By Tom Demerly.
The high ground in the battle
between triathlon bike companies is the $2500 price range. This
is the smart person’s price point where the cost/benefit
curve converges for maximum value.
You can spend twice as much and your bike won’t be twice
as good. You can spend $500 less and accept a host of compromises.
Because of fierce competition between triathlon bike manufacturers
the $2500 price level provides everything you’ll need
to do your first triathlon and your first Ironman but without
the fluff. It's the smart money first triathlon bike buy since
you'll won't need to replace it.
Today's $2500 tri bike is better than bikes
over $5000 from eight years ago. Frame designs and materials
have improved, components have been updated and manufacturers’
understanding of triathlon bike geometry has improved resulting
in better fitting and handling bikes in 2008/9 at lower prices.
Several key benefits make $2500 the best
value price point for a tri bike:
Molded, monocoque carbon
fiber framesets provide the best ride quality, durability,
bottom bracket stiffness, comfort and best frame aerodynamics.
All the major competitors around $2500 use molded carbon fiber
monocoque aerodynamic framesets.
Components are updated
for 2008 with design cues from the most expensive, high end,
Tour de France and Ironman winning component kits. These kits
includes Shimano Dura-Ace and new Ultegra SL mixes developed
with technology from Shimano’s flagship Dura-Ace components.
As these components evolve into better versions, the performance
gap narrows making the more value priced components the best
performing at the best price with little or no compromises.
Since Shimano only makes
one bar end shift lever, the Shimano Dura-Ace shifter, all
bikes with shifters mounted in the tips of the aerobars, whether
they are $9000 or $2500, use the same Shimano Dura-Ace shifter.
This is especially important since the feedback to the rider
from the shift comes from the shift lever.
New frame geometries include
a variety of reach and stack dimensions along with different
head tube heights. Tri bike inventor Dan Empfield’s
efforts to standardize bike fit comparison through stack and
reach has helped manufacturers differentiate the way their
bikes fit. The largest single factor differentiating
bikes in this price category is the most important one: The
way they fit. One of these bikes will likely fit
better than the others. It is optimal bike fit that will provide
the greatest benefit for the consumer. In short: Buy the one
that fits best.
There are four popular bikes that populate
the $2500 give-or-take price category. Some are a trifle over
$2500 and some a trifle less. Price on bikes will vary depending
on how you equip and fit your bike. These decisions change from
one customer to another on the same bike depending on where
you buy it.
For 2008 the four most prominent bikes around
$2500 are Felt’s B12, Cervelo's P2C Ultegra, Kuota’s
K-Factor and Quintana Roo’s Seduza. Kestrel also has an
entry around $2500 with their Talon. With the sale of Kestrel
to Fuji we anticipate spotty supply from Kestrel in the first
half of 2008 effectively removing them from the value race.
The Talon started life as a road bike and has been adapted for
triathlon use, as such it features some compromises.
A quick word about prices: We are using
generalities with prices on each of these bikes, lumping them
into a category of plus/minus a few hundred dollars. Our website
is so widely read and prices vary from region to region. Price
is a matter you and your dealer will address. Rather than listing
Manufacturers’ Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP) here for
each bike we chose, for the sake of comparison, to refer to
them each as “around $2500”.
Cockpit Specifications: Aerobars,
Base Bars, Shifters and Brake Levers.
Of the four bikes two have “S”
bend aerobars, two have ski bend aerobars. We’ve been
critical of the of “S” bend aerobars and you can
see why here.
Because no one aerobar is right for all customers we consider
aerobars an interchangeable feature that should be different
for each customer, depending on fit. Ski bend cockpits make
up most of what leaves our store since they are the most comfortable.
The Quintana Roo Seduza and the Cervelo P2C Ultegra both use
the same VisionTech ski bend aerobar, our favorite for most
comfortable anatomical fit. The Felt B12 and the Kuota K-Factor
use Profile’s T2+ “S” bend aerobar. Of the
“S” bend bars this is the best because it is adjustable
for length, pad width, and pad fore/aft. There is also a generous
upward curve in the “S” that facilitates better
comfort than flatter “S” bends. Both the Cervelo
P2C Ultegra and Quintana Roo Seduza use the VisionTech wing
shaped, aerodynamic base bar which looks nicer and is more aerodynamic
than the round tubing base bars used on the Felt B12 and the
All bikes use the Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed bar
end shifter. Cervelo and Quintana Roo went cheap on the brake
levers and the Dia Compe 188 levers are effectively obsolete.
They don't have return springs and should be upgraded. There
are enough new brake levers with return springs that the Dia
Compe 188 is no longer a valid choice. The brake levers on both
the Felt B12 and the Kuota K-Factor do have return springs and
feel much better to use. If you fit best on a P2C Ultegra or
QR Seduza, budget a few dollars to upgrade the Dia Compe 188
brake levers, they simply aren’t very good anymore in
comparison to others available.
Despite the brake levers our two favorite cockpits
are the Cervelo P2C Ultegra and the Quintana Roo Seduza.
Frame Features: Head Tube/Fork/Top Tube/Down
Lots of differences in design philosophies here:
Some necessitated by actual design and performance and others
dictated by manufacturing constraints.
Two designs rise to the top: The Cervelo P2C and
Felt B12. These are the two most aerodynamic of the four bikes,
with both being extensively wind tunnel tested and adapted.
Both are excellent, and both approach aerodynamics in a different
Cervelo relies heavily on a very narrow head tube
width and a rounded profile so no flat surface hits the wind.
Felt has a wider head tube (advantage: Cervelo) but does do
an admirable job of smoothing the union between the fork crown
and the down tube for a smooth air flow. Both of these designs
work well at low yaw angles, but the Cervelo is likely slightly
better due to the narrower, smaller overall frontal area and
As the wind yaw angle increases it is likely the
aerodynamic performance gap between the two bikes may narrow,
although the overall frontal area of the Felt is slightly greater
than the Cervelo as you can see in the photos.
Cable routing is better on the Felt, not only
aerodynamically but mechanically. Felt has the best internal
cable routing in the industry- mechanically and aerodynamically.
Cervelo’s cable routing is good as is Kuota’s, but
the Seduza requires extra attention to prevent the ends of the
cable housing from slipping inside the frame.
Fit on the bikes is different at the head tubes
also- the big differentiation between all four. Head tube heights
on the 54cm frame sizes (Medium on the Seduza and K-Factor)
range from a low of 110 millimeters on the Felt B12 and Quintana
Roo Seduza to a nice middle ground of 120 millimeters on the
Cervelo P2C up to 135 millimeters on the Kuota K-Factor. The
bike with the greatest flexibility here is the Cervelo P2C Ultegra,
which goes right down the middle. It’s a good choice from
sprint to Ironman. People with a bias toward higher bars will
be attracted to the high head tube on the Kuota K-Factor.
The four forks show different aero profiles and
construction techniques. Felt scores high marks on its B12 for
using a lightweight, full carbon fiber fork with integrated
carbon fiber steer tube. It is the lightest fork of the four.
The Wolf TT fork on the Cervelo is an efficient and proven aerodynamic
design that uses a somewhat heavier and very reliable carbon
fiber blade assembly with aluminum crown and steer tube. The
fork on the K-Factor is a 350 gram all carbon fiber steer tube
fork with aluminum dropouts. The Seduza uses a carbon fiber
steer tube also, the original shape going back to the first
bladed, carbon fiber aerodynamic fork called the Quintana Roo
“Carbonaero”. The Cervelo P2C Ultegra uses an aluminum
crown and steer tube and is the heaviest of the four forks.
Frame Features: Down Tube/ Top Tube Area.
Down tube shapes are a battle ground for bike
companies. The fight is decided in the wind tunnel and Cervelo
is the winner. What we’re reporting here is based on two
separate trips to the wind tunnel by us and published wind tunnel
data from two different manufacturers. While the reliability
of wind tunnel results by manufacturers is suspect due to the
sales motive, both of these tests (even from competing manufacturers)
reveal similar findings as did motion flow analysis.
Cervelo wins with Felt in second and the others
far behind. Cervelo’s rigid adherence to truly aerodynamic
shapes and narrow tubes gives them an edge with their down tube
design, the same shape down tube used on their flagship P3C.
The down tube has the best aspect ratio, shape and profile for
bicycle speeds. The Felt B12 is also a valid aerodynamic design
and gives a nod to structural concerns by making the bottom
bracket flare out a trifle to improve bottom bracket stiffness.
Felt’s integration of their down tube into the fork crown
is the best design of the four, but Cervelo’s overall
front end aerodynamics win out- slightly. Cervelo’s bottom
bracket also flares for added stiffness, but it does it internally
where you (and the wind…) can’t see it. This design
is not as conspicuous and may not look as cool, but it does
produce lower drag numbers by maintaining the overall narrow
shape of the frame.
The design of the K-Factor lags aerodynamically
as Kuota put their primary aerodynamic emphasis on their excellent
Kalibur and new Kueen K. The K-Factor is a stiff, durable, comfortable
design but doesn’t have the aerodynamic benefits of either
the Cervelo P2C Ultegra or the Felt B12. The Quintana Roo Seduza
is an aerodynamically styled bike that is more aerodynamic than
round tubes or the K-Factor but still behind the sophisticated
shapes of the Cervelo P2C and the Felt B12. By Quintana Roo’s
own admission the Seduza was not designed with wind tunnel input.
The next generation of Quintana Roos are being designed in the
The winners here are Cervelo’s P2C Ultegra
with the B12 nipping at its heels and the Kuota K-Factor taking
the hindmost with the Quintana Roo Seduza between them. As we’ll
see though, these bikes redeem themselves later…
Frame Features: Seat Tube Profile and
The smooth reassembly of air behind the rider
is important to aerodynamics so the design of the back of the
bike is important even at speeds below 20 M.P.H. Most manufacturers
have gone to an airfoil shaped seat tube with a wheel cut out
to optimize aerodynamics, or at least style their bike to look
like it does. It is important to differentiate between genuine
aerodynamic benefits derived from testing and designs that are
simply aero styled.
Each of the four bikes uses some type of wheel
cut-out. The Felt B12 takes the concept one step further by
moving the rear brake to the top of the chainstays creating
a cleaner profile at the rear of the Felt B12. It’s difficult
to imagine how much of a drag savings this is, but easy to imagine
it is some drag savings. This design facilitates lower
angular placement of the seat stays on the B12, making them
more aerodynamic and produces a wheel cutout that sits closer
to the rear wheel for improved drag reduction. It follows the
radius of the rear wheel for the length of the seat tube. This
is an elegant design. The Felt B12 wins here with Cervelo’s
Ultegra P2C a close second and, you guessed it, the other two
farther back in design sophistication.
An interesting note on the design philosophies
of Felt and Cervelo: If you want to own Cervelo’s most
advanced, lowest drag frame shape it is their flagship P3C at
$4500. The $1500 less expensive Dura-Ace equipped version of
the P2C and the $2000 less expensive P2C Ultegra use a different
frame shape at the rear end than the P3C. If you want Cervelo’s
best aero frame shape you have to buy their most expensive aerodynamic
triathlon bike, the P3C. Felt uses the same frame shape (but
a different fork system) on their $9499 Felt DA flagship tri
bike as they do on their (about) $2500+ Felt B12. That is some
impressive trickle down. There is a catch to this deal, and
that is the Cervelo P3C, Cervelo’s most aero shape, is
likely even more aerodynamic than the Felt DA/B2/B12
frame shape. However, overall aerodynamics of the P2C Ultegra
and the B12 may nearly be a wash- at least as far as the frame
The wheel cut outs on the Seduza and the K-Factor
are more styling cues than functional aerodynamic designs.
Cranks and Bottom Bracket Designs.
The original spec for three of the bikes include
the FSA Gossamer Crank and Mega-Exo sealed cartridge bearing
bottom bracket. Very early versions of the Cervelo P2C Ultegra
were shipped with FSA SLK carbon fiber cranks to facilitate
early shipment of the bikes to dealers but the majority of those
SLK equipped bikes are off dealer floors and in consumer hands
so it is back to the FSA Gossamer aluminum crank. The Gossamer
is an excellent crank and has actually been used by riders in
the Tour de France. Since three of the four bikes use this crank
there isn’t much to compare here.
The fourth bike, the Kuota K-Factor, has the nicest
of the cranks with a Shimano 105 crankset and Shimano sealed
cartridge bottom bracket.
Seat Stay, Chain Stay, Rear Drop Out Assemblies.
The Kuota K-Factor is the only bike of the four
that uses an easily replaceable rear derailleur hanger. This
is a practical feature if you flight case your bike frequently
and protects it against permanent frame damage from transition
area knock-downs. If your rear derailleur hanger becomes bent
or stripped on the Kuota K-Factor you can simply unbolt the
damaged one and replace it with a new one. On the other three
bikes damage to the rear derailleur hanger could mean returning
the frame to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. That
said, non-replaceable derailleur hangers are near standard in
the tri bike industry now owing to the necessity of rear-facing
dropouts with rear wheel cut-outs and the need for narrow dropouts
for better aerodynamics. This change hasn’t created a
culture of easily damaged frames.
The chainstays on the Cervelo P2C Ultegra and
the Kuota K-Factor are the most robust with the Cervelo getting
an edge not only for shape but construction. Paired with their
narrow, aerodynamic seat stays the Cervelo rear end is well
designed. The seat stays on the Felt B12 are elegant and aero
but the chainstays a trifle frail in appearance. Quintana Roo’s
Seduza strikes a balance between strength, comfort and stiffness
with a nod to aerodynamic styling using a molded, wishbone seat
stay assembly with a Coke bottle type curve. This is a Serotta
inspired design we see quite a bit of because it works for taking
the edge off road shock.
The combination of nice, narrow aerodynamic seat
stays and chunky, rotationally stiff chainstays make the back
of the Cervelo the winner here. Kuota’s K-Factor does
a nice job of shoring up the rear end but at a cost to aerodynamics
and weight. The Felt B12 and the Seduza nestle behind these
two designs on rear end integrity.
Overall Appearance, Finish and Paint Quality:
The “Popular Vote”.
If you try to deny that appearance is a factor
in the bike you buy I’d suggest you are either boring
or less than honest. Everyone has their own tastes in aesthetics
and we decided to find out what they were. We asked 40 customers
over three weeks which one of the bikes they found “Most
Attractive”. Customers were afforded the ability to see
all four bikes in person in similar frame sizes to represent
similar aesthetic proportions. A whopping 18 customers said
the Felt B12 was the “Most Attractive” bike of the
group. The Cervelo P2C Ultegra followed at 12 votes with 8 people
naming the Quintana Roo Seduza as “Most Attractive”
and only 2 for the utilitarian looking (but solid) Kuota K-Factor.
These four bikes lack color entirely except for
the Quintana Roo Seduza. It is obvious manufacturers were not
willing to take chances with the color schemes on these important
price category bikes so they went conservative.
If you look carefully at finish work the Felt
B12 is meticulously finished with nice clear coat, good graphics
and an overall very polished look. While people reacted with
mixed feelings to the racy, modern graphics of the Quintana
Roo Seduza the matt finish work is very clean and nice with
no errors, crooked graphics or finish flaws. We do like the
Seduza graphics also. The Kuota K-Factor was also well finished
with good graphics, a glossy clear coat and nice finishes where
frame shapes ended. The Cervelo P2C Ultegra has a nice color
scheme and bold, well designed graphics that stand out from
a distance (like in your race photos). This paint scheme compliments
the truly aerodynamic lines of the Cervelo P2C Ultegra. Paint
quality is good and has improved steadily for Cervelo as it
didn’t used to be their strong point. Apparently they
were too busy making the bikes fast to spend much time on paint
quality. That has changed and Cervelo’s new finishes are
top notch. There can be some finish irregularities where the
rear dropouts meet the carbon fiber frame members at the seat
stays and chainstays.
Component Kit Comparison.
Firstly, it’s important to realize the difference
between Ultegra and Dura-Ace never won anyone a race. Changing
your rear derailleur doesn’t make you faster. For detailed
analysis of the real difference between Shimano derailleurs
You’ll be surprised to learn how little difference the
components really make. Since each of these bikes are within
a few hundred dollars of the same price there simply isn’t
enough price difference to build much component differentiation
There is one exception, and it is a significant
one. The wheels on the Felt B12 are the Felt proprietary TTR
3 deep section aerodynamic wheels. They feature a 40 mm deep
alloy aerodynamic rim section and 20 bladed, radial spokes in
the front with 24 cross 2 bladed spokes in the rear. This wheelset
isn’t particularly light, but it is particularly fast
in comparison to the much less aerodynamic wheels on the other
three bikes. Cervelo, Quintana Roo and Kuota spec their three
offerings with a training type wheel and presume you’ll
upgrade to a more aerodynamic race wheel later at additional
cost. The TTR 3 wheels on the Felt B12 do double duty as race
wheels and every day wheels. That adds tangible value to the
Felt B12. If you evaluate the entire aerodynamic package of
the bikes with all components this wheelset puts the Felt B12
ahead of all three other bikes on overall aerodynamics. This
really is the only tangible component difference between all
of the bikes that actually will produce a performance benefit.
For the specifics on parts spec and for the buyer
who insists on spread sheet comparisons here you go:
VisionTech Alloy Ski Bend
|Profile Design T2+ "S" Bend
||VisionTech Alloy Ski Bend
||Profile Design T2+ "S" Bend
|Shimano 7800 Series Dura-Ace 10 Speed Bar
||Shimano 7800 Series Dura-Ace 10 Speed Bar
||Shimano 7800 Series Dura-Ace 10 Speed Bar
||Shimano 7800 Series Dura-Ace 10 Speed Bar
|VisionTech Alloy Wing
||26.0mm Round Alloy Base Bar
||VisionTech Alloy Wing
||Profile T2 Alloy Base Bar.
|Dia Compe 188
||Tektro RX4.1 with return spring.
||Dia Compe 188
||Profile QS 2 with return spring
||FELT 3.2 CNC Machined 6061 Aluminum, Ø26.0mm
with 0° rise.
||Profile H2OS Stem
|Wolf TT 1&1/8" Alloy steer tube.
||NEW Felt 3.1 Airfoil Carbon Fiber Bladed
with carbon 1" steerer, crown, and fork blades
||QR Full Carbon Tri Specific Fork 1&1/8"
||Kuota Fork 1-1/8 Alloy Steer
||FSA Mega EXO
||FSA Mega Expo
||Shimano Sealed Cartridge
||Shimano Ultegra SL
||Shimano Ultegra SL
||Dura Ace 7800
|FSA Gossamer MegaExo
||FSA Gossamer PRO MegaExo
||FSA Gossamer MegaExo
||Shimano FC-R 550
|Cervélo Mach 2
||Dual Pivot w/Cartridge Pads, Stainless Hardware,
|Shimano Ultegra 12-25T
||Shimano Ultegra 11-23T
||Shimano 5600 11-23T
||Shimano 105 Cassette 12-25T
||Felt TTR-3 700c 40mm Deep Aluminum with CNC
Machined Braking Surface, 20H Front/24H Rear
||Fulcrum Racing 7 Clincher
|Vittoria Diamante Pro Slick Folding 700c
||Vittoria Rubino PRO Slick Folding 700c x
||Contental Ultra Race 700 x 23c
||Vittoria Zaphiro Pro Tire Black 700 x23c
|Cervélo TT Special by Selle Italia.
||Felt 3.2 Tri/TT Saddle with Carbon Injected
base, Gel Nose, Custom Waterproof Cover with Carbon Fiber
Inserts and Extended Length Hollow Chrome Moly rails
||Quintana Roo Triathlon Specific.
||Kuota San Marco Azoto Saddle
Seatpost/Binder Bolt/Saddle Clamp.
Of the four bikes two have variable geometry seatposts,
the Cervelo P2C Ultegra and the Felt B12. This provides the
widest possible range of saddle fore/aft positions and enables
the rider to sit steeper with a more open torso to leg angle.
For this reason the P2C Ultegra and B12 have the widest "fit
band" and are most adjustable.
The saddle clamp on the Cervelo P2C is the best
design. It is the easiest to adjust with a single, standard
sized allen wrench. All three other systems use hardware under
the saddle that is fumbly to reach and work on.
The integrated binder bolt assembly on the Cervelo
P2C is the most aerodynamic design but you do need exercise
reasonable care when adjusting saddle height. If the threaded
inserts in the frame itself became stripped the frame would
likely have to be returned for repair.
From a durability perspective the Felt B12 binder
bolt is excellent. If a ham-fisted mechanic stripped the binder
bolt the entire assembly can be quickly replaced. This is also
true of the QR Seduza and Kuota K-Factor.
It isn't worth talking much about saddles since
that is an interchangeable item at the time of the fit based
on rider preference. I've ridden each of these, and they are
all at least good as stock saddles.
Fit, Geometry, Size Run and Positioning.
We saved the most important consideration for
last. The single biggest determining factor in your ownership
experience is how well your bike fits you.
You could achieve the same position (provided
it wasn’t excessively low in the front end) on a similar
frame size on each of these bikes- but they still wouldn’t
fit you the same way. Chances are one of these four bikes will
be the optimal fit based on your riding goals, level of experience,
pedaling style, body shape and torso to leg length proportions
compared to the other three. These are the factors that will
decide which one is best for you. Especially if you are a short
torso, long leg rider one of these bikes will suit you significantly
better than the other three.
The Felt B12 and the Cervelo P2C both have the
capability to go the steepest with effective seat tube angle
of the four bikes. These two bikes use a widely adjustable Variable
Geometry Seatpost design which facilitates a wide fit band.
The Felt B12 and Cervelo P2C Ultegra will fit more people with
more positional options than the Kuota K-Factor or the Quintana
Roo Seduza since those two bikes use fixed position seatposts
with much less fore/aft adjustment. This is a critical ability
since steeper effective seat tube angle means a more relaxed,
open angle between torso and femur translating to an overall
more comfortable position. This can also make a bike more versatile,
enabling the rider to evolve toward a lower front end position
as they gain experience. On fit and position the Cervelo P2C
Ultegra and the Felt B12 are the winners because of their variable
The Kuota K-Factor had the shortest reach and
highest stack per frame size along with the slackest seat tube
angle making it an excellent choice for problem fit, short torso,
long leg (femur) riders. For some riders in this category, the
K-Factor is absolutely the best option in their fit range and
other bikes would be a serious fit compromise. This is combined
with the highest head tube also working well with the long leg,
short torso crowd.
The Quintana Roo Seduza is another good shortish
reach option a few millimeters shorter per size than the Cervelo
P2C Ultegra and the Felt B12. The Seduza also has the highest
seat tube extension, a feature that may further benefit the
If you are average or to the long-torsoed, the
statistical majority of cyclists, then you will be a Cervelo
P2C Ultegra or Felt B12 customer. There are small differences
in the stack and reach, both of which equate to barely a full
stem size (1 cm.) change. Head tube heights are different by
1 cm or one headset spacer with the Cervelo P2C Ultegra having
the higher trend.
& Reach Comparison for 54 cm ("Medium")
Quintana Roo Seduza
= Fixed Seatpost Geometry
V.G. = Variable (Adjustable Seatpost Geometry)
So, Which Bike is Best?
That’s an easy question to answer: The one
that fits you best. That said, several of these bikes could
support identical rider positions if set up correctly. The decision
of which bike is best for you will be a matter for you and your
bike fitter to decide. If you read the article carefully you
do see the Cervelo P2C Ultegra and Felt B12 both seem to consistently
offer fit, aerodynamic and even component benefits that rise
above the others. This trend has also manifested itself on the
sales floor- those are the two most commonly purchased bikes
of the four.
All four of these bikes represent a level of performance,
durability, function, fit and value that has never been available
anywhere near this price. About $2500 is a bargain for such
sophisticated racing machines that would have been impossible
to produce at any price only a decade ago. These bikes
will enhance the triathletes enjoyment of the sport and make
participation in the sport easier, more comfortable, safer and
faster than ever thought possible at around $2500 for a high
performance, carbon fiber, aerodynamic triathlon specific bike.