FRD vs. BJR: Unstoppable force vs. Immovable object (Bike Tech Review)

In March, I had my first ride on my new time-trial bike.  It was an amazing experience, being back in Austin, on roads that I loved, riding again (after 7 weeks on crutches).  New bike euphoria is nothing new. I’ve been riding the new bike for 8-9 months now, and have raced twice with it, so it’s time to take a step back and do a formal review, not just of the bike, but of all the gear on it and the software I’ve used in training.

This journey actually started about a year before. When my boss at work came to me at bonus time, he said, “Don’t just spend this on rent or a mortgage. Do something memorable with it, so you’ll remember the great year we’ve had.” I immediately knew that I’d be getting a new TT bike.  At that point I was targeting Ironman Melbourne (before I found I had a stress reaction in my left femoral neck) and reached out to Jack & Adams in Austin to work on what my next ride would be. While the Felt IA FRD was not on the market yet, the more I read about it, the more I thought it would be the bike for me.  However, the bike would not be available when I needed it for Melbourne, so I planned on riding my old Kuota K-Factor. But when I had to cancel Melbourne, I registered for Busso and a new window opened up. Jack worked with me to get the bike ready on my next visit to Austin, and the rest is well, not really history.

Felt IA FRD: Overall grade: B+.

Felt IA_FRD

Speed: A

The bike is definitely fast. In fact, it’s probably not a great bike for me, as an underpowered cyclist (I’m a much stronger swimmer and runner), and someone stronger would get even more out of it because it takes a small amount of power and delivers a lot of speed. The frame is not as light as I would have expected, but it’s certainly incredibly light given how much frame there is (the seat tube is massively wide). I do feel like I can push this bike without much power, which has been really important on my injured leg. I’m curious to see what I can do once I’m healed…

Right now, the test is still “how fast is the world’s slowest triathlete (me) on the world’s fastest tri bike?”

Comfort: A

It feel like you could ride in the bars forever. Everything is very stable and comfortable. Downhills on bad surfaces are not my favorite, but my previous tri-bike was even worse.

Di2 Dura-Ace is amazing. Having shifters on both the aerobars and bull horns make all the difference, especially when you’re riding in areas like the Northern Beaches were you don’t get long, sustained time in aero.

Maintenance / Practicality: D

I can take apart my Specialized Tarmac (road bike) and have it boxed up in 15 minutes, 10 minutes if I hurry.  With the Felt, I expected it to take longer, but it’s at least an hour start to finish for me, both in taking it apart and putting it back together. And things that are normally simple on another bike are complex and painful.

There are lots of panels.  Each have two tiny screws that a ~1mm allen key removes. For example, while I realized that Di2 would mean an electric shifting system, I still have some mental turbulence around charging my bike, and to charge it I have to remove a panel.

The bike has a built-in Bento Box (place for food / gels / tires) for long distance triathlons, which is a killer idea, but the execution is flawed. Even with an recent update, it’s very difficult to get to the contents of the box if they are in the back half. You can probably also fit an after-market bladder to have an internal hydration system, but I’m not a fan of those so I’ve never tried it. The Bento box lid is plastic and pops off the top tube. Originally it would barely hang out when I rode, and if I had a clif bar in the box, a good bump would knock the lid off and I’d have to stop to retrieve it.

On one bumpy downhill, the top flew off and disappeared too quickly for me to see where it went. I then had to order a new Bento box top. Living in Australia, there are no Felt dealers out here. I travel to San Francisco quite regularly but I couldn’t use dealers there, I had to go through my original dealer. It arrived on the last possible day before I left for my race. Two months for a simple replacement is a long time.

If you don’t live near a Felt dealer, in fact if you don’t live near the Felt dealer you bought this bike from, it’s a royal hassle.

Adjustment for the right brake is under the crank.  Must remove the crank to really adjust. I’m going to try and fashion a cheater allen wrench using a hacksaw to possible get in there, but the adjustment is really challenging even once you get the hey bold loose.

For someone trying to win Kona, or their age group, this bike makes sense. Honestly, for me, the amount of effort to ship this bike to a race adds a lot of challenges, and that makes the overall experience a bit of a downer.

Reynolds Race Wheels: A

These wheels are incredibly light – the first pair of race wheels that I’ve owned.  They are not super deep, 56 and 72 mm respectively. They feel solid riding on them and have performed well in the two races I’ve done. I’ll give them an A simply because they are great, but I’m no expert here given I’ve only used 3-4 types of race wheels in the past

Garmin Vector Pedals: B+

Garmin Vector

I had been training with power at a cycling gym and I wanted to transfer that to training on my own bike. Pedals or power tap? I went with pedals because I could transfer them to another bike. The downsides is that you must use a torque wrench to tighten them or the power readings are off. Calibration is very much dependent on the torque applied, too little torque under-reports the power. Garmin recommends 25-30 lbs-ft 34-40 N-m. I’d recommend being near the top of that range to avoid under-reporting.

Remember:

In rotational equilibrium, the sum of the torques is equal to zero. In other words, there is no net torque on the object. Note that the SI units of torque is a Newton-metre, which is also a way of expressing a Joule(the unit for energy). However, torque is not energy.

Actually, you don’t need to remember any of that. I just included that for fun.

It’s a little wild to have pedals with firmware.  I crashed the Garmin firmware update app of the pedals 7 times when trying to update the firmware, but eventually got it.

About three months before my race, my Garmin watch warned me that the battery levels were low on the pedals (they have an internal watch battery in each pedal). I read online that in some cases the pedals had been misreporting low battery with old firmware. So I ignored it – figuring it would just run out at some point then I’d replace it if it was a real warning. The batteries ran out on my last ride before leaving for my Ironman. A little scary that they could have run out during my race!

X-Lab Hydration System

Xlab Super Wing

These are a royal pain to take apart and remove. But, the point is that once they are on, they are solid and not going to move. I’ve still have bottles pop out, often flying out in what looked like an attempt to sabotage my training parter. I  changed the type of bottle, changed the orientation from vertical to angled, and launched zero bottles during Ironman Busselton (though I had one in Challenge Forster).

http://xlab-usa.com/super-wing.html

 

Xlab super wing with goodies

Specialized Tarmac: A+

Specialized Tarmac

My first road bike (gasp! Yes, believe it or not I went straight from a touring bike to a TT bike). I love this thing. Even with a downhill chicken like me I feel a lot more confident just letting this bike go.

Garmin 910XT: A-

garmin-forerunner-910xt

A big improvement over the 310XT, this next generation of triathlete watch. Of course, this review is largely useless because the 920XT is now out… But the watch and interaction with the ANT+ Agent has been flawless since I got it. Really happy with the watch. The points where the charger connect are still poorly made, but everything else is much better.

Garmin Connect: B+

Software made by device manufacturers is usually plagued with poor user experience and plenty of bugs, but the new Garmin Connect is actually decent. Competition from the likes of Strava have certainly made them step up their game.

Garmin Connect

TrainerRoad: A

TrainerRoad_logo

I used TrainerRoad to create home workouts for my “pain cave”. It gives you a heads up display, and integrates well with cycling workout videos like SufferFest (which are excellent).

Training Peaks: A

My coach uses Training Peaks, so I do as well.  It’s great. He uploads workouts, they appear in my calendar, and every day I get an email telling me my workout for the next two days.

Strava: A

Everyone loves Strava. Great social software for athletes. Nuff said.


Strava

Tapirik Sync: A+

So with Garmin, Strava, and Training Peaks, how to keep them all in sync? The best solution I’ve found is Tapiriik.

https://tapiriik.com/


Tapiriik
That’s all, folks.

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