This well specced offering from Felt twins a light and lively alu frame with an 80mm travel fork with lockout, Shimano hydraulic brakes and a choice of finishing componentry that's aimed at riders who value speed over heavy landing prowess.
Felt was launched as a bike brand around six years ago. It's named after Jim Felt, who spent years working in the field of motorbike racing, then moved on to work with Easton Sports and Answer Products. Felt started by designing triathlon bikes but swiftly combined talents with a couple of other industry figures who'd served time with the likes of RockShox and GT to create a comprehensive range of machines covering all bases, recently adding the new range of 'Equilink' full suspension bikes.
The highlights here are the very classy hydroformed frame, fast rolling wheel and tyre combo and the nocompromise Shimano gears and brakes. Critical eyes will inevitably notice a less than attractive (and thankfully removable) plastic trouser guard on the cranks and the RockShox Dart fork, which is usually seen on bikes costing quite a lot less than this one. So are these compromises worth worrying about on an otherwise very nicely sorted bike? Our first ride impressions were very favourable.
We've always admired Felt's hardtails, as they're well designed and nicely built. The pimpy - but tough - white painted Q920 mixes double butted and hydroformed 6061 aluminium. The top tube fl ares at the head tube end, joining both the taper-reinforced head tube and the oversized down tube, which is biaxially ovalised to achieve maximum weld contact areas and gusset reinforced into the head tube for extra protection from frontal impacts. The seat tube extends a couple of inches above the top tube and the seat clamp slot faces forward, away from the mud spray line.
A tidy wishbone seat stay configuration has luggage rack mounts, adding some all-rounder utilitarian appeal to a fairly racey frame design, and there's plenty of mud room between the chain stays.
While we've become used to seeing far better forks on £750 bikes than the RockShox Dart, it doesn't interfere unduly with the bike's overall trail performance. The compression preload dial on top of the left-hand leg is a simplistic and fairly effective way of chosing whether you want the fork to feel stiff or plush over small bumps, while the lockout switch on top of the right-hand leg allows you to completely stifle the suspension for road work, sprints and climbs.
The Q920's fairly steep frame geometry and 26.5lb overall weight both contribute to and complement the lively ride feel and precise handling, and the bike's a real joy to ride through twisting singletrack. However, while the fork is well controlled, with a rebound damping adjuster on the bottom of the right leg, the internals are sluggish compared to the more upmarket offerings we often come across on £750 bikes, and 80mm of travel is a limiting factor when the terrain gets really rough. There were also times when pedal strikes through the rocky twists and turns reminded us of its low (11.5in) bottom bracket height. There again, a low bottom bracket boosts handling stability and you do get used to easing off the power through the bends.
The Felt's long top tube reach is emphasised by a long stem and a lot of saddle rail adjustment. This adds both cross country and climbing speed credentials and, combined with the short fork, may not suit those who feel at ease with the longer fork and more upright ride posture on a hard-hitting bike like the Iron Horse. The emphasis with the Q920 is on fast cruising speeds.
While a trouser guard on the crankset of a £750 bike may put off those who judge books by covers, the outboard bearing cranks are a welcome bonus and the rest of the drivetrain takes no shortcuts. The Shimano XT rear mech is backed up with an LX at the front and the new 'shift either way' LX shifters, and we're always happy with the potent rock-steady stopping power of Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes. The wheels - Mavic XC117 disc-specific rims on Shimano hubs - are as excellent as ever, and Maxxis Ignitor treads are fast rolling but grippy performers.
Most of the finishing kit is decent Felt branded stuff. A sub 24in low rise bar suits the bike's character, the stem has a secure four bolt face clamp, the saddle is a minimalist race-bred offering and the seat post is long enough for riders up to around 6ft 3in to fit the 19.5in bike.
The long and the short of it
Fork travel can be a bit confusing, as on medium priced hardtails you're likely to find forks ranging from 80mm to 130mm of travel.
Go for a shorter option if you're a cross country pootler, but if you don't want to slow down for anything, think longer. Either way - particularly on the longer travel options - consider looking for a fork with a lockout option. If there isn't one, at least look for good compression and rebound damping. This will make the bike feel more stable on climbs or sprints.
Most lockout options come in the form of a lever or dial on the top of the right-hand leg. Whack it open as you're about to enter any technical sections or you're sizing up a descent, then let the longer travel suspension soak up the shocks and rocks, leaving you to enjoy the freedom and speed.
Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo £800
01908 282626 www.fisherbikes.com
We've loved previous incarnations of the HKEK and the new Genesis geometry 2007 one looks great on paper.