit with a tweak here and there.
This year's bikes feature a single-position seat post, replacing the old two-position post that was both heavier and somewhat problematic. There were some clamp failures plaguing the old design, and these are now history. The other big retool since the 07 year was in the design of Felt's Bayonet fork, but, that is beyond the scope of this overview, since neither the B12 nor the B14 use the Bayonet.
And, by the way, the new and "improved" Bayonet, while functioning nicely, changes the way the Felts fit, and, that's not entirely good. We'll get to that when we overview Felts that feature the Bayonet. For the purposes of the non-Bayonetted B12 and B14, most fit, trim triathletes will find these Felts a pretty easy bike to fit aboard, and they'll handle quite adequately.
As discussed above, Felt tri bikes tend to represent great values, and they fit a lot of folks. The question for the Felt-converted is not, "Which tri bike?" Rather, "Which Felt?"
And this is not easy to answer, because, Felts from the B12 at $3000, to the B14, costing $2500, to the B16 at $2000, are all pretty similar. All three bikes are built around the same basic frameset, none use Felt's Bayonet fork and, in the case of B12 and 14, the bikes are especially close in spec. The differences are as follows.
Felt makes its own tri saddle, and, it's not bad as OE saddles go. The B12 and 14 share the same basic saddle design, but, there is a slight difference in the model of the saddle one bike to the next.
Felt is trying to differentiate and develop its components into a legitimate aftermarket brand. The parallels to Bontrager are there, not only with saddles, but, even more so with aero bars. Here is where the Devox brand succeeds. The bars are approaching in quality—and depending on the model equal to or better than—those made by Profile Design.
The B12 and 14 share the same aerobar spec, and it's basically the expensive Devox aerobar with an aluminum undercarriage. Really, the basis for any aerobar is the armrest and the extension shape. If the ergonomics are unchanged, then, whether the pursuit bar or extension is made of aluminum or carbon is much less important. Felt's armrest, and it's F-shape extension, are more than adequate, and don't require a swap-out for an aftermarket product.
The second difference between the 12 and the 14 are in the shifters that stick into the ends of the Devox extensions. So far, reports from the field suggest that the Felt-branded shifters that slot into the B14's extensions shift the bike fine. The B12 gets Shimano's Dura Ace shifters.
Felt's wheels are your typical original equipment wheels: fine, rideable, nothing to write home about, but, nothing to complain about. The B14 gets a no-name spoke, the B12's wheels get DT bladed spokes. I consider this a meaningless upgrade. This is not a set of race wheels. If you want bladed spokes, you probably want them in your race wheels, not in your beater training wheels.
The remaining difference between these models is the crankset. The pricier B12 is built with a Shimano Ultegra crankset, which is a nice thematic fit with the rest of the bike, as the front and rear derailleurs are also Ultegra. The crank is built with 53x39 chainrings.
The B14 has an FSA Gossamer Mega Exo crank, and, there's nothing wrong with it except the chainring choices. This bike has 54x42 rings, and they're entirely too big for this bike. Especially problematic is that 42-tooth small ring. Unless, that is, you live in a flat, featureless landscape. If you're on the Oklahoma panhandle, or ride all your miles within sight of Lake Okeechobee, then, fine, that 42-toother will do you well... depending on the headwinds Otherwise, 39 is the largest you should have and, maybe 36 or even 34 teeth is more up your alley.
Cranks are in play these days. Not only the ring size, the bolt pattern, but, the arm length. Look elsewhere for the discussions on cranks, suffice it to say, If you're going to change the crankset out anyway—Ultegra or FSA regardless—then best spend less money and buy the B14. The crank and bottom bracket is the biggest ticket item among the differences between these bikes, so, you're throwing good money after bad if you buy the B12 only to swap that crank out for—heck—what might turn out to be an aftermarket FSA anyway.
Few bikes today rival the value of either the B12 or the B14. Cervelo's P2, Cannondale's Slice 4, the Specialized Transition Comp and Trek's Equinox TTX 9.0 all sit in price in between these two fine Felt models. The B12 is probably worth the extra $500 if you're not going to swap out the crank for shorter arms or different gearing. If you're going to start swapping stuff out, may as well go with the cheaper B14. Either way, this $2500 to $3000 price category is very competitive in 2010, and Felt is well positioned with two nice models.