WHEN FELT INTRODUCES A NEW BICYCLE, ITS DEBUT COMES AT THE END OF A LONG, RIGOROUS DEVELOPMENT PHASE. FROM INITIAL CONCEPT TO FINISHED PRODUCT, THE PROCESS CAN TAKE YEARS TO COMPLETE.
The first step is a lot of dialog. Between Felt-sponsored teams and athletes, engineers and product designers, there is never a shortage of ideas (and opinions). It’s a roundtable process guided by a certain set of objectives. Before the engineering begins, the precise goals must be clarified. Once they are, the real work begins.
Felt engineers design every frame and fork from the ground up using sophisticated CAD software that allows them to specify every dimension of every tube, as well as the shape of each. Components such as derailleurs, wheels and brakes can be fitted to 3-D models to check fit and function before a single physical sample is created.
The engineers determine the handling geometry as well as the dimensions for each size frame, and this is where a bicycle’s character begins to take shape. Aerodynamics and stiffness can be manipulated through tube shape and wall thickness. For full- suspension designs, this is the point at which the linkage is designed and wheel path is determined. This is the phase in which some of Felt’s most iconic designs, including Equilink suspension and the Bayonet 3 Steering System, have been conceived.
In designs where aerodynamics play a factor, the 3-D solid model is analyzed through Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software. Tube profiles can be reshaped and refined dozens of times before any sort of prototype is made. By the time the bike enters the prototype phase, the design has been through hundreds of hours of analysis. Wind-tunnel testing then presents the opportunity to refine the design a bit further. Small tweaks are made to finalize things before the manufacturing molds are created.
The final phase of development occurs when a first mold is developed and prototype frames are made. With carbon fiber frames, engineers experiment with different lay-up configurations and different blends of material. They then perform static load and stiffness tests in the lab
to gauge the strength-to-weight and stiffness of the samples; Felt's internal strength standards are higher than even the most stringent U.S. and European government regulations require. Felt inspects the prototype models closely for manufacturing tolerances, surface finish and alignment among other details. Finally, the prototypes are ridden to make sure they deliver the right ride quality.
Different Felt bikes have varying design cycles. Full-suspension and aerodynamic models spend a great deal of time in development before a first prototype is made. Carbon fiber road bikes and hardtails, on the other hand, will go to prototyping much sooner but stay in that phase much longer. Getting the blend of materials just right—in order to find that lively feel while maintaining strength, stiffness and low weight—can require many prototypes.
The stamp of approval comes from Felt teams and athletes. If the bike is up to the standards of the very best in the world, it’s time to bring it to market.
By taking a flexible development approach based on the particular needs of each bicycle, rather than applying the same approach to all of them, Felt is able to focus its efforts on the most critical elements of each model. There are other ways to develop a bicycle—methods that are faster, cheaper and less expensive. But that’s not the Felt way. Our method takes longer but it produces a better bicycle.