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The Top Floor of the Bargain Basement.
By Tom Demerly.
Read this first about our reviews

Felt B16 2009

The 2009 Felt B16 is the least expensive performance full carbon fiber triathlon bike available.

Review Note: You’ll see a new look to our reviews for 2009. We’ve built a new studio specifically for our product photo shoots. The new photos will show greater detail where we can control color and lighting more accurately. We can devote more time to photographing details since we aren’t relying on weather for good conditions. We hope you find the new photo format useful. As always, we write and photograph all our own reviews.

The most difficult product category for any manufacturer to master is the entry level price point. Whether it’s cameras, automobiles, computers or racing bicycles the lowest price range is the most difficult to do well. Few companies devote significant resources to dominating this category since there is little money to be made compared to the high end.

It’s easy to make a $10,000 super bike that is ultra lightweight, rides well, has great component spec and looks racy. At that price level there should be no mistakes. But whittle away 80% of that price and there is little left for product managers to work with.

Felt B16 2009

Dave Koesel in the beginning. Koesel went on from bike shop back rooms to a top product manager at Felt Racing years after we shot this photo of him meticulously selecting mounting hardware. Koesel is one man responsible for the advanced geometry and excellent configuration of Felt's triathlon bikes.

Dave Koesel of Felt bicycles is one of those bicycle brand product managers. He got his start in the bicycle industry nearly two decades ago when he walked through the doors of this bike shop and began his career the way many of cycling’s highest level executives did; he started hanging out in bike shops. Koesel went on to work high end bicycle retail in several locations here in Southeastern Michigan while pursuing engineering at Eastern Michigan University. Along the way he bolstered his on-the-bike competitive resume with impressive race performances at every level, on the road and on the track. Recently, Koesel won a National Championship Medal for the team pursuit. Koesel is also a gifted runner, and quickly came to understand the nuances of designing a bike that was built as a starting block for a strong run leg in a triathlon.

At the same time Koesel was forging the beginnings of his career here in Michigan, Jim Felt of Felt bicycles had teamed up with the (former) management team of GT Bicycles along with a European distribution network for Felt bicycles and was starting to grow his fledgling one-off, hand made company, Felt Bicycles, into a viable brand with a complete product line.

In many ways the history of Felt Bicycles is analogous to the development of the new B16: It came from the top down. Technology and innovations developed at the very high end filtered down through abrasive price points to distill something very basic, very rudimentary, very workmanlike. It may not grace many magazine covers, but it is easy on the credit card and delivers more benefit for the dollar than perhaps anything else south of $2500. In the case of the B16, well south of $2500 at its full Felt authorized MSRP of $2299 according to their website.

There is an old rule in bike buying: Buy the bike with the best frame you can afford and upgrade your components later. The idea is, the frame is the most important component of the bike, and since the frame controls most of ride quality and bike fit, this axiom is as true today as it was 20 years ago when it became a part of Dave Koesel’s DNA while working the back rooms of bike shops in southeastern Michigan.

Felt B16 2009

The new design of the all-carbon Felt aero seatpost has a wider range of height adjustment with no aluminum flair at the top. This refinement over previous years provides a greater degree of height adjustment.

Felt B16 2009

Nice cable entry into the top tube from the cockpit.

Felt B16 2009

A Felt legacy color livery along with the same profile as Felt's flagship $10,000 DA triathlon bike.

The problem for the B16 is that the new buying public has changed, neophyte consumers are increasingly component driven, clamoring for “The least expensive Shimano Ultegra equipped bike”. However, the advantage of the B16 is that, as of this review, the economy has tanked, making an entry level price point full carbon fiber triathlon bike quite compelling, especially when upgrading the component kit can be delayed until the Dow reenters five figure territory and the parachute has fully opened on the bail out plan. Until then, the idea of a nice frameset with a workmanlike, if somewhat inelegant, component kit makes a lot of sense. The components may not be pretty, they may not be high end, but they get the job done and do so fairly well- better than anything else south of $2500 made of carbon. The irony, and the conundrum of the new Felt B16, is that its strongest competitor is not another carbon bike, but Cervelo’s outstanding aluminum P1 located $549 south of the B16 on the price map. That said, carbon does things aluminum cannot, and Felt is banking on the old school axiom of “buy the best frame you can afford” to peddle B16’s. It is an axiom that still holds true.

Felt B16 2009

The early 2009 B16 used an unattractive gloss and matt multi tone finish. Customers did not like it.

Felt B16 2009

The new, 2009 reworked version sports the stealthy, all matt regalia that Felt started with many years ago building one-off tri bikes for top professionals.

The B16 is also another example of Felt’s impressive ability to adapt quickly. The initial version of the B16, released less than 90 days before this review was written, featured an unattractive and cheap looking cosmetic finish that combined a gloss clear coat main triangle with a matt finish rear triangle. We didn’t like the way it looked and neither did most of our customers. It was decidedly “unfinished”, as though they had forgotten to paint the back end of the bike or the front end had some type of shrink wrap, appliqué graphic. Whatever the case, it looked awful.

Apparently it was awful to Felt as well. The second production run had a complete face lift with an attractive full matt, stealth carbon cloak and subdued red insignia. What started as a dime store dandy now looks like a secret Russian Mig fighter jet- it’s a huge improvement. The new color scheme harkens back to the days when Jim Felt covertly built hand made frames for Paula Newby Fraser, Scott Tinley, Greg Welch and other top Ironman competitors. Felt did an impressive job of fixing the cosmetics of the B16 and they did it quickly. Few bikes companies are as nimble or responsive. In a novel twist, the new color scheme of the B16 actually tells a story in the history of Felt bicycles and, since it is on the entry price point carbon tri bike, it is an important chapter in the history of this company. The colors are Felt’s original company colors: stealth black and matt red. What started as an ugly, behind the curtain offering now plays well as the first page in the history of the company: Everything old is new again.

Felt B16 2009

Felt's bargain category B16 shares the same frame shape as the high end B series tri bikes such as this B2 Pro.

Where the B16 lays in the good/better/best continuum of Felt’s carbon fiber triathlon frames is a little tricky to actually decode. The constant trickle down of previous model years means you could call the new B16 the old B12, which is now the old B2, whereas the new B2 is something different… Whatever the interpretation of Felt’s description, the B16 is the least expensive version of Felt’s carbon fiber tri bikes. It does come from the same molds. You can expect truly excellent frame design including the industry standard for fully housed, internal cable routing. This is important since the component group is, well, did I mention how nice the frame is?

Felt B16 2009

A clean presentation with the cables routed through the aerobars and into the top tube of the frame.

Felt B16 2009

The bottom bracket mounted brake assembly. This is a good design that enables the upper rear end of the rear triangle to remain clean and aerodynamic, if not entirely in function, at least in appearance. The design works very well but care must be taken to insure the quick release lever of the brake is in the closed position lest the crank arm hit it during pedaling.

Braking action with this configuration is excellent with clean cable routing and a very solid mount for the caliper.


Felt B16 2009

The basic, workman-like FSA Gossamer alloy crankset wearing a 53 tooth large chainring and a 39 tooth small ring with a standard 130 mm bolt pattern.

While a solid frame is the reason to buy the B16 the component kit does include a functional, albeit basic, transmission. The front and rear derailleurs are Shimano 105 changed by a pair of Shimano’s best (and only, until the new 7900…) bar end shifters, the Dura-Ace 7800 ten speed shifter. No complaint about the Shimano 105/Dura-Ace drivetrain that even includes a genuine Shimano brand chain and Shimano 12-25 cogset. You can expect excellent rear shifting even with the habitual spotty maintenance some triathletes are renowned for.

The crank on the B16 is the FSA (Full Speed Ahead) Gossamer TT MegaEXO turning a pair of full sized, 130mm bolt pattern chainrings that wear 53 teeth on the big, 39 teeth on the small. This is in contravention to Cervelo’s approach of using 110mm bolt pattern cranks with compact 50/34 chainrings and a tighter ratio 12-23 cogset. Some consumers think Cervelo’s specification of a 50/34 compact crank isn’t a big enough gear for triathlon/time trial riding and that school of thought supports Felt’s full size crank spec. While the 50/12 big gear on the P1 is plenty for even the best local age groupers some riders suffer “chainring envy” and just can’t live without their 53 tooth big ring. For them, the B12 crank makes sense.


Wheels on the B16 are Shimano’s ubiquitous R500, a basic and proven everyday wheelset shod in those persistent Vittoria Rubino Pro slicks that everyone tries to convince me are great. The tires aren’t really bad, it’s just that we are tired of them and would like to a see some variety in a value-added tire spec like a heavier, flat resistant Kevlar belted tire suitable for training rides where punctures could be a problem. In fairness to product managers everywhere, yes, the Vittoria Rubino Pro does ride quite well, is reasonably light and has a viable lifespan. Perhaps I am more bored with them than anything else.

Felt B16 2009

Basic tires, basic wheels with decent durability and good ride. Note the aerodynamic bladed spokes, the one wheel concession to performance.


Felt B16 2009

Fork is nicely profiled with carbon legs and an alloy steer tube.

Felt B16 2009

The clean rear end presents a nice, aerodynamic fairing and a sturdy rear triangle to support good climbing.


The cockpit of the B16 is generically referred to by Felt as the “Tri Specific Design”. It is more of an aerobar kit than a finished set of aerobars that are ready to ride, and in that lies a great deal of flexibility for sizing the bars correctly to the rider. Aerobar length, pad width and height and even rotational angle of the extensions are fully adjustable to the rider. This is actually very nice since it provides your bike fitter with the opportunity to fit your controls specifically to you. My issue with this cockpit is two fold: Few entry level bikes are correctly fitted by their sellers (or buyers) and the cockpit looks like a Three Stooges plumbing project out of the box. For the rider likely to be buying the B16 there is some work involved in fitting the cockpit to the rider, and that work has to be done. This cockpit is an aero “fit kit”, a starting point. Specifically, the pads and extensions need to be located correctly for the rider’s arm length and elbow pad placement. Once this is adjusted into place the excess aerobar protruding rearward from the base bar needs to be cut to appropriate length, the cut should be nicely finished and capped with the end caps provided. Derailleur cables can be routed internally through the bars and out a small hole made in the end caps for a more polished (and aerodynamic) presentation. Even with good fitting the cockpit is fairly basic with round tube shapes. Again, the B16 is a great platform for later upgrade and the cockpit is an obvious place to start. In fairness, you won’t see a high end cockpit on a price point carbon bike.

Felt B16 2009

You'll need a good mechanic to sort out the mass of tubing that makes up the Felt aerobars. This is a good aerobar, but it is a starting point with many possibilities. For anyone not accustomed to fitting an aero front end, it may make you feel a bit like a stooge.


Felt B16 2009

There are actually three possible bend choices depending on where you decide to cut the bars: Straight, "S" bend or ski bend.

Felt B16 2009

The aerobars themselves can be mounted on top or below the base bar for a very wide range of adjustment.

The extensions provide three bend options: “S” bends; flat extension and ski bend depending on where you cut them. The Felt bar has a full 150 mm of pad adjustment. The extension can be mounted under the base bar for lower profile. There is a lot of adjustability but you’ll need to devote some time to finding the optimal configuration for you. The upside is they are highly tunable to your tastes and dimensions. The downside is it will take some effort to get them fitted precisely.

The saddle on the B16 is quite good, Felt’s proven 3.3 Tri Saddle which now features a gel padded nose ideal for riding in the aero position and a non-absorbent synthetic cover with a slippery enough finish to be friendly on bare thighs when riding in a wet bathing suit or short tri shorts.

One place where the B16 shines as brightly as Felt’s other carbon tri offerings is frame geometry and fit. The 2009 Felt B16 is available in seven sizes including two sizes with 650c wheels for smaller riders with shorter torso length. Felt’s geometry is highly adaptable and even more so with the newly developed, constant taper full carbon aero seatpost. This replaces a previous version with an alloy head that tapered outward at the top limiting the range of saddle height adjustment and adding weight. The new seatpost head design is full carbon, lighter and more adjustable.

 

Felt B16 2009

A fully credible tri saddle on a good micro-adjust seatpost head makes for fine angle adjustment.

Once you cover the drivetrain, wheels, cockpit, saddle and frame on the B16 you find a workmanlike kit installed on a nicely shaped, entry level carbon fiber frame. There is nothing to complain about, and the frame is worthy of excitement especially in this price category. The B16 is a viable bike for the cyclist who subscribes to the proven belief that frame quality prevails. It is a mistake to expect the same level of performance from a very high end carbon fiber frame as the B16 is heavier but has similar ride characteristics as the B12 and B2 family of Felts. These bikes do share the same basic configuration. It is reasonable to expect that the B16 is a very serviceable and (now) attractive entry price point, full carbon fiber aerodynamic frame with excellent frame geometry and a workmanlike component kit. It is worthy of component upgrade later and is a solid starting point for the basis of evolution. While it’s hard to gush about the B16 because of its utilitarian configuration, it deserves credit as a nice offering at the lowest price point for a well designed carbon fiber triathlon bike. In an economic environment like this, that may be a significant endorsement.

Felt B16 2009

The Felt B16 is a fully credible all carbon fiber triathlon bike at slightly more than $2000 with a basic component kit.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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