Jim Felt and a few of his colleagues at Felt Bicycles traveled to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for the start of the 2010 Tour de France with several objectives. Obviously a personal visit to their sponsored ProTour team, Garmin-Transitions, was top of the list. They also planned to get in a bit of 2011 catalog photography. Felt wanted the team riders to be included, so they scheduled rider and bike shots to coincide with Tour team presentations, when everyone involved was cleaned up, kitted up, and ready for display.
But maybe the most fun part of their trip was the assembly of a new, 2011 Felt F1 race bike for photos and media “spy” shots. This top-end race model from the California-based company isn’t ready yet for full-time race duty at the Tour, but rideable pre-production frames are out for validation.
“We want to take a conservative approach and do more testing on the bike,” said company president Jim Felt. With casual understatement, he added, “It’s a different bike.” Very different, by the sound of it.
“The bike’s about 20-percent lighter, and it’s now stiffer than our F1 sprint bike,” Felt said. “It’s almost 200 grams lighter.” He said the current version of the new F1 tips the scales in the mid-700 gram range. Felt Bicycles’ current line includes a standard F1 and the stiffer, beefier F1 Sprint model for powerful riders who need the extra rigidity. “So we’ll eliminate that sprint frame out of our package now (for 2011),” said Felt.
Felt’s been busy in the last year. First they showed the new DA time trial frame at the Tour of California, and now this road model is on the way. It turns out that 2011 DA development actually provided impetus for the F1 by forcing Felt’s hand toward new frame production technology.
“We learned a lot from the DA project,” said Felt. “We gained so much surface area with those tube shapes — adding surface area you’re adding more material, you have the problem of weight buildup.” In order to keep the new TT frame’s weight to a minimum, Felt created internal silicone bladders to aid molding of the major fabrication zones in the frame. The technology has been carried over to the new F1. “So instead of having a blow-up bladder in these sections, they’re actually hard silicone, and then they pull them out the port holes after they cure,” Felt explained. “If you were to cut the frame in half now the inside of the frames are now as perfect as the outside,” he said.
Carbon molding requires even pressure from both the inside and outside of a frame tube, lug, or monocoque section. Inflatable internal air bladders are one way to provide pressure on the inside of a frame structure, but they can shift as they’re inflated and don’t always lead to even distribution of carbon plies and resin. “It totally wads up in there, you get imperfections, you get resin-rich material, and if you’ve ever cut frames apart that are still doing that you can see that it’s a way to save a lot of weight,” said Felt. Needless to say, he’s pleased with the major weight reduction he’s claiming for the new F1 bike.
Along with the new production process, lighter weight, and improved rigidity, it’s got design features that riders have come to demand in modern, premium road frames: a tapered steerer tube for front-end stiffness, straight-blade fork, co-molded carbon dropouts and cable stops, a BB30 bottom bracket, and seamless integration of Di2 control wires. The team version of Felt’s new F1 has a threaded BB, because the team is sponsored by Shimano and uses threaded Dura-Ace bottom brackets. But for riders not running electronic shifting, standard shift housing and cables can be routed with adapters on the frame.
For now, Garmin-Transitions riders will race their current inventory of 2010 Felt F1, F1 sprint, and AR road frames. But they’re probably champing at the bit to throw legs over this newest version of the F1, the one tantalizingly brought to Rotterdam just for some very special photography.