By Trina Ortega
With its 2014 MTB lineup, Felt Bicycles moves away from its 26-inch bikes in favor of 29ers. This includes a complete redesign of its trail-oriented rig, the Virtue. This week, from its headquarters in Irvine, Calif., Felt introduced the Virtue Nine series that will be available beginning in the fall (aluminum versions) and winter 2013/2014 (carbon versions).
Aiming to up the stability and control of its 26-inch Virtue, Felt created the 130-mm travel 29-inch steed in both carbon and aluminum versions built around Felt’s Equilink suspension system.
Felt has long been proud of its “White Papers” and the concept of starting with a blank piece of paper when designing and engineering new bikes. With a “no-holds-barred approach” (including money for R&D), the team works and reworks every aspect of the development phase. This began back in the late 1980s when company founder Jim Felt built a time trial bike for motocross star Johnny O’Mara (who trained for moto by competing in triathlons). A triathlete himself, Jim Felt knew he could improve upon the designs of that day’s tri bike. Since then, he’s spent countless hours in the wind tunnel, working with engineers of all sorts, getting feedback from Felt athletes, and playing with lots of different materials to develop top-quality race bikes.
The Felt team approached the Virtue Nine in the same manner.
“This is an all-new, built-from-the-ground-up bike for us,” says Felt engineer Nick Ducharme. “Because of that, there are tons of improvements over its predecessors.”
The trick with 29ers is to keep the handling smooth and neutral while switching to bigger hoops, which meant that the Felt team had to rethink the 26-inch Virtue’s frame geometry “to keep the chainstays and wheelbase as short and tight as possible to maintain that agile feel on the trail,” Ducharme says.
As a result, they redesigned everything from the rear triangle and the suspension to the shape of the Equilink system. Felt has used the Equilink on its trail bikes since 2007. The 2014 suspension bikes feature an upgraded Equilink with larger diameter 7075 aluminum lower link axles (lighter and stiffer) and new double-row angular contact bearings that are stronger and lighter.
Among the other highlights on the 2014 Virtue Nine bikes are a high direct mount front derailleur, which helped achieve a 450mm chainstay length; a reengineered rear dropout that fits a 142x12 thru axle; and internal cable routing on the carbon models. Felt is now also working with RockShox to outfit its 2014 rigs.
With a five different models with varying builds, there is a Virtue Nine to suit every budget. The top-end Virtue Nine1 is carbon with a RockShox Revelation RLT Solo Air 140mm fork, SRAM X01 11-speed drivetrain, Avid X0 Trail brakes (180 rotors), RS Reverb Stealth dropper, and a pair of Easton Haven aluminum tubeless-ready wheels. It’s price tag is $6,199. At the lower end, is the Virtue Nine60 at $2,199 (aluminum, SRAM X7/X5 10-speed, Tektro brakes, WTB Speed Disc i23 wheelset).
For a summary of the Virtue Nine family (including prices for each model), click here or scroll to bottom.
Felt is investing in its MTB line with the goal of increasing its presence in that realm of the cycling world. “There’s a lot of renewed energy and enthusiasm on the mountain bike side of things,” says Brian Wilson, Felt’s director of product development.
The company recently hired former pro downhill, cross country and BMX racer Scott Sharples as its mountain bike product manager to help steward some of its design decisions.
“We really wanted to get someone in the managerial side of things that could help us make those critical small decisions. Coming from a rider’s perspective, with so much experience, we have a lot of hope and faith in Scott,” Wilson adds.
The only 26-inch-wheel bike Felt will keep in its 2014 lineup is the Compulsion, which is built around the Equilink suspension and 150-160mm of fully active adjustable travel. It is offered in carbon and aluminum.
Although it introduced two lower-end 27.5-inch hardtails this week, Felt reps hinted that they are working on a higher-end offering of a dual-suspension 27.5-inch bike to make a debut in spring 2014.
A quick look a few other bikes in Felt’s 2014 lineup
FRD stands for Felt Racing Development, which the company describes as its rigorous "no-holds-barred" process of engineering the “best bicycles in the world,” according to founder Jim Felt. With a new layup using TeXtreme DMC carbon and FAST suspension design, the 100mm Edict NineFRD frame is claimed to be lighter and stiffer than its predecessor. It comes stock with a RockShox SID XX World Cup Solo Air 100mm fork, SRAM XX1 grip shift; SRAM XX brakes; and Eason EC90 carbon hoops. Claimed weight is 22.38 pounds. Felt keeps its other builds of the popular Edict Nine in its lineup.
Felt’s Nine series is billed as the company’s ultimate lightweight race machine. The top full build in the 2014 line is the carbon Nine1. The bike features a RockShox SID RL 100mm fork; Shimano XTR/XT 10-speed drivetrain; Shimano XT brakes; and Shimano XT tubeless wheels. Felt weighs the Nine1 at 22.2 pounds. With the NineFRD (with TeXtreme carbon), Felt will have a super lightweight racing rocket. The NineFRD with an XTR build reportedly weighs 19 pounds. At this point, only the frameset is available.
The only 26-inch-wheel bike Felt will keep in its 2014 lineup is the Compulsion, which is built around the Equilink suspension and 150-160mm of fully active adjustable travel. It is offered in carbon and aluminum. The LT3 has a RockShox Pike RC Solo Air 160mm fork; SRAM X9/X7 10-speed gruppo; Magura MT2 brakes; KS eTen dropper; and WTB Speed Disc i23 wheels.
The Q24 is one of two MTB options for the groms. Felt doesn’t go overboard but also didn’t want to shortchange kids who want a serious bike. The Q24 has a Suntour M3020 50mm fork; Shimano Altus/Tourney 7-speed gruppo; and Tektro disc brakes. The two frames in the Felt kids MTB family are aluminum. (The company also has some stellar options for kids in the road discipline.) MSRP for Q24 is $449.
Purpose-built for 29-inch wheels. Lower bottom bracket and short chainstays
Standard threaded 73mm bottom bracket optimized for a variety of drivetrain options.
Virtue Nine features 130 mm of rear travel, using the Equilink suspension system.
Suspension Links (upper and lower)
Equilink Suspension links have oversized aluminum axles and larger diameter bearings.
Updated hardware including new axles and bearings in the suspension links.
ControlTaper Head Tube
ControlTaper 1.125/1.5 integrated head tube.
High Direct Derailleur Mount
Direct mount system for front derailleur allows special shaping of seat tube and bottom bracket area, increasing frame stiffness.
New post-style disc brake mounting provides a precise frame/brake interface and eliminates the need for an additional bracket or adaptor for 160 mm brake rotors.
Thru Axle Rear Dropouts
New design accommodates Syntace X-12 style 142 x 12 thru axles for increased stiffness and lighter weight.
Replaceable Rear Derailleur Hanger
Replaceable rear derailleur Hanger stays in place after rear wheel removal and an easy swap if bent.
Carbon and aluminum models in varying colors.
Each model features a component spec to match riding desires and budgets.
Small (16"), medium (18"), large (20") and x-large (22")
Virtue Nine 1 — $6,199
Virtue Nine 3 — $4,149
Virtue Nine 20 — $3,799
Virtue Nine 50 — $2,799
Virtue Nine 60 — $2,199
Frame Kit Virtue Nine 1 — $3,499