Felt Virtue Nine 20 - Reviewed

Mar 31, 2014
by Jordan Carr  
REVIEWED
Felt Virtue Nine 20

WORDS Jordan Carr
PHOTOS Colin Meagher

The Nine 20 sits smack dab in the middle of Felt's Virtue lineup, and while its aluminum frame and mixed-level component spec might not be as sexy as their top tier carbon models, the bike's $3,799 USD price makes it a more plausible option for the shredder on a real world budget. Felt's Equilink suspension platform can be found on the back of the 130mm travel bike, with its vertical connecting rod running between the rocker arm and chain stays that, according to Felt, ''isolates active working suspension from drivetrain or braking influence,'' while a slightly longer stroke 140mm travel RockShox Revelation RL is used at the opposite end. And despite running 20 - 30mm less travel than some contenders, Felt touts that their Virtue lineup is ready for an Enduro or Super-D start line, saying that ''the everyday Enduro and Super D racing crowd now has a bike that defines them,'' so we took the gold bike out to Sedona for a month of hard riding on even harder terrain to see what makes it tick. Does it live up to their claims?


Felt Virtue Nine 20 Details

• Purpose: enduro / trail
• Rear wheel travel: 130mm
• Fork travel: 140mm
• Wheel size: 29"
• Equilink suspension
• Frame material: aluminum
• 12 x 142mm rear axle
• Weight: 31.1 lbs (medium, w/o pedals)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• MSRP: $3,799 USD




As far as appearances go, the frame itself looks ready for business. There's a brawny air to it that a lot of other bikes with similar travel lack and, if we didn't know better, it could easily pass as a bike with an additional 30mm of travel and burlier intentions - maybe it's the large diameter aluminum tubing and sloping top tube that give it its purposeful look. Having said that, the bike's lack of ISCG tabs goes in the face of Felt's claims of the Nine 20 being ready for an Enduro or Super-D start line, although the threaded bottom bracket shell does mean that an old school adapter can be clamped into place if need be. The rest of the boxes are ticked off, though: a tapered head tube, cable routing for a dropper post, and a 12 x 142mm rear end are all present and accounted for.

Felt Virtue Nine 20 - pivots
  Large diameter tubing hints at the Virtues burly intentions while the clean lines give it a upscale look that we came to appreciate.

Mimicking the geometry and rear suspension metrics of the top level $6,200 USD carbon version, the Virtue Nine 20, at least on paper, appears to offer champagne taste on a beer budget. For 2014, Felt claims to have reduced frame weight by about 250 grams, with it sitting right around the five pound mark including shock. Because aluminum doesn't offer the same flex characteristics as carbon, the alloy Virtue models feature an additional pivot on the seat stay just above the dropout that replaces the carbon version's flex-pivot. All pivots (with the exception of the rear pivot on aluminum models) see an upgrade to dual row cartridge bearings that replace the DU bushing setup used in the past, and a redesigned rocker arm is said to offer more torsional rigidity. In other words, it's supposed to be lighter, stiffer, and more reliable all around than previous models.

With six different cables sprouting off of the Nine 20's handlebar, there's no way the front of the bike is ever going to be all that tidy. You have the front shifter, the Revelation's PushLoc remote, and the button to control the KS dropper post all vying for real estate with the brake lines and and the rear shift housing, which adds up to a bit of a cluttered setup compared to many of today's machines that run sans front derailleur, let alone a fork lockout button. Lets just say that it wouldn't hurt to trim down on any controls that you don't use on a regular basis.


Felt Virtue Nine 20 - Equilink and rear shock
  Felt's Equilink design looks surprisingly clean for the added components that it uses, with the vertical Y-shaped bar that mates the rocker arm to the lower link sits rather inconspicuously behind the seat tube.


Equilink Suspension

Pretty much all suspension designs depend on a certain amount of chain torque to provide a degree of pedalling efficiency, with engineers trying to strike a balance between too much - you'll lose small bump sensitivity, and too little - the bike will bob badly under pedalling loads. This is true of everything from single pivot bikes to more complicated multi-link machines, although some will also employ custom shock tunes in an effort to either enhance suspension activity or act as a crutch to cover up bad pedalling traits. Felt claims to have found a way around all of that with their Equilink suspension system, although they are far from the first to make such assertions. Equilink utilizes a vertical tie rod that connects the rocker arm to a small link between the chain stays and the front triangle. Why go to all that extra trouble and complication?

Felt says that connecting the two links together eliminates the bike's dependency on chain torque for pedalling performance, allowing the rider to set the suspension up with absorbing terrain as the primary focus. Equilink operates by forcing the upper and lower links to function as a single unit, despite their differing purposes. The upper link rotates clockwise and tries to compress the shock during acceleration, while the lower link tries to pivot counterclockwise due to chain torque, but the vertical tie rod connecting them together forces both the suspension loads and drivetrain inputs to work in unison, effectively cancelling each other out. If the design functions as Felt asserts it should not only allow for a suspension setup that performs well on small impacts without sacrificing efficiency, but also not require the rider to be in a certain gear combination for optimal pedalling performance - it should behave the same regardless of gear choice, unlike many other designs. Rousing claims for sure, but only trail time will tell us whether Equilink can live up to Felt's lofty assertions.

Specifications
Release Date 2014
Price
Travel 130mm
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch RT 200x75mm
Fork RockShox Revelation RL, 140mm travel, Solo Air, PushLoc remote lockout,
Headset FSA No.42 integrated tapered Aheadset, custom cone spacer 1 x 8mm + 2 x 5mm straight spacers, w/ Felt Tornado aluminum top cap
Cassette Shimano 10-speed 11-36T
Crankarms Shimano XT Hollowtech II 2 x 10-speed: XS/SM - 170mm MD/LG/XL - 175mm
Chainguide N/A
Bottom Bracket Shimano sealed threaded
Pedals N/A
Rear Derailleur Shimano XT Shadow Plus 10-speed long cage
Chain Shimano 10-speed
Front Derailleur Shimano Deore 2x10
Shifter Pods Shimano XT Rapid-Fire 2 x 10-speed
Handlebar Felt riser bar carbon, 8mm rise w/ 9° sweep, 720mm wide
Stem Felt MTB 3D-forged threadless 1-1/8" +/- 7° rise
Grips Felt Lock-on
Brakes Shimano Deore disc w/180mm Center-Lock rotor
Wheelset DT Swiss - Shimano XT Hubs
Hubs Shimano XT hub w Center-Lock
Spokes DT Swiss 1.8mm w/ aluminum nipples
Rim DT Swiss 533D double wall aluminum w/ eyelet
Tires Continental X-King SL Performance folding, 29 x 2.4
Seat Felt MTB performance w/ Cr-Mo rails
Seatpost KS LEV dropper post, cable and lever:
Felt Virtue Nine 20 - Rockshox fork






Aboard the Virtue



Climbing

The Virtue's somewhat compact wheelbase, gives it the ability to scamper up some seriously technical climbs confidently and efficiently. The 29" wheels obviously add to this ability as well, but it is the gold bike's geometry that lends it a maneuverable sort of personality when the corners get tight enough to trap a lot of other 29ers with a longer footprint. This was especially noticeable during slow speed moments nearing a trackstand, with the bike offering a crazy ability to creep up and over ledges at these low speeds like it has a crawling gear and suction cup tires. As you might guess after reading that last sentence, traction at the rear wheel was never an issue, be it seated or standing. As long as you keep pedalling, which the bike does very well (we almost never locked out its Monarch shock), you're likely to get to the top of whatever you're aiming to climb, providing you have the horsepower to do it.

While the bike's climbing performance was commendable, the overall cockpit feel wasn't all sunshine and singletrack. On the geometry sheet, the Felt looks comparable to other similarly positioned 29ers as far as angles and numbers go, but we found that out of the saddle climbing became our nemesis at times - we simply had a hard time finding the sweet spot out of the saddle. Seated climbing, on the other hand, we found to be enjoyable, and we found ourselves pushing our technical climbing skills to the max aboard the Virtue.

Jordan Carr testing the Felt Virtue in Sedona AZ
  The Virtue climbs well, but the key to getting the most out of the gold bike is to stay seated rather then use hard out of the saddle bursts.


Descending / Technical Terrain

All those handlebar mounted levers and buttons that we complained about earlier come in handy when you get to the top of the climb and are ready to bomb back down. Shift into the bike's large chain ring, drop the post, and unlock the 140mm travel Revelation fork all within a few seconds and you're ready to try and channel your inner racer. What happens next? Some good things, with the Virtue's handling offering none of the stereotypical ''I'm a big wheeler so don't ask me to do that'' 29er attitude. Its numbers add up to a bike that we can't help but apply the most cliched term in the business to: it's one hell of a nimble 29er. The tighter the corner, the more the Virtue is able to extend its lead over other bikes, and it's no slouch as far as handling is concerned at the other end of the speed spectrum either. Sure, it does still feel a touch short to us but, on the other hand, it gives the bike a pinch of BMX attitude rather than make us hesitate like on the climbs.

The Virtue's Equilink suspension is a bit tough to classify, and it seems to lack a lot of the liveliness that could have made the bike a real hooligan on the right kind of trail. Initial travel was gobbled up far too easily, and it didn't take much to find the bottom of the shock's stroke until we bumped the Monarch's air pressure up high enough to create a bit of a harsh ride at the other end of the travel. Relative to other 130mm travel bikes, it just felt like it needed to be set a bit too stiff for our liking, which is is a bummer because the bike would be a potent little package given its A+ handling in many situations. Adding some volume reducing spacers to the shock's air can would be the first step we'd take if we had the Nine 20 in our garage, no doubt about it. Up front, the Revelation fork holds its own in nasty terrain when you consider that it's a mid-range, 140mm travel offering, and we'd say that you'll have to be pushing yourself pretty hard to justify dropping substantial coin for an upgrade. Then again, a lot of us seem to find a way to do exactly that, don't we?

Jordan Carr testing the Felt Virtue in Sedona AZ
  Fun is the name of the game aboard the Virtue, and the bike leans on its excellent handling more than its uninspiring rear suspension when it comes to getting you down the mountain.



Component Check

•Shimano drivetrain: We appreciated the Virtue's Shimano drivetrain, which is a mix of an XT rear derailleur, shifters, cranks, and hubs paired with an SLX front derailleur, cassette, and Deore brakes. One thing that we'd change would be an upgrade to a clutch equipped Shadow Plus rear derailleur in order to help limit dropped chains, something that we suffered from on more than just a few occasions.

Felt Virtue Nine 20 - dropper and rear hub
  The RockShox Revelation remote lever was a nice touch, but it added to the already cluttered bars and we rarely locked the fork out. A KS LEV dropper post is a great spec, and the XT hubs were also a nice choice given that it's an area where we often see companies skimp.

• KS LEV dropper post: Adding a dropper post is key to offering a well spec'd bike these days, and the externally routed LEV is a smart choice that has worked well for us in the past. No troubles, yet again. Also, it's activated by the best remote in the business.

• Continental X-King tires: Although the X-Kings aren't the first tire we'd spec on a trail rig like this, we do have to say that they performed well in the drier and lose trail conditions that we tested the Virtue in. Our advice to Nine 20 owners would be to run them until they wear out, then move to a more aggressive option up front if you feel you need it.



Pinkbike's take:
bigquotesDo you spend the majority of your saddle time on trails that lean more towards flow than all-out burl? If so, the Nine 20 isn't going to be a bad choice, especially if you place handling abilities higher on your priority list than a fashionable company name or the latest colour trends. No, this isn't the bike for you if you spend your days charging chunky, hairball terrain, with there being a handful of other 130mm travel offerings that trump the Virtue in the rear suspension department, but do keep in mind that it's going to take a rider who pushes hard to expose this. The bottom line is that the Nine 20 offers great angles, pedals well, and can out climb most of those bikes with more dialed suspension. What do you need your bike to do? - Jordan Carr


www.feltbicycles.com


74 Comments

  • + 109
 A affordable bike with an honest review featuring some criticisms... But pinkbike, what am I to complain about now?

Ah... 29" wheels. That was close.
  • + 4
 Agreed. Smart of Felt to send in a mid-range bike to have reviewed considering all the hate recently about the stupid sticker price on he high end carbon XX1 spec'd dream machines that have littered the news feed lately.

Though I would have fathered see XT brakes and SLX drivetrain since the drivetrain has a higher probability of wear/tear or crash damage but is good enough quality for the rest of the spec without higher replacement costs.
  • + 4
 Yeah I really enjoyed this review, and it def sounds like my kind of bike considering I leave my shock in climbing mode like 90% of the time. I'd love to ride a crazy climber like this, but I'd have to go a LONG way to find a Felt demo day, unfortunately Frown

Kind of agree with robwhynot though, I'd just as soon see a full SLX spec on there for the better brakes and lower cost. But really the Deore hydros work great and this is still a pretty affordable build so I can't moan too much. Good pick, PB!
  • - 5
flag makripper (Mar 31, 2014 at 8:47) (Below Threshold)
 pedal bike. made in asia, high markup. got it.
  • + 2
 I demoed this bike recently and it performed quite well. It was my first ride on a 29er and I was surprised how well it handled. Although it did take a bit more lean to get it to corner I never felt like the bike was holding me back. I agree that the cockpit tailors to seated climbing and not so much to the out of the saddle efforts. The suspension was very good in my opinion but it did lack the pop and liveliness that I kind of expected out of a 130 bike. However I could ride it very aggressively with higher air pressure and took it for a few substantial hucks and it came out just fine. Overall I was pretty impressed especially with my preconceived notion of 29ers. It was really fun to ride and damn it was fast. Idk if I liked it so much just because I was riding a bike where everything worked, apposed to my thunderclapped DH rig or if it was actually a sick ride. I had fun none the less.
  • + 1
 The color is something.
  • + 12
 Is that a flux capacitor behind the seat tube? What happens when you get this baby up to 88 mph?
  • + 2
 lol, read this just as i noticed back to the future 3 was on the tv.
  • + 11
 How would you place this against the Kona process 111 in regards to handling and descending ability?
  • + 3
 I haven't spent enough time on the Process to give it a fair comparison. I did really like the Process's playfulness compared to the Felt though.
  • + 2
 Fair play, thanks for coming back Jordan
  • + 7
 Ah yes, the "Equilink" suspension design which they STOLE from its actual designer, and then filed a patent for after talking to him and seeing his prototype at interbike and learning he hadn't yet filed a patent application himself.
  • + 6
 If you publicly display a design before patenting you can no longer patent said design as it is considered to be in the public domain. That said any patents felt file relating to the design would also be void.
That and the 6 bar linkage used couldn't be used to produce a curve significantly different from what could be produced using a 4 bar linkage (vpp, Horst link, maestro etc) and it comes with the added bonus of more bushings to wear out and replace.
  • + 1
 Alas the US patent and trademark office doesn't operate logically... they don't even follow their own rules. Essentially all they care about is collecting fees because a large chunk of their annual budget doesn't come out of general government revenue but from the actual fees paid by their clients. Applicants are supposed to voluntarily disclose all known prior art, but that only relates to previously patented prior art, and even then its "voluntarily" is the problem. Specialized failed to mention on their Brain shock applications that there was a previous (and recently) US patented design for inertia valve shocks for example. They KNEW about it because they had just entered into a licensing agreement with its patent holder for exclusive use on bicycle rear shocks, which they then used to produce exactly zero (and thus no royalties) but meanwhile filed for their own patents for slight variations of said design.

On the trademark side, the makers of Candy Crush saga (video game if you don't know it) got a US trademark last fall for the word "candy". Common english language word used on all sorts of products... USPTO still granted a trademark for it. The EU trade commision also granted King (the makers of the game) a trademark for the word, but another company launched a challenge of that last week. The US trademark was dropped by King after it faced significant backlash in the media. Their recent move to the stock exchange hasn't gone well either (much like FB, the stock tanked on the opening day).
  • + 4
 True, the US patent system is f**ked and as a result a good (read as expensive) attorney can argue and win most cases from either side so whoever has the deeper pockets tends to win.
For a topical trademark case just look at the Specialized Roubaix case. From my reading into that I think Specialized themselves aren't that evil. The attorneys they hire however...
  • + 4
 Ahhh politics.......................economy..........patents..............I would rather hop on this bike and go for a ride. Looks like it would be funSmile
  • + 2
 Haha yeah our government is pretty messed up, i find it funny that none of you guys live here, but know more about our government/policies than most who live here.
  • + 2
 I say that designer is brilliant, yet pretty stupid, and just like most artists, make great inventions and some marketing rat makes all the money..
  • + 2
 If I ever had a dh mental breakdown and decided to go xc trail centre then this would probably be the bike I'd pick. I had a felt compulsion before going more dh and the equilink suspension is the tits! You can pedal over everything without any pedal bob and although I had 156mm rear travel I never felt I was running it too harsh to not bottom out.
  • + 1
 What happens when you suddenly find yourself married and your wife enjoys more mild XC trails, and you have a mortgage and can no longer afford a DH bike thats worth more than your car?
  • + 4
 Xc bikes can cost more than your car also.
  • + 1
 You buy a Sunday, if possible upgrade it patiently to a full Saint-setup, and then just keep buying spare brake-pads and tyres without anything else, and just ride. No major upgrades - the Sunday is the tits of DH-bikes! Smile
  • + 12
 maybe your wife will loan you your balls back once in a while
  • + 5
 The issue is time. All joking aside, are you really going to say that you would prefer to spend all your time downhilling with your bros than to spend some time with your wife? I love biking and skiing, especially pushing it downhill, but seeing your child learn to ride a bike and watching others have fun because of the sacrifices you have made is beyond anything you could experience yourself. Sacrifice is giving up something good for something better. Living your life for yourself will never be as fulfilling as living your life for others.
  • + 2
 @hamncheez - true that! Smile You're right, time is important. I don't ride DH every weekend, i ride from time to time. But i have 2 bikes - a DH one and a trail one - they come in handy when willing to ride alongside my girlfriend. She's got a kid from her ex and to tell you the truth, i feel it important to see how the kid learns stuff (he's 3 years old), how he laughs, how he smiles and constantly checks my bike when we go on a walk in the park. What i meant was i will ride DH when i am truely free and it's no problem. But the girlfriend/wife and the family as a whole is more important, i admit it! Smile
  • + 5
 I love how $3799 is considered a "plausible option for the shredder on a real world budget."
  • + 0
 Is it not?
  • + 1
 $3800 is a fair price in this day and age for a bike with the frame and components the Virtue features.
  • + 2
 Man, quit bitchin about these prices! Can we not just read a review and see if the bike is any good? When we read a review of a porche/civic do we freak out and complain? For crying out loud. 3800 bones? If you'd stop buying bikes every 6 months you'd see that $3800 is pretty damn affordable. Sheesh.
  • + 3
 @Reignonme I wasnt crying about it. Dont get mad at me because my overinflated ego permits me to buy a new bike every 6 months. On second thought....just shutup before i crush you with my wallet.
  • + 1
 internet trash talk. love it.
  • + 2
 Cool looking bike, although I've never seen such a big pile of nonsense regarding the suspension linkage behaviour. If the "Top and bottom link...Cancel each other out", than effectively this means no movement. This was only scratching the surface, PB should really put real stuff in, or nothing at all.
  • + 5
 Why in-the-name-of-all-that's-holy didn't they put a Shadow+ derailleur on that bike?? Come on Felt, it's 2014!
  • + 6
 THe spec sheet says shadow plus... It's weird, IDK why they even make XT der's without the clutch anymore!
  • + 1
 Don't think they do. Old stock maybe?
  • + 1
 Maybe it's old stock, if so, that's a big F U to the customer!
  • + 2
 It comes with Shadow Plus
  • + 4
 That bike could be the cheapest bike on the market to have the KS LEV as a standard option.
  • + 1
 i wish Kona would have specd it instead of the super natural on the 134dl
  • + 2
 "There's a brawny air to it that a lot of other bikes with similar travel lack"
I couldn't disagree more, the rear triangle looks so weak and thin!
  • + 2
 It will probably hold but it won't be very stiff, but it mathers on whether you like stiff or not.
  • + 9
 I like 'em stiff.
  • - 3
 ^ That what she says all the time...
  • + 4
 "The decals provide an optical illusion on the rear triangle. The tubing isn't small at all.
  • + 1
 They're right. I just got one and rode it in Sedona for a week, taking it down the gnarliest descents Sedona had to offer. It's burly. But I didn't have any problems with my suspension.
  • + 1
 tommy4 that was pretty good. Sorry bout the neg props. I thought it was pretty funny. Next time though, keep it at a simple, "that's what she said."
  • + 1
 get a horsethief, looks way better, shorter cs, longer front - center compared to the felt. better antisquat than the kona ( linkagedesign.blogspot.de/2013/12/salsa-horsethief-29-2014.html)
  • + 1
 The Horsethief looks wicked! THANK YOU for the link!
  • + 1
 evan the older horse thief / spearfish design was great
  • + 0
 a mid travel 29er that climbs good and cant be pushed hard in the chunk what a revelation. I wish pink bike would apend more time reviewing the suspension design. Can we at least get a compression chart.
  • + 1
 When was $3,799 USD affordable? Lol. I guess not for me. Nice looking bike though.
  • + 0
 Pretty good sizing. ..large 17.4ish reach and 24.5 tt is better than majority that is 17/24.
I've sat on a few 26/650b felts and they feel nice.
  • + 0
 Nearly four thousand bucks is a long way from a superbike, but I'm not sure I would call it a budget option either
  • + 1
 once upon a time, people used to buy them...
  • + 1
 so this is the 29er to get if you prefer the feel of 26
  • + 0
 Starting to see more and more Felts out on the trails. Seems to be a great bike for the money. I'll take 1 please.
  • + 0
 If this build spec was availible on a 160mm 26in frame I would be seriously interested
  • + 1
 You guys are riding pigtail all wrong.
  • + 0
 Looks a bit like giants maestro suspension.
  • + 1
 Giant has a different 4 bar layout. Giant's layout is more of a floater type where the rear triangle and the shock is independent from the frame while this setup has the shock mounted on the down tube.
  • + 2
 Giant's Maestro is not a floater design, shock is attached to the down tube. Specific thing about Maestro is that lower shock mount and fore bearings of short link (on chainstay) share the same pivot position (they are on the same axle)
  • - 1
 At a glance before I clicked on this, I thought I was bouta click on a trek 36er

All in all, bike looks sick Razz
  • + 0
 @poah you are right let's buy everything
  • - 1
 I just don't feel right jumping a 29er
  • - 3
 I hate to be a pedant, but the frame is made of aluminium...
  • - 3
 Big wheel _____o^o_____O^O______are faster and bad @ss to ride.
  • - 2
 once upon a time we used to see 26 inch wheel bikes reviews
  • + 14
 once upon a time they used to make them
  • - 5
flag themountain (Mar 31, 2014 at 7:07) (Below Threshold)
 once upon a time they had actually real mountain biker on this board, not kids who run after every band wagon there is Smile
  • + 3
 once upon a time it was called mt. biking, the end.
  • + 6
 Once upon a time folks went mountain biking and didn't spend all their time bitching about mountain biking/enduro/dh/xc/am/wetf on the internet :0)
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