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Vitamin B12.
By Tom Demerly.
Read this first about our reviews

Felt B12 2009
Felt's new 2009 B12 uses the high end B2 frameset, an innovative high end one piece aerobar, aerodynamic race-ready wheels and a pure Shimano Ultegra SL drivetrain making it the best buy in a tri bike in 2009.

Every year one bike shines above the others: Best value, best frame, best component spec, best color scheme. It may be any combination of factors that make the bike special. But every year, one bike nails it.

This year it is the new 2009 Felt B12.

The optimal combination of an upgraded frame with proven design combined with improved manufacturing and materials, a healthy up spec in components, an elegant new aero cockpit, versatile wheels and a pleasing color story make the new Felt B12 the thinking man’s value priced triathlon bike in 2009.

There is no such thing as the perfect bike though, and the B12 has two problems: One major, one minor. The major problem with the B12 is the name. It is downright misleading. In 2008 Felt built a bike called the B12. The 2008 B12 used a low end, heavier carbon fiber frameset that was OK… but not great. That combined with a ho-hum component spec prevented ‘08 B12 from shining. The all new 2009 B12 has almost nothing in common with the 2008 B12- it does not even use the same frame.

For 2009 the frame of the B12 has been upgraded to the same frame used in Felt’s high end B2 bikes. You read that right: The new B12 actually uses a B2 frame. This means the bike is lighter, rides more comfortably and is stiffer than the previous version. To put that upgrade in perspective we are talking about the same frame used on Felt’s $7499 B2 Pro, but on a bike with an excellent component spec for an MSRP of about $3K complete.

“… the 2009 B12 has been upgraded to the same frame as the high end B2 bikes. The new B12 actually uses a B2 frame.”

Felt B12 2009
The new B12 uses the high end Felt B2 frameset: Lighter, stiffer, more comfortable.

A higher end frame is the most significant upgrade for the B12 in 2009 and makes it an entirely new bike from the previous B12. Felt made a mistake by not re-naming the model to avoid confusion with the previous B12 from 2008. Consumers can’t see the difference in the framesets by looking at the bikes. They could tell the difference if they rode both of them enough. Over the duration of owning a bike the differences are significant. The new B12 frameset (the B2 frame) soaks up bumps better, goes up hills more responsively, weighs less and is more durable. Following Felt’s nomenclature of better bikes using smaller model number designations this new 2009 B12 should really be named the “B8”. What’s in a name? Both consumers and retailers are going to be confused and make the obvious association with the previous year’s bike. It will take an informed buyer to truly understand the difference (and advantages) of the new 2009 B12 over the previous one, and to recognize the value in the bike. The new B12 is the thinking man’s bike.

If you become an owner of the 2009 Felt B12, it won’t take you long to realize you just got a bike so nice it feels like theft.

Felt B12 2009
The author at the turnaround during the U.S. Navy SuperSEAL Triathlon in Coronado, California. This is the same frameset used in the B12 for 2009.

The B12’s new frameset is not only new to the B12 but also the most refined version of the B2 frameset Felt has ever produced. There were a few teething pains with the original B2 frames from years ago including some fragile (but easily replaced) seatpost binder collars and finicky bayonet forks. Those things are gone from the new 2009 Felt B12. The new B12 uses the most refined mold of any B2 bike built to date by Felt. “As the molds get older they get better, we make improvements all the time” said Felt’s Triathlon Bike Product Manager Dave Koesel. The new version of the B2 (B12) frameset is now lighter and stiffer, more durable and rides more comfortably than previous versions. Additionally the old binder collars have been replaced with a robust, dependable version and the B12 uses a conventional, proven fork design.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

A well designed frameset strikes a balance between aerodynamics, frame stiffness (climbing and cornering), weight, ride comfort and even aesthetics.

The B12 frame is likely not as aerodynamic as the previous category owner, Cervelo’s outstanding P2C. Depending on whose wind tunnel tests you believe, the B12 has comparable aerodynamics at low yaw angles, but the Cervelo P2 becomes slipperier as the cross winds increase. Cervelo is the de-facto aerodynamic leader and nothing within a thousand dollars can beat the P2 in the wind tunnel. However, your ownership experience requires more than just good aerodynamics. The ideal bike needs to perform across a broad range of frame sizes for athletes ranging in size from 5’0” and 100 pounds to 6’4” and 250 pounds. That means it has to work well grinding up a hill at 12 M.P.H. where aerodynamics don’t mean as much as good frame stiffness and design. The tapered downtube of the B12 and beefy, aerodynamic seat tube mean this frame climbs and handles better than most aerodynamic carbon fiber framesets. If there is one shining feature of the new 2009 Felt B12 it is the frameset- the thing is, there isn’t just one feature- they got nearly everything right.

Felt B12 2009
A conventional fork design with an all carbon fiber steer tube and fork crown.

Felt used a proven fork and headset design on the new B12. The carbon fiber fork with alloy steer tube is resonably light, mechanically dependable and rides well. It provides good aerodynamics and solid ride quality. The models of the B2 above the B12 use the Bayonet front end which integrates the fork into the frame. This is stiffer, steers well and is slightly more aerodynamic but has had its share of teething pains. The use of the B2 frame on the B12 but without the Bayonet fork is an elegant sidestep to the technical problems that haunted the early Bayonet forks while still providing the excellent frame quality of the B2.

Felt improved ride quality and durability with this carbon fiber fork and managed to do something some tri bike companies have failed at: Maintain stable handling in the aerobars but also have good cornering. On other bikes you seem to give up good cornering for straight line stability. Dive most tri bikes into a corner and you are a passenger hanging on for dear life. The B12 steers well. It is responsive enough for negotiating tight turns throughout the speed envelope. going into and out of the transition area at low speeds the bike behaves well. At top speed on the aerobars the thing feels solid and straight. It isn't tentative, and this confident handling makes riding the B12 easier and likely contributes to a better bike split.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

he new Felt "F" bend aerobar extension enables the rider to customize the fit of the aerobar extension through a wide range of angles and grips making it versatile and adaptable.

The second and most conspicuous selling point on the new B12 is the cockpit, and this is where the new B12 pulls well ahead of all comers. Felt developed a new aerodynamic cockpit that rivals one piece aerobars pushing $1000 for just the handlebars. The cockpit: aerobars, base bars, brake levers and elbow rests, are a critical part of the component spec since you are always looking at it, you rest on it and it encounters the boundary layer of air early on making it critical in lowering drag. A good cockpit is light, stiff, aerodynamic and adjustable. Felt’s Bayonet integrated aero cockpit is all those things. It is elegantly simple to adjust and uses a new adjustable “F” bend that accommodates ski bend and “S” bend aerobar users by cutting the bar and sizing it at the correct location along the bend. The bar is sized for length simply by telescoping it to the right length for your forearm and cutting off the excess. Cut the bar from the front and move the shifters back to get the right bend at the grip. The solution is a fully adjustable aerobar- for length and bend, with minimal adjustment hardware and no wasted material. The new Bayonet cockpit defines efficiency of design. There are only 4 bolts on the entire Bayonet aerobar but significant width, length and bend adjustment. Additionally the integrated brake levers feature a luxurious knurled rubber grip that feels oh-so-good on cold, wet hands leaving the transition area after a chilly swim. Considering the value of the Felt Bayonet cockpit it would be (and is…) at home on bikes costing twice as much. The Bayonet one piece aerobar adds enormous value to the new B12 and is something missing on every other bike in this price category.

“The new Bayonet cockpit defines efficiency of design.”

Felt B12 2009

The new Shimano Ultegra SL crankset improves shifting and completes the nice look of the component kit.

Felt went safe and smart on the component group with the B12. Shimano Ultegra SL is a slightly lighter version of the value leading Ultegra group with a darker finish and small hardware differences to shave grams and improve performance.

The gem of the component package is the genuine Shimano Ultegra SL crankset. Felt avoided the common practice of going to a third party for the crankset and used a pure Shimano spec on the B12 drivetrain. This is not only a cosmetic upgrade but a mechanical one as well. The front shifting in particular on B12 is excellent. Rear shift quality with a genuine Shimano chain, new Ultegra SL rear derailleur controlled by Shimano Dura-Ace bar end shifters and a Shimano cogset is perfect- it is impossible to find fault.

Some tri bike manufacturers rely on the strength of their frame designs to sell bikes. This is a fair strategy given the athlete's propensity to upgrade. You do save money with the B12 parts kit since you don't have to swap out parts to improve performance of get a cosmetically matching component kit. Felt also matched the front and rear derailleur to complete the look of the transmission. Overall the component spec on the B12 is very good.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009 Felt B12 2009

Felt's superb Bayonet integrated aerobar uses grips that are ideally suited to the multisport athlete exiting a cold swim with wet hands.

Brakes on the B12 are not Shimano spec but an aftermarket version of Shimano’s dual pivot that is so similar they can accommodate Shimano brake shoes. The brake caliper is all alloy with an easy to use barrel adjuster and quick release. They hold their center dependably and are basically adjustment free.

Brake placement on the rear is above the chainstays, improving brake response noticeably in the back. A quick technical note here: The brake quick release on the rear brake must be closed while riding or the crank arm will hit it when pedaling. The brakes center easily and hold their center well.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

Brakes on the B12 are functional, easily adjustable and hold their center well.

The saddle on the B12 is a Felt OEM branded tri specific saddle that I have raced on up to ½ Ironman distance with no complaints. It has a broad, well padded nose and is the standard 27 cm in length making it an unremarkable fit. This saddle design is based on Selle Italia's SLR T1 and is a proven design that has inspired original equipment saddles for many good tri bike manufacturers. Most people who try this saddle have good luck with it, even when spending time on the nose during hard efforts.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

A dependable and comfortable tri saddle inspired by Selle Italia designs along with a new binder collar makes sitting on the B12 a joy.

A pleasant surprise on the new B12 is the Felt TTR3 aero wheelset. This is a 40mm deep, “V” section aero race wheel with 20 bladed aerodynamic spokes laced radially in the front and 24 spokes laced cross two drive side, radial non-drive on the rear wheel. There is a lot of value in this wheel spec. To do better on wheel spec you would have to spend two-thirds of the price of the entire bike on wheels alone, upgrading to Zipp or Hed race specific wheels without this level of durability. The TTR3 aero wheels on the B12 do double duty as every day training wheels but have aerodynamic features like bladed spokes and deep section aero rims to save time on race day. These wheels are faster than the race specific wheelset I used to race my first Ironman. These wheels are not as light as purpose built race wheels, but the added weight is spent well to provide everyday, all road durability.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

although wheel spec on the B12 is superb with Felt's excellent TTR3 aero wheels using bladed spokes we are tired of the ho-hum tire spec of Vittoria Rubino Pro Slicks.

The second place the B12 makes a minor faux paux (in addition to the name) is tire spec. The Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick is the tire that simply won’t go away. Vittoria must pay bike companies to use these since almost everyone has this tire on their bike between $2000 and $5000. It isn’t a bad tire; in fact it has excellent ride quality. It just isn’t a particularly durable tire. This may put the B12 owner in a bit of a quandary: The wheels are so good they warrant a fancy tire for race day such as the Continental Attack/Force combination or the better high thread count Vittorias. However, since these are your everyday wheels also the temptation is to go with a heavier tire spec that is more flat resistant such as the Continental Gatorskin. What to do? I would ride the Vittorias into the ground (which won’t take long) and then switch to a more robust Continental with a nylon Aramid sidewall. These tires will do what you need in training and also be dependable on race day.

Felt scored another victory on the new 2009 B12 with an elegant and appealing color scheme. There were some truly garish color stories on the drawing board for the B12 that got vetoed in the 11th hour. What emerged was a departure from Felt’s normally black and neon livery to something that is just racy enough to pop but not garish enough to offend. This color scheme will likely speak to everyone, and generally in low, dignified tones. By missing the edges of the primary color wheel Felt threaded the needle with aesthetics and simply nailed the look of the B12. It is a race car but a race car for the lady or gentleman.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

ice color scheme and clean looking rear end complete the overall pleasant appearance of the B12. This is a look at the rear wheel fairing.

I always look at a bike's cable routing since this is important in traveling with the bike and in maintenance. Felt scores more high marks here. The internal cable routing on the frame is absolutely superb; fully guided through the inside of the frame with the appropriate holes labeled on the head tube for assembly and cable replacement. When you consider that sooner or later every tri bike finds its way into a flight case this is a nice feature. It also facilitates quick cable changes when installing new brake and drivetrain cables. Lastly, the internal cables use housing the entire length, keeping the cable clean and free of water intrusion from mounting the bike when soaking wet.

Felt B12 2009

Clean cable routing that uses housing throughout its length and is fully internally guided: The best in the industry from any manufacturer.

The B12 is a down-the-middle fitting bike like its nemesis the Cervelo P2 but with a slightly lower head tube height. Stack and reach on the two bikes are similar but the B12 is available in 7 sizes (48cm/650c, 50cm/650c, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm and 60cm) while the P2 is available in six. From a fit standpoint there simply isn’t anything missing in the B12 geometry chart. With an adjustable cockpit that can be custom sized to the rider and uses standard stems the fit-ability of the bike is superb.

Felt B12 2009

Felt B12 2009

Form follows function: more beautiful aerodynamic features on the B12 frameset.

One issue with the B12 will be availability. Felt is a full line bike company and as such they allocate production and inventory resources across several bike categories. That means there will never be enough B12’s. By the time the value of the bike becomes apparent the supply is likely to be under pressure. Last year (2008) Felt ran out of popular models of their tri bikes by the beginning of the race season and spent an uncomfortable eight weeks without adequate inventory to fill orders. With the improvement in the B12 over previous models demand will be strong. This will result in frustration in the early months so check with your Felt dealer early if you are considering the B12 for 2009. Supplies in January in February may be adequate for bikes bought then, but the flow of bikes from Felt will ebb after those key delivery months and the hot bikes always go first.

2009 Felt B12: Key Advantages.

  • Frame upgraded to B2 frameset: lighter, more comfortable, stiffer.
  • New Bayonet integrated aerobar: More aero, lighter, better looking, mechanically simpler, easily sized to fit rider precisely.
  • Felt TTR3 aerodynamic combination race/training wheelset: Improves aerodynamics and reduces the need to buy expensive aftermarket race wheels, also excellent everyday training wheel.
  • Proven component kit with Shimano Ultegra SL crank: Best front shifting performance.
  • Good balance of frame design criteria: Design combines good aerodynamics with good ride comfort and frame stiffness for performance across the entire speed envelope.
  • Neutral color scheme: Matches most race apparel and helmets. Does not look dated or overtly “loud”. Tasteful and sophisticated.
2009 Felt B12: Key drawbacks.
  • Bike name: Should have been renamed to designate the use of the higher end B2 frameset along with additional upgrades to handlebars, wheels and components. Confusing to consumers.
  • Vittoria Pro Slick tires: Tires are light and ride well but have poor durability.

The B12 took Felt several years of evolution and development to get to. It was worth the wait for them to get this bike very right. They have been close to the ultimate combination of components, frame design and color scheme with a well fitting tri bike but have always missed one or two details. This year they nailed it with the B12. For 2009 the Felt B12’s only minor shortcoming is that it needs a new name to designate its significant departure (and improvement) from previous Felt models. Then again, with a bike this nice, perhaps there is some wisdom to keeping it our little secret…

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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