By Tom Demerly
Trickle down, volume buying, the maturity of proven technology and the economy of scale: These are time tested theories of economy and value. Add to these sound business practices the diligence to source the best components at the best values and you have a bike that seemingly defies price points- The 2011 Felt B16.
For 2011 Felt owns the best buy in the sub-$2K triathlon bike- and maybe an entire $500 price range above that. At $1999.99 the Ultegra equipped 2011 Felt B16; a sleeper for two years as it played second fiddle to the category-killing Felt B12, is boggling. Consider the specifications:
Another factor that may have influenced the price point on the 2011 Felt B16 is the over-the-horizon introduction of a new flagship aerobike for Felt, the New Felt DA we saw first at the Amgen Tour of California. Felt will not trickle this frame shape down to the lower price points- yet. In reality this may signal a return to at least a two-tier composite tri bike line-up going into 2012 for Felt, with the top three models potentially adopting a DA-like configuration beyond 2012 and the lower price point bikes retaining the proven Felt “B” series fuselage over the next few model years. That makes the time-proven “B” series frame design a buyer’s opportunity- especially in the new 2011 B16 version. The technology is mature, the costs of development have been amortized.
A front to back review of the new 2011 Felt B16 begins with Felt’s fully adjustable aero cockpit. This is a basic aluminum round tubing cockpit- but one of the most “fit-able” from any manufacturer, no airfoil shapes and all aluminum but completely adjustable. I’ll argue this is more of an “aero cockpit kit” as opposed to a ready-to-ride cockpit. You have to have it fitted and trimmed to be functional for most riders. The extensions come long and must be cut down, requiring re-routing and sizing of the drivetrain cables. This should be done on any fitted bike. My concern is there are shops that may simply make the adjustments and not trim the aerobar extensions and size the cables.
Elbow pads for 2011 are an unusual compression resistant polymer that dissipates road shock very well, seems durable and isn’t sticky when wet. I like these pads better than previous fabric covered, foam filled versions. The pads are extremely adjustable for width and fore/aft. Hardware from other brands of aero cockpits is interchangeable (such as Profile Designs) so there is substantial opportunity for customization by your bike fitter.
The bend is a vaguely upright bend termed “F” bend that is intended to be trimmed to the desired grip angle. Don’t trim too much off though- the internal diameter of the bar changes and mounting a shifter is difficult if too much is cut off the front of the aero extensions. You can’t trim these all the way back to true “ski” or upright bend configurations. Because the diameter of the clamps are common you can install a Profile or other brand extension to get exactly the configuration you want if you can’t make the originals work.
The new 2011 Felt B16 shifts from a pair of “Micro Shift” bar end shifters. This is not a Shimano shifter and eschews the seldom used friction shift capability. As a result it is lighter and simpler. Shift actuation on this lever is better than the previous (and current) Shimano Dura-Ace bar-end shifters if you consider a lighter touch better. The front shifter has a ratcheting action in the up shift direction. Both shifters work perfectly and have less fumbly parts than the previous Dura-Ace bar ends with the friction “D” ring. It isn’t a Shimano shifter, but it is a simple and functional component that works well. It is fully Shimano compatible so, if it ever did fail, a Shimano changer could be substituted if this original equipment version is difficult to source. These bar end shifters are likely less expensive than a Dura-Ace bar end but I actually like them better- they are simpler and easy to move through the shift pattern.
A nice quality 4-bolt front plate stem attaches the cockpit to the 1” alloy steer tube fork with carbon fiber, aerodynamic blades. Fork dropouts are alloy.
Wheels on the 2011 Felt B16 spin around Felt label hubs with sealed bearings and use 24 bladed radial spokes in the front and 28 bladed two-cross spokes in the back. This Felt TTR 4 wheelset rolls on Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tires, 700 X 23c. The Zaffiro Pro is from the six member Vittoria Zaffiro family that includes the Pro, Pro Slick and Pro Tech. This is the low rolling resistance slick version with a nylon 60 thread per inch (T.P.I.) casing and a “15% roughness” traction treatment on the contact patch. I like this tire better than other common original equipment Vittorias for its superb flat and wear resistance while maintaining great ride quality. This is a true training tire.
With the new carbon fiber lay-up frame comes fully routed internal cables on the 2011 Felt B16. This means no problems routing the cables through the frame. The holes are labeled; the housing runs the entire length. It is likely the best cable routing on any internal cable routed tri bike I’ve seen. This is significant if you face a cable replacement the night before a race in a small town without a sophisticated bike shop or you do frequent flight casing of your bike.
Rear wheel dropouts are horizontal and rear facing as with most bikes that use a faired seat tube. I find these dropouts easy to use if the bike is shifted into a harder gear before attempting to remove the wheel- you need to shift the derailleur out of the way. If your chain is on the 23 tooth cog when you try to remove the wheel it is more difficult since the chain is wrapping the entire circumference of the largest cog, effectively keeping the wheel in the frame- good luck getting the rear off from there. Shift to the smallest cog (the 12 tooth) with the derailleur in the outboard most position and the wheel is off in a jiff.
Beefier binder collars are used on the new B16 to clamp a carbon fiber, advanced seat angle aero seatpost. Use a torque wrench here and be sure the bolts have equal torque. The saddle mimics successful Selle Italia triathlon specific designs with 5+ hour comfort using a heavily padded and relatively flat nose section. This Felt label saddle is the standard 27cm long. Felt has stuck to one bottle mount on the seat tube for the 2011 B16 so you are an X-Lab and Profile customer as your race and training days get longer. Using an aero bottle on the seat tube such as Arundel or Profile is an obvious choice at shorter distances and improves frame aerodynamics overall.
Brakes on the 2011 Felt B16 are an O.E.M. supplier dual pivot model with alloy micro adjuster and plastic quick release lever. They are serviceable albeit non-spectacular. They do stop very well due to their robust stiffness and nice quality brake pads. Felt attends to details with nice color-keyed lime green rear derailleur housings on our early delivery bikes and even details like a meticulous “Felt” logoed cable crimp. It is testimony to the fact that Felt is detail-oriented in every specification on their bike, right down to the cable ends.
Speaking of details, one that has nagged me: The rear brake on the B16 is mounted securely above the chainstays behind the seat tube. This is a valid design- said to be more aerodynamic and certainly better looking. It also makes mechanical sense since the wheel rotates forward bracing the brake caliper into the frame, not seemingly pulling it away from the frame as with designs where the brake is under the bottom bracket. With this design, if the brake fixing bolt ever failed for some reason the brakes would actually still stop the bike. The catch to this configuration is you need to be sure your brake quick release is closed or your left crank arm will hit it. If you hastily install a rear wheel out of a flight case and forget to close the rear brake your first pedal stroke will remind you.
For customers who shop drivetrains the New B16 is a feast. The 2011 Shimano Ultegra uses a more robust rear derailleur and smoothly plated front derailleur for quieter, smoother chain transfer. This is the latest Ultegra front and rear derailleur and, a good time to revisit the sub-$2K price point of this bike. Last year this bike wore a 105 drive train. Remember, also- this frame is better than last years’ too. Again- this is where value becomes impressive on the 2011 B16.
Crank on the Felt is an FSA Gossamer turning a new 4mm thick CNC machined 7075 large 53 tooth chainring. There are all the attendant shift ramps and pins. Front shifting from small chainring up to big chainring is very good, better than previous years with the combination of lighter action shifters and a more robust large chainring. The small ring is a utilitarian one that works fine but is less than glamorous.
At the back of the bike there is a genuine Shimano 105 cogset, CS-5700, 12-25 10-speed with a KMC brand DX10 chain that features KMC’s version of a quick link. In previous years we’ve seen Shimano chains speced on Felt drivetrains. We haven’t ridden this chain on this bike any number of miles- so the jury is officially still out on wear but we already mentioned solid shift quality. Given Felt’s attention to detail I’m willing to bet this chain is serviceable at the minimum.
Ride experience? I’ve raced every distance on this frame shape in various lay-ups over several model years. The frustrating thing about these bikes is I can’t really tell the difference from the $5000+ bikes (B2 and DA) and the sub $3000 bikes like the B12- other than to say I like the ride quality of the B12 series carbon bikes better than the DA’s.
The different bike models come from the same molds, but use a different selection of carbon fiber fabrics laid into the molds and different methods for laminated these carbon fiber sheets into the final, molded bike frame. This difference in carbon fiber sheets or “lay up” and their orientation is what controls ride characteristics in carbon fiber bikes. Once you put race wheels on them they all ride great- and they do have nearly identical ride characteristics in my smallish 54cm size. I have never been enamored with the flexy, gossamer old version Felt DA which has morphed into extinction as Felt prepares its new DA Uberbike showcased at the Amgen Tour of California. I think this “B” series frame configuration is actually better than the more expensive (albeit lighter) Felt DA. The bike runs long-ish so short torso riders in larger frame sizes might need a sub 10 cm stem. On the 2011 B16 you can locate elbow pads farther back with the adjustable cockpit for short torsos. I rode a 54cm with a 110 mm stem.
The Felt B16 for 2011 rides like a much more expensive bike. Think about this comparison shopping example- this is the type of evaluation we make when we buy bikes here at TriSports.com: The Cervelo P2 Ultegra is $2600 for 2010. It has a slightly nicer saddle (Fizik Arione, 30 cm long) an Ultegra cogset and chain and Dura-Ace shifters (heavier actuation than the Felt shifters- but still, Dura-Ace…). The cockpit is not adjustable for length unless you negotiate with your dealer to do a size swap- which dealers are increasingly hesitant to do because of the attendant costs. The Cervelo is 24% more expensive than the Felt. Bottom line: is it 24% better? Will it go 24% faster? Is it 24% lighter? 24% more aerodynamic? This is where the pragmatist lives: The 2011 Felt B16 is an impossible case to argue against. It is a fine component spec, a great price point, an updated set of components and the new high water mark south of $2500- in fact, over 20% below $2500. It is also a bike worthy of high end race wheels and a someday upgrade to Felt’s integrated Bayonet aerobar. The 2011 B16 is an entry price point tri bike that isn’t entry point and stakes a valid claim on Felt’s ownership of the sub $2500, entry price point tri bike market. The new 2011 B16 means the highest level of triathlon racing just got a whole lot less expensive.