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2002 Felt DA 650 Review.
By Tom Demerly.
Read this first about our reviews

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I buy bikes for a living. People don't understand the bikes in our store don't just show up, we have to buy them. We can buy pretty much any bikes we want. I've had to buy roughly 7,000 bikes since I've been in the industry (23 years and counting, do the math), I guarantee you, it is tougher to sell me a bike than almost anyone. When I spend hard-earned cash to buy a bike there is a reason.

I bought two new bikes for the 2002 triathlon season. One is the new Felt DA650. Here's why:

Jim Felt started building and designing bikes years ago. He has consulted to bike companies, built bikes with other manufacturer's decals on them and built custom bikes for top pros. Jim Felt knows bikes. More importantly, Jim Felt knows materials, particularly aluminum. Felt also has an ongoing relationship with Easton and a unique familiarity with their products and capabilities. These things make for an impressive resume'.

Felt bicycles had a brief run of success years ago with their Felt B2 triathlon bike. The earliest version of the bike featured a "stealth bomber" matte black paint scheme, 650c wheels, a 78-degree seat angle and an ultra-thin wall aluminum frame with a unique wishbone monostay rear end.

Answer Products distributed the original Felt B2 around 1996 (no longer available) to retailers but dropped their distribution of Felt products when they decided to concentrate on mountain bikes and motorcycles.

The bike was not without its problems though. This thing was super light, but quite fragile. The ultra-thin wall aluminum tubing was prone to dents and the bike did not have a replaceable derailleur hanger. You had to be careful with it.

We sold quite a few original Felt B2s in the mid 90's and many are still on the road. One was hit by a van and suffered a severely bent rear derailleur hanger. I was convinced the frame could not be repaired, and that the derailleur hanger would snap off when we tried to "cold set" (polite word for bend) it back into place. Amazingly, it went right back into alignment using the Park DAG-1 tool (Derailleur Alignment Gauge) and held its alignment. I was impressed. Any other aluminum frame would have snapped.

The original Felt B2 became extinct when Answer Products parted company with Felt, and Jim Felt went looking for a new home for his Felt bicycle company. It took a couple years, but Felt is back, bigger and better than ever. We were so impressed with not only the Felt triathlon bikes, but his new line of road bikes, that we bought examples of each in several sizes and have already sold quite a few.

When I went shopping for a new triathlon bike for 2002 I knew what events I would be doing and what I wanted. My races in 2002 would be a mix of local and international events on courses that were rolling to hilly, and some bike courses that would be technical (Escape from Alcatraz), with lots of turns. I need a reasonably light (not too light) bike that had excellent handling, above par for most triathlon bikes, and also had a high degree of comfort and bottom bracket stiffness for powering up short, steep climbs. I have three half Ironmans on my calendar for 2002, including The TelOhio Buckeye Half Ironman, a notoriously tough bike course. I need a bike that will climb well but be comfortable on long training rides and in long races. All this is asking a lot of a bike.

First and foremost, the bike had to fit perfectly. I have a longish torso so, on many bikes I am forced to use a 140mm stem that really makes the front of the bike feel "soft". I don't like the effect that has on steering and how crappy it makes the front of the bike feel when I'm climbing, particularly out of the saddle. This means I tend to shop for bikes with a longer top tube. This included the 52cm Kestrel KM40 and the 53cm Litespeed Saber and Blade. I didn't like the way the Blade felt- too harsh in my frame size. I just turned 40 and my back bothers me from a parachuting accident. The new Saber seemed like a viable option with its new carbon seatstay assembly, but it isn't as "lively" and nimble as I was looking for in my size. I used to be a bicycle racer too, and got used to the nimble handling characteristics of a criterium bike, so I wanted faster handling than the Litespeed Saber offers. The Saber is a perfect choice for the fast triathlete who might not be the best bike handler and needs something more stable.

I took measurements and looked at geometry charts of many bikes. When I found the new Felt DA650 at the Interbike Bicycle Trade Show in Las Vegas in September I thought I might have found what I was looking for.

Once I was positive I could get the fit I needed on a Felt DA650 I was attracted to it by several features.

First, the bottom bracket area of the frame: The down tube is bladed, as with Cannondale, Cervelo and others. However, the Felt down tube is different since it bulges out as the tube nears the bottom bracket. The shape begins to change 11 centimeters from the bottom bracket and flares out to almost entirely round when it intersects the bottom bracket shell of the frame. This same shape change happens on the seat tube as well. This increase in surface area helps the bottom bracket shell resist lateral movement under pedal load. It adds liveliness and snap to the frame.

The bottom bracket and seat tube flares into the bottom bracket for stiffness and comfort.
The rear of the bike is unique also. Using a CNC machined wishbone seat stay yoke; the aerodynamic profile of the rear triangle is substantially reduced. Remember though, this is "dirty air", made turbulent by the rotating legs of the rider as they pedal through the boundary layer of air surrounding them. One thing the monostay yoke does accomplish is improved ride quality. You don't feel the bumps nearly as much from the rear end of the bike. This is done at no cost to stiffness. You get comfort and stiffness together through this unique design.

Mechanically the frame is greatly improved over previous Felt efforts. First, it has a replaceable derailleur hanger. Second, it uses an excellent integrated Cane Creek sealed cartridge-bearing Aheadset. Third, the bike is built (and comes with) the excellent Reynolds Ouzo fork- the best aero fork available anywhere.

The cable routing is very good. The derailleur cables are externally routed. I prefer external cable routing for the derailleurs in all cases. No matter what any manufacturer claims, internal derailleur cable routing is mechanically more time consuming and difficult to deal with. If you dispute this I invite you to visit our store and try changing a rear derailleur cable on a bike with external cable routing, then try it on a bike with internal routing. You'll see for yourself: External derailleur cable routing is easier to service and maintain. It almost always results in less friction for the inner derailleur cable, less bending of the cable (housing and inner cable) and smoother derailleur operation. Finally, it is harder for water to get inside your frame when it has fewer holes in it. Do you transport your bike on an external car rack? Can you imagine how much crap gets inside your bike frame during a rain shower when it is mounted on your roof or trunk rack driving at 65 M.P.H.? If you want some indication of how much sludge gets into your frame, look at your car after a rain shower and a five-hour drive to a race on the freeway. About 1/3 of that finds its way inside your bike through the cable routing holes if it has them.

The only cable on the Felt DA650 that is internally routed is the rear brake cable. The routing is configured so the brake cable housing runs the entire length of the rear brake cable. That works pretty good, better than the housing ending as it goes into the hole in the frame, then bare cable running in the frame (which usually makes noise when you hit bumps) and then the housing resuming as it exits the frame. The Felt is much more elegant. Truthfully, I would have preferred external cable routing (like on the new Cannondale Multisport series used by Thomas Hellriegel in Hawaii), but this is a good compromise.

Finally, my only area of concern: The Felt DA650 has an interesting bladed seat tube and seat post. The post is excellent quality with a CNC machined, forged seatpost head that is entirely micro-adjustable with a single 5mm hex wrench. At first glance you can't figure out how to raise and lower the seatpost to adjust addle height. The top tube of the bike flares in the vertical axis as it joins the seat tube, and in that flare is a small hole. Through the small hole you access a small 3mm hex setscrew that pushes a wedge against the aero seatpost locking it in the desired adjustment. It works fine, but made me nervous. What happens if you strip this? Also, rotating the wrench as you make the adjustment has the potential of scratching the top tube. Again, you have to be careful. I haven't had the least bit of problem so far with mine. It has worked perfectly, but it should be handled with respect. Remember, this is high-end, lightweight racing equipment. I wouldn't let the local "bike mechanic" touch it. Is a guy who works on Ford Explorers qualified to service Formula 1 cars? No. The DA650 is the bicycle equivalent of a Formula 1 racecar.

I built my Felt DA650 with a standard Dura-Ace component group. These are the best triathlon components available anywhere at any price. You can keep your carbon fiber cranks, lightweight single pivot brakes and aftermarket do-dads. That stuff is simply not dependable. A Shimano Dura-Ace group is made by a company with more R&D dollars that most other component manufacturers have in annual gross sales. People who think they are improving their bike performance by shaving grams with lighter brakes and carbon cranks are kidding themselves. If you drop your chain once on a front derailleur shift you've lost more time than you could save taking a pound of weight off your bike. I have sold used and raced on "lightweight" aftermarket brakes, cranks and bottom brackets. They don't offer any performance advantage at all. Look at the pro's bikes. Do you see any of that stuff? Nope. When I see a person with expensive carbon cranks, ultra-lightweight single pivot brakes and titanium gadgets on their bike my first thought is "There's one born every minute". Hey, if you want that junk, we sell it. I don't use it though.

I built my Felt DA650 with standard Syntace Stratos base bars and C2 Aerobars.
Several safety recalls on one piece aerobar combinations along with a
lack of adjustability make this a much better choice.

A couple things I did do on my Felt DA was use the new Dura Ace time trial chainrings. These are the big chainrings that say "Dura-Ace" around their outer circumference you saw on Lance Armstrong's time trial bike in the Tour de France. They give you larger gearing on 650c wheel bike, provide better shift quality and are stiffer than traditional chainrings. These rings are expensive, but worth it. They do improve shift performance and feel solid climbing on the big ring out of the saddle.

I also used the Syntace Space Lever brake levers. These are a little better than the Dia-Compe 188 brake levers but a bit more expensive. I like the Syntace space levers because the cable is routed through the handlebar and the metal brake lever feels more solid than the plastic bodied Dia-Compe 188. Syntace Stratos base handlebars are made to use the Space Lever brake lever so they work together perfectly, although the initial set-up requires practice and patience.

I put an ITM Millennium stem on in 130mm, but believe I may need to go to 120mm for the best position. The ITM Millennium uses two bolts to hold the front plate on and tighten the handlebars and two bolts to clamp onto the steer tube of the fork. The clamp configuration is suitable for use with carbon fiber steer tube forks, according to the installation manual provided by Reynolds. It is critical you select the correct stem type if you are using a carbon fiber steer tube fork. The wrong type of stem can crush the steer tube and not clamp adequately. This is extremely dangerous.

Finally, the ride: The bike feels like equipment that works. It is not flexible, but it is comfortable. Cornering at speed with your hands on the base bars is much more confident, responsive and sure-footed than other triathlon bikes I've ridden in the past three years. A big part of bike handling is related to weight distribution of the rider, and this is a by-product of proper fit. This bike does fit me perfectly, so that contributes to the good handling. However, bad frame geometry would never give you this kind of handling. Climbing on the bike is nothing short of an utter rush. You put power in, speed comes out. Triathlon bikes usually climb poorly. The Felt DA650 climbs better than a lot of road bikes I've been on, and much better than any triathlon bike I've ever been on.

This is the bike I will use at the TelOhio Buckeye half Ironman, Escape from Alcatraz, and other events where getting out of the saddle and climbing as well as cornering with speed and confidence are important. The bike is comfortable and mechanically sound, but climbs and handles better than any triathlon bike I have ever ridden. My previous favorite triathlon bike was the old version of the Quintana Roo Kilo PR. But the Felt DA650 is an improvement on that: Faster, lighter, more sure-footed, better fitting and more mechanically sound and durable. I'm looking forward to next season.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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