Felt Triathlon and BMX bikes have always had a strong presence, but Felt's MTBs tend to drift in and out of the mountain bike consciousness. New distributor Saddleback is hoping they're here to stay this time though, and the Q820 is certainly a promising start to its mountain biking year.
It gets off to a good start with a neat and detailed frame. High pressure hydroforming creates a long elongated support rib under the top tube, with an additional throat gusset behind the hourglass inset headset head tube. The oversized down tube squishes gently from vertical oval to horizontal at the bottom bracket, while the extended seat tube has a forward facing slot to keep mud out.
The frame is disc brake specific and the top tube even gets an extra hose guide glued in place (tube walls are too thin to weld here) to keep the hydraulic line nice and straight. For the first time we can ever remember, the rack bosses are placed so that the struts can actually clear the brake calliper without bending them or spacing them out with a stack of washers. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but if you're a rack user or just appreciate attention to detail, it shows a deft design touch.
Other than that, the frame is arranged in standard neutral XC angles that'll happily take a 100mm fork if you're upgrading. The reach is relatively short for a 19.5in bike though (more like what we'd expect from an 18in), so make sure you try before you buy.
The ride of the Q820 is equally as pleasing as the detailing and general demeanour of the bike. As you'd expect for a mid-weight bike, it's steady rather than whipcrack startling out of the blocks. The bonus to lack of sharp edge is a noticeably more comfortable and subtle ride than most alloy bikes in this price range. As it's not pinging off every rock or root, that translates to increased connection and control over rough ground, and it's certainly no slouch over mixed terrain, either. It also does a particularly nice sideways skip that meant we kept flicking it from line to line or on and off kerbs for the hell of it, affirming a generally enthusiastic and frisky trail feel.
Handling is as neutral and obliging as we expected, too. You have to give it an extra nudge to really carve into tight corners, but in return it won't suddenly fold up underneath you or demand constant attention on skittery, slippery surfaces. Weight is nicely balanced between the two wheels anyway, so when the tyres hit their limit, slides are predictable and easily stopped or just surfed for fun.
Bikes in this price range generally live or die by their fork performance, but the RST on the Felt is fine. It's rubbery rather than plush, there's a clunky top out and it's not a great lover of long flights of steps, but rebound is vaguely tamed, it chamfers the sharp edges off big hits and the lockout is genuinely useful for jamming up smoother climbs out of the saddle.
An XT rear mech window dresses the otherwise Deore/Truvativ transmission, the wheels stayed round and revolving and the Felt cockpit and couch equipment was workable in general. A bit more width in the bars wouldn't go amiss though, and the stem had knee knobbling protruding bolts that needed chopping down.
This price point is brutally competitive for any bike, but the Felt is a real little charmer. The subtly detailed frame gives an obliging and comfortable feel, the fork is a lot better than some, and the kit has no obvious weak links. The result is a bike that you can be happy to rely on for a very rewarding and enjoyable time, even on long days in big hills.