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The Right Tool.
By Tom Demerly.


Felt's 2006 F75 won the Bicycling Magazine Editor's Choice Award for entry level road bikes.


The fastest growing cycling category over the previous five years is the entry level road bike. This is the bike we buy for the customer who is beginning road riding, might be doing Spin classes and is interested in multisport events such as entry level triathlons as well as road riding, club rides and charity events.

This is the fastest growing demographic in cycling. It is a demographic populated with an increasing number of females- more than any other segment of the market. These are riders in charity rides such as the MS 150, Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training rides and the AIDs Awareness or Breast Cancer Rides. They are also riders trying their first triathlon or group ride. They are a different type of customer than we’ve seen in previous decades. They may say they are beginners, but they actually are not. This group is more physically fit, more involved, more informed, more ambitious and goal oriented than any other category except perhaps competitive age group triathletes and bicycle racers. They may sell their abilities short, but they represent the backbone of the sport today and they are critically important to our industry.

 


The F75 fills an important and growing need for cyclists who want a versatile, high quality entry level road bike.

Buying the right bike for this customer is extremely important. They need a “step-up” bicycle at an entry level price. Their demands on equipment and bike fit are greater and more sophisticated than they realize. Comfort and reliability are their key concerns. That said, they are not pedestrian cyclists. They are the emerging group of “new athletes”. They want the best bike for a long ownership experience at the lowest price. They also need versatility that will enable them to experience many different types of road riding.

Three years ago at the annual Interbike Bicycle Trade Show in Las Vegas we went looking for this bike. Vendors such as Trek, Cannondale , Specialized, Giant were all beginning to recognize the emerging value of this important consumer category, but may have been too caught up with “Lance Fever” to understand that this was their most important product category over the five year horizon. It was the age of the high end road bike, and every company was proud to show their offerings above $2000, but almost no one had viable, well thought out models at the entry price points.

Our shopping list when we went looking for this bike included some critical items this consumer needs:
  • A price point well below $1500, closer to $1000.
  • Fit and geometry that emphasized comfort and endurance over quick handling and stiffness- especially in the smaller to medium sizes. We need a wide range of sizes, especially at the smaller end.
  • The ability to use aerobars on the bike and maintain stability- something not found on many road bikes.
  • Mechanical dependability including trouble free shifting- especially on the front derailleur. This bike is for customers who do not know how to work on bikes.
  • A true compact double chainring/crankset- not a triple or a watered-down “compact” with chainrings larger than a 34 tooth for the small ring.
  • A cogset that started on an 11 tooth cog in combination with a 50 tooth big chainring for athletic riders who are fit from Spin classes and can pedal athletically.
  • Comfortable saddle and easy to use pedal system.
  • An overall component spec that would not need upgrading during the first five years of the ownership experience.
  • Frame quality that is good enough to be upgraded if the customer wanted to.
For the last three years we couldn’t find the bike we needed. There were some close matches, but no bike matched our shopping list exactly. We buy hundreds of bikes per year and several thousand over the next five years, so we showed vendors our spec list. They showed us ideas that were close, but the constraints of price point, a lack of enthusiasm over this category on the part of vendors (due to the focus on more expensive bikes) and different interpretations of what this customer needed meant that no one came close to matching this bike.


Among the consumers who are attracted to Felt road bikes are the growing number of female road cyclists.


In 2005 we went to several vendors (again) with our wish list. Each conceded it was a good spec but none had a bike that matched it. At the time, Dave Koesel from Ann Arbor, Michigan was our outside sales rep for Felt Bicycles. Koesel has been in the industry since he was 15 and owns a State Championship medal in every cycling discipline: Track, road and cyclocross. He joined us in benchmarking other brand bikes against our spec list. Late in 2005 Koesel was promoted to Sales and Product Manager at Felt Bicycles and went on the fast track of one of the fastest growing bicycle brands in the world. Koesel took our spec list with us. As it turns out, we were far from alone in looking for this bike. Several months later, the quintessential “best buy”, highly versatile, first time buyer road bike was born: Felt’s 2006 F75.

The Felt F75 nails the component specification, price point, frame sizing, fit and geometry for the first time road bike buyer who needs a versatile road tool. Within months of its introduction the F75 won Bicycling Magazine’s Editor’s Pick for Best Value Under $1500.

While no bike is 100% perfect, and the Felt F75 has its flaws and weak points, this bike comes closer than any other bike we’ve bought to the perfect first road bike.

Felt starts with frame quality. The F75 uses the same frame as the Felt F55 Dura-Ace equipped race bike at $2100. Since frame quality is the single most important component specification on the bike you have to ask yourself who is getting the better deal: The person buying the frame with a good component spec at $1300 +/- or the person buying it with an up-spec at 43% more money. The fact is this frame is good enough to use in combination with Tour de France winning Shimano Dura-Ace components when wearing a $2100 price tag. Felt also sells a similar frame with a stiffer down tube called the CA1 for $1099 for frame and fork alone. Felt’s use of the F75 frame on other, higher end models in their line emphasizes the value built into this bike.

 


With a one piece molded carbon seat stay the F75 has a high end frame at entry level prices.


The carbon fiber seat stay assembly improves ride quality and damps vibration on some road surfaces.


The F75 frame uses a carbon fiber, molded, one piece rear seat stay wishbone assembly. This design reduces the road shock you feel from the rear of the bike. The effect is noticeable when crossing a set of railroad tracks at speed or on rough chip and seal pavement. You simply don’t feel the vibration from the rear of the bike as much. The down tube of the frame is multi-shaped and swells at the bottom bracket for improved stiffness. A moderately oversized top tube maintains good front end stiffness and steering but gives enough ride quality even in the small frame sizes for long rides. In the largest sizes such as 58 cm and 60 cm, the frame may be a little more forgiving than a racing cyclist may like but will be fine for a road enthusiast.


A curved, moderate rake carbon fiber fork.

The fork is a carbon fiber bladed, curved design that works well and has moderate rake for predictable steering with most stem lengths. Felt anticipated a detail on this bike when they incorporated a 3cm conical top cap on the headset with a flush top cap underneath. These spacers are used so the rider can have the bike with the handlebars in a relatively high, relaxed position or remove the conical spacer, slide the bars down the fork steer tube to lower them and make room for aerobar elbow pads. Few new riders will understand the benefit of this until they need it, but it is one of several features on the F75 that readily facilitate aerobar use. The flush top cap is already mounted underneath the conical one by Felt.


Felt appears to have anticipated cross-examination when they specified the component list on the F75. There are few discrepancies. The shifters are the new Shimano 105 10-speed that has more in common with their big-brother Dura-Ace shifters than the previous model year 9 speed STI dual control lever. The shifters have a shorter throw (you move them less to shift) and a larger, more comfortable grip surface than previous 9 speed versions. Some manufacturers, including Specialized, are still specing the older 9 speed versions on their current 2006 model year bikes. The benefit of the new 10-speed used on the F75 is a more comfortable grip section for less hand numbness, easier shifting since you have to move the shift levers a shorter distance, faster shifting since the cogs are closer together a wider range of gears for varied terrain. The shifting is quieter and this is reassuring to newer riders.


Shimano R500 aftermarket, upgrade quality wheels and a Shimano 10 speed drivetrain
with an Ultegra rear derailleur will provide a low maintenance, trouble free ownership experience.

The bar and stem on the F75 are largely nice with one concern. The stock stem is Felt’s ST stem with a four bolt, front plate handlebar clamp. It is a fine stem but is one of those components usually changed during the final bike fitting. We often substitute the slightly up spec Ritchey stem of the appropriate rise and angle for the stock stem to get the fit correct. The bars are an alloy, semi-anatomic bend that almost everyone likes except people with very small hands. For extremely small hands we substitute a round bend bar at no up charge. Our concern with the bar is that it uses the 31.8 millimeter clamp diameter (not 26.0 millimeter) and has a pronounced taper as the oversize section of the bar comes out of the stem clamp. This makes mounting aerobars on the stock handlebar impossible- you can’t bolt an aerobar on a section of handlebar that is tapering down to a smaller diameter. . If a customer mentions they are thinking of mounting aerobars when we do their fitting we simply swap the stem and bars out for a 26.0 millimeter combination without a taper so that aerobars can be clamped on the handlebars. This is a minor annoyance but one we wish Felt would address in upcoming model years.
The wheelset on the Felt F75 is best in class for any bike even $200 above the F75’s price category. Felt uses the excellent Shimano WH-R500 integrated wheel set on the F75. This wheelset is extremely durable but not overweight at 1884 grams complete. The wheels use 20 high quality, drawn stainless spoke in the front laced radially and anodized black and 24 spokes for the rear with a cross 2 pattern. The hubs are labyrinth sealed, one piece hub shells that will be entirely maintenance free based on our experience. This is a nice quality, aftermarket upgrade wheelset made by Shimano, the company that makes the primary drive train components. Tires are a flat resistant version of the Vittoria HSD in 700X23c. It is a heavy-ish tire but dependable and long wearing.

The Shimano R500 wheels are exceptionally strong
and wear a pair of genuine Vittoria HSD high mileage,
flat resistant tires. The 700 X 23c size is perfect for most riders.
Seatpost and saddle on the Felt F75 is a nice carbon wrap, ultra thin wall aluminum seatpost. You don’t see the aluminum since the carbon is wrapped over the top of it. This is primarily cosmetic but may help dampen road shock. The head of the post features an odd little clamping system with an allen bolt and little red dial adjustment. The adjustment for saddle angle is a little fumbly but works well once you learn it. It is likely a consumer will never touch this adjustment. The saddle is a very nice racing saddle that bears no small resemblance to a Sell Italia SLR. It is a racing saddle, narrow, low and firm. Some new riders may need to go to a more comfort oriented model but I argue this is the right saddle for the F75. Most riders who try the saddle with good quality bike shorts will like it. We frequently do saddle upgrades on entry level road bikes to make people more comfortable on their bikes at first, then switch back to a performance oriented saddle once they have some miles under their butt.


A carbon wrap seatpost and valid race saddle that may work for most riders.


Drivetrain on the Felt F75 is another home run with a Shimano Ultegra 10 speed rear derailleur, 105 ten speed front, Shimano chain and a Shimano brand 10 –speed 11-23 cogset. This cogset is used in combination with an FSA Gossamer 50/34 tooth compact crankset.


The brake calipers on the F75 are an all-alloy,
high performance lightweight OEM set that stop very well.

Brakes on the F75 are a fine OEM caliper that uses excellent quality pads and a metal quick release lever combined with an all-metal barrel adjuster. Somewhat incredibly, the brakes weigh exactly 28 grams more than Shimano’s highest end Dura-Ace calipers but at a fraction of the cost. This difference is much less than the weight of a single gel packet. It is a very nice brake set that feels good and stops powerfully as well as holding its adjustment precisely.


The true 50/34 crankset on the F75 is one of its primary selling features. No other bike in class uses this exact configuration.

The compact crankset on the F75 is so well conceived it is worth talking about. It is unfathomable that no other manufacturer used a similar crank in their component specification. Firstly, the benefit of a “compact” crankset is that it gives you gears nearly as low as a heavier, less dependable triple crank but is lighter and has better dependability and much more consistent, quieter shift quality on the front derailleur. Shifting is quiet and quick between the two gears in the front. There is no trade off for this performance when done correctly, and Felt has done it correctly on this bike. The high end (largest) gear is a 50/11. This gear is largest enough to win the sprint in a local category 2 criterium. The lowest gear is a whopping 34/23 combination that will get you up very steep grades. This wide range of gears from a powerful, large sprinting gear to a an ultra-low climbing gear is the perfect combination for a new cyclist. There are plenty of stops in between on this cogset too with a total of 20 usable gears and a center spread of gearing that promotes good cadence habits. No other bike in this price category has a gearing configuration that is conceived as well as the F75’s.

Felt went one step further with the F75 and used a square taper bottom bracket. The reason they stayed with square taper has been a rash of problems with low priced splined style bottom brackets. The square taper is still used on high end component groups like Campagnolo Record and by almost every elite level track cyclist because it is strong and dependable. At this price point no splined format bottom bracket can match the durability and serviceability of a square taper bottom bracket spindle. If the bike ever did need service and you were at a an event such as the MS 150, AIDs Ride or other rural cycling event it would be much easier to service the square taper bottom bracket on the F75 than a splined model that may require proprietary tools not available in the field.


Excellent frame construction and a reliable bottom bracket design add to the durability.

If we have one major beef with the Felt F75 it is the pedals. We think Felt should simply leave the pedals off he F75 entirely. Instead the bike is supplied with a rather poor set of generic, OEM alloy, SPD style clipless road pedals. The pedals work, but they are small and difficult to use. It is also easy to confuse the pedals for ones that work with Shimano brand SPD cleats. That is a mistake- they are actually not 100% compatible and clip-in, clip-out performance can suffer with the use of a cleat other than the one supplied with the pedals. Our concern is that people will have shoes set up for spin classes with a genuine Shimano brand cleat and attempt to use that cleat in the pedal that comes on the F75. That is a mistake: They are not truly compatible. There will be problems clipping in and out if the appropriate pedals and cleats are not used. You should never cross brands of pedals and cleats. Minor differences in their design and manufacture could result in problems getting in and out of the pedals. This is one area Felt would have done well to just leave alone. Customers want to spec their own pedals systems and shops can make a couple extra bucks here selling a nice quality shoe and pedal system set up correctly. Our recommendation is to trash the stock pedals and up grade. The existing pedals aren’t worth much to your dealer or you. Felt would have been best served to simply leave them off and allow the consumer to pick a system.


The steep seat tube angle on the F75 facilitates the use of aerobars while the longish top tube favors average to long torso riders.

Riding the F75 is a great experience since any suggestion that it is “entry level” is gone once you get on the bike. It does feel like a high end bike. Once your fit and position are set up correctly the bike corners and climbs more like a race bike than an entry level bike. It isn’t sluggish. The fit of the bike is functional and well conceived.

The dimensions and geometry trend toward a longish torso fit and features steep seat tube angles, especially in the smaller frame sizes. A 50 centimeter Felt F75 has a 76-degree seat tube angle and the 52cm size has a 75.5 degree seat tube angle. These steeper angles mean aerobar use will be much better. The bike will remain more stable than most road bikes with a shallower seat tube angle when riding in the aero position. If you are using the bikes for duathlons or triathlons you’ll find that running off the bike is good, perhaps not as nice as a dedicated triathlon machine, but much better than a 73.5 degree seat tube angle road bike. Felt knew their customer when they designed the geometry of these frames. This is a highly versatile bike. You could do your first club ride, group ride, your first triathlon and win your first criterium or road race on this bike. It will never be an Ironman winner, but this isn’t a bike for Ironman athletes. It is a bike for people to learn the sport on and enjoy many different styles of road riding.
There are eight sizes in the Felt F75, including a 48cm with 650c wheels. This wide range of well-designed sizes means you are more likely to find the right dimensions for you. Felt has a long history of dedication to correct and precise bike fit and their willingness to produce the F75 in eight sizes is further testimony to that commitment. The F75 is a valid high performance bike that can be precisely fitted to the rider, this is especially important for new road riders.


Even the internal cable routing for the rear brake is well designed and conceived.


The F75 is also available in a so-called “Women’s” configuration. We’re not fans of bikes marketed to a specific gender since most times it is more lip service than actual substance. The fact is that gender does not influence bike fit. Whether you are a male of a female, dimensions influence bike fit. While there is a statistical precedent for a greater number of short torso riders in the female population that is not to say that there aren’t males on small frame sizes with shorter torsos and females with long torsos for whom a “women’s specific” design would be a poor fit. Also, it is very wrong to assume that all women “need” or even fit on a so-called “Women’s Specific Design”. Generalizations like that are simply too convenient to be correct but do make for good salesmanship and marketing, especially among unsuspecting new cyclists who are convinced they may need a “women’s specific” bike. Especially for entry level cyclists, it pays to ignore the marketing hype about women’s specific bikes and go with what really works. Glossy catalog pages with fun photos of “empowered” women out in force on their bikes may be inspiring, but gender marketing is more about hype than substance. Good bike fit transcends gender and focuses on more specific issues such as dimensions that match the individual rider’s actual dimensions, not a broad category such as their gender. Finally, one would do well to look at the so called “women’s specific” designs also. Some have identical geometries to non gender specific bikes (are those “men’s” bikes?) but are just re-named. In some brands the men’s “small” frame geometry is identical to the women’s “medium” dimensions. The biggest difference is the pink paint job on the women’s model in the “size medium”.


The carbon seat post features index marks for ease of adjustment and sizing.

In general we agree with Bicycling Magazine’s editors and find the Felt F75 a “best buy” in class. Considering how competitive and important this price and model category is, that is quite an accomplishment and another feather in Felt’s cap. It took a few years for the bike to arrive but I wager it will be around for many model years to come and other models will spin off from the basic F75 platform. If you are considering a new road bike for the first time and want to do many types of road cycling the F75 may be your best choice.
Benchmark Comparison of Entry Level Road Bikes for 2006.
Bikes Price Drivetrain Wheels Pros Con
Trek 2100  $1649.99. 105 10-Speed.

Ultegra Rear Derailleur.

12 Tooth Cog.

Triple Avail. at $50 upcharge.

Bontrager cranks.

Bontrager wheels.

 Recognized Brand.

Genuine Shimano pedals.

No compact crank.

Expensive.

No 11 tooth cog.

Tires too wide for smaller riders.

Cannot easily mount aerobars.

Only 7 sizes.

Specialized Allez Elite double $1199.99.

 105 9-Speed.

Sugino Cranks.

 Alex ALX 298.

Recognized brand.

Lowest Price.

 9 Speed 2005 Drivetrain.

Thin, flexible chainrings deliver poor front shifting.

Cannot easily mount aerobars.

Low end wheelset.

Only 6 sizes.

Giant TCR-2  $1249

 105 10 speed.

Truvativ Elita 50/36 cranks.

 Xero XSR-3.  Recognized brand.

Does not have 34 tooth chainring.

No Ultegra rear derailleur.

Top tube is too long for most riders in each size.

Only 5 sizes. 

Cannot easily mount aerobars.

Low end wheels.

Felt F75
 $1299.99

 105 10-Speed.

Ultegra Rear Derailleur.

50/34 Compact Crank.

 

 Shimano R500 after market upgrade wheelset.

Most sizes available.

True compact crank.

11 tooth cog.

High end frame.

Steep seat angle.

Bicycling Magazine "Editor's Choice" in this bike category.

 Pedals are poor

Cannot easily mount aerobars.

Fewer dealers and less recognized brand (but growing rapidly).

 

 

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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