Felt Racing USA has been an enigma since their beginning almost 16 years ago. The company namesake, Jim Felt, is a frame builder whose name only circulates at the highest level of athletes.
Felt has built high quality road and triathlon bikes for years: Mostly with other names on them. Top professional cyclists with sponsorship contracts have frequently enlisted the frame building expertise of Jim Felt and had him make custom frames with their sponsor's logo on them. As a result, Felt bikes have won a lot of big races under a lot of great athletes but attracted almost no attention.
After a "false start" several years ago Jim Felt is back with a bike company that features a full line of road and triathlon bikes. The frames are impeccable and the component spec outstanding. The big surprise is pricing: Felts are a bargain, or, more correctly, they were. As of April 15, 2002 almost the entire 2002 production run of Felt bicycles is sold out.
Examples of this are the Felt F45 road bike. The Ultegra equipped, Mavic Cosmic shod handmade aluminum bike with the killer paint and graphics was $1699.99. When we showed the bikes to customers and asked them to guess the price most said $2500. At $1699.99 this was over $300 less than anything in its class, was lighter, rode better and most people agreed it looked nicer.
By the time people started to notice it, it was sold out for 2002. That's right- the entire production run was gone- sold. Since the beginning Felt's biggest problem has been keeping up with demand.
To counter this trend Felt is the first manufacturer we know of to debut a 2003 model year bike: The new Felt S22 triathlon bike.
The new 2003 S22 is a typical Felt bargain, outstanding frame, great component spec (with one exception) and incredible price. Think about this: A handmade Ultegra/Dura-Ace equipped triathlon bike (complete) for $1799 with carbon fork and aero tubing- and it's a Felt.
The new 2003 Felt S22 has yet to ship, but the first production run is already completely allocated to dealers. This first production run will sell out in less than 20 days. Another production run is scheduled four months later, for late August delivery. No doubt, the August production run will be sold out before it ever hits sales floors too.
We haven't seen an F22 in person, but to a get a feel for Felt tri bikes in general read our review of the DA650 here. The component spec on the new S22 is excellent with one exception: The carbon cranks. While it seems unfair to single out this part (the rest of the parts on the S22 are excellent), we feel it is worth mentioning.
When S22's arrive we will recommend changing the cranks. We don't like the FSA carbon crank the bike is supplied with and consider it dangerous. These carbon cranks are not designed and manufactured by Shimano to work with a Shimano drivetrain and we have seen (different brands, not FSA) of carbon cranks fail recently. Since the risk outweighs any possible benefit we recommend replacing the FSA (or any brand) carbon crank on the S22 with a Shimano 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace crank. There will be an up-charge, but it is worth it. Other than that, the bike is a 100% home run- at least on paper. In general, we do not have confidence in carbon fiber cranks. You have to ask yourself, other than fashion or cool factor- what is the true benefit of a carbon fiber crank over aluminum? Do any benefits outweigh any potential issues? These are questions only you can answer. No Bikesport employees ride carbon cranks.
Doug Stuart, President of FSA who distributes the cranks used on the S22, felt our opinion of carbon cranks was "neither accurate nor justified". In an e-mail to us, he expressed the following facts:
- We (FSA) are licensed by Shimano to make Octalink compatible cranksets.
- We manufacture cranks that offer shifting compatibility with Shimano 9 speed and Campagnolo 10 speed.
- We have suffered no crankarm breakages that we know of in the past 3 years.
- FSA Carbon Pro cranksets are both stronger and stiffer than Dura-Ace or Record. These results were gathered through laboratory testing. Also, anecdotally, we receive many comments from consumers who notice increased perceived stiffness in the cranks.
I was impressed that Doug Stuart took the time to read our review and respond with the above information. It is certainly worth considering when evaluating these cranks. Admittedly, our stance on equipment in general is conservative and errs toward safety.
Another issue that has surfaced with the Felt S22 is a fork recall. The steer tubes on all S22s shipped initially (first batch) have defective forks. These forks must be replaced with the free replacement offered by Felt. A registered letter advised us of the fork recall. If you have a first production run Felt S22, be sure it has the newer replacement fork- not the recall fork. If you have any doubts do not ride the bike, contact either Felt directly at www.feltusa.com or the store you purchased it at to confirm you have the newer, safer replacement fork. No Felt S22s were sold by Bikesport, Inc. with the recall forks. If your bike came from us, you are already on the correct fork.
Felt's Michigan Rep., veteran elite racer Dave Koesel, is acting as a consultant for Bikesport during May and April. Koesel has a materials engineering background and is an expert on bike fit and spec. He also works for the elite Zar International, an exotic distributor of high end, hard to find Italian cycling equipment and for the U.S. Colnago distributor, Trialtir. Koesel is excited about the new S22 and other 2003 Felt bikes on the horizon, but cautions about supply problems.
"People will have to get these early- they will be sold out long before they arrive, sight unseen, it's no problem". Koesel went on to say "The people who understand the value know the S22 is a bargain and they aren't going to wait "
While the new 2003 Felt S22 will probably be sold through before we see our first bike scheduled for delivery by May 1, 2002, we are excited about building the first examples for our customers. Our first allocation from this first production run is six bicycles of varying sizes. While 2 are already sold, the remaining four are up for grabs as of 4/15/02. But these won't last long. Bikesport will be taking paid orders on the August production run also.
The new 2003 Felt S22 continues the Jim Felt success story and is a peek at what to expect from the company into summer and early Spring 2003. Based on the photos and specs we've seen of the new S22 there is good reason to be excited.