Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller
New for 2014, Felt’s Virtue lineup sees the addition of bikes in the 29-inch variety. The Virtue Nine features 130mm of travel out back and 140mm up front, slotting it somewhere between the long-travel 29er crowd and pedal friendly trail rippers. Even so, Felt’s not shy when they state their claims about the ride, saying that it’s a defining bike for the Enduro and Super D racing crowd.
Virtue Nine 20 Highlights
- Hydroformed Double-Butted 6061 Aluminum frame
- 29-inch wheels
- 5.1-inches (130mm) of rear wheel travel
- Equilink suspension
- Tapered headtube
- 69-degree head angle
- 74.5-degree seat tube angle
- 1.4-inch (36mm) bottom bracket drop
- 17.7-inch (450mm) chainstays
- 73mm threaded bottom bracket
- Syntace 142x12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31 pounds, 1 ounces (14.1kg)
- $3,799 MSRP
Despite having a similar look to other four-bar dual suspension bikes on the market, Felt's Equilink linkage is actually a six-bar system said to disconnect drivetrain forces from bump absorption forces. When pedaling, the force from chain tension attempts to pull the lower link downward while the upper link pivots upward. Because the two links are connected by the Equilink (the vertical bar near the seat tube) in precisely calculated positions, the opposing forces effectively cancel each other out, "equalizing" the system. Ultimately this means the suspension is unaffected and able to absorb impacts while pedaling.
Had we not already ridden the 26-inch model we’d be skeptical about the claims, but Felt’s rigs truly do pedal well. Even though that bike was efficient, it had some issues with cleaning up the rougher sections of trail. With the tweaks and improvements Felt has made we were anxious to get this bike out on the trail for a more current opinion.
The Equilink system can be tuned depending on the bike's intended application, and in the case of the Virtue Nine, the progressive leverage curve is certainly geared toward efficiency with loads of anti-squat worked in. A combination of sealed dual row angular contact bearings in the main pivots and DU bushings in the Equilink allow the rear end to function quite smoothly, the latter of which are intended to save weight and increase longevity of the system due to their element-prone locations. The whole Equilink system has been lightened a fair amount for the new year. New oversized aluminum hardware and 15mm hard anodized aluminum axles help boost rear end stiffness as well.
Also new for 2014, a revised derailleur hanger now stays in place when the wheel is removed, and the rear axle has been beefed up to the 12x142mm standard.
Additional details include a water bottle cage inside the front triangle, high direct mount front derailleur, and post mount disc brake. The bike lacks ISCG tabs, but thanks to the use of a standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket you can sandwich one against the frame for additional chain retention. For those who ride/race in mud often, do note that there’s less than 1cm of rear wheel mud clearance with the stock 2.4-inch Continental tires.
Felt chose to stick with external cable routing on the aluminum Virtue Nine frame. This improves ease of maintenance but clutters things a bit, especially considering that there are a total of 6 cables running this way and that. The rear brake and derailleur housing follow the underside of the downtube, which could present an issue do to stray rocks. The dropper post and front derailleur cables follow the bottom of top tube. There’s also the front brake and a remote lockout for the fork dangling up front.
The aluminum Virtue Nine 20 that we tested is the mid-range model retailing for $3,799. Two more affordable options are the Nine 50 at $2,799 and Nine 60 at $2,199. Those looking for some carbon fun can choose from the $4,149 Nine3 or the super decked out $6,199 Nine1. The carbon models see the addition of internal routing and flex seat stays in place of the rear pivot.
On The Trail
Most of Felt's lineup has a cross-country appeal, and we can see why. They're made to get up the hills and sprint very well. Because of this we were able to cover a lot of ground on the Virtue Nine, sometimes taking off from the rest of the test group for a few bonus miles. Terrain included everything from technical climbs to high-speed flowy descents, rough off camber sections, and some hair-raising slickrock plunges. For those familiar with the Sedona, Arizona area, we rode Girdner, Last Frontier, Western Civilization, Cockscomb, Aerie, and the famous Hangover trail.
The 80mm stem and 720mm bars that Felt specs are definitely on the longer and narrower side than the vast majority would choose for an Enduro race rig. Even so, we chose not to make any changes in order to get a true feeling of how the consumer will receive this bike. Those with a cross-country background may love the setup. Those with a more gravity based background will likely find it uncomfortable.
Our size Large test bike had a healthy 620mm reach and slightly longer than average 442mm top tube, which fit our 6’0” testers well. Combined with 450mm chainstays and 29-inch hoops, it had good high-speed stability on moderate trails. If anything, the head angle could be a smidge slacker at 69-degrees, but adding a 10mm taller fork or an Angleset will solve this problem. Stability and playfulness were well-balanced with the stock setup. It was easy to move the bike around when needed.
We’ve always been impressed by the efficiency of Felt’s Equilink bikes, but they’ve sometimes struggled when the trail got rough and steep. This bike is improved in that area. When riding rough, high-speed sections of trail the bike felt decently stable, but occasionally twitchy and edge. The biggest thing holding the bike back through the rough and steeps were the tires and bar/stem combo, which made us hesitant to open it up to its full potential. This also hindered overcoming the chainstay length when trying to get the front end up over obstacles. The spec is definitely more XC oriented, but the bike has potential to be a more well-rounded ripper with a few changes. As is we felt a bit more over the front end than we’d prefer.
We were happy to see that Felt used a 200x57mm RockShox Monarch RT shock with the mid-sized air canister to get 130mm of travel. This increase in air volume and stroke gave the feeling of deeper, more usable rear suspension than the previous Virtue models we've tried, and really took the edge off small bumps and chatter. The bike’s suspension design and smooth, progressive leverage curve and air spring kept it feeling pretty lively on the trail. When you pumped a depression or roller the bike was quick to respond. Large high-speed compressions, g-outs, and drops did seem to blow through the travel a touch easier than it should have, however.
The 140mm RockShox Revelation RL fork was surprisingly smooth as you pressed into its travel with almost zero resistance other than the pressure in the air spring. This allowed the fork to track amazingly well over small bumps and chatter. Several of the trails we tested the Virtue on were littered with small marble-sized rocks. Even with the sketchy traction conditions the fork kept us as planted as the tires would allow.
One thing that made us scratch our heads was the inclusion of the PushLoc remote lockout on the fork. Not because the function didn’t work well, but we didn’t understand why you would need it, especially given the bike’s intentions. It feels awkward to have a locked out fork and an active rear end on a full suspension bike. The PushLoc lever just added extra clutter to the already busy handlebar area.
The Equilink suspension design shines when putting the power down. Energy isn’t wasted and you feel like the bike wants to continue accelerating until you reach max speed. Under power the bike felt reasonably light and nimble like an XC bike, which made it easy to power up the steeper sections of trails without feeling bogged down despite the somewhat hefty weight.
At 25-30% sag, we preferred to leave the bike’s rear shock in the open compression position. The suspension design is efficient enough that you do not need any lockout levers to aid in getting up the hill. This also added traction on loose terrain. The seat tube is at a good angle as well, so body position seemed to be comfortable even on the steepest uphill sections of trail.
Our sub-$4,000 Virtue Nine 20 test bike came equipped with a mix of RockShox, Shimano, DT Swiss, Continental, KS, and Felt components. The bike weighed 31.1-pounds with a dropper post, but a few corners were clearly cut to make even this weight a reality. As previously mentioned, the lightweight Felt bar and stem combo does not inspire much confidence, and some front end flex could be felt when really pushing on the front end.
Also, the 2.4-inch Continental X-King SL Performance front tire is more of a fast rolling, lightweight tire. Aggressive riders will want to swap out these folding bead tires for something with more supportive shoulder knobs. The front end would often push when we really needed it to bite, leaving us on edge when ripping sandstone or fast sweeping sections of trail.
Some component highlights included the external KS LEV dropper post and Shimano Deore disc brakes. We’ve had great luck with the external LEV and praised its performance and feel in the past. This experience was no exception. Shimano’s Deore brakes had a ton of power and great lever feel, especially given their low price point.
The Shimano XT/SLX 2x10 drivetrain shifted well, offered a wide range of gears, and presented no real issues other than a bit of chain slap and a few dropped chains. The clutched XT rear derailleur helps in these areas, but it’s not a perfect solution.
The wheels were a mixture of Shimano XT hubs on DT-Swiss 533D hoops, offering a pretty basic setup with no major stiffness or engagement issues.
Long Term Durability
One of the biggest potential issues is the use of 6mm bolts for the shock hardware. We’ve had several 6mm bolts break in the past, many of which were on Felt bikes.
As a word of caution, be sure to put a dab of LockTite on each of the pivot bolts prior to hitting the trail for the first time. While Felt has improved things in this area over the years, some of them still have the tendency to loosen and we'd suggest this simple precautionary measure. We’d also recommend some additional chainstay/seat stay protection.
Other than these concerns, the rest of the bike seems well built and should hold up over time. Felt backs the frame with a limited lifetime warranty.
What's The Bottom Line?
So is the Felt Virtue Nine a category defining Enduro race bike like they stated? That’s a tough one to swallow. The bike we tested is much more cross-country than you’ll likely find under any competitive Enduro racer (at least on any “real” Enduro courses). It’d take several component changes before we could see their target market getting gaining maximum enjoyment out of the bike.
Where the Virtue Nine excels is on trails where rolling speed and efficiency are highly valued. Just like the 26-inch Virtue we tried previously, the Virtue Nine feels light, climbs exceptionally well, and is great for intermediate descending. Because of this we feel the bike would be a solid all day epic adventure rig with the snappiness to be fun while ripping generally smooth downhills. The suspension and geometry allow it to work well in most situations. It still has the ability to hammer through technical bits and steep sections, though not as quickly and confidently as most in the Enduro category. At $3,799 we see it as a good value 29-inch trail bike for someone looking to pound out the miles.
Visit www.feltbicycles.com for more details.
About The Reviewers
John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.
Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...