Design Methods

When Felt introduces a new bicycle, its debut comes at the end of a long and rigorous development process. From initial concept to finished product, the process can take years to complete.

It starts with a lot of dialog. Between our pro teams and athletes, our engineers and product designers, there is never a shortage of ideas (and opinions). It’s a big round-table process guided by a certain set of objectives. Before the engineers get serious we zone in on the cycling discipline and the ultimate goal. And then the real work begins.

Felt engineers design every frame and fork from the ground up using sophisticated CAD software called Pro-Engineer as well as Solidworks. This software 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 the 3-D model to check all fit and function before a single sample is made. The engineers determine the handling geometry as well as the dimensions for each size frame. This is where a bicycle’s character begins to take shape. Engineers start to plan for aerodynamics and stiffness through tube shape and wall thickness. And 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™ and the Bayonet™ Steering System, have been conceived

In designs where aerodynamics is a factor, the 3-D solid model is imported in computational fluid dynamic (CFD) software called Star CCM+. CFD is like having a virtual wind tunnel in a workstation. Tube profiles can be reshaped and refined dozens of times before any sort of prototype is made. By the time we enter the wind tunnel with a prototype, the design has been through hundreds of hours of analysis. With our homework already completed, what we typically learn at this point is that the design is ready to proceed. Wind-tunnel testing also presents the opportunity to refine the design a bit further. Small tweaks are made to finalize the design before the manufacturing molds are created. So, as you can see, the wind tunnel is used for both development and validation.

This process is different from the way most other manufacturers do things. It has become fashionable to market the fact that bikes are wind tunnel tested. The truth is, anybody can book wind tunnel time and test a bicycle. The difference is, Felt bikes are wind tunnel developed.

The final phase of our development is where a first mold is developed and carbon fiber prototype frames are made (or in the case of aluminum frames, they are welded). With carbon we will experiment with different lay-up configurations and different blends of material. We then perform static load and stiffness tests in the lab to gauge the strength-to-weight and stiffness of the samples; our own internal strength standards are higher than even the most stringent U.S. and European government regulations require. We inspect these prototypes closely for manufacturing tolerances, surface finish and alignment among other details. Finally, we ride the prototypes to make sure they deliver the ride quality we are seeking. Riding prototypes helped us determine our signature UHC blend of carbon fibers.

Each model has a different design cycle based on its use. Full-suspension and aerodynamic models spend a great deal of time in development before a first prototype is made, while carbon fiber road bikes and hardtails 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 when we get a thumbs-up from our teams and athletes. If it works for the very best in the world and they approve it (and ultimately win with it), we are comfortable bringing it to market.

By taking a flexible development approach based on the needs of each bicycle, rather than applying the same approach to all of them, we are able to focus our 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. They don’t interest us. Our method takes longer but it results in a better bicycle.