In the old days of cycling the component maker held the narrative. During the final quarter of the prior century, “What is your cheapest Ultegra bike” was a phrase heard only slightly less often than “Close cover before striking” appeared in print. During those days, no one much cared about the frame. First Campagnolo, then Shimano was the only important brand. Spec was the driver that determined the purchase.
Who changed that? I guess I’m a little bit responsible. I started making bikes 30 years ago, and by 1992 or so I was in full swing making tri bikes. Folks wanted my bikes, but Shimano had a tiered pricing system back then and I was the lowest tier, i.e., I paid the highest price for bike parts. I couldn’t compete.
So, I want to manufacturers who made really good product – Stronglight for cranks and bottom brackets, Hutchinson for 650c tires, and so on – and I cut deals. “What are you planning do to for advertising in the U.S. market”? I’d ask. Little to nothing. “Okay, here’s my offer. I’m going to buy the center spread in Triathlete Magazine every month, and I’ll put your parts on my bike, and champion them. In return you sell me your parts at a really low price, so I can compete against Trek, Specialized and Cannondale.” Sold! And that’s how I broke up “groupkit integrity.” Within only a few months my competitors were also spec’ing Stronglight, which only added endorsement to my spec decisions.
Cervelo came along shortly thereafter, became the preeminent triathlon brand, and they pretty much followed suit. The component maker lost the narrative. The frame maker now owned it.
A lot of water has passed under that bridge, and we’re back to a point where both component and frame makers own their own rightful pieces of the bike sales narrative. I mention all this now because the bike I’m writing about today gives a little bit up, in my opinion, to the other bikes I wrote about earlier in this series – the Cervelo P2 and the Quintana Roo PRthree – on spec. the Felt IA16 costs a buck under $3000, which makes it $200 more than the P2 and $400 more than the PRthree. We’ll talk below on what it gives up on spec.
But this bike has still got mojo because it’s got a really well-designed, well-conceived frame. What some folks don’t recognize about Felt is that it’s got exceptional stateside engineering and design. Jeff Soucek and Anton Petrov are at the top of the heap, and the heavy investments Felt has made in software packages that aid in design (CAD, obviously, but more so in FEA and CFD), along with a commitment to a testing lab that sits inside Felt’s headquarters, where these engineers work, mean Felt just makes world leading frames.
In fact, Felt is among the most underrated brands in the world when it comes to the actual quality of what they make (especially in offroad), versus the perception of quality. The tri customer appreciates Felt. The road customer kind of gets Felt. The offroad customer often makes silly choices when it bypasses Felt.
The IAx Frame
Felt revamped its tri line in 2013. It introduced the IA, and for those who were triple-highly offended at the nerve of Cervelo to introduce a bike (the P5X) last year that sold for $15,000 and $11,000 for its two respective versions, the Felt IA, in 2013, also sold in two versions, $14,000 and $10,000. They did so while also offering bikes priced down into the $2000s. Just like Cervelo. Selah.
In 2016 Felt intro’d a downstreamed version of its IA fully integrated superbike, and the way the nomenclature works, the IA “single digits” (the IA1 thru 4) are the superbikes, and the double digits (IA10 thru 16) are the sorta-mortal versions of these bikes. This downstreamed IA is often termed the IAx, as in, IA with the “x” replaced with two digits: 10 or 16.
As you see, what started as a $14,000 bike is now, 5 years later, a $3,000 bike. See how that works? The progression from halo bike to affordable version? While always still offering bikes at affordable price points? For those of you who lost your cookies over the P5X last year?
The dirty little secret about the IA10 thru 16 is that this frame, with very few upgrades, is just as aero as the high priced superbike version. Add some race wheels and you’re just about there. If you want to the absolute nth degree, add some nice aero centerpull brakes like those from TriRig.
There may be a frame advantage here, when comparing this bike to the bikes in this price class made by QR and Cervelo. I’m not saying there is. But there might be. If you choose the IA16, this is why you’re choosing it, because in this case the frame has won the narrative for you. The frame dominated the buying decision you made. And, by the way, this is the identical frame you get with the IA10. Same carbon, same layup schedule. This bare frameset sells for $2,499.
If you choose one of the other bikes I just reviewed it’s because their spec and price won out. True, this IA16 is a Shimano 105 bike, just as were the other two from Quintana Roo and Cervelo. This bike specs an FSA Omega BB30 crank, probably not quite the equal of the cranksets on the other two bikes. The black version of this bike (according to the website) specs a Prologo Zero TRI PAS T2.0 saddle and while this is a “real” saddle (not a throwaway $4 OE placeholder), it is almost certainly not the saddle you’ll be riding, based simply on data, polling, and the law of large numbers. Therefore, you’ll need to add the purchase of the saddle to this bike. The red version specs an ISM PS1.1 saddle. "I think it has lower quality rails than the non-OEM PS1.1, but otherwise it's the same," says Trent Nix, one of Felt's key bike dealers (TriShop Plano, TX) and you can see his Facebook comments appending this article.
The gears are appropriate: 50x34 and 11-28, just like the P2. I have no idea what chain comes on this bike but as I will be writing about very soon, it’s time we paid more attention to our chains. The wheels and tires are Felt’s own house brand and they’re quite good. There is an attempt to make these wheels and tires aero (30mm deep wheels, tires that were designed with aerodynamics in mind), and the tires are 220 DPI and 23mm. You could do way worse as OE wheels and tires go.
In another life the engineer I mentioned above, Anton Petrov, was an engineer for Profile Design. So, he brings aerobar designing chops to Felt, and Felt has been making its own aerobars (some good, some less so) for a decade or so.
Big brands like Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale along with smaller brands each variously decide whether a part on a bike is a premium or value item, that is, whether a component is something to pay extra special attention to, or whether it's a commodity. Some of these companies have treated a aerobars as commodities rather than premium products, relying on a ubiquitous, no-name supplier, ruining their bikes by spec’ing bad bars, or spec’ing bars that were a bad match with the frame.
Felt does not do this. Yes, it makes its own bars, but not as a cost-cutting measure, rather because it likes its own aerobars. Do I like its aerobars? Yes and no. I prefer a single clamp that both the armrests and extensions affix to, rather than one clamp attaching the extension to the pursuit bar and a second clamp attaching the armrest to the extension. That said, Felt claims its armrest clamps have more surface area than the Profile Design J2 (a style Profile is phasing out over time from its line), so the pressure exerted by the armrest clamp on the extension is distributed over a wider area. Because of this, Felt is fine spec’ing a carbon extension in some of its higher end bikes using this very clamp style. Me, I’m still sold on one clamp that accepts armrests and extensions, rather than saddling extensions with the duty of supporting the armrests. But Felt is aware of the potential shortcomings of this style of aerobar manufacture and feels it has inoculated itself against them.
Last year Felt started doing some things that made the IA10-16 a more flexible bike, fitwise. When this bike was originally debuted the integrated stem was cool. The underside of the stem had a bevel that acted as a headset top cap, and if you look at pics of this bike you can see how that stem sits right on top of the head tube, really clean. That stem rises slightly from horizontal and is 93mm long in the horizontal plane. It is the only stem Felt makes for this bike. What if a 70mm stem is better for you? Or a 110mm? The hyper-adjustability of the aerobar means you never have to change the stem, but moving that extension way back, and way forward (with the armrests along for the ride) means you can easily normalize for a stem that’s too long or short but moving those extensions in and out doesn’t change the pursuit bar position. Only changing the stem can manage that.
The problem with changing out the stem is that the fork’s steer column was mitered to match this stem. If you change the stem, now you need to stick a headset dust cover on the bike and – oops – the steerer is too short. So, here’s the change Felt made last year: It ships the bike with a headset dust cover if you need to change the stem, and it doesn’t miter the steerer. In my opinion, you ought to leave a few millimeters of steerer above the stem even if you decide that factory stem is fine for you, put a 5mm headset spacer above the stem, and live with that minor eyesore against the day when you may find you do need to change the stem.
As noted, one thing about this type of aerobar is that it is highly adjustable. Too adjustable (as I mentioned in my notes on QR’s PRthree). Felt’s bar also adjusts quite high, perhaps 50mm or so worth of pedestals. It does, after a certain point, require the use of a bridge spanning the distance between the pedestal stacks, and this bridge may interfere with the hydration system you choose. The armrests are comfortable. Felt’s F bend extension can be cut from the front or the back, and that defines its shape. I’m picky about extension shapes. I would cut off the front part. Maybe I'm in the minority. Sue me. Just, if you are as I am, that may mean decabling the bike, but honestly you'll probably have to do that anyway. Once you get the bike fitted to you you'll probably have to cut some housing.
In sum, the bike fits the great majority of people quite well. There is a convergence around a consensus tri geometry and Felt’s bikes are there. For example, I mentioned that I ride a tri frame that has a stack of 540mm and a reach of 425mm, and QR and Cervelo both make a size in exactly those dimensions. Trek also in the Speed Concept. Felt’s IA in that size has a stack/reach of 537mm/424mm, so, practically a match. The one thing Felt did that it needed to do was easily allow for a stem change, and it did this. Therefore, the only real issue that could derail you is in the rare case you’re riding a split-nose saddle you can’t push back far enough (see the pertinent entry further down).
Felt made its own Q Box (Quintana Roo), Speed Box (Trek), type of "stuff" carrier behind the seat tube. It’s cute. I like it. it works. Felt’s version is the BTSpac.
Felt also has top tube storage. Can I just say that I don’t know why road bikes don’t also have top tube and Speed Box type systems, at least the bosses. Why not put bosses on the top tube, and rubber plugs that make the bosses almost invisible? In big time bike races there is a “feed zone” and you get a musette bag from your support crew with your food in it. Don’t have a support crew? No feed zone? Then it’s your jersey pockets. If this was easy, we wouldn’t have top tube storage on tri bikes. We’d just carry food in our jersey pockets. We don’t. We put it in the top tube storage. For good reason.
If you are 5’5” or shorter you’re probably best on a bike built around either the 650c wheel (571mm bead diameter) or the 27.5” wheel (584mm bead diameter), rather than the 700c (622mm bead diameter) wheel. Alas, all three bikes I’ve written about this week used to make that bike in the smallest size. They all stopped. Why? I’m going to break a rule here. One ought never to blame the customer. But, in fact, the reason these companies don’t make this bike is because you, the customer, chose not to buy it. So, when these large bikes underneath you feel like you’re straddling a garbage truck, don’t blame the bike maker.
That established, Mr. Nix in comments below says you can get the aerobars quite low in this bike and you can. Also, the Felt IAx frame has a very low stack of 478mm in its 48cm size, so, while I have a personal bias toward wheelsize congruent with a rider's stature, this bike does adjust nicely for small-statured riders aboard a 700c frame (such as Mirinda Carfrae!).
We’ll get to aerodynamics in a minute, but this seat post has a few notable elements to it. as far as fit goes, it doesn’t have a sliding thingy, where you can either move the seat post clamp hardware back and forth – wheeee! – and find your ideal fore/aft. What you have available to you is simply the travel on the rails. You move the saddle back and forth on the rails and that’s your fore/aft adjustment. That’s fine for road and it’s usually fine for tri if the seat post is angled appropriately, as this bike’s seat post is. The one caveat is the use of split nose saddles, like the ISM, which requires the saddle to be moved back a few centimeters versus standard saddles. As with any bike, you’ll want to know that this bike can be adjusted to hit all your fit coordinates.
Secondly, this is not any old seat post. Felt has designed this post to flex, just a little, and it works as a declined parallelogram. And third, it’s big. Front to back. This is part of the bike’s aero concept and let’s talk about that.
You can just look at bikes and tell what the designers had in mind, aerodynamically. If a bike has a lot of surface area, its meant to perform aerodynamically well when the wind is coming at you from the side or at an angle. When the bike is small in surface area, it’s meant to do well primarily in a head-on apparent wind. This bike has a lot of surface area, like the Diamondback Andean, and the Specialized Shiv, and Cervelo’s new P5X. Conversely, the Quintana Roo PR series, the Cannondale Slice, and to a certain degree Cervelo’s P2 just reviewed, are not like this. These bikes are typically lighter, they perform well in the wind, but do not act like a sail, close-hauled, riding the sidewind the way these other bikes do.
There are competing narratives as to how important each motif is. Cannondale’s Damon Rinard and Nathan Barry have extensively studied the incidence yaws experienced during races, and you can read all about it on Slowtwitch! When you see charts like the one above, with surface area bikes performing well at yaws above 10 degrees, what value does that bike have if it only overtakes other bikes at yaws rarely seen? On the other hand, the slower you go, the more yaw you see. And, in certain races (the Hawaiian Ironman as one big example) you see 10 percent yaws a lot, much more yaw than you see at (say) the average Ironman Wisconsin. This is the calculus you perform as both a bike designer and a bike purchaser. (For those interested in this, there is a terrific analysis of this very topic in a thread ongoing right now on our Reader Forum, in which some very smart people discuss whether bikes that test well at big yaws actually do perform likewise on the road.)
In this series in which I’m currently enmeshed, my thesis is: There are complete bikes you can buy, that will cost you $2,500 to $3,000, aboard which you could win an Ironman, including the Hawaiian Ironman. In fact, that has already been done on bikes I'm writing about this week, at least five times, Mirinda Carfrae twice on an IA, Daniela Ryf also on the IA, and Chrissie Wellington aboard her Cervelo P2. “Ah, that’s cheating!” you might say. “Mirinda was on an IA single-digit!” Yes, but I suspect Felt itself will tell you that performance-wise there is extremely little difference between the IA and the IAx, and as noted the frame in the IA16 is the best IAx frame Felt makes (there is only one version of this frame). Mirinda’s two IA bikes aboard which she won Kona in 2013 and 2014 are just above and below.
You might also complain that Mirinda didn’t really win her Kona victories on the bike, but on the run! Fair point. As Exhibit B I offer Daniela Ryf. (And Josh Amberger, whose interview is up earlier this morning, is no slouch either.)
The Felt IA16 is kind of in the pocket of its life right now. If you’re an early adopter, you get what comes with early adoption (such as the lack of opportunity to easily change the stem on this bike). If you’re late in a product’s life, you’re buying old tech, overtaken by competitors. The IAx is neither. You can buy this bike and it’ll give you faithful and fruitful service for quite a few years, and is easily upgraded.
The bike below is one such example, with TriRig’s own Alpha X aerobar and Omega X brakes, FLO wheels, a Dash saddle and a SRAM 1x drivetrain. This is all aboard the very same frameset used in the IA16, so, I ask you, who in Kona, at any level, will be aboard a ride sweeter than this?
Along with this street rod version of the IAx you see above, I feel all the bikes so far in this series, the P2, the PRthree, and this IA16, are Kona-capable. You can spend a little at a time, doll them up, and sooner than you think you end up with something like this beauty, aboard which you fit perfectly, and which is a Felt double-digit the equal of any bike costing double-digit thousands.