Felt's Equilink bikes were one of the higher profile suspension launches of 2006 and the 5in cross-country Virtue platform is the first to hit the trails. But have Felt really raised the bar by adding an extra bar?
The Felt's tubes are relatively slim, giving it a distinctively long and rangy look. A mixture of hydroformed and conventional gusseted pipework forms the front end, with the extended seat tube getting a triangulated brace pipe to keep things secure. The longstroke Fox Float shock sits in front of the seat tube driven by the upper rocker link, with the red Equilink strut tying it to the lower link so they operate in tandem.
The whole rear subframe is a one-piece carbon fibre structure relying on flex between the stays - not rotating pivots - to allow the suspension to move.
Up front, the excellent RockShox Revelation fork allows easy wind down from 130-100mm if you need to speed up the handling while a remote lockout lever caters for smooth climbs or sprints. Shimano XT transmission gets pimped with an XTR rear mech, while the CrossRide disc wheels look plenty fly considering they're actually relatively cheap. Maxxis Ignitor tyres are a decent tread for mixing straightline speed with reasonable grip.
Avid Juicy Seven brakes give all the controlled and easily adjustable stopping power you'll need. However, the long 110mm stem and narrow 24in riser bar give very little leverage or control at slow speeds, so we'd go shorter and wider straight away; Felt tell us that from early summer bikes will come with a 26.7in riser.
The Virtue 2 definitely needs a cockpit change to make you feel confident enough to push it hard off-piste. While the bar and stem are OK for motoring along wide trails or sweeping smoothly round corners, it feels both unresponsive and cramped in tight or slippery singletrack, which is a shame for an otherwise impressively agile package. It shouldn't be too hard to get them changed, though, and the wider bar being specced in the summer will help you to get the best from this tight pedalling and naturally rapid rig with its useful emergency long travel suspension.
Felt make a variety of claims about their Equilink system, but what you notice most is the very tight pedalling feel it delivers. The extra Equilink tie bar and the natural resistance of the rear stays to being splayed apart by shock movement means it takes a lot to get the suspension moving. This is fantastic for a crisp and direct sprinting feel. Combined with its reasonable weight (12.9kg/ 28.3lb), this makes the Virtue 2 a machine that really likes to be hustled up the climbs.
Once it's moving, the suspension sucks up the big stuff well enough, though it always feels clipped rather than cushioned. It's not so great at absorbing small impacts and general trail rumble, even if you run the shock very soft. There is enough flex in the slim frame to save you getting too badly stung, although that in itself means a noticeable shimmy whenever you slide or push the bike sideways when cornering.