Under a warm Southern California sun, Felt invited the press to a launch of its 2011 line Tuesday. As expected (at least by those of us in the multisport media), the newly-designed DA TT/tri bike was the centerpiece. But there was also an intriguing new carbon manufacturing technology in the company’s top-end offerings that, as we found in a short test-ride of the DA, will turn your expectations upside down. Or rather, Inside Out.
Recalling the days when Jim Felt used to hand-weld Paula Newby-Fraser’s, Michellie Jones’ and Craig Walton’s race rigs speaks to the fact that the brand is a core one within triathlon: it has earned a staid reputation and standing in an industry of comers and goers. Especially when that namesake still looks after the design engineering—this time with capable team surrounding him—of a stable including Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno of Germany, Aussie Emma Snowsill, Kona champs Tim DeBoom and Jones, and rising Kiwi star Terenzo Bozzone.
“Our mission statement is not to be the biggest, but to be the best,” Felt president Bill Duehring said. “We have 50 folks on staff, but like they say, we’re a small company, but cast a big shadow.”
Duehring said it’s Jim Felt’s legacy that has helped build the company into one that has branched into segments including mountain biking and a popular California cruiser line. “Jim’s background from motorcycles and bikes is racing, especially with Jim’s elite name and high-end image. We have four legs to our table with tri and road, mountain, lifestyle and BMX, but the cornerstone of our company has always been racing.
From the Inside Out
We’ll get into the new line, and of course the new DA, but first a tour of a new carbon fiber manufacturing process that Felt calls InsideOut technology.
As many know, carbon frames are made by placing malleable carbon fiber, pre-impregnated with a resin, into a mold. Pressure from a bladder that resembles a plastic sandwich bag is inflated inside the carbon fiber tube) against the walls of the mold, along with heat, create a now-cured frame. Easy enough, right?
That pressure against a metal mold makes for a nice and smooth frame exterior. But the bladder is quite wrinkly despite the inflation, and doesn’t inflate into every nook and cranny (particularly at joint areas with tight turns and narrow tube angles). So when the mold is removed after the frame has cured, those areas have simply fill with extra resin, which adds unneeded weight and potentially alters bike handling.
InsideOut technology makes use a polyurethane mold (instead of a standard nylon bladder) at joints in the frame. While a standard bladder is used to compress the carbon against the mold, the polyurethane, which acts as a pre-shaped buffer between the bladder and the carbon fiber, acts as what can be effectively seen as an internal waffle iron, with the bladder pressing against the polyurethane, squeezing out excess resin in the frame’s nooks and crannies. It also affords Felt greater control over the ride characteristics of the frame, especially at all these areas, which are high-torsion, high-stress areas. And on the DA with very narrow aero tubesets, the new technology shines.
Felt brought several bare bike parts out for us to touch and feel. A cutaway bottom bracket and the pieces spoke volumes: the perfectly-shaped bottom bracket interior shell was a mirror of the polyurethane shell, as smooth on the inside as on the outside.
The 2011 DA
While Felt has 18,000 models, road brand manager Dave Koesel trotted out the ones that were of keen interested to us. And of course, the grand finale was the new DA. (But we’re gonna start with it here.)
The premise behind completely redesigning the bike was, as they said, not to make the bike the fastest, thinnest thing taking on the wind. It was more about taking on the wind at every conceivable angle. Because in Kona (and everywhere else), the wind is hitting you from every conceivable angle.
“This bike really likes yaw angle—a lot more than any other bike out there,” Felt said. The frame likes it from 15 up to 20 degrees of yaw, but it really likes it between 10 and 17 degrees.”
Evidence that the triathlete was a focal factor in the bike’s design comes in the flares on the trailing edge of the seattube and seatpost. These patented windtrips push air off the trailing edge of the tubeset, allowing it to attached at a later point on the wheel. With the proliferation of variable rim widths and tire diameters, the frame doesn’t lose its aero efficiency due to wheel and tire selection.
“The bike is just not wheel-sensitive anymore,” Felt said. “And this really was a consideration for triathletes; our ProTour team has one brand, and we could have matched it up with that brand’s width. But triathletes are using everything out there, and we wanted to ensure the frame was fast for them, too. Of course, the frame manufacturing employs the InsideOut technology.
The complete bike will be spec’ed with Shimano’s D12 electronic groupset, with the battery mount point located behind the seatpost, with cables running inside the post into the frame—again for aerodynamics. “Putting the battery behind the post didn’t really have any negative effect on aerodynamics,” Felt said.
Some of the details on the DA include:
-An adjustable-pitch, notched stem is shown to have greater integration than its predecessor. If the consumer wants a low, flush-with-aerobar one-piece stem as run by the Garmin-Transitions team, there will be three stem length options available. In this version, the Devox aerobar will be mounted low and flush with the stem, with aerobar pad risers available.
-The new Bayonette fork is narrower than its predecessor—narrower by one inch, in fact—making for a headtube that’s just 34 millimeters wide at its widest point. It helps make the aerodynamic profile truer, Felt says, as it passes from leading edge onto the frame proper. Felt says it’s stiff as its predecessor, but at 440 grams, is 60 grams lighter.
-The integrated rear brake, located under the bottom bracket shell, is proprietary. The bottom bracket is BB30, with adapters available.
-Felt says its testing revealed a 15-percent stiffer frame versus the previous DA. It’s 110g heavier, but with increased surface area, that stands to reason, even with the new Inside Out mold technology.
-It will be set up to receive either Shimano Di2 or mechanical shifting systems.
-The outer carbon fiber cloth used is a 1k weave that weights a third that of standard weaves, with a tough 30T nano carbon existing on interior layers.
-The bike will be available as a frameset (including front and rear brake calipers, nine different stem extensions and two posts (Di2-mount and steeper tri-position). Pricing is yet to be determined.
-The bike will be offered complete as well, with Shimano Di2, a Zipp 1080 rear wheel and 808 front wheel, the Devox aerobar and the new Devox all-carbon tri saddle. That bike will price complete, and absolutely race-ready, at $12,500.
We had a chance to take the AR on a short ride around the Felt compound, and while it wasn’t a definitive test, there was one significantly noticeable attribute: stiffness. By locating the rear brake under the bottom bracket shell, instead of within the confines of the bottom bracket/seattube interface, then pairing that with a wide bottom bracket area, you have the makings of a frame that is very stiff torsionally. Just a few pedal strokes led us to believe that the pros like Bozzone and DeBoom will have noticed an instant difference. The entire front end is stiffened with bearings top and bottom, and a threaded top bolt upon which the “stem” is mounted, which itself also threads to the fork’s front bayonette. There are going to be no complants from athletes that the bike isn’t responsive and quick.
Felt also has the rest of their line, one of the finest, as they trickle down their techonology, making it available at a pauper’s price. The fact that last year’s DA becomes the 2011 B2 is perfect testament.
This is essentially what the 2010 DA was, which has been ridden this year to several Ironman 70.3 titles this spring and summer by Terenzo Bozzone and Tim DeBoom.
The bayonette fork will of course have adjustable-rise stems of nine different lengths. It will be finished with Felt’s TTR2 aero alloy wheels with narrow 555 millimeter flanges, which at 40 millimeters, are one of the deepest OE wheels we’ve ever seen, and a great value, since Felt cut cost by using non-series components including a non-DA chain and cassette, and an FSA carbon fiber crankset. Complete with Di2, this one prices complete at $6,500. It will be available in even sizes from 48-60 centimeters, with the 48 and 50 centimeter frames available in 650c wheel sizing.
Coming down the list, we’re STILL in with a bike spec’d with Shimano Di2, priced at $5,299. Again, the same frame design ridden by guys like David Millar and Dave Zabriskie, but the cost is brought even lower by using a Vision TriMax Pro alloy aero crankset and TTR2 alloy wheels. The B10 and B2 will be available in August.
Felt also debut to the press the F1 Road, Felt’s first true superlight racer. At $12,500 complete with Shimano Di2, the InsideOut manufacturing technology and a 100 percent carbon fiber BB30 bottom bracket shell, and the Edict mountain bike, a superlight carbon fiber race rig with four inches of travel, with a new rear linkage and carbon fiber stays that have their own vertical flexion that extend beyond just the shock travel. It’s completed with titanium bolts through all the pivots. The AR aero road line (one of our favorites for hilly-course triathletes) stays in the line as well, delivering, as Felt says, a second per mile versus a standard road bike.
Stay tuned for a Q & A about the DA with Jim Felt and fellow engineer Ty Buckenberger.