Practical and accessible, Dan Bonello gets a taste for the DA3 – a feature-filled package that’s built to perform
When it comes to properly dialling in the fit of a newly delivered Felt DA3, there can be few better solutions than the 60km-odd ride out to picturesque Stanwell Tops to meet up with 220’s photographer. A fitting session the night before meant everything was more or less in place prior to that morning, and it left me with a little time up my sleeve after rocketing southbound out of Sydney for the shoot.
After the business of modelling had been taken care of – the lazy afternoon ride mercifully not interrupted for too long – it was then a matter of riding the reverse route back into town. The plan again went down without a hiccup. There was little time to adjust to the relaxed position compared to my usual ride over the last few weeks, a Specialized Shiv, but the prior night’s once-over and subsequent four hours in the extensions were enough to iron out the kinks.
It does the model no disservice to point out that the DA3 is not Felt’s top-of-the-line triathlon offering. The IA FRD LTD (a proper mouthful of acronyms) is the range-topping and perhaps industry-topping behemoth that the company currently produces. That model truly embodies the vision Jim Felt had when he first set out to create a more aerodynamically efficient machine back in the early Nineties. It’s as close to mechanical doping as a bike can come and as far from UCI-legal as a frame with two triangles could be.
Beneath that particularly breathtaking frame is the more practical – and accessible – DA series. The frame on test utilises an updated bayonet-style fork, which Felt is known for pioneering. This system strikes you as the ideal configuration for the front end of a tri set-up. Even with a one-inch steerer the DA3 has ample stiffness and tracks flawlessly when in the aero position. The newer fork also features a structural fin on the leading edge of the head tube to decrease turbulence at the frame’s first contact point with the atmosphere.
The immediate comparison with the Shiv that I left in the garage this week is instructive. While brilliantly fast and a true race machine, the Shiv is more of a handful to ride. Its front-end sits aggressively low; it closes up your hip flexors and hammers your glutes. I can handle it for shorter rides, but there’s little chance of taking it out for the whole-morning journey that I undertook with comfort on the Felt. This is an important consideration for anyone whose Ironman bike split falls somewhere far, far short of Crowie and the rest.
The higher front end on the Felt, however, has a few limitations. It’s less responsive on technical roads, and this became apparent on the descent into the Royal National Park near Waterfall – en route to Stanwell Tops – and onto one of the most picturesque roads in New South Wales. Even on a road that I negotiate on a weekly basis I had to completely readjust the entry into corners to prevent the front end from wanting to walk out the wrong side of the curve. Set-up braking was no longer naturally accounted for – it had to be cognitively thought through.
For competition use this is less likely to be an issue. However, if you intend to train on a bike like this more than you race on it, its handling traits will have to be taken into consideration. On the plus side, it had me stepping off with no irritation whatsoever. Even after the first ride, which totalled six hours, it felt as if I’d stepped off a traditional road bike. This is a true endurance machine, and in the larger picture of a 70.3 or an Ironman event, being able start your run in a fresher state is as important as having air in you tyres after the first transition.
The higher handlebar position also makes helmet choice a factor; longer helmets that are crafted to sit close to your spine would be unsuitable in the upright position, and a shorter helmet with a blunt rear end would be ideal.
Functionally this bike is hard to flaw. The front end offers an entirely accessible design; elbow pads and extensions are independently adjustable and come with an array of spacers. On first sight it evokes thoughts of the contents of a flat pack IKEA bed frame – but it’s much more intuitive.
The integrated brakes are crafted to work in neat unison with the frame but lack the confidence-inspiring bite of the new direct mount style of Shimano brakes. Regardless, they are still among some of the most mechanically intuitive integrated callipers on the market. Aided by clean cable routing and inline barrel adjusters, the front and rear levers can be set up to mirror the feel and engagement of each other.
The frame-specific drink bottle proved to be somewhat troublesome. It never seemed intent on staying securely in the cage and showed minor signs of leakage until it was less than half-empty. A standard cage can be fitted but would instantly defeat the purpose of the design.
These days it’s hard to justify the application of mechanical gears for a tri bike. Obviously Shimano Dura Ace offers the highest standard on shift quality and with full-length cable housing the lever action is light and accurate. That said, it’s hard to go past the reliability and broad function of an electronic gruppo from Shimano. The DA frame is designed to accept both mechanical and electronic ensembles but the ability to shift while climbing on the end of the bars is just too appealing to warrant sticking with the mechanical option. Of course, this comes with an additional upgrade cost, but it’s an element worth considering prior to your purchase.
The Reynolds collaboration to create a custom wheelset gives the DA3 an advantage over many other manufacturers. Reynolds carries a strong and deserved reputation with an assortment of rim heights and configurations that can compete with the performance of the other major aero offerings out there. They were also one of the first to bring carbon clinchers to the public.
At the brake track and tyre bed the rim is significantly wider than previous Reynolds I’ve come across. At 68mm in depth for the front and 72mm for the rear the height is suitable for an array of conditions and won’t stifle a rider’s momentum on windy days or lumpy courses.
While still remaining a prolific brand in the triathlon market, Felt has disappeared from the cycling WorldTour for the 2014 season, but a stint with Argos-Shimano brought the brand a huge amount of success. Three wins at the Tour de France for Marcel Kittel and two stage wins for the astonishingly talented Warren Barguil at the Vuelta are just a couple of highlights for the German-based team.
Their exposure in the road cycling fraternity may have diminished from a sponsorship standpoint, but the brand is certain to remain at the forefront of bike choice among triathletes. Twenty years on from Felt’s introduction to the bicycle market, the brand remains as strong as ever because of its desire to harmonise progression and technology in a competitive package for a rapidly evolving market. The DA3 certainly fits the bill. 220