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The New 2005 Felt S32.
By Tom Demerly.


The value leader: The 2005 Felt S32. Click to enlarge.

 

It’s not hard to review the Felt S32. Just printing the parts specifications and the price makes a compelling case for this “best buy“ entry price triathlon bike.

The new 2005 Felt S32 dominates the sub $1300 price category. With an MSRP of $1199.99 the 2005 S32 shines in a price category most other companies fear to tread. If you do the research, you’ll see no one else comes close.

Below $1200 is nickel and dime territory for bike companies in the triathlon bike industry. Profit margins at this price level are razor thin. With only so much production capacity and on-going shortages of Shimano components most of the key triathlon companies have abandoned this category. It simply wasn’t profitable enough.

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Jim Felt's experience in tube shaping shows in the unique bladed, aero downtube.

Felt has the buying muscle and established relationships to make this price category viable. The reasons trace back many years with founder Jim Felt and Felt’s President Bill Duehring.

Jim Felt has an eclectic background in frame and aluminum tubing design. He worked for Easton Aluminum and major motorcycle manufacturers. He has built bicycle frames and motorcycle frames. He designed tubing for Easton. Jim Felt has risen to, and resided at, the highest level of the bicycle industry. Felt’s start in the mainstream cycling industry traces back to the late ‘80’s early ‘90’s when elite athletes started showing up on mysterious, black, handmade ultra-lightweight aluminum bicycles. Paula Newby Fraser, winner of over 20 Ironmans, was an early Felt disciple. Others are Greg Welch, Craig Walton and Olympian Barb Lindquist.

Jim Felt started Felt Bicycles in 1991 with just a few models including the B2 triathlon bike, which continues on, at least in name, today. Those were good bikes. They were light, used true triathlon geometry and proved oddly durable considering their bantam weight.

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Weld quality is typically very good. Another look at the complex tube shapes.

Felt momentarily “false started” when Manitou bought Felt Bicycles in the mid ‘90‘s. Manitou is predominantly a mountain bike distributor. Jim Felt’s road and tri designs weren’t in line with Manitou’s marketing. The two parted company after a couple years and Felt was back on his own, this time Felt was destined to go mainstream.

Felt President Bill Duehring’s Grandfather owned a bike shop, and Bill’s dad owned a bike shop too. Bill worked in a bike shop as a kid. Bicycles appear to be in Duehring’s DNA. The melding of Jim Felt and Bill Duehring created a design and production synergy that has enabled Felt bicycles to accomplish in four years what many brands never achieve. Felt is a major brand now.

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For 2005 the S32 has been upgraded with a bladed aero seat tube.

Prior to Felt, Bill Duehring was a top level executive at GT Bicycles. Duehring credits the relationships he formed with vendors while at GT Bicycles for his ability to buy at levels other companies don’t have access to. That and the eviscerated overhead at Felt means they have the agility to cut prices to the bone.

For proof, look no further than the new 2005 S32.

At $1199.99 the Felt S32 is delivered with a Shimano 105 front and rear derailleur, FSA Gossamer cranks, A-Class ALX220 EXA wheelset with CSW machined braking surface and Vittoria Action HSD tires, Shimano Dura-Ace 9 speed bar end shifters, Profile aerobars and a micro adjust, dual bolt, zero setback seat post. But the devil is in the details. The bike uses a genuine Shimano Tiagra cogset (not a cheap knock-off) along with a truly nice KMC Z 9900 chain, ISIS splined sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket and a fine triathlon specific saddle designed and made specifically for Felt. This saddle alone, at retail could account for 10% of the total bike’s price. Even the cork gel handlebar tape sells aftermarket for $19.99 a roll.

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Bladed, aero seat stays in a semi-wishbone configuration.

What kind of a deal are we talking about? Try this little experiment:

Get your hands on a Quality Bicycle Parts wholesale price catalog. This is a recognized standard for wholesale prices in the bike industry. Consumers don’t have access to it, but retailers buy at these prices. Steal a peek at one from a buddy who works at a bike shop. Turn to page 117 of the 2004 catalog. Look at the wholesale price of Quality part number EN5155 combined with KT5155 support package. That is the “Shimano 105 Threadless Triathlon Parts Kit”.

Calculate and add a 30% profit margin. You get a retail price on the parts kit of $1019.99. That is pretty much everything you need to build up a Shimano 105 equipped triathlon bike: Wheels, tires, aerobars, components, cables, saddle, tape.

Now, let’s assign a fair $699.99 retail value to the Felt S32 frame. It is a good quality, multi-shaped, heat treated, TIG welded 7005 aluminum with a nice finish. Comparable frames from other manufacturers are north of $1000. Add the Kinesis manufactured bladed, aerodynamic carbon fiber fork which has been sold previously by Quintana Roo as the “Carbonaero” for over $250 retail. This is the same fork you get on a Cervelo P3SL at over $3000 for the bike.

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Internal cable routing for the rear brake.
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The routing uses the black plastic frame plugs and works dependably and without trouble.

Now you have about the same spec as a stock S32. In fairness, the Quality parts kit features a more expensive chain, brake caliper and cogset. But at most, we are talking a $60-100 price difference at retail. I’ll argue Felt makes up for that in the saddle, seat post and tires.

Add all that up from your shopping trip. Wow. You just found out an S32 would be $1969.99 if you tried to build it yourself. That is not including shipping or labor for assembly. Add another $70 for those two. Now you are up to $2039.99.

That $2039.99 is actually closer to what Felt charges for their decked out, Profile Carbon-X equipped, Dura-Ace 10 speed S22 triathlon bike- but that’s another review altogether.

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With the new seat tube and bladed down tube the bottom bracket is stiff enough for all but the largest riders.

The 2005 Felt S32 sells for $1199.99 MSRP. That’s a bargain. Even if you backed out the retail margin on the parts kit it is still $463.71 cheaper to buy the Felt S32 complete. When you look at it like this, it is cheaper than wholesale.

Compared to sourcing the parts separately, buying a complete S32 is a savings of 42%.

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The FSA Gossamer crank on a fully sealed, genuine ISIS splined bottom bracket is a highlight of the components.

And for those of you in the bike business, let me tell you that $1199.99 MSRP is at a very fair margin. If you own a bike shop and you’re not a Felt dealer, you should be.

The one question everyone asks, and I asked Felt President Bill Duehring is: How do you get the price so low? This is what he told me:

 

“Felt works very hard sourcing our parts. We negotiate with every parts maker, the frame maker, everyone. With certain companies there is little room for negotiation, like Shimano. When it comes to other parts makers we have the ability to push a little harder. For instance, there are a lot of competitors for tire spec. We do business a little different than other bike companies. I rely on 25 years of experience. When we go back year after year, parts makers appreciate the loyalty. We keep our overhead down. We’re more efficient.”
Bill Duehring, President, Felt Bicycles.

That business plan has worked for Felt, their retailers and their customers. The proof is at the cash register. Felt started as a California company and is now truly global. Felt enjoys a more prominent presence in Europe than even the U.S. In the past three model years Felt has expanded its brand into mountain bikes, BMX bikes and A flashy line of deco-style, “West Coast Chopper” motif cruiser bikes. The company also commands credibility with high end, hand made aluminum and now, for 2005, carbon fiber road racing bikes used by the Colavita Professional Cycling Team. I trained with Colavita Team members at a training camp on the Island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles early in 2004. They had rave reviews of their Felt team bikes.

As for the bike itself: I’ve never owned or raced an S32. But I’ve sold a couple hundred since the model was christened a few years ago. I project we sell more S32’s in 2005 than all previous S32 model years combined. The previous versions killed off the competition. Cervelo cancelled their price point One model at a comparable price point. Cannondale cancelled the previous Ironman 600 at that price point. Quintana Roo’s Kilo, which used to reside in the same $100 give-or-take price category has migrated north with inflation to the $1500 region. Only the S32 remains.

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Rear dropouts feature a replaceable derailleur hanger. And of course, the Shimano 105 rear derailleur.

I have ridden my share of S32’s. The S32 is a good, solid bike. I like riding it and it rides nice. It feels like a more expensive bike. Trying to build a bike that works for everyone is impossible at any price point. Building one that works for anyone at this price is an accomplishment.

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A genuine Shimano 105 front derailleur correctly angled for steep seat tube geometry.

First, the bad news. In my opinion the Felt S32 is at its best in the medium size ranges. That means the 50cm 650c, 52cm 700c, 54cm, 56cm and maybe even up to the 58cm with a lighter rider. Those are the best sizes to own this bike in.

Felt deserves credit for building this bike in seven sizes. At least one other major bike company is trying to enter the triathlon market with a generic 76-degree seat tube angle bike sold in only four sizes, all with absurdly long top tubes and with T-shirt size names: Small, medium and large. That’s a bad way to sell and fit triathlon bikes. Felt deserves credit for taking the higher road even on their entry price bikes.

I’m not a fan of the S32 in its 48cm 650c size with its too long (in my opinion) 49cm top tube. If you are a short rider with a long enough torso you’re fine. If not, it probably won’t work in that frame size.

In the very large 60cm frame category I think a different frame is needed to provide an adequate measure of lateral stiffness for the bigger, taller, heavier rider that would consider that size bike.

The 48cm S32 has 650c wheels. Good, it should. Those wheels are commensurate with the size of some riders in this dimension range. I think the 49cm top tube is too long for this seat tube length though. You figure a person who will be on a 48cm frame size just doesn’t need a top tube that long. The seat tube angle on the 48cm 650c bike is a true 78 degrees too- increasing the “reach” effect of that longish top tube. If you have a long torso- fine. If not, it will be tough to get a good posture. Putting a 60mm stem on this bike to fit a short torso-ed rider is bad way to resolve this. The steering becomes too responsive with a stem that short. If the top tube on the 48cm frame size were 1.5 cm shorter that would make enough of a difference to return this frame size to a much more highly fittable (and saleable) geometry.

A lot of customers who get a 48cm S32 will have too much reach measurement, sore back and neck, poor power transfer and sketchy bike handling with compromised fit.

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The bladed, aerodynamic Kinesis made carbon fiber fork has been used by the best riders in the world including Lance Armstrong.

We measured Felt’s top tubes in comparison to the dimensions published on their geometry chart. The good news is that our interpretation of the top tube measurement was consistently 5mm shorter than Felt’s published measurements. The top tube is really a half centimeter shorter than what Felt says it is. That is a move in the right direction on the 48cm frame size.

In their defense on the 48cm frame size, Felt has a perceived monster to tame on the 48cm frame sizes; that pesky little ankle bitter known as toe clip overlap. Toe clip overlap is when your foot is all the way forward in the pedaling position and you turn your handlebars: Boom. Your front wheel hits your toe. Most high performance bikes, especially in smaller frame sizes, have toe clip overlap. It is more annoyance than anything else since. At riding speeds above 7 mph you will never turn your handlebars far enough for the front wheel to touch your foot. But some customers notice it and freak out. It isn’t really worth worrying about. I think every bike I own has toe clip overlap as do most of them in my store.

To moderate the toe clip overlap Felt is in a position where they have to build a slightly longer front end. That is one reason for the longish top tube on the 48cm.

Let’s keep this in perspective. This is in one frame size only (of eight) and it only applies to one particular rider’s proportions within that frame size range: Small riders with short torsos. So that is a very small segment of the S32 buying public.

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Hub quality on the ALX220 wheelset is good. In general, a dependable set of wheels.

The rest of the sizes are fully dialed. The 52cm frame size in 700c measured precisely 54.3 cm from center of bottom bracket to top of seat collar. The top tube, with a published length of 52cm measured 51.5 cm in length. Those are very, very good proportions to me. That is on a 77.5-degree seat tube angle bike with a zero-setback seat post. You can easily sit steep on this bike for good aerobar comfort and power as well as nice body aerodynamics.

This might not be an expensive bike, but you can have an expensive bike position on it at no additional cost.

For my body dimensions, slightly shorter legs and a longish torso, Felt’s geometry is perfect. I have owned two felt frames (a B2 and a DA) and really liked them.

I find the S32 is very comfortable. It is a flexible frame though. At $1199.99 I think you have a choice of comfort or stiffness. To get both you have to spend more on the frame.

The majority of customers who will consider the S32 will prefer comfort to stiffness anyway, as this price point is the realm of the first or second year triathlete. The key to speed and efficiency for them isn’t stiffness- it is ride comfort and fit. Another reason fit is so important to the entry level athlete.

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Felt includes two integrated top spacers, one for a higher handlebar position, one for a lower setting.

I would say the S32 is stiff enough for everything but a really ugly, gut wrenching, 400 watt, big ring, out of the saddle super steep, super fast climb. If you are doing that, you shouldn’t be on a $1199.99 bike. More importantly, it is comfortable enough for a long ride in the aerobars once you are correctly fitted to the bike.

As for the parts spec, I won’t argue the value. That is fact. It is an incredible bargain. There is no doubt the price is right, but are those parts worth hanging on a nice frame?

Yes, they really are. Some of the parts spec is truly great, the rest is very good. I only have one beef, so please keep reading.

The highlights of the bikes components are the FSA cranks on ISIS bottom bracket. I was a skeptic, but now I’m a believer. This crank and BB is light, stiff, shifts well and is durable. It would be fine on a $2000 bike. Shifters, well, these are the shifters Lance Armstrong used to use. They are Shimano Dura-Ace 9 speed. Derailleurs are the workhorse, tried and true unsung heroes of the parts world: Shimano 105. It gets the job done dependably over and over and over. The cogset is slightly down speced to Shimano Tiagra. No worries- we haven’t had a single problem.

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Felt's own triathlon specific saddle.
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The nose is specially configured for riding on the aero bars.

My favorite part of the parts spec is the saddle and seat post. I can’t tell you how important it is to me that Felt put a nice saddle on this bike. It will literally save me thousands in saddle swaps. Traditionally, entry price bikes have had compromise saddles. The saddle on the S32 is very good saddle though. It is a triathlon specific saddle made for riding the nose. Their isn’t an excuse for saddle discomfort on this seat. It is very, very good. The saddle sits on a very nicely made zero set back dual bolt micro adjust seat post. This post mimics the mechanics of the Thomson forged head, lathe turned, differentially butted seat post costing probably five times as much. It adjusts exactly the same way. The only adjustment difference is the Thomson uses a 4mm Allen key while the Felt post uses a 5mm key meaning you don’t have to switch keys as often while fitting a customer.

Wheels on the S32 are good. It’s what you will use for everyday training and racing. Riders up to about 180 pounds will have good luck. Above 180 pounds you may or may not be OK depending on your riding style and the quality of your roads. The A-Class ALX220 EXA is a simple wheelset with standard style spoke and a machined brake track. The tires are better than I would expect. The Vittoria Action HSD is a tire we sell all day long aftermarket. High marks here.

Here’s my one component beef: I understand why Felt specs Profile adjustable aerobars on the bike and I agree it is a good idea. They are inexpensive, dependable and highly adjustable. I just don’t like them. They are also heavy, filled with shims and bolts and widgets and, if I do say so, damn ugly.

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The Vittoria Action HSD tires are better than what you would expect at this price point.

Hey I know, the bike is only $1199.99. The aerobars work. They have a very wide adjustment range. I’d just rather charge you some extra money and upgrade you to FSA Visiontech aero base bars and bolt-on aerobars. Having those bars straight from the factory is an unreasonable expectation at this price. The Profile adjustable aerobar will get you out on the road set up correctly. You can upgrade later and take at least a quarter of a pound off your bike in the process while making it decidedly more handsome.

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The Profile aerobars are fully adjustable but heavy and laden with hardware.

The Felt S32 comes in one color, the best color: Red. And red it is. I think the color is absolutely ass-kickin’. The paint is smooth, opaque and right at home on a race bike or a Formula 1 car. This is a racing color.

Graphics: Well, let me tell you about Felt graphics. In my opinion graphics are critically important to the emotional experience people have with a bike- and Felt is the de facto graphic guru. Sure, I fit bikes and want to sell you the bike that fits you the best. But I know you want to buy the bike that is the coolest looking. We might both get what we want on the S32. The graphics guru at Felt is a product of the baggy jeans, chain wallet, 4:20, X-Box, PlayStation, binary “Matrix” generation. That is why the graphics look so good. They are tight, crisp, modern and cool. Whatever Felt does, they have to keep their graphics guy supplied with Red Bull, video games and doobage. He always seems to get the fashion end of bike design right on the nose. The bikes look cool. The colors look cool. The type faces look cool. The farm girl budget S32 could walk the runway with any high priced Hollywood hottie.

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Overall appearance of the S32 is excellent due to comtemporary graphics and excellent paint quality.

When you go front to back on the Felt S32 and compare it to what else is out there- even at $200 more it is a tough act to beat. If this is the price category you are in and the bike fits your body proportions and dimensions- you just found your new tri bike.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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