Better known for triathlon and BMX bikes, Felt finally made the move into full suspension for this season with their intricate and innovative Equilink bikes. This trail greyhound certainly looks the part for running flat out all day long, but do the parts themselves stand up to scrutiny?
Looking at the skinny top tube and generally long 'athletic' stance this bike is designed with faster/further rides in mind. The main tubes are subtly hydroformed (pressure shaped) and gusseted (plate reinforced) to handle the stress of using 130mm of travel pretty aggressively, even on our 19.5in sample. Yet most of Felt's work goes on at the back though. A very neat, carbon fibre braced rocker link connects the long (51mm) stroke shock to the one-piece composite rear end at the top. Another shorter link connects it back to the mainframe at the bottom while both upper and lower linkages are joined together by a third vertical linkage - the red anodised Equilink.
This means they move together rather than independently like other twin linkage systems (Maestro, VPP, DW Link etc). Not only does this create a unique ride feel, it gets them round other linkage suspension patents - both increasingly difficult feats. Engineered flex in the carbon fibre allows the subframe to follow both linkages without the need for a rear pivot, while you get long running cartridge bearings at all ten other pivot points.
In practical terms, it's no longer than a normal 19.5in bike so it'll still suit riders around 6ft. The low sloped top tube allows good standover clearance and there's one bottle cage mount on the down tube. Despite reasonable mud room around a 2.1in tyre, the big shelf behind the Equilink collects mud very quickly. Laser etched bearing cover caps add classy filth protection though.
Once we'd fitted a decent width bar to reflect Felt's promises, the Virtue felt more than ready to have its trail cherry taken. Despite a relatively high weight created by the compromised kit list its natural character is unmistakeably rapid. The Manitou Radium shock with its built in PlatformPlus adds a firm compression damping threshold to the already taut 'tied together' rear end. This means it takes a fair thump to get the back end moving, and while the shock tide mark shows it's definitely working hard through its travel over rough sections, it always feels pert rather than plush. As a result it'll really appeal to riders wanting a sense of maximum power efficiency for climbing/sprinting/racing - and it's a great go-for-the-big-gearand- make-'em-suffer rig. You'll need to work harder to keep traction, and faith in its ability to stay on line and under control over rougher black run trail centre terrain will only come with proven experience. Don't expect 'fluffy bunny' comfort from this greyhound either.
The Virtue's 110mm stem (sizes vary depending on frames) means steady, speed-friendly handling that'll hold a line well while you're churning up climbs or reaching for an energy bar. Again it's ideal for the marathon race tag of the bike even if something shorter (we dropped to an 80mm unit for part of the test) would liven up singletrack hammering responses.
Whatever setup you go with we were impressed with the precise tracking feel from what initially looks a potentially flexy bike. There's no trace of the vertical give in the back end creeping into sideways slips, and whether you're pressing the pedals or scrabbling for traction on the far edge of the tyre feedback is impressive.
While the Felt Virtue looks like a world class athlete, the kit bag says 'developing country' not 'lucrative sponsorship contract with Nike'.
Having just come straight off testing £500-£1000 bikes for previous issues, we were surprised to see a lot of similar kit here. The RockShox Tora forks work okay, with initial notchiness getting better with time. Ours still had an irritating spring clunk under compression though, and steel parts mean a weight of nearly 5lb. Hayes Sole disc brakes feel really wooden too and, more importantly, the fixed pad needs adjusting for wear regularly or you'll suddenly find yourself with no stopping power at all. We definitely reckon the Virtue Three looks a better bet with RockShox Recon fork, Deore brakes and other significant Shimano LX upgrades for only £200 more at £1700. The rest of the Virtue Four is okay though, with a mixed Shimano/Truvativ transmission and a Shimano hubbed wheelset that'll survive thousands of trail miles if you look after it, but we'd save the superlight tubes for race day and replace them with something tougher for general use. We're assured that the otherwise decent Felt finishing kit will come with a proper width bar, not the restrictively narrow 24in one our sample had.
Felt's Equilink is definitely one of the better lightweight, mid-travel marathon frames available - and that includes all the boutique frames you can think of. It's tight, responsive and infectiously fast in a clipped style that racers will love. Inevitably this ride quality doesn't come cheap though, so while it'll roll okay as supplied, you'll need to upgrade at least its fork and brakes to really release the Virtue Four's pedigree potential.