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
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.
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.
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.
Nice cable entry into the top tube from the cockpit.
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
The early 2009 B16 used an
unattractive gloss and matt multi tone finish. Customers
did not like it.
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'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?
A clean presentation with
the cables routed through the aerobars and into the
top tube of the frame.
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.
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
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
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.
Basic tires, basic wheels with decent
durability and good ride. Note the aerodynamic bladed
spokes, the one wheel concession to performance.
Fork is nicely profiled with
carbon legs and an alloy steer tube.
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.
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.
There are actually three
possible bend choices depending on where you decide
to cut the bars: Straight, "S" bend or ski
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
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.
The Felt B16 is a fully credible all carbon
fiber triathlon bike at slightly more than $2000 with a basic