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I thought a review of the new 2006
Felt S32 may be a rehash of the previous model year ’05
S32. We reviewed the S32 in early 2005 (See
that review here
) since the bike was the category leader
in entry priced triathlon bikes and also typified the lean and
mean strategy of a bike company that was challenging the biggest
names in the bike industry for market share.
The new 2006 Felt S32 on the left, and last year's version on
In 2005 Felt Bicycles and the S32 were arriving. In 2006,
they have arrived. This year Felt is reveling in a series
of industry-quaking coups that have the biggest boys in the
bike industry looking over their shoulders. A Felt bike (the
new 2006, all-carbon F4C) won the Bicycling Magazine “Best
Men’s Road Bike of the Year” award, the cycling
industry equivalent of Motor Trend’s “Car of the
Local hotshot Ryan Rau qualified for the World Championships
on a 3 year old S32. Here is seen winning the 2005 Nankin
Mills Duathlon on an "entry level" S32.
|Felt now has warehouses on
both coasts and an expanded (and expanding) line of road
bikes including interesting “cross-over bikes”
such as the new T23 that bridge the gap between road and
triathlon. The T23 is built using lessons learned from
the elite ITU (International Triathlon Union) racing circuit
and from the Olympic Triathlon in Sydney and Athens. Round
1 of the U.S. Olympic Qualifying “Race to Athens”
was won on a Felt bike by Felt sponsored athlete Barb
Felt has emerged as such a dominant
force at least one major bike manufacturer has asked their largest
dealers to not display Felt bikes on their sales floors along
with their own brand since Felt bikes represent such a better
value. The bottom line is, when you compare technology and performance
Felt is on par with the most advanced manufacturers in the entire
bicycle industry. When you add price to the mix, all the comparisons
fall apart: Felt is the leader in performance, technology and
The new 2006 S32 sports a beautiful blue paint scheme and updated
It seemed like there wasn’t
much that could be done to the S32 to make it any better. But
if you put the magnifying glass on the 2005 model relative to
bikes positioned just $300 above it you did notice the bike’s
one concession: It had a 9-speed drivetrain. The 2005 Felt S32
used a Shimano 105 9 –speed rear derailleur combined with
a 9-speed cogset that was slatted for obsolescence in the coming
months. The 2005 S32 was good, but it didn’t have the
current technology 10-speed drive train used on bikes just $300
north of its price point.
The primary change has been the update to universally compatible
Shimano 10 Speed with an upgrade from Shimano 105 to Shimano
Ultegra 10 speed.
Considering the first 10
speed drivetrain was Shimano’s Dura-Ace born in 1997 the
older 9-speed Shimano 105 was in line for a technology upgrade.
Even in 2005 Shimano’s mid-range Ultegra component ensemble
had inherited many of Dura-Ace’s technology trickle-downs
including a 10-speed drivetrain.
In 2005 Shimano announced that their
entry price 105 component kit would be updated to 10-speed for
the ’06 model year. Everyone expected the 2006 Felt S32
would simply get that Shimano 105 10-speed update. Felt did include
10 speed technology on the new S32 for 2006 bringing the bike
in line with bikes priced hundreds more. Felt went one step further
and upgraded the rear derailleur to Shimano Ultegra 10-speed,
a rear derailleur proudly worn on some exotic carbon race machines
doing laps around the $3K price point. Felt completed the up-spec
by using a 10 speed cogset, 10-speed chain and the new top-of-the-line
Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 series 10-speed bar end shifters, the same
ones used on the most exotic tri bikes selling for over $5000.
More cogs mean smoother, faster shifting.
FSA's new Gossamer crank is 10-speed compatible and
uses alloy chainrings with 10-speed shift pins.
|The benefit of the new 10-speed
drivetrains and transmissions is lost on some consumers
and that is a shame. Some cyclists think the only difference
between a 9-speed drivetrain and a 10-speed drivetrain
is the addition of one more gear; that isn’t true.
For riders who argue they only use four gears out of nine
the benefit of another gear is lost on them. The truth
is 10-speed is not about one more gear, it is about better,
faster, easier and more dependable overall shifting. The
Shimano 10-speed revolution that began 10 years ago with
the Tour de France winning Dura-Ace 10-speed incorporates
subtle and not-so-subtle improvements that mean shifting
gears simply works better on 10-speed. The benefit isn’t
an extra gear; it is better performance over all your
On a 10-speed cogset ten gears occupy the same
space as nine did on 9-speed. That means the cogs sit slightly
closer together. Since the cogs are closer together, you have
to move the shift lever less distance to make the shift happen.
Shifting is easier and faster- you simply move your hand less.
Additionally, there are fewer gaps in the combinations of
cogs, giving you finer tuning of your level of effort while
pedaling on the flats. It isn’t about a higher end or
lower end gear at either end of the cogset, but about more
choices in the middle where you need them. The 10-speed chains
are slightly narrower (for the narrower cog spacing) and also
slightly more flexible enabling them to more easily follow
the derailleur through the shifting pattern. They have proven
to be every bit as durable as 9-speed chains over the past
10 years. New 10-speed chainrings sit slightly closer together
and are narrower so even front derailleur shifting is better
than the previous 9-speed versions. Every aspect of gear changing
is improved with the more recent 10-speed drivetrains that
have proven themselves during the last decade again and again.
The S32 may have been a little late coming to the 10-speed
table, but this gives entry level triathletes a new reason
to own the bike.
Nice quality Tektro OEM brakes with an alloy (not plastic!)
|Another improvement in the 2006 Felt S32
is the upgrade from Shimano 105 up to Shimano Ultegra 6800
series for the rear derailleur. The upgrades from a Shimano
105 rear derailleur to Ultegra 6800 include new sealed ceramic
bushing pulleys that spin easier and with less friction
than the Shimano 105 rear derailleur that uses the rougher-running
sintered alloy bushings. The new Shimano Ultegra 6800 series
rear derailleur used on the 2006 Felt S32 also uses weather
resistant sealed bracket pivots that mean the derailleur
moves through its parallelogram with less friction making
shifting easier- you don’t have to pull as hard on
the shift lever on the new 10-speed Ultegra equipped S32.
The inner and outer links of the derailleur itself are upgraded
to aluminum on the Shimano Ultegra derailleur whereas the
Shimano 105 rear derailleur uses heavier and more flexible
steel links that aren’t as crisp feeling as the Ultegra
version. There is also an overall weight savings of 6% on
the rear derailleur for the upgraded Shimano Ultegra 10-speed
over the current model 105 version.
Additional changes to the new Felt S32 are an
impressive wheel up-spec to Shimano’s work-horse WH-R500
integrated wheel set. While a lot of bikes at prices higher
than the 2006 S32 are substituting lower end, non-Shimano
wheel sets Felt opted for the quality and curb appeal of the
genuine Shimano brand wheels. The WH-R500 used a parabolic,
semi-aero rim section combined with a CNC machined brake track
design for good all weather braking and excellent all-pavement
durability. The front wheel is a robust 20 spoke configuration
on Shimano hubs while the rear wheel uses 24 spokes on a similar
rim. This is a wheelset you can use everyday on nearly every
road. It is solid, dependable and will handle riders who got
into the sport to lose a few pounds- or more than a few. The
wheels are shod in the Vittoria Action HSD tire, a proven
OEM spec from one of the after-market, high-end hand made
tire manufacturers. These tires are heavy-ish to be sure,
but that is probably what the entry-level triathlete wants;
a durable pair of tires that will get you out and back with
little risk of flats no matter where you ride.
The Profile Aerolite cockpit remains on the S32 for 2006.
|If there is a minor glitch in the S32’s
spec sheet it continues to be the heavy, adjustable Profile
cockpit. While my preference is the Visiontech wing-shaped
base bar and size-specific Visiontech aluminum aerobar Felt
has continued on with the length-adjustable Profile aerobars.
First, the bad news on these aerobars: They are heavy and not
particularly aero. There is a lot of round tubing hanging out
in your boundary layer. As viewed from the front they look less
like the X-wing fighter that many modern aerobars resemble and
more like a Three Stooges plumbing project. There is a large
collection of heavy bolts and nuts to facilitate the widely
adjustable pads and aerobar length extensions on this cockpit
and you pay a weight penalty for that. Specifically, the total
weight for the pair of Profile Aerolite aerobars is a portly
701 grams while the Visiontech aerobar is only 508 grams (270mm
length) for a total weight savings of 28% or 193 grams or 6.89
ounces which is crowding a half a pound (.43 pound). Taken high
on the bike and at the front end, that is a lot of extra weight.
The Visiontech bars are more expensive, the upgrade would be
about $150 from Profile to Visiontech including the nice Visiontech
base bars. The Visiontech is lighter due to elegant design and
also because it is not adjustable; it is sold in five lengths
and the lengths can further tuned to rider size by cutting them
down, further reducing weight.
If you make one upgrade on the Felt S32 the $150 for a
Visiontech cockpit will give you a 28% weight savings over the
original Profile cockpit.
Second, the good news on the Profile
Aerolites, well… they are adjustable. While that may sound
like a contradiction it is worth remembering who the S32 is
intended for: The entry level triathlete or aerodynamic bike
rider. The adjustability of the S32’s Profile Aerolite
cockpit enables the bike fitter to dial in the fit on the front
end of the S32 to perfection. Since the most important determining
factor in a rider’s performance is bike fit, many will
argue it is worth the extra weight to have better fit with one
aerobar. Since bike fit and particularly aerobar fit is most
important to a rider who is new to using aerobars then the Profile
Aerolite may be well suited for first time tri bike buyers even
if they are heavy. The bottom line is that if you are a gram
counter you probably aren’t an entry level bike buyer
anyway. The primary attraction of adjustment for any triathlete
is that the elbow pad can be positioned directly in line with
the humorous bone in the bicep providing good skeletal support
of the torso over the aerobars. This makes steering easier and
more stable, relieves saddle discomfort by repositioning torso
weight on the skeleton in the arms and reduces neck and back
distress while riding in the aero position. Provided the bike
fitter knows enough about triathlon aerobar bike fit to adjust
the Profile Aerolite bars correctly, there is no reason for
the cockpit fit to be anything but perfect on the S32.
The Profile Aerolite aerobars are infinitely adjustable. Almost
rider can get perfect aerobar set-up if you know how to use
The rest of the S32 is still excellent.
The frame quality has, if anything, maybe improved with slightly
nicer looking welds. Cable routing is perfect with the top tube
using an internal rear brake routing and hard plastic cable
guides that stay put in the frame where they belong. This is
an improvement over previous model years. It is worth mentioning
that in over four years of selling the S32 we have never had
a single defective frame: Not one. When you consider the S32
is usually our best selling bike on unit sales that is a very
good track record.
Weld quality and unique tubing shapes have made Felt a stand-out
in the quality of their frames.
A bladed, aero seat tube design.
|The basic frame design and shape
of the tubes used on the S32 harkens back to original versions
of the hand made bikes Paula-Newby Fraser used to win Ironman.
Jim Felt was a tubing designer for Easton Aluminum and understands
the dynamics behind tubing design. The constantly changing,
multi-shape orientation of the down tube and seat tube are
testimony to Felt’s background as a tube designer.
The tubeset is custom drawn and proprietary to Felt, you
won’t see this tubeset on any other bike. Expect a
comfortable ride that climbs with authority. The bladed,
aerodynamic carbon fiber fork is the same proven design
we’ve seen before: If it isn’t broken, don’t
The zero setback post will enable the rider to sit in
an effective triathlon posture.
|Felt uses a zero setback seatpost
on this bike with a micro-adjust seatpost head using a two
bolt angular adjustment similar to the Thomson style posts.
The zero setback post allows riders to use a position up
to 81 degrees effective seat angle. This is as steep as
the steepest triathlon bike manufacturers giving the rider
the true benefit of an advanced seat angle bike that include
better body aerodynamics, greater comfort and even better
run performance off the bike. This is a true triathlon geometry
bike, and that is where most athletes will experience the
greatest performance and comfort benefit: The bike will
enable them to pedal easier and more comfortably in the
aero position making them more efficient and faster- even
in the first two miles of run after they get off the bike.
The S32 is for three types of customers. Most obviously,
it is for the entry level triathlete who wants to try triathlons
and may be coming into the sport from a non-cycling background.
The S32 is perfect for them. It has a very stable, quiet and
tame front end with a shallow head angle and 40 rake fork
that makes the bike a kitten to ride in the aero position.
The head angle and slack fork rake mean it is more stable
and less twitchy. You can ride in the aero position and reach
for your water bottle provided you were positioned correctly
by your bike fitter. Secondly, the S32 is for the triathlete
who has made-do with a road bike using aerobars. Usually that
customer comes into the store with a shopping list of complaints
about their aerobar use on a road bike: Lower back pain, twitchy,
unstable handling and saddle discomfort at the top of the
list. A correctly fitted S32 will likely solve all those issues.
A person coming off a road bike with aerobars onto an S32
will likely see a tangible performance improvement if their
body dimensions predispose them to triathlon geometry. The
third group who will buy the S32 is the club time trialist
who really wants to go fast and benefit from the aerodynamic
and biomechanical advantages of aerobars. While they don’t
have to worry about running off the bike they can adjust their
posture on the S32 using the zero setback post and adjustable
cockpit to an excellent time trial position.
Many smart buyers have already started their triathlon experience
on the S32 and gone on to learn the sport with a bike that you
Fitting on the S32 is interesting.
As with most bikes, the “sweet spot” in the geometry
is from 52cm up to 58cm. The 48 uses 650c wheels, as it should,
but still sports a slightly longish top tube. It won’t
be a great fit on a short overall height, short torso rider.
Especially in the smaller frame sizes you will be better off
on the S32 if you have a longish torso.
The 52cm and 54cm frames share
identical standover height and almost identical seat tube lengths
nearly to the millimeter but the 54cm has a 2 cm longer top tube
than the 52 cm frame. Note: we find the depiction of the top tube
lengths on Felt’s website trends toward the long. If their
website says the top tube measures 58cm, we find it actually measures
closer to 57cm. That is actually good news given Felt’s
propensity to kick the top tubes out long to minimize toe-clip
overlap and owing to the frame’s 76 degree seat angle from
size 54cm on up (remember, your effective seat angle-where you
actually sit- will be steeper owing to the zero setback seatpost).
A front end tuned for stability and comfort is perfect for new
or those coming off a road bike with aerobars.
These are real triathlon bikes, and
the head tube on them is lowish, as it should be. If your posture
is “open” enough between the torso and femur when
you are positioned on the bike it will be perfect and you will
get the full benefit of triathlon geometry. The Profile Aerolite
aerobars have very high pads too, so a low head tube helps accommodate
For 2006 the S32 has received
some valid and significant upgrades. Considering the bike is still
well below $1500 US at $1399 it remains the category leader in
entry level tri bikes. Even the new deep blue color is a nice
change from the typically bold, graphic colors seen on Felts.
When you look closely at the new Felt S32 with all its new updates,
no other bike really compares: It is standard equipment for the