Felt use the same frame here as on the £1,500 Pro version. It almost goes without saying that the fork and components on the Pro are better and the weight drops a little, but the Elite only weighs a little under 12kg (26lb), and another £600 is hard to justify when a bike looks as good as this. In fact, the Elite looks willing and able to serve as an all-day trail, race or marathon bike. It's specced identically to Felt's £750 Q920 Disc, so you're paying another £150 for a frame with a carbon back end.
Superlite XC Series 6061 double-butted main frame tubes and carbon seatstays make the Elite frame stand out from the run of the mill aluminium offerings that dominate this price category. Although the bike is equipped with disc brakes, the carbon stays and fork still have cantilever bosses fitted for old school raceheads.
Almost everything else about the build is simply practical. There's a neat butterfly gusset under the bi-axially ovalised down tube and behind the reinforced head tube. The forward-facing allen key seat clamp helps stop mud getting in the seat tube, the sloping top tube gives masses of standover room, mud clearance is generous, and the long (23.5in) top tube gives a very efficient stretch on the 19.5in bike.
But, and this could be a fairly big 'but' for some riders, we think the bottom bracket is too low. An 11.5in bottom bracket height is great for stability, but pedalling into bumpy bends is troublesome, especially with the plush action of the RockShox Judy J3 fork dropping you closer to the ground as you clatter across the bumps.
The fork itself is a fairly low budget offering on a £900 bike, but it's well controlled, the preload dial works effectively and the compression lockout lever is welcome on a speedy bike like this; 80mm (3in) of travel is enough for most cross-country purists.
Considering the low profile 1.95in rear tyre fitted, we were pleasantly surprised at how forgiving the back end of the RXC was. We reckon the carbon seatstays have a lot to do with this, although the wishbone top to the stays, the long seatpost and the comfy saddle obviously help. We'd still prefer a bigger rear tyre, though; the catalogue lists 2.1in Hutchinson Bulldogs front and rear, and while the Chameleon tyre is better through corners than the Bulldog, the higher air pressure it requires means it gets skippy on out-of-saddle climbs.
The Felt's overall handling is excellent. The geometry is spot on for fast cross-country riding, climbing is lively (probably due to the 11.8kg overall weight) and RockShox's Judy J3 fork, despite its low budget and only 80mm of travel, is surprisingly efficient on fast, bumpy descents and rough trails. With the rear tyre easy to change and a 100 per cent satisfaction rating with the rest of the set-up, it's only the low bottom bracket that prevents the Felt from achieving better scores.
You can soon learn to live with a low bottom bracket because you quickly learn that pedalling through bends is risky - two of our test riders were bounced high off the saddle thanks to pedal strikes on rocks or roots during their first rides. In essence, this is a good, old school XC bike with bang up-to-date components. If you're unsure whether the carbon seatstays are worth an extra £150, buy the aluminium version and fit a bigger tyre.
Like most bikes at this price, the drivetrain boasts a Shimano Deore XT rear mech, but the front mech and shifters are plain Deore and the crankset is a hollow-axled Firex unit from Truvativ with outboard bearings and two steel rings. Shifting was spot on throughout the test.
Braking duties are taken care of competently by Hayes HFX-9 hydraulic discs. The unnamed hubs come from Formula, the wheels are fairly light and the build is good, with stainless black spokes and Alex's TD17 'snakebite proof' rims.
The Hutchinson name graces a beefy 2.1in Bulldog tyre up front and a 1.95in Chameleon out back. This is a fine speedy XC combo in the dry, but the Bulldog tread pattern isn't great leaning into slippy corners. Felt's own-brand parts finish off the package. The 610mm (24in) riser bar and longish stem suit the bike's character well, a long seatpost allows riders up to about 6ft 2in to fit the 19.5in bike, and the saddle and grips are both fairly comfy.